First Impressions: Hanasaku Iroha

When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

I’ve always said that Charles Dickens was a brilliant author and an atrocious writer. He’s responsible for some of the most iconic characters in the history of English literature, but his tendency to go into excruciating detail about unimportant things makes his stories nearly unreadable. If he hadn’t been paid in a way that encouraged this, he would be one of my favorite authors. Hanasaku Iroha is not padding its pockets by producing excessive material, but it is reminiscent of Dickens in all the right ways. It feels a lot like a piece of Victorian literature, which is not what I expected from the studio responsible for things like Angel Beats! and Canaan.

Just before spring break, Ohana is shipped off to her grandmother’s inn so her mother can run away from debt collectors with her boyfriend. Rather than taking her in as family, her grandmother puts her to work and makes it very clear that she will not be doing her any favors. Being accustomed to living with someone who is so impressively irresponsible, she has a bit of trouble adjusting to the strict and somewhat oppressive culture her grandmother enforces.

Please, sir, I want some more after the break.

What I Liked

The Art: The inn Ohana is dumped in dates back to the early 20th century, and it shows. There are tiny nicks and signs of wear all over the woodwork, giving it the atmosphere of a place that is very old but also well maintained. The front of the inn in particular is just gorgeous with the reflections in the glass. There’s also a stark difference between the public areas and the employee areas. Outside, you can almost make out the individual leaves on the foliage, which is quite a feat considering this takes place in the country. The equipment at the playground where Ohana gives the news to Kou even has chipped paint and spots of rust. All this attention to detail really pulls you into the scenes.

The Writing: After the painfully stupid dialogue in Fractale and the unintentionally hilarious writing in GOSICK, I was honestly beginning to wonder why people let Okada Mari anywhere near a script. After the opening scene of Hanasaku Iroha, I’m now wondering how much of the first two examples she actually wrote. In just under a minute and a half, we’re brought up to speed on Ohana’s quirky flair for drama and her wistful longing to be doing anything besides what she’s doing right now, her mother’s reckless irresponsibility and the way she tries to get her boyfriend to take care of her, and the odd semi-equal relationship between mother and daughter. In just the first scene, we learn more about two characters than we often do in an entire episode. The rest is just as good, with us being introduced to the other characters primarily in very short scenes that highlight their personalities and situations. But as fast as the story moves along, it never forgets to be entertaining. The dialogue is very clever and manages to squeeze chuckles out of you simply by being witty rather than relying on jokes.

Ohana: It’s easy for me to relate to the sinking feeling of your inherent romanticism succumbing to your developing pragmatism. Ohana is a lot like I was at her age; especially the way she obliviously makes things worse when she’s just trying to do something nice for someone. Still, the mistakes she makes are understandable and it doesn’t feel like she’s being stupid just for the sake of drama. She actually behaves like a sixteen-year-old girl. She’s mature in some ways and still childish in others; trying to find the balance between her personal values and society’s.  And her character design is just adorable.


What I Hated

The Title:Hanasaku Iroha‘ more or less translates into ‘The ABC’s of Blooming Flowers.’ The main character’s name is ‘Ohana.’ She has flowers in her hair. The first episode’s title is ’16 Years Old – Spring – Not Yet Budding.’ I think they’re trying to use a flower as a metaphor for a coming-of-age story. Pretty subtle, huh?

Overall Impressions

I was blown away by the smart writing, great character designs and relentlessly gorgeous backgrounds. A modern reimagining of typical Victorian themes isn’t something we see often in anime. It’s also nice to see a show that proves cute characters can fit naturally into serious writing. Other than being beaten over the head with obvious metaphors, I have no complaints about this show. Hanasaku Iroha is cute, smart and, most importantly, entertaining. A really good character-driven story of adolescence doesn’t come along often. If it maintains this level of quality for the rest of the series, it’ll easily rise to the top of its genre.