Monday, September 26, 2011

Hansaku Iroha – Series Review

[HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 14 [720p].mkv_snapshot_11.51_[2011.07.03_20.43.15] [HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 13 [720p].mkv_snapshot_23.47_[2011.06.26_23.11.22] [HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 13 [720p].mkv_snapshot_17.04_[2011.06.26_22.17.37]

You know, I’ve done quite a few of these series reviews by now – but this is a tough one to write.

Seriously – how do I tackle a perplexing series like Hanasaku Iroha?  I could talk about how it infuriated me with it’s preposterous failed attempts at slapstick.  I could repeat my irritation at the way it wasted so much time on the way (Graham Nash has nothing on HanaIro).  I could marvel at the astonishing range between its best episodes and its worst.  I could gush over the animation and background art and character designs, all among the most beautiful you’ll ever see in a TV anime.  I could was rhapsodic about the emotional pull it had when it focused on the elements of the series that really mattered.  Yep, this was definitely a series that all over the map and impossible to pin down – an irritating, exhilarating, vexing and beautiful mess.  How do you write about a show like that?

I guess in the end, it boils down to this for me – I’d rather a show be sometimes great and sometimes awful that always mediocre.  And make no mistake, this was a great series when it was on its game.  The series never really decided what it was about, but there were certain areas where it thrived.  Ohana’s confusing relationship with Kou.  Her troubling relationship with Satsuki, and Satsuki’s clumsy efforts to make peace with her past and her mother.  Sui’s consternation at seeing what following her dream had done to her family and her staff.  There was terrific drama and some fine comedy mined from those subjects, and if the show had spent more time focused there it would have been much the better.

I could certainly spend hours pointing out the myriad flaws of HanaIro.  But really, what’s important about them is what they say about the series as a whole.  It’s sad that a show that had so much potential – so much heart, so much drama, so much atmosphere – chose to bring so little of it to fruition.  The open-ended finale already has some folks talking about a second season, but please, I beg you – no.  There wasn’t enough here for one two-cour series, never mind two – at least not as realized.  If anything this would have been much better as a one-cour show, because if you took the best 12-13 eps and made a series out of those, you would have one of the year’s ten best anime.  As is, you have a maddeningly inconsistent show that’s notable for its missed opportunities as much as its successes.

For all that, though, it did end on a pretty high note with three of the final four episodes being quite strong.  I thought it might, as the eps written by creator Mari Okada tended to be the best.  And of course, it looked absolutely stunning.  PA Works isn’t the most prolific studio, but when they jump in they do so with both feet – this show had a big budget and a team of talented artists behind it, and that really shows.  At this point it might very well rank as the second most visually impressive TV anime I’ve seen after Seirei no Moribito  (which PA Works assisted Production I.G. with). 

The funny thing is, for all that it started out as a coming-of-age series, sometimes felt like a romance and sometimes felt like a straight slice-of-life, HanaIro more than anything ended up being about Okami-san, the “Madame Manager” Sui.  It’s no coincidence that Ohana wrote “I want to be Sui” on her wishing plaque, for what Ohana was discovering over the course of the series is just how much like her Grandmother she was.  It was Sui who counseled Ohana about Kou, who provided her model at work, and it was her ryokan – “An Inn to Please Sui” - that provided the one constant throughout the series.  The inn was a character, yes, but Sui was the inn.  it was her wish and her vision and her passion and her decisions that were the constant throughout the changing moods and faces of the series.  In the end, when Sui told Ohana she’d be waiting for her, what she really meant was that the old building would be there – just in the same way her husband was waiting for her in the end.

The subject of romance is never too far off the radar in an anime with teenagers, and there was certainly an explosion of discussion on the romance aspects of this one for a while.  It’s an odd subject, because romance is both a feint and the very heart of HanaIro, seemingly contradictory but really not.  The loud and boisterous orgy of shipping of Ohana with Tohru – rarely has so much rhetorical blood been spilled over such a trivial topic – aside, the one strand running through this entire series was Ohana’s relationship with Kou.  Though he was often physically absent Kou was always present in spirit, an important influence over Ohana and never far from her thoughts.  As far as the series was about her coming of age (despite the title, I don’t think it ultimately was for the most part) Kou was a vital component of that.  Ultimately Kou was the only thing Ohana was sure about, for all her procrastinating and inaction.  Kou has taken a lot of heat for not being more forceful, but I think he should be praised for being as patient as he was.  He was forceful enough to confess to Ohana before she left, and wise enough to let her find her way back to him in the end.  While that wasn’t the meat of what the show was about, it was the one element that tied together the very beginning of the series to the end, and it was resolved in a pretty satisfying manner.

In terms of the rest of the cast, it’s a mixed bag.  Minchi was admirable for always being ready to call BS (and there was a lot of it to be called) but often too one-note and self-centered.  Nakochi grew on me as she grew more forceful, and the mostly silent characters like Mr. Ren and Beanman had some of the most poignant moments in the final arc.  Generally, the show suffered for lack of strong male characters (I consider Kou one, but he was often absent)  and the frequent emasculation of the weak ones – a common problem with Okada.  There were too many characters – Enishi, Jiromaru, Takako – who were genuinely grating and annoying, a particular problem with Enishi as he was important to the plot.  But at least we did have Yuina – while she was entirely window dressing and a diversion from the main story, what a pleasant diversion she was.  I’ll never look at massage chairs the same way again.

Will HanaIro be remembered as an important series?  I suspect not.  There was simply too much weak material, too much time wasted on trivial nonsense.  That’s a missed opportunity, because the show certainly had some very special elements.  Again, though, given the choice I’d rather get the occasional burst of greatness and put up with the nonsense than never get anything memorable whatsoever.  And as always, I’ll be waiting anxiously to see what both PA Works and Mari Okada do next, because they’re both capable of producing something truly great.  It’s a shame that HanaIro wasn’t it, but I’ll try to remember the best moments and forget about the others.

[HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 19 [720p].mkv_snapshot_18.15_[2011.08.07_16.12.51] [HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 22 [720p].mkv_snapshot_05.56_[2011.08.28_18.42.40] [HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 24 [720p].mkv_snapshot_11.58_[2011.09.11_14.01.16]
[HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 26 [720p].mkv_snapshot_09.06_[2011.09.25_18.58.49] [HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 26 [720p].mkv_snapshot_18.46_[2011.09.25_19.08.37] [HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 26 [720p].mkv_snapshot_23.32_[2011.09.25_19.13.24]

5 comments:

  1. "I guess in the end, it boils down to this for me – I’d rather a show be sometimes great and sometimes awful that always mediocre."

    My favourites lists - be they of a season, year, or all time - are always full of shows I know are flawed but had certain qualities that made me absolutely love them. For me personally, Hanasaku Iroha is a pretty moderate case of that compared to some. I'm hoping that combined with love of some of the comedic bits (and particularly Tomoe) is enough to help other understand why I love this show.

    (Two other interesting observations: 1) my enthusiasm for this show started with the previews and never waned for long, and 2) I was able to predict with pretty good accuracy which episodes would be sidestories (particularly comedic ones) vs. which would really drive the plot forward. I also called that both Tohru/Ohana and Sui's illness would end up being red herrings in the end.)

    As for the idea of Sui being the heart of the show... I think you're partly right but put too much stock in the idea. I'd personally say the meeting of Ohana and Sui is the core of the show
    - and that both the title and classifying it as a coming of age make sense in light of that.

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  2. Wow, a solid ending really makes a difference. BONES can certainly a learn a thing or two when it comes to wrapping up their shows.
    I agree HanaIro might be 1 cour too long for its own good, but it was still enjoyanle while it lasted and hooray for Kohana ;D

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  3. Outf0x, I get what you're saying about the title and all. It just felt to me that Sui actually had more of an arc than Ohana did, and that the final arc of the series itself was basically about her. In the end, I suppose I'd argue the show was about both of them equally (and Satsuki as both the grease and the sand between).

    Seishun - yes, hooray. Seems like some of the Kou bashers are now basically bashing him for not either ravishing or marrying her in the end.

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  4. Visually this anime was PURE WIN from start to finish. There was never a moment while watching HanaIro when I didn't think "god this is just GORGEOUS" ... So kudos to PA Works for that. I do agree that it would've probably done better with a shorter run though.

    I guess my major gripe with the series was that it had a tendency to spin itself COMPLETELY off course, often times to disastrous results. But in the end I do think it definitely was a coming of age story. Maybe not in the way that I'd originally assumed it would be, which was that we'd be seeing Ohana's coming of age. But in a much broader sense it certainly was. As weird as this sounds, I think that both Satsuki and Sui came of age (w/their grown selves lol) as well here, with Sui's journey and spirit leaving the most lasting impression IMO.

    I was also overjoyed that we weren't inundated with Kou & Ohana's sappy melodrama in the end. Kou just never connected for me. Unlike you Enzo I actually didn't at all feel that he "was there in spirit though he was mostly absent". Ohana seemed to utterly ignore him aside from when it was convenient for the story line. For me, the poor dude was there in the OP, and that was about it. In fact that would probably be my second issue with the series overall ... Many characters were just plain forgettable. I think the reason so many (me included) were drawn to Tohru is because he was one of the few characters who managed to cement themselves into our minds. Along with Yuina of course, whom I adored. Really beyond Sui, Satsuki, Tohru, Yuina and Beanman; I almost felt as though the rest of the cast kind of held us at an arm's length ... I mean even OHANA failed to retain my focus and captivate my attention in the last episode, and she's the bloody main! Minko on the other hand did stay with me, but simply because I cannot recall ever loathing an anime character as much. I fail to see what the allure is with a one note tsundere ... Admittedly I don't generally find those characters appealing at all. But they are even HARDER to stomach when there's absolutely nothing likable about them to provide us with a redeeming quality to balance out their brattiness.

    But anyways, all in all I will DEF look back on HanaIro fondly. I was really happy to see that the characters I had built the strongest affections for, shone through so brightly in the finale. Sui especially. I truly hope they don't make a second season though, they barely made it through THIS one ... god, can you imagine the peril of another twenty-odd episodes?!

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  5. @ Anon 26/9/11

    Yes, while I agree that hanasaku is one of the best animation I ever met(never watch Seirei no Moribito). The only problem I have with this anime is how to classify it. You see I have a system of grade A with pure gold anime(code geass, baka test S1, suzumiya S1), grade B things I enjoy but lack abit something(gundam 00) and others...

    Both the grade A and B is usually recommend to friend while grade C below will be kept to my eye only. This anime deserve grade A for animation but I'll put it B because lack of something. However I cannot see myself recommend this to my friend since there is nothing to recommend about.

    In short, this anime fault is being too long for it's own sake. Should have ended it 14 episode ago. However if a friend ever ask if I enjoy it, I definitely say YES. Just don't know why I did.

    Side note: this is one of the rare anime that regarding to a bunch of girls life with no fanservice available and yet I was able to watch it till the end(for whole half a year)

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