Hanasaku Iroha – Review

Hanasaku Iroha is a 26 episode series that aired this year during the Spring and Summer seasons. The story centers on Ohana, a 16 year-old high school student living in Tokyo who is left in the care of her estranged grandmother after her mother skips town to escape dept. Ohana arrives in the country town to discover that her Grandmother is actually the owner of a Taisho era ryokan (inn, often, but not always with its own hot spring) called Kussuiso. She begins working at Kussuiso because her Grandmother says that she will not be able to stay for free, and therefore must earn her keep. She starts off at odds with most of the Kussuiso staff who see her as a bit of a free loader since she is the owners Granddaughter. The story is essentially about Ohana’s efforts to make the best of her situation and change herself.

In many ways this story is a slice-of-life drama with elements of high-school life, however most of the action takes place within the inn itself, or around it. It is quite an interesting series being about finding what you truly want along with the notion that sometimes what you truly want is only noticeable when it either no longer exists or is out of your reach. It is quite a slow moving series in places, being more about relationships and day to day life in the running of an inn, however I think that it worked very well. The story itself does meander a bit and takes its time to get to a point which in places got quite frustrating. The narrative is a classic, tired and tested notion of growing up and finding your own way in life, however simply because it is unoriginal doesn’t really mean that this is bad, rather it is the way in which the narrative is used that matters.

The story is more of a character piece as I said, focusing on how the different characters who work at Kussuiso work and interact with each other, along with other people such as Ohana’s mother.

Ohana is a fascinating character actually, she is a character who has been pulled from her comfort zone and must learn about the hard work of running and inn and essentially reevaluate her outlook on life. She is an incredibly upbeat character, excessively so, and sometimes I found it a little strange that this 16 year-old girl was so immensely positive about everything. She is a very hard worker, and over the course of the series becomes something of a work-a-holic, almost entirely focusing on Kussuiso to the point of denying her romantic feelings for Koichi, a childhood friend that she left in Tokyo.

While Ohana is the main character, there are many other quite unique people at Kussuiso inn, including Minko and Nako, two girls who are the same age as Ohana and both working a the inn for different reasons. Nako is an interesting character who is used for much of the fanservice in the show since she has a nice figure and large breasts. She follows the classic pattern of an immensely shy girl who occasionally throws everything aside to save people. Her reason for working at Kussuiso (which becomes apparent later in the show) is to become more assertive.

Minko on the other hand is probably my least favourite character in the entire show. It is as if the writers and character designers had the image of a Tsundere in mind but forgot about the dere part and simple added the Tsun. She is nasty to Ohana throughout the series and while she does soften in places by that point I simply didn’t like her at all. She utterly despises Ohana at the beginning of the series, seeing her simply as a freeloader who only got the job through her relationship to the owner. Minko also seems utterly incapabale of dealing with Ohana’s personality and nicknames her ‘hobiron’ (Japanese for balut, look it up, looks nasty), an insult she uses perhaps 2 or 3 times an episode. I simply found her character a little too hard to deal with in places, and her constant insults thrown at Ohana got tiring.

There are other characters such as Tomoe, Enishi, Toru, Renji and Takako among others, but the series mainly focuses on the relationship between Ohana, Nako, Minko and a few episodes in Yuina, the heiress of a rival inn. There is a lot of emphasis placed upon all these characters lacking proper role models and directions in life. They all have dreams and ideas about what they want to do, but because of their circumstances have had no real advice or any true idea as their direction.

Ohana simply wants something interesting, Nako wants to be more assertive, Minko wishes to be a professional chef, and Yuina has no real clue what she wants to do. Throughout the series we see them learning about their dreams, their aspirations and getting to grips with the realities that they live in. There is also an element of romance within the series, mainly between Ohana and Koichi, although in this case it is implied romance. We also have the potential romance between Ohana, Minko and Toru, although this is more of a complicated relationship between co-workers that didn’t go as far as I could have from my point of view. But interestingly it is a high school drama that does not get too deeply involved in romance and love triangles, which I am thankful for.

Unfortunately this show also suffers from a classic case of high school melodrama, with whole episodes given over to it. I like slice of life drama, I like romance, but melodrama can be incredibly annoying and frustrating if done badly. We have Minko getting annoyed at Ohana for reasons beyond out understanding and of course Ohana unsure as to her direction in life, cursing her mother for essentially abandoning her and wondering if she truly loves Koichi or not. Lukcily for me this melodrama didn’t detract from the series itself, but it did make some of the episodes quite taxing.

The story is quite choppy in place and there are quite a few places where I didn’t really see any proper direction to it. We have filler episodes that while were nice didn’t necessarily add to the story or the characters themselves, so often felt a little distracting. The story also centers around the notion that even with all the effort put into running the inn by the staff it still may in fact have to close down due to rising costs and decline in customers. There is some moralistic aspect to the plot where Kussuiso is put forward as this unifying place that must be saved if everyone wishes to reach his or her goals. This quickly became quite dull in places and often felt a little forced, rather than focusing on other elements of the story. I understand why it does become a major element of plot considering the entire series takes place either in Kussuiso, or to do with the inn itself though.

The artwork of the series is wonderful to look at with a very realistic quality to it. The backgrounds are beautiful rendered in what appears to be a combination of CG and traditional hand drawn animation. The entire series is rather subtle, we do not have any fight sequences, but there are several wonderful pieces of animation that capture the inn itself along with the surrounding landscape. The soundtrack is also quite interesting, we have several songs for the major elements such as the opening and ending, but most of the other tracks seem to be more of the ambient variety. I have to admit the final piece of music used at the very end of the series is easily one of my favorites, and really fits the mood.

On the surface Hanasaku Iroha seems to be little more than a teenage melodrama set in a Taisho inn. But underneath it is a story about famly, role models and growing up; this aspect of the show is wonderful to watch and produces an intriguing anime. In particular the relationship between Sui (Ohana’s grandmother), Satsuki (Ohana’s mother) and Enishi (Satsuki’s brother and Ohana’s uncle) becomes key to the plot and forms the cornerstone of everything that has happens and does happen at Kussuiso inn. The dynamics of three family generations essentially fighting with each other and over the inn is handled exceptionally well, and we are shown how relationships are never static, they can be broken and re-created if you put enough effort in.

Thanks to the efforts the story and script takes to highlight how each person affects the other two several minor, but key points are clarified as the series progresses. We learn why Satsuki and Sui are estranged, Enishi’s desperate attempts to with his mother’s approval and to finally step out of his sisters shadow and more importantly how the introduction of Ohana helps in part to resolve all these issues.

It is these aspects of the story that become so important and so interesting as the series progresses. I quickly realized that I didn’t necessarily care about what happens to Kussuiso inn, and instead focused on Ohana and the other characters in the series. I particularly liked the relationship between Satsuki Sui and Enishi, which becomes more apparent later on, and also helps to explain Ohana’s current situation. Overall it is an enjoyable series, with an abundance of interesting and unique characters, and although I don’t really like Minko, she did at least have some interesting little scenes. There may be melodrama, but there is also enough comedy to act as a counterbalance. The voice actors do an excellent job, (Itou Kanae who voices Ohana is my favorite, but she also voices Eris from Asobi ni Iku Yo), and while the drama (which does become melodramatic) does become slightly overbearing in places it never quite consumes the entire series. It wont be for everyone, but it was a wonderfully animated, interesting look at how relationships can be created and re-created and more importantly can change your entire outlook on life.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

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