In every way, Hinamatsuri goes above and beyond what is expected of comedy anime.
It is not simply one of the best because it’s absurdist humor is well directed and often hilarious, it’s one of the best because it doesn’t stop at just making funny jokes. Every character is so well rounded to be believable and the story develops in a surprisingly organic fashion. Jokes don’t bog down the pace because they’re seamlessly woven into the story and character arcs.
Hinamatsuri tells the bizarre but heartwarming story of three young girls; Hina, Anzu, and Hitomi. Starting off the series is the most prominent of the three, Hina. A girl with psychic powers from a strange world who randomly appears in a yakuza member’s apartment penthouse apartment, Nitta. Right away he tries to kick her out, and she uses her powerful supernatural abilities to trash his apartment and break his precious vase collection.
Begrudgingly he lets her stay, even surprising himself at how quickly he slips into the role of a surrogate father. Gradually they become a sort of found family, at first because he fears her power and doesn’t want to end up like one of his poor vases. But it doesn’t take long for Nitta to realize that Hina’s just a lazy kid who wants a lot of things because she was denied them in the whatever strange world she came from. Seeing Hina’s deadpan personality perfectly sells the ridiculously stupid and unknowingly cruel things she does to people, namely Nitta in the first episode as he acts as the show’s straight man. There are a fair few cartoonishly ridiculous reaction faces shown off to sell his dismay, which surprisingly is quite detailed and used often with many characters throughout the show.
Nitta quickly realizes he can use Hina’s powers to make some money like any greed fueled adult would, and she points out his similarities to the organization she came from. He corrects himself by trying to not treat her like a tool, the first great change in his character arc. Once she sees he actually cares about her, she feels a commitment to helping him out with yakuza work and beats the crap out of a bunch of gangsters. Comically, they’re all thrown from their company building with cries of “ouchy!” from all of them.
It’s really weird, but it sets up the show’s themes perfectly. From the beginning they have a long way to go, there’s even a part where Hina gets disowned, but from then on they learn to forgive one another for their mistakes like a real family. It’s a consistently heartwarming dynamic that, despite the many hilarious bumps they hit along the way, always feels like they’re on an upward trajectory.
Their story, and for that matter, every story in Hinamatsuri feels like it could carry its own series. The plot is never just an excuse to string gags together, but honestly, even if it was I wouldn’t mind because they’re really well directed. Jokes are always edited not a second longer than need be, but they also linger long enough to be savored with perfect line delivery from the boisterous voice actors.
Every person has multiple sides to them, as long as you can find people you care for you as much as you do for them, then connections like these can be found anywhere. It’s a genuine and uplifting message that’s seen throughout the series as more characters and plotlines are introduced. As the first episode is the most straightforward with only one plot line it follows, Hina and Nita, it’s the simplest. There are a few background characters who are introduced, and never forgotten, and because they’re all connected to one another they pop up throughout the show. Gradually the relatively small part of the city the show is set in becomes more lively as we learn who lives where and where they often spend their time, it’s a great method of world building for a comedy series because it allows for long-running gags and a melting pot of various personalities that get defined then later clash with one another. This growing cast is reflected in the show's changing ED taking place in the bar owned by Nitta's original love interest Utako. Plus, Nitta's voice actor performs the wonderful song and it evokes a warm-hearted 80s style.
Hinamatsuri is in my opinion at the highest level of comedy writing, and I wish all anime would follow it. Even when the gags are presented deliberately at a slow pace is to show that you can probably guess how the joke will play out from context clues, but the outcome is so unfathomably absurd that you can't believe it until you see it.
The second psychic that sent to arrive on Earth, Anzu, a girl with far more attitude but less power than Hina. She’s too proud to tell Hina that she can’t go home when her teleportation device gets broken, so instead she chooses to live on the streets. Oh, what a fool I was for thinking Hinamatsuri would let this be a one-off gag. Instead, it starts with her stealing, then learning the value of money from the local homeless people who mentor her and give her a home in among them in the public park. Anzu learns how much money is worth through spending her days collecting cans, offering plenty of growth for her character who started as a thieving punk. The simpler life she lives is detailed immaculately to be believable; how much money she earns, what foods she can buy, how she can or can’t spend her free time, not being able to go to school. This is a more dramatic area of the show, but to balance out the tone there are laughs to be had when she interacts with Hina (supported by a wealthy yakuza) and Hitomi (middle schooler with a well-paying job). The contrast between the three lives they lead is hilariously skewed and used to bring about plenty of long-running and escalating jokes because they're ones who get the most screentime.
The homeless people who mentor Anzu are expectedly incredibly humanized like the rest of the cast. At first, they don't accept her for obvious reasons, it’s dangerous, but after she sings terribly for them, they become endeared by her and are reminded of their own grandchildren. By the end of that arc, they genuinely come to want her to have a good life. Seeing the impact she had on them once their found family is torn apart by the town moving them out of the park is truly moving, as well as how Anzu comes to cope with her new home at the ramen restaurant. It's a surprising gut punch after all the lighthearted jokes that you'll likely not get through without watery eyes. Despite being one of the more sentimental characters, the show still finds juggle jokes with saccharine moments. As Anzu becomes more aware and appreciative of the kindnesses people show her as a result of having so little, the show draws comparisons to the lazy Hina, at times and Nitta even begrudges how he ended up with the ungrateful one.
The third leading girl is Hina’s studious classmate Hitomi. She’s basically the nicest of nice people who just want to help others but is somehow always being punished for just being nice. Like how she helped out at Utako’s bar then ended up getting blackmailed into becoming an employee. It never gets mean-spirited because she’s always making tons of money from her jobs. Her whole shtick is that adults can’t stop being stupid jerks to her but she somehow makes the most of her situations. Seeing her overwhelmed with anxiety at the beginning of the series when she had to bartend for her middle school teacher was hilarious, and well telegraphed by the great character animation as always, but then she overcomes it and becomes confident enough in herself to make drinks that wowed all of her customers. Hitomi’s arc is my personal favorite because of how she takes overwhelming workplaces and somehow is still able to try her best at it and manages to help her own self-confidence and others around. Which is especially crucial when all the adults around her can’t seem to get their shit together. Her compassion is what makes her so likable, but with rapidly escalating career situation also comes a really weird but worthwhile character arc.
She sees Anzu homeless and despite being exhausted from overwork, she still takes the time to play tag with her. Even if it ends with the joke of her falling asleep standing up, it's still a testament to how much she wants to do right by everyone while also being absurdly hilarious.
OK so you may be thinking, some of the jokes derived from the characters may be too mean-spirited right? Well, that’s all part of the show’s appeal, it’s absurd and realistic while also not becoming overly sugar-coated. Overall it’s characters are written more with an inclination for humanizing them rather than realism; take the homeless characters for example. Anzu’s situation is portrayed as not purely nihilistic suffering but instead as a slightly unrealistically safe environment for a young girl. In spite of this, I prefer the show’s inclination to humanize its characters with in-depth personalities, that's what makes them so resonant.
Each cast member is flawed in many ways, no one is a completely good or bad person. Take Utako for example, she’s kind of terrible for blackmailing a middle schooler into working for her, but also she leads marches against the city trying to drive the homeless community from the park. The series is never content with leaving a character underdeveloped, there’s always more to them than their first impression implies. However, it’s not as if the series has time to give everyone fully fleshed out backstories with an episode worth of dialogue. Instead, studio Feel makes use of its generous budget and stellar character animation to give them each minor mannerisms constantly clueing you in on what they’re thinking. Like the nervous gestures Hitomi frequently shows early in the series, but gradually becomes more composed as she learns self-confidence.
Hinamatsuri is truly the gold-standard of modern comedy anime; exceeding the expectations in animation quality, story, characters, and directing. It’s not every day we see anime that strive to defy the expectations we have been conditioned to have for the comedy genre, and for the medium as a whole.