Half a year of blooming comes to an end

The show that I was most looking forward in the spring 2011 season was Hanasaku Iroha. I had high expectations for it after viewing the fourth PV for it on Lantis’s Youtube channel last winter and couldn’t wait to start it. The first episode stunned me with the immense quality of the animation and great set-up. I pre-ordered all 9 Blu-Ray volumes that day and watched the episode 4 times that week. It’s now 25 weeks later and our story has come to an end. This is how Ohana bloomed.

The first thing that needs to be said is that P.A. Works did an amazing job with the animation for Iroha. There was not a single episode that didn’t go by where I thought the animation faltered. It remained at such a high level compared to the rest of the non-Nichijou shows that it felt like a step down when viewing something else. The character designs by both Mel Kishida and Kanami Sekiguchi are nothing short of beautiful. The background art is fantastic and the 3D animation blends in well to give the whole animation a touched-up feeling.

After the first two episodes, the show shifts from its “dramatic” feel to a more comedic aspect that not a lot of people enjoyed. I thought it worked well and enjoyed both the dramatic and comedic elements. The short arcs for episodes 8-9 and 11-13 were fantastically done to allow Ohana’s lives from Tokyo and Yunosagi to mesh together. Episode 13 was an amazing finish to end the first cour with Satsuki’s return to the inn and reunited with her estranged mother. With only one not-so-great episode in 10, the first thirteen episodes left Hanasaku Iroha in a good position.

And then we reach the month long break from the main plot for episodes 14-18. Iroha‘s biggest flaw is that it touches so briefly on the student aspect for 13 episodes and then suddenly we are on a class trip or in a cultural festival. Then just as quickly, it’s all gone and the inconsistency to provide a decent reminder that they are students is the Achilles heel of the show. It would have been nice to have some more footage about that outside of those two arcs. While the movie arc ties into the overall plot (something the beach trip is lacking), it was easily the worst arc of the show. After episode 17 was over, I truly debated cancelling my pre-orders. It feels so lacking in comparison to everything else in script quality/direction.

Episode 18 brings us back into the main three with background on Nako that is very good, but arrives late. The Cultural Festival is a good focus on Minchi and is appropriately timed. I enjoyed the arc and her “Love” on the omelet rice. Episode 21-26 serves as a giant final arc that returns to the quality of episodes 11-13 and finishes the story in a proper way. We see that Enishi truly isn’t qualified to run the inn and he realizes it. The “us-against-the-manager” motif is very childish, but realistic of a workspace divided. Nako shines as a main character by bringing everyone together again. The return of Satsuki at the right time feels somewhat contrived, but works well to provide a great moment at the festival.

And so the finale. Maybe I should have waited a day or two to provide my thoughts on this so they aren’t as emotional, but I thought the finale matched the first episode in quality. We got to see the start of Ohana and Ko’s relationship. We see the closing of the inn. We see so many parallels between it and the first episode (Ohana mopping, Sui seeing her off on the train, going down the streets of Tokyo, making breakfast for her mother) that you see how she’s really changed since then. It’s a wonderful way to end the series and I’m selfishly wanting more. I want to see if Ohana re-opens the inn, I want to see a reunion with her/Michi/Nako/Yuina, but that’s realistic. One part of your life ends and you move on.

The one word I can use for Iroha is that it’s realistic. There’s no one swooping in to save the day out of nowhere, but it’s the bonds you form with those around you that carry you past your troubles. It’s not supernatural, it’s just life. That’s what I like about Iroha is that it’s just a good ordinary story about three girls growing up and the people they are with at their inn.

Music-wise, I’ve grown to enjoy every piece, including the second ending. Hana no Iro is a great OP and so is its predecessor Omokage Warp, but the final song had to be Yumeji. It’s a wonderful song to finish with (look up the translation) and there couldn’t be a better way to end the series. ED-wise Hazy outclasses Hanasaku Iroha in both song and animation, but the latter is decent. I like the pieces from the OST and I can’t wait to get it later this week. Over 60 pieces on two CDs! The other songs by nano.RIPE for the show (Patricia, Tsukikage to Buranko, Saibou Kioku, and Lip Synch) were also well done and appropriately placed.

So when a show ends, I always ask myself one question: Was I entertained? In the case of Iroha it goes beyond being entertained. I was moved many times; I even have tears in my eyes while writing this. It’s a wonderful show and one I highly recommend. Though it has some big flaws, it moves past them well and heightens its strengths.

I love the sharp edges instead of her usual rounded cheeks.

Final score: 93. This is only the second score above a ninety that I’ve given a TV animation project and I’m happy to give it to Iroha. Whether it’s musically, artistically, emotionally, or just enjoyable, this show has been a pleasure to watch over the past 26 weeks. I will truly miss it. As of right now, it occupies the third slot on my top 5 shows of all time, but that may change in the future. I look forward to more Yunosagi memories each month when I receive the BDs. Thank you P.A. Works for a wonderful show.

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4 thoughts on “Half a year of blooming comes to an end

  1. Excellent review. Glad you enjoyed HanaIro so much. I liked it very much too ^^ I know you’ve already read my thoughts about it, so I’ll just touch on one thing.

    I thought the final episode was very touching and bittersweet. But I think a couple of the middle episodes (don’t remember the number but the one where Ohana is “boycotting” her mom) are better and more on par with the quality of the first episode. Everyone getting along with each in the end before going their separate ways was beautifully done. Even though the series seems to want us to like Ohana’s mom in the end, I still can’t fully forgive her for how she treated Ohana in the past. However, I could almost forgive Sui in the end for being so bitchy to Ohana in the early episodes. Guess this is a good example of HanaIro being realistic like you said. Characters like Satsuki and Sui are shown to have good and bad traits and the series lets the viewer decide if we want to like them in the end or not.

    • I can’t forgive her (because she is a bad mother), but I can’t forgive Sui either for Enishi or Satsuki since she did the same thing. Satsuki raised Ohana the only way she knew how. Remember too that she was having to raise Ohana by herself since her father died 15 years before the start of the series. In a very work-intensive environment like Tokyo, parents have long hours. I’m not saying that she couldn’t have tried to get off from work, but that’s likely what happened. She’s still an interesting character like you said.

      I’m surprised, yet happy I enjoyed the series so much and am in withdrawal now.

  2. Yumeji…Hmm, after listening to it, I only recognised the tune while in the middle which is how they break off each episode to the ED. I think.
    Hard to remember.

    I liked this anime as well. It had nice animation, and I liked the countryside feel it gave (Reminded me of Persona 4, especially the town Yunosagi–> Yasoinaba) Well, kind of like that. If you’ve played Persona 4, you’ll know what I mean. Even if you haven’t…

    I think I prefer OP 2 and ED 1 better. That’s just me though.
    I thought the part when they all work together as a team was nice. Especially Sui and Satsuki working as waitresses.
    Heh.

    • Yumeji is the song used for PV 4&%, the ending to episode 8, and the ending song for the final episode. You’ve definitely heard it before.

      Oh, the Sujima women working together was a wonderful moment. The animation was a feast for the eyes and the rural aspect was indeed nice. I enjoyed everything but ED2. It just felt off to me.

      Glad to hear you liked it.

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