For their tenth anniversary P.A. Works decided to attempt something they hadn’t done before: a two cour original anime series. Their own staff prepared the ideas and they were able to obtain the services of Mari Okada for composing the series and Mel Kishida to design the character models. Previews began being uploaded by Lantis’s branch to promote the image song single Patricia by nano.RIPE last fall and the series premiered on April 3rd of this year. Pony Canyon began distributing the home video releases this month and I received my copy of the first volume yesterday. Let’s begin to sprout with Ohana and the rest of Kisisiou in Hanasaku Iroha! Screencaptures are located in this Photobucket Album. BDInfo
From the moment I first saw the water in the fourth preview video I immediately put this series as one that I wanted to preview. Thankfully Crunchyroll picked up the rights to stream it in a few countries around the world and I began to watch it 30 minutes after it premiered in Japan. To say I was blown away was an understatement. If the first episode had been an OVA I would’ve instantly scored it a 9 (the highest non-Haruhi score I can give). I immediately pre-ordered the entire BD set and waited not-so-patiently for this set to arrive.
The first volume of Hanasaku Iroha contains the first three episodes It’s Spring, I’m 16, and I’m Still a Bud, Vengeance is a Staff Meal, and Balut.
I already said that It’s Spring, I’m 16, and I’m Still a Bud was one of the best episodes I’ve seen to start a series and it immediately drew me in. I watched it no less than four times that day and the next. Re-watching it for this review, I began to notice certain things that begin in this episode including a schedule discrepancy (There’s a March calendar but a later episode references 6 months later as June) and how shy Nako was at the begining of the series. This episode combines humor, plot, and an incredibly dramatic scene at the end. By the end I was crying just like Ohana due to the immense quality of this episode. The animation was beautifully done and the BGM just heightened every scene. Both songs by nano.RIPE fit the episode and helped make it great. A wonderful start to this series.
Vengeance is a Staff Meal continues our story with more background on Minko and Nako. While not up to the standard of the first episode, this one begins the plot of the missing manuscript and our first Tohru/Ohana moment occurs as well. The insert song by Rey is masterfully included in that scene also. We see just how out of place Ohana is and yet how she can continue living the same way she did in Tokyo. She was going to become friends with Minko and Nako no matter what. The animation continued its high quality as well. The wonderful ED of Hazy is also used for the first time.
Balut is where fans either dropped the show or began to love it. The increased comedic element as well as the fanservice scenes were quite a contrast to the dramatic tone the show had used previously. Every scene is well executed for its intentions regardless of opinion. We finally see Nako’s high point and Ohana saves the day by wanting to shine! I still enjoyed the episode though.
I can’t say enough about the visuals in the show. P.A. Works puts some of the most incredible scenes I’ve seen in a TV show and yet sometimes they take an easy way out. For the most part I say this show rivals Clannad and Haruhi 2009 in quality. Some parts were altered for the BD release to improve brightness and it’s almost difficult to pinpoint them if you’re not looking for them. Is it the most beautiful animed product? No, but it’s got a higher quality than most.
Going from computer speakers to a 2.0 mix was quite an improvement. The LPCM mix works incredibly well to highlight the various background sounds as well as not drown out the voices in busy scenes. I was able to notice more BGM tracks than previous as well. The songs also sound fantastic, especially my favorite of Hazy.
Included on the disc are two commentary tracks and the first textless opening. Of course the opening retains its amazing quality and the lack of text shows off the visuals even more than usual. The first commentary track is one done in character by Kanae Itou (Ohana) and Mamiko Noto (Tomoe). They play off of each other incredibly well and break the fourth wall at times (referencing the opening and radio show). Hearing Tomoe interrogate Ohana about Kou when he’s on scene was hilarious as well Ohana trying to warn Minko about the slap about to happen. For the first time I’ve listened to a character commentary, I greatly enjoyed this one. The second commentary track included Itou (as herself) and director Masahiro Ando, producer Kenji Horikawa, and producer Takayuki Nagatani. They had fun talking about Ohana and her relationship with the other characters. You could tell Itou really likes Ohana.
But what’s special about Hanasaku Iroha is the packaging and physical extras! The production committee decided to have 3 artboxes (included on the 1st, 4th, and 7th volumes) and include a 64 page all color booklet with each volume. This volume’s artbox is drawn by Kishida and features our three main heroines outside the inn. These pictures are all I can give you, but please take my word that this box is the best one I’ve seen (even topping the Clannad ones I have).
The 64 page booklet for this volume features a summary for episodes 1-3, character art for Ohana and Minko, the artwork used for the box, storyboards for the opening/ending, original pictures for the opening/ending, and a 6 page copy of the story Jiromaru wrote, The Bubble-smothered New Employee Training Session. Pictures can’t describe how nice this looks either.
In conclusion, this is an incredible set to own. Not only do you get one of the best first episodes from the Spring 2011 season, but the other two episodes are great as well. The extras, both on-disc and physically included are a wonder to behold/listen to. I can’t recommend this set enough if you can import it. Here’s hoping for great sale numbers!