First Impression – Hanasaku Iroha

Oh Ohana, I know you can overcome these trials!

The genre is slice of life, and the main character is a girl named Ohana. The setting is a hot spring inn called Kissuisou, where Ohana is going to start her new high school life. The supporting characters are the employees of the inn, who come in all shapes and sizes. The story? Presumably Ohana’s gradual integration into and understanding of Kissuisou, and the characters and events that lead her there.

I will be frank. It doesn’t sound all that interesting. Actually, it sounds very boring. I’m not usually one to enjoy slice of life shows unless they are hilarious, and this one sounds like it’s supposed to be deep and meaningful. However, as you all should know, I am a fan of Kanae Ito. An irrationally rabid fan of Kanae Ito. And, if you didn’t notice, Kanae Ito did not appear in the winter season.

I’ve been deprived. I’m going into withdrawal. I listen to my Kanae Ito playlist on my iPhone for like twelve hours a day. I’ve been reading light novels like crazy (finished four in the last 2 months). I’ve been playing video games to keep my mind off anime. I’ve been reviewing Gosick.

It’s about freaking time! I don’t care if Hanasaku Iroha is not my usual type of show, I am all over this one. And next week, Kaminomi season 2 starts. This is the moment I’ve been waiting like the past three and a half months for.

Ohana Matsumae’s former life. She is a fairly normal 16-year old high schooler in Tokyo, raised by a rather whimsical single mother who seems to write for a living. Their relationship seems almost reversed, with Ohana doing the housework and covering for her mother’s laziness. Outside of home, she peacefully enjoys her high school life with her best friend, Kouichi Tanemura.

Sudden change. One night, her mother takes flight with her indebted boyfriend, sending Ohana to spend the rest of her high school days with her grandmother. Is it too sudden? But this could be the pivotal moment of change in Ohana’s life, the chance to escape her gray city life to a dreamy existence in the countryside. What could go wrong? After all, what could she even leave behind?

A surprise. Kou leaves Ohana with a sudden confession as he realizes this is his last chance. But even with this in hand, Ohana has no choice but to continue her journey onto her new life.

A new cast of characters. Minko and Nako, two employees of the inn around Ohana’s age, the former being another resident. Their first meeting is a shaky one, Ohana quickly getting on Minko’s bad side and Nako seeming to be wary of strangers. Sui Shijima, the matron of the inn, and Ohana’s grandmother. We learn that Ohana’s mother was disowned by Shijima, making Ohana just another girl in the eyes of Shijima. Enishi Shijima, Ohana’s creepy (perverted?) uncle, her mother’s brother. Tomoe, another employee of the inn, and Ohana’s superior. She appears to be the most interested in Ohana, but purely on a mutually beneficial basis. She is dying to hear stories about Ohana’s loose mother.

Two-hit face combo!

Work. Work. As Ohana is not regarded by Shijima as a granddaughter, she becomes merely another employee. Ohana must work to earn her stay at Kissuisou, whether she likes it or not.

Reality. One falling futon later, Ohana quickly learns just to what extent she is an outsider at Kissuisou. Shijima maintains a strict rule at the inn as they are in the business of ensuring the comfort and enjoyment of the customers, and all of the employees are in it together. Ohana’s mistake brings misfortune on the customers and her new acquaintance Minko. Conflict is on the brink but averted because the success of the inn comes before individual disputes.

Ohana Matsumae’s new life. As a strong, independent city girl, Ohana is determined to succeed here despite her lack of family, friends, and support.

MORE PICS

Ohana’s many faces.

Actually, just one. I love her drooping eyes face.

Death upon you…

Quick… grope before she notices!

“Stop that.”

That makeup looks a little familiar…

I thought this picture from the ED sequence was nice.

END THOUGHTS

It exceeded my expectations. It really did. I was expecting some weird, distinguished cast of characters that Ohana would have fun interacting with and slowly understand on a deeper level, but instead I get a more realistic depiction of an overwhelming wave of hostility. That isn’t to say that they won’t eventually become friends, as they most certainly will, but I was expecting a more light-hearted, happy show from the pictures and PVs. This trial that Ohana finds herself in is something that I would much rather watch. Yes, I said slice of life is not usually my thing, but coming of age stories are a completely different category for me.

Let me briefly explain something. I was drawn in by Kanae Ito for two reasons. 1) Her singing voice and 2) her narration. Her first character to catch my attention was Ruiko Saten because of the introspective quality of her voice. In Hanasaku Iroha, this is even more pronounced, as Ohana frequently goes into internal monologue. Kanae Ito’s voice has this raw quality to it that makes it perfect for reflective dialogue or monologue, which, to me, makes it absolutely suitable for a story like Hanasaku Iroha. Plus, her normal speech is awesome.

Oh, the music. OH, THE MUSIC. Set aside the characters and story for a moment. The background music is beautiful, so peaceful. No doubt there will be some standard silly tracks on the OST later on, but our exposure thus far is mostly to calm piano or guitar tracks, plus several orchestral tracks. It’s like I’m watching a movie. In addition, we get not one, but two nano.RIPE songs. I’m currently addicted to their song “Yumeji” (if you recall, it was the song playing during this Hanasaku Iroha promo video). The singer of nano.RIPE is reminiscent of chatmonchy, but backed with a much fuller instrumentation. I can’t wait for this OP single come out.

Overall, I was mostly drawn in by the hostile character personalities. The wall that the employees have set up blocking Ohana out is something I’m very interested in seeing be brought down gradually. We haven’t seen her new school life yet, so I’m curious how that will turn out as well. The art style is also the kind that I like, and I didn’t see anything that put me off about the animation, so fortunately I won’t drop this series due to an artistic aversion (MADOKA). For now, I will be following this!

PREVIEW

Who is the first person that Ohana will manage to befriend?

About

Follower of both dark and mysterious horrors and funny and pointless comedies. Fascinated with ghosts and the supernatural. Friendly and talkative, but I will kill you if you get between me and Itou Kanae.
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