Hanasaku Iroha 1-3: P.A. Works be puttin’ in some serious work.
Each season, you get your blockbuster anime, filled with gunslinging action and prismatic arrays of magic bursts, mechas flying about and whatnot. And there’s the slew of ecchi series, with attention-grabbing exhibitions of tits & ass, meant to keep the viewers’ eyes peeled for any bits of service they can find. But here’s an anime that’s so exceedingly normal, devoid of any fantastical qualities or even anything remotely unrealistic, but manages to be so exceedingly riveting to watch. This series started off somewhere near the end of my backlog of anime to watch, and I started watching it simply because I clicked the wrong file and was too lazy to change it back, but boy did I make such a huge mistake of passing this one by. In a flash, I’ve sped through all three episodes so far, savouring every bit of it.
The lead character, Ohana Matsumae, is a feisty, headstrong girl, and it is because of her upbringing and surroundings that has molded her into a fiercely independent person that doesn’t hesitate to question others when she feels that there has been an injustice. She is voiced by Itou Kanae (Saten from Index II, Elsie from The World God Only Knows, Hinamori Amu from Shugo Chara!), who gives Ohana a sweet voice, but has just the right amount of assertiveness to give the impression that she’s not that easily put down.
The event that started it all was the surprise announcement that her mother would be eloping with immediate effect with her lover, leaving Ohana behind under the wing of her grandmother, who owns a hot spring inn named Kissuisho. Being thrust into such a situation so abruptly would have been a shock to Ohana, who doesn’t know really how to deal with it. She’s also quite clueless in terms of relationships. Her childhood friend declared his love for her, much to her surprise, as she hadn’t been feeling any vibes from him.
She sets off for the inn by train, and her feelings are likened to journeying on a train through a tunnel. Everything is dark and muddled, and all she is waiting for is the light at the end of the tunnel to guide her. When she reaches the inn, she immediately gets into a confrontation with Minko, a 17 year old apprentice chef learning her trade at Kissuisho. Ohana’s plucking of Minko’s carefully grown plants, mistaking them for weeds, gives Minko a very bad first impression, which is a portent for things to come.
We are introduced to Nako, a 17 year old maid/waitress, also working at Kissuisho. She is shy and introverted, having a tendency to avoid eye contact when conversing due to her meekness. Also, Ohana’s grandmother, who is the owner of Kissuisho, makes her appearance. Outwardly, she is extremely strict and always regards the customers of the highest priority. But, despite her stern demeanour, it seems that she’s just giving some tough love to Ohana.
A slew of other characters are introduced in the first episode, namely Ohana’s uncle Enishi, Tomoe the gossipy head waitress, Denroku the old janitor,and the two chefs Renji and Toru. And there’s also Taro the novelist, who lodges at Kissuisho.
It must be the worst feeling in the world for Ohana, to be caught up in a whirlwind of madness. Suddenly her life is turned upside down. Her mother had abandoned her to elope with her lover, and Ohana isn’t having the best of times in Kissuisho. Initially, she expected to have a relaxing time at a holiday inn, which was marginally forgivable given that she’s left in the cold. However, she’s made to work and work hard on a daily basis. She is unable to quickly come to terms with her current predicament, and can be seen screaming in despair while mopping the floor.
However, what I like about this anime is the way Ohana is portrayed. She’s indomitable, meaning that she wouldn’t let her situation get the better of her. Her scream is making a stand of defiance, not to rebel, but to face reality and tackle it head-on.
Being headstrong does have its drawbacks though. Ohana often does what she thinks is right, taking the initiative to do a favour for somebody else. It often lands her in trouble as well. The scripting of this anime is very well-done; the pacing and the general flow of the episodes is smooth and with reason. A big emphasis is placed on causality: mindlessly putting in effort into doing something may not generate the desired outcome. Ohana thinks that helping Minko would then lead to their patching up afterwards, but it more or less had the opposite effect. Minko thinks that Ohana’s actions are done in spite. It is precisely the inability of Ohana to read the situation that leads to misunderstandings, even if she had good intentions to start with.
The reason for all these conflicts stem from the way Satsuki brought up Ohana. While there is nothing inherently wrong with Ohana, she has learnt from young that she has to make her own independent decisions. What she didn’t learn, and didn’t have the chance to, is to understand the subtleties and nuances that allow people to read and analyse circumstances to react accordingly. When Satsuki told Ohana not to trust anyone, she made the mistake of letting that thought proliferate in Ohana’s mind, causing her to think that she must do something for others to set things right, and that only she is able to make the difference to remedy the situation.
Why the bondage suddenly? It’s because Ohana took the initiative to clean Taro’s room up, without prior knowledge that his room should not be cleaned as there are “important” drafts that may be mistaken as waste paper. Ohana tries to, as always, remedy the situation by finding the drafts that she’d thrown away, and discovered that Taro was crafting a sex novel to pay off his bills, drawing “inspiration” from the girls of Kissuisho. Despite being a compromising situation, Ohana willingly allows Taro to experiment with bondage to get more inspiration. Now that’s novel. It’s her willingness to right the wrongs that make this series so interesting to watch.
That’s just the visualization of Taro’s work. AND I APPROVE OF THIS.
Seriously though, Taro did something he wouldn’t be proud of, and fled the inn in embarrassment. Cue a car chase scene! It culminates in Taro getting cornered atop a magnificent looking rock. He jumped off despite their efforts to bring him down, and he was promptly saved by Nako, who had a knack for swimming that belied her usual shy self.
Taro was confronted by Ohana once again, who assured him that he was a talented writer, as he managed to determine the true feelings of Ohana when crafting his sex novel. Taro realized the folly of his actions, and hastily apologized, vowing to work at Kissuisho to pay off his bills while writing to finish his crafts.
If anything, Ohana’s arrival at Kissuisho represents a catalyst for change. Her fierce determination to question rules when nobody previously dared to do so has caused the people around her to start taking a look at themselves, to change for the better. Even her grandmother was secretly happy for her arrival, claiming that she had a striking resemblance to Satsuki.
It is said by Taro that Ohana wants to sparkle, and I believe she’s growing into it. The people at Kissuisho probably led quite dull and drab lives before Ohana’s arrival, and she has dazzled them with a bit of her own gleaming personality. Despite the clashing personalities of Ohana, Minko and Nako, it will be interesting to see their interactions in the episodes to come.
As you can see, Hanasaku Iroha is an excellent slice-of-life anime that has strong characters to go with a cleverly-crafted script. If you like a good story with vibrant characters, this is one prime example. Despite it not being on my must-watch list initially, now I’m hoping the week ends faster so that I can get to see the next episode.