Hanasaku Iroha 01: Little Misunderstood

P.A. Works’ latest project marks the first of the Spring 2011 season I have a chance to talk about, and a pleasant surprise it was! I don’t remember seeing a slice of life show from this studio since True Tears, so I was elated with what they accomplished in this first episode. Quality animation, beautifully simple music, a well-rounded cast of voice actors, and a down-to-earth story puts this show high up on my watch list this season.

Enter Ohana, whose tame and carefree life with her mother Satsuki in their small apartment gets turned upside down when she’s forced to make a drastic lifestyle change and move to live and work at a hot spring hotel with her grandmother and fellow inn keepers. The first half of the show does a good job in highlighting Ohana’s personality prior to the move, which later shows how much conflict builds up within her when her initial expectations start to crumble around her.

Ohana’s description of the city to her childhood friend Kouichi as a sort of concrete cage and her future as a simpleton was not only impressing, but it also had me wondering why she didn’t consider being a novelist. During her train trip to Kissuisou, she even made the contrast between the innards of the tunnel and the breakthrough of light as symbolism to the transition of her changing emotions from uncertain to confident. If that isn’t novel material, then I don’t know what is.

I was also impressed about her perceived maturity with the way both Kouichi and Ohana handled his confession to her before he ran off into the night. +20 points for being strong and honest about it, but -40 for not sticking around to get a proper response from her. He didn’t even see her off the next day!

I also think I’ve seen this somewhere before. Makoto Shinkai usually does a great job of portraying his characters as hopeless romantics like these two. Now we have an entire season to figure out if the two will ever meet again instead of an hour and forty minutes of build up just to realize the two of them never meet again. Thanks, 5cm per second, you really tugged my sleeve there a bit.

After Ohana arrives at Kissuisou, we’re introduced to Nako and Minko, who are an assistant cook and waitress/hostess for the hotel, respectively. Neither of them really know how to properly make Ohana welcome, which causes Minko to despise her initially and Nako to be withdrawn.

I couldn’t stop thinking of Nako’s voice being out of place as a shy Yui thanks to Aki Toyosaki voicing her, but Minko’s character design is totally fitting for Chiaki Omigawa’s sharper voice.

Ohana’s grandmother sure knows how to be boss, what with giving ruthless pinches for petty mistakes, or double slapping (each cheek) for disobedience. If it wasn’t already a big sign that Ohana is definitely her mother’s daughter by now, then I’m willing to bet that the conflict between these two is merely pointing out a mirror image of the conflict that developed between her grandmother and Satsuki before she left the hotel and raised Ohana.

Her sudden change in lifestyle and the waning acceptance of that change was animated well through Ohana’s tattered resistance to a complete emotional breakdown in between her floor cleaning routine. Even the music by nano.RIPE was heavily reminiscent of Honey & Clover for the more dramatic type of music they play during these key scenes. The lead singer sounds just like YUKI, for crying out loud!

Another notable moment included Minko getting lectured by Tooru on proper vegetable preparation, which Ohana misunderstood as unnecessarily harsh criticism. Her perception highlights just how sheltered her comfortable life was prior to the move, which I hope is a big enough perception to help show greater effectiveness of her character development when she begins to accept her responsibilities as an employee instead of just a household resident.

For anyone who’s had to go through life changes, albeit work, relationships, family, or environmental, this series does its overall representations of those aspects of change very nicely. Let’s face it, Ohana never really expected such a big change in her life; when it became a reality, she got heavily excited because it would lead her to being closer to the drama she wished to witness in her life. Instead, she got right in the middle of it all and became dumbfounded yet at the same time naturally resistant by its consequences. Assuming she’d never worked before makes her slow and uneven adjustment to the hotel in the second half of this episode a lot more sense, as well as realistic and even painful at some points.

Two thumbs up for a great start to what I hope to be a promising run by P.A. Works. It’s nice to step into the world of a fresh slice of life show again, and all of the aspects of the setting and the characters seemed to be introduced effectively. For next week’s preview, we got to see more glimpses of the daily life of the hotel and Ohana’s deeper transition into her duties. Apparently, the next episode title hints that the double slap she received from her grandmother was enough for her to continue scheming of a way to redeem herself, so I’ll be looking forward to what ’roundabout’ ways she’ll either achieve this, or humorously fail at it.

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