Mar 10, 2018
WeeabooColin (All reviews)
When one thinks of the slice of life genre, most people tend to think of K-On. In many ways K-On epitomizes all of the central concepts, patterns, and trappings of the slice of life genre like no other. On the other hand, Hidamari Sketch pioneered almost all of the popular trappings of the slice of life genre; But the nature of Hidamari Sketch, although influential, makes it both hard to recommend, and hard to admit my passion for this show. There is undoubtedly countless problems that caused Hidamari to become relatively obscure, but in my opinion, these problems also give Hidamari Sketch its charm. The strengths of Hidamari on the other hand, have all become staple traits of the slice of life and iyashikei genre, it's easy to point to countless series that were directly or indirectly influenced from this series. The emulation of Hidamari Sketch has both drawn out its greatest strengths as a series, and has made it seem even more antiquated.

It's hard to think of a good starting point when talking about Hidamari Sketch, in many ways each element and variable is so holistically interconnected, that starting with any one element would almost be missing the forest for the trees. Every element builds off of each other and if any one variable doesn't work for you, then the rest of the series may not be worth watching. Hidamari Sketch requires each element to work in perfect harmony for the central emotional effect to have impact. Like most slice of life shows, the end all goal is to imbue the audience with a very specific emotion; Hidamari is ultimately a iyashikei show, and as such, the end goal is to convey a feeling of relaxation to the audience. Hidamari Sketch's emotional spectrum is one of it's idiosyncrasies, most slice of life and iyashikei shows prioritize conveying very specific emotions, usually what they like to convey are emotions like melancholy and happiness. Hidamari too conveys these emotions like any other iyashikei. But, what makes Hidamari Sketch so unusual compared to series like K-On, Yuru Yuri, Yuru Camp, and really almost every other slice of life/iyashikei series, is the amount of emotions that it attempts to convey. A good example of what I'm attempting to articulate would be the 5th episode of Hidamari Sketch, in this episode we go the full emotional range, happiness, melancholy, isolation, anxiety, fear, and even visceral feelings like illness are conveyed to the audience in a timely fashion. In episode 5, the main character Yuno is sick, and due to this we as an audience get to see her fever dreams and the reaction of each other character who lives in the apartment's reaction to Yuno becoming sick. This episode sticks out for multiple reasons, but in short, every aspect of Hidamari Sketch works together to convey the visceral sickening feeling of being ill. In order for the show to this, the art direction, sound, animation, voice acting, and character interactions, all had to work in tandem in order to it's emotional ends.

It can be argued that this is true for any series, I would disagree though. Gochiusa has relatively poor direction as a series, but this isn't a determent to the series because the central appeal of the show is merely seeing the characters interact. Most series tend to work despite a lacking variable, Hidamari Sketch on the other hand requires every single aspect of the show to work in harmony in order to work. This is a common thread of Shaft shows, so usually when it comes to the anime that is produced by Shaft, I believe that watching the first episode alone is a good indication to make a judgement on the perceived quality of the show.

Slice of life shows tend to fall into one of two categories, situational and character driven. Hidamari is the latter but the story is framed as the former. The characters undergo arcs and develop throughout the series, but these arcs are non-chronological. This makes for a very interesting viewing experience, it requires the audience to be attentive to remember all of the character development that takes place from episode to episode and season to season. My suggestion for watch order is to watch season 1 and then jump to season 3 and 4, then season 2. Due to the structure of this show, many various problems arise, at least for the normal viewer. The first of these problems is the amount of attentiveness needed to understand the character arcs, and the second problem is that the characters often reference events that are either disconnected by multiple episodes, or multiple seasons. Non Non Biyori and Non Non Biyori Repeat both chose the same non-chronological structure for story telling, and in many ways they both avoid the problems of Hidamari Sketch's structure for two reasons: The first of which is that the characters don't reference other events in their lives, the second is that most Non Non Biyori characters are one dimensional. So if this is the sacrifice that is necessary to make Hidamari Sketch's storytelling structure have mass appeal, I wouldn't take it.

The characters of Hidamari Sketch is the most influential aspect of the show, many character archetypes in the slice of life genre find their start here. Yuno, Miyako, Hiro, and Sae all have modern day counterparts that are indisputably influenced by Hidamari Sketch. Yuno created the 'normal girl' archetype; a archetype that is defined by the character traits of diligence, anxiety, compassion, and younger age. Miyako created the 'hungry girl' archetype, which is characterized by passion for food, cunning, and stubbornness. Hiro influenced the 'mother' archetype, whose traits include responsibility, discipline, cooking ability, compassion, and older age. Sae created the 'lesbian' archetype, the outline of which is characterized by perseverance, calm demeanor, and reserved nature. Note, I tokened these terms; So the next few sentences will be dedicated to adding validity to the archetypes I defined. Let's take a look at Yuno like characters first: Akarin (Yuru Yuri), Hinata (3-Gatsu), Osana (Doujin Work), Mio and Azunyan (K-On), Mika (Manabi Straight), and Chito (Shoujou Shuumatsu), so on and so forth. Miyako is the character that has been emulated the most, Yuuri (Shoujou Shuumatsu), Ritsu and Yui (K-On), Natsumi (Non Non Biyori), and Kyouko (Yuru Yuri). Yuno and Miyako have been the two most influential characters from Hidamari Sketch, and this is not an exhaustive list by any means. There is a load of difference between each character within each archetype, but archetypes tend to be broad. Sae and Hiro are not emulated as often, but there are easy to point to examples of both characters archetypes in general. What should be noted is that each character archetype has evolved with time, and characters that used to be defined by Hidamari Sketch characters may no longer be the case. But what still is the case is the character dynamics that were established by Hidamari Sketch; There are countless shows in the slice of life genre where the cast is comprised of 4 main characters with a mentor figure, that eventually adds 1-2 new main characters later on. K-On is a prime example of this exact dynamic because both Hidamari Sketch and K-On starts with 4 main characters, a teacher that watches over said characters, and 1-2 main characters that are introduced later on.

The themes of Hidamari Sketch are on artistic identity and cherishing the small moments of life; These are all conveyed through the character of Yuno, through out the entirety of the series we see Yuno struggle to find her artistic identity, and by the end of the series we as an audience see her grow as an artist by taking influence from her environment and her friends. Sae's character arc is one on accepting one's family, as her relationship with her sister is strained. Hiro and Miyako go relatively unchanged through out the series but this lack of change is arguably a good choice for the plot because they work as pillars for Yuno's character arc, they reinforce the ideas at play when it comes to Yuno and the lack of character change for both of these characters is not only realistic but benefits the show overall. The other main characters introduced in the later seasons both have their own character developments, but I don't want this review to go on for too long. But, the introduction of Nori and Nazuma in the later seasons help keep the character dynamics interesting.

The setting of Hidamari Sketch is one of the most fascinating aspects of the show, one that is still relatively unique to the show even today. The show follows Yuno, Hiro, Sae, and Miyako's daily life as high school students in a technical art program. They all formed their relationship because they all live alone in a low-rise apartment across the street from the school they go to. So for all intents and purposes they live like college students, this is a more interesting character dynamic than most slice of life shows. Most set pieces are one of the girls rooms, and most of the conversations they have are over dinner and is about their days. This creates a sense of familiarity that is woefully absent in most other slice of life shows; The environment of the show feels like home, and this adds to the welcoming atmosphere of the show. The main appeal of Hidamari Sketch, and every slice of life show, is seeing how the characters interact with each other; Iyashikei shows tend to favor using well established worlds and beautiful settings to convey the same emotions that are achieved through conversations in slice of life shows. Hidamari Sketch is hard to quantify in this regard because it utilizes both setting familiarity and the audiences' predisposed experiences. Many other shows utilize this genre blend like Hidamari Sketch, a few good examples of shows that necessitate setting familiarity and predisposed experiences are Aria, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, Non Non Biyori, and Flying Witch. Many people consider Hidamari Sketch to be the face of Iyashikei, this is almost undeniable, but I would consider it to be a genre blend between Iyashikei and Slice of Life because of the eclectic direction and emotional pallet of Hidamari Sketch. Aria and Yokohama both have similar emotional pallets but lacks the eclectic art style; Non Non Biyori may be the closest show to Hidamari Sketch in terms of art direction and story structure, but in general, there is an avoidance of discomfort narratively in Non Non Biyori which is present in Hidamari Sketch. As a viewer, discomfort should be reveled in because it is a fundamental part of life.

The aforementioned art direction is probably Shaft's best art style of all time, visually, it is the most interesting art style contained in any Iyashikei show. The animation is a blend of real life pictures, manga like background visuals, and simple character designs. There is two styles of character designs for each character, a sleek character design and a fatter, marshmallow like character design. Roughly, whenever something serious happens, sleek character designs are used. When something cute or funny happens, the fat character designs are used. The character designer of Hidamari Sketch is the same as Madoka, so the characters are as well designed as they were in that show. The fat designs are adorable and has been emulated in shows like Shoujo Shuumatsu. The actual cinematography of Hidamari Sketch is rather stationary, but, the visual flare of the art design is so strong that it keeps watching the conversation as interesting as the conversations themselves. The music of Hidamari Sketch works in perfect harmony with the animation. Most of the soundtrack sounds like elevator music, but it some how is the best elevator music ever made because it can convey any emotional state. As such, Hidamari Sketch's soundtrack is the most ubiquitously used soundtrack in most anime analytical videos I watch. The openings and endings are all solid, the openings are dedicated to conveying the light hearted aspect of Hidamari Sketch whereas the endings are dedicated to conveying the more melancholic tone that can sometimes be found in Hidamari.

So to conclude, Hidamari Sketch is more than the sum of its parts. There is many aspects that will turn people off however, the two big aspects would be the unconventional approach it has to story telling, and the constantly reused gags that can be found in the show. I find both aspects to be charming, but I can easily see how it would turn many viewers away. If you are just getting used to the Iyashikei and or Slice Of Life genre, I would recommend Aria, Yokohama, K-On, Shoujo Shuumatsu, and Non Non Biyori if you enjoyed Hidamari Sketch.