Hanayamata Review

This is review number four hundred and nine. This anime is part of the Summer 2014 lineup, and it’s the last one for now. I still have a bunch of season two shows to watch, but I’ve seen all that I can see. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Hanayamata, and it’s a twelve episode anime about a bunch of cute girls in a club. Yes, it’s one of those. Let’s read on.

Story

Naru Sekiya is a very timid person. She believes that she is just normal, and she should stay that way. She wants to shine like the characters in her fairy tales though. One evening, she sees a blonde girl dancing in a temple. It’s a fairy, and she wishes that the fairy would take her away. The fairy agreed, and she extended the invitation, “please join my yosakoi club!”

Taking the Pants Off

This is the last anime I’ll be reviewing, for now, in the Summer 2014 lineup. Oh gawd, after two years, this section of my reviews are finally over. It has been a very bumpy ride to get here, but let’s not get into that for now. Let’s talk about Hanayamata though, because, ladies and gentleman, we have here a Marshmallow cake! What is a marshmallow cake? Well, if Marshmallow shows are sweet and fluffy, yet airy and empty, then marshmallow cake shows are sweet and fluffy but dense and fulfilling. This is a “cute girls doing cute things” anime with an actual story. For once, the focus isn’t on the girls just having a good time eating cake and being cute. There is actually a story arc that the show follows, but it still indulges on the cake eating and the cuteness. This anime is an incredibly rare one, because marshmallow shows by design shouldn’t have a story. They only function on a premise, but this one is structurally different. It’s a one of a kind marshmallow cake, and I honestly can’t believe such a thing exists. I was so weirded out by how well the anime told its story while also giving us countless scenes of characters just being sickly sweet and cute. This anime actually has a lot of surprises, and we’ll go over each one. I’ll shower this show with praises, but I’ll also admit this anime just isn’t perfect. It had some flaws, and I think it goes back to the show being a different kind of marshmallow show. It tried some interesting things that I think just didn’t work out.

The anime opens with a cute girl named Naru, and we weren’t introduced to her routine or her journey into finding the club she’ll join. Instead, we are introduced to Naru herself. In her rich narration, we discover that she has low self-esteem, a bit childish and she is clearly an underachiever. She loves fairy tales, of all things, and she doesn’t think much of herself. The first episode is a gawd damn character study, and just think about that for a bit. This cute slice of marshmallow cuteness is not doing her best to introduce us to her laidback life. Nope, we get a heavy introduction about her instead. Her insecurities, her admiration for other people and her wish to be someone other than herself. Holy sh*t, in the first episode, we are greeted with exposition most cute shows couldn’t even fit in an entire series. That’s the first impression you’ll get from this anime: it’s not your ordinary cute show. It’s still an incredibly cute show though, because the first epiosde ends by introducing another girl named Hana. The moment of her introduction is actually being built up ever since Naru spoke. Naru wanted more things in life, and then here comes Hana dancing happily with the cherry blossoms around her as if practically calling out to Naru. Her bright disposition dazzles Naru, and you instantly know Naru’s life is changed for the better by just this one solitary moment. So, holy sh*t again, why is this anime so rich with exposition that I’m actually analyzing it? I’m actually reviewing a cute show. I feel dirty just admitting that.

This is the beauty of this anime. It behaves like a marshmallow show, but it’s a very different kind of marshmallow show. It’s a visual spectacle, a slow paced character driven show and it functions as a character study. It doesn’t even sound real, and I’ve already seen this anime. Before we dive into the deep stuff, let’s just establish very early on that this anime IS a marshmallow anime. It follows the core elements of shows like K-on and Non Non Biyori. It has very cute girls, it has a lot of scenes where the girls just do random stuff together, and it follows their routine in school. It’s a laidback slice of life show that is very similar to the shows I mentioned before. It even has a unique premise to set it apart from the rest. This one has the girls in a yosakoi club, and the show follows their journey into growing together as a club. We get a lot of cake time, a lot of cute bonding moments and a lot of fluff. This is the beauty of the marshmallow genre, because it comes off as simple so the experience isn’t as daunting than other shows. There is no conflict, the focus is on the happy side of life and we get to indulge into a softly paced show about girls we’ll slowly learn to love. I personally hate K-on, but I respect what it has achieved as a marshmallow show. People respond positively to the anime because it’s very easy to enjoy. It welcomes everyone in its blanket of cuteness and encourages you to stay with the promise of an anime experience you’ll never regret, ever. I don’t think you can truly hate marshmallow shows, even though I personally want them out of my life. Anyways, Hanayamata is a marshmallow show. I’ll prove that with this image:

And this one:

And this one more, just to be sure:

So, who’s your fave character so far? Now, staring at the image above, can you believe the anime opened with one of them having a personal crisis? How does that even work? This is where Hanayamata breaks the marshmallow formula: it introduces conflict to the story. It comes in two forms. One is the character conflict, where a girl doesn’t immediately join the yosakoi club. Instead, we get to indulge in her personal conflicts first. For example, Naru is introduced as a timid girl with very low self-esteem. She greatly admires her friend for being in a band, and she wishes to be like her. She doesn’t have the initiative though, but upon meeting Hana, Naru is forced to face her problems. Her insecurities and personal short comings are now being resolved by joining the yosakoi club. That’s basically the formula. No girl just randomly joins to eat cake. They must first get very personal and realize that joining the yosakoi club is more beneficial for them.

The problems can get very deep as well, and sometimes a bit too much for a cute show. I’m fine with jealousy over your friend, but when the show started to incorporate family issues, I honestly thought it was just too much. I still love it though, because this is how the anime introduces the characters. They aren’t just moeblob with the same passion for yosakoi. No, they are introduced as flawed characters first. They are multi-dimensional characters before we even see them have cake time in the club. These girls are defined by other things besides being very cute. By letting us indulge in their problems, this anime actually establishes that the characters are human. They’re like us, and we are like them.

An interesting thing about the girls being flawed before joining the club also means that yosakoi feels more like a distraction for them. It isn’t the thing that’ll solve their problems, but they believe that it is. They believe that being with the other girls can actually heal their wounds, and they just roll with it. It goes back to the anime being a marshmallow show. Behold, the power of friendship will make everything better. With the show’s depiction of the girls’ problem though, I also believe that the girls band together because they believe the rest of them are just as burdened as they are. They let the others share the weight of their burden as they shoulder the others. Isn’t that just a wonderful way of presenting friendship? A bunch of flawed people band together to ensure no one falls and scrape their knees. It’s actually heavily smart, especially for a marshmallow show, and I can’t believe something so cute can be so multilayered. There is a big flaw to the anime’s portrayal of flawed characters, but we’ll discuss that later on. For now, let’s focus on the second kind of conflict in the show: the everyday club conflict.

This anime has a premise of the girls being in a yosakoi club, but it has a story about the club practicing for a big festival event. The progression of the story always involves conflicts. From the personal conflicts the characters struggle with to the various mishaps the small time club comes across with. From not being officially recognized as a club to not being good enough to nail their dance, the anime always introduces a low point in the club’s life to eventually highlight the high points it’ll achieve. Now this is where the anime kinda becomes a bit flawed. Since it’s a true marshmallow anime, the approach to solving these problems is always so idealistic. For example, after being constantly refused by the student council president, the characters would just perk up and claim that their friendship and strong bond can weather any storm. They smile happily and just continue on with their life, and this shoves the problem in the background. It doesn’t really crush the club or cause a rift between them. The power of friendship is strong and it can weather anything, I guess. They also keep on hammering the fact that yosakoi bring people together, and they must do their best yosakoi to solve everything in life. It’s very counterintuitive, because you were just splashed in the face with reality but you still handled it with cuteness. It’s a very tilted logic. As long as you’re happy and with your friends, then nothing in the world can ever break you down. It’s too idealistic for its own good.

This idealism is also the answer to the personal problems. Every character had their own problem, and they were very serious ones. Jealousy over others, constant pressure from your parents, unrealistic expectations from your parents, betrayal by the person you love and personally feeling you’re not good enough are amazing topics that demand an actual resolution. The anime denies us of that though, and everything is resolved with the power of friendship. We are presented the serious problem, but we weren’t given a serious answer to it. We never see the parent and child come face to face to discuss the problems, we don’t see the characters actually sit down and fight over their jealousy, and we never see closure to any of the problems. They just happen, and then the characters join the club afterwards. It doesn’t feel right, because you had something good here. You sucked us into a story of self-redemption, and we never see the characters redeem themselves. Everything is just used to setup the club and cake time that the anime will eventually become. By not shedding its marshmallow identity, the anime now feels like a tilted show telling its audience that you can just run away. Go, run you bastard, run!

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I will admit though that I might be overthinking this aspect of the anime. I’m not the same guy that cried at AnoHana. I can acknowledge a sad moment, but I won’t cry until I know the show deserves that emotional response from me. Some people might enjoy the show as it is: a different kind of marshmallow anime, a marshmallow cake. I personally think that it can do better. You’ve given us amazing characters with well-deserved progressions, so they deserve a well-deserved ending as well. Is it because the manga is still on going and the show opted to honor the original source by not giving us an alternative ending? That can be, but I feel like I invested so much and got very little pay off in return. It didn’t come together for me. It felt like the show operated on default towards its ending. I dunno. I feel frustrated, because I really want more than what the show gave me. But, I’ll be fair, the show is unique by its own. It managed to make overly sweet cuteness go hold hands with an actual story, and that’s a very hard thing to do. Marshmallow shows doesn’t have story, and you’ll only just enjoy the character showcase. This anime features actual character study, and a character driven narrative. The story doesn’t move until the characters themselves make an improvement for the story to progress. It’s still incredible by its own merits.

The yosakoi club developed in an interesting manner as well. Every character really added something new to the club, and they level up with each new member. You actually feel the yosakoi club work to achieve their goals, and this is another aspect that breaks the marshmallow formula: hardships. There is no hardship in a cute show, because everything should be laidback. No one fails at a light club concert, because the show doesn’t need it. Even though Yui is an amateur guitar player, she can still master a complicated chord progression before the episode ends. The point is the characters are having fun, and the audience should have fun too. Serious practices with the characters constantly failing would ruin the bubble the cuteness has created, and this anime features that. You often feel the problems pile on top of the girls. Being only a five member group, with the last character joining at episode ten, the characters are often stretched too thin. They must make their own costumes, make their own music, create their own choreography, and they must master their routine before the big competition. While doing that, we also get conflict in different forms, so the club really grows in their hardship. It’s a really fascinating look, because you just feel that the club really worked for everything they got. Their group grew from two people to five not out of random convenient storytelling. No, every character was chased down, talked to and joined on their own. Every practice they had also doesn’t bear fruit all the time. Their first stage performance was a failure, and I even think it’s unfair that the girls are struggling so hard.

The hardship is important though, because the fluff scenes are a lot more effective when you realize the girls earned this happy moment. You felt their struggle, their failures and you now get to indulge in their cute playtime together. Even if these moments are boring and meaningless, it still feels special because you know how the characters reached this point of the story. You also know that every character helped to reach this point of the story, and I just love that approach. Marshmallow anime introduces you to the characters with their routine, and you’ll eventually grow to love the characters. This anime introduces you to the character’s hardships, and you’ll soon learn to love the characters. I think this is a big reason why the anime never really get too serious on solving the problems, because the point is that there is hardship on top of the cuteness. The show just took a different route to get to the same goal as other marshmallow anime. I personally want more, but I do agree the show’s approach is effective.

The anime didn’t feature yosakoi in a detailed manner though. This is the show’s gimmick, but the anime only give us the gist of what yosakoi is. It’s basically a free style dance, but you have those clapping sticks in your routine. I was actually intrigued by this dance, and I wanted to learn more. The anime only got as far as telling us some dances have props and a big flag with them. Yeah, that’s about it. I feel like it’s a wasted potential for the anime, because we could’ve gotten a yosakoi craze going. Remember how Chihayafuru featured the interesting world of competitive karuta? I think Hanayamata could’ve done the same thing with yosaki. After all, there are different kinds of people doing these dances. The anime even mentioned that it can be as glamorous as being an idol, but we never really see the glamorous side of the yosakoi dance. We never see other people do their own free style dance, and we never have deep talks about the joy of doing yosakoi from hardcore veterans. Hana mentions that some dancers mesmerized her enough to do her own club, but we personally never get to see the beauty that the characters themselves see in the dance. The anime is juggling a lot of elements as it is, but I do think there was ample time to really introduce yosakoi properly. On the other hand, I do think the anime is intentionally telling the audience to look up actual yosakoi dances on their own. I found this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf0mz0LDvZY), and I do believe this is a dance worth experiencing in real life, either watching it or performing it. The stage performances are awesome, btw. It would’ve been awesome to see the girls immersed in the communal vibe of the yosakoi tradition though, but that’s actually just a nitpick on my end.

The anime has awesome characters, and you’ll instantly realize that when you meet Naru. I’ll avoid talking about the characters, because they are the best part of the anime. Just literally each and every character is amazing, from the yosakoi club members to the supporting characters. I think there are only a handful of characters though, but the show does give them all ample time to shine. I also love the show’s detailed character dynamic, because they aren’t all hugging each other. Some characters are closer to each other compared to the actual group. For example, Naru is close to Yaya because they’re childhood friend. You’ll often see Yaya interact with Naru more than the other two upperclassmen. Hana is very close to Naru, and you always see them together. This makes sense, because they started the club first and they’ve bonded more. The little interactions inside the group are interesting, because it speaks to the characters themselves. They aren’t just moe blobs sticking to other moe blobs. No, they have personalities and they often don’t mesh together. Yaya and Machi are both serious people, so they often don’t play along with Hana’s childish tendencies. Naru and Tami are both soft people, so they tolerate Hana more. Machi’s serious personality always conflicts with the group’s laidback attitude. Yaya’s tsundere tendencies also conflicts with the spur of the moment activities the girls have, but they do all band together for one strong cause: their love and mutual respect of each other. Because of the character study before they join the club, you also know how one character reacts to another character’s personality. Like when Machi was acting too serious, you know how Yaya will react. You also know Naru already knows why Machi is like that, since they’re close, and you also know Naru will just curl up and wonder why Machi is mad in the first place. You can’t make smooth interactions like this without doing the legwork, and the anime really worked hard to achieve this complex group dynamic within the club. I f*cking love it.

Being the last anime I’d review, I really didn’t care if it was good or bad. I’m glad it was awesome though, because I finished the anime in two days. This one is presented by Madhouse, and holy sh*t, I love them so much. I don’t think they do a lot of marshmallow anime, but they really nailed this one. You really can’t go wrong with Madhouse, and I knew just from the opening sequence that they’ve done a really solid show. I can also tell that the original source is deeply respected in this anime long before I even checked out the manga. The anime is directed by Atsuko Ishizuka. She directed Sakurasou no pet na Kanojo and No Game No Life, so I think she’s a pretty talented director. It’s nice to see a female director flourishing in the industry, and I especially love how she handled the adaptation. Aside from the high quality animation of Madhouse, Atsuko’s directing made the serious character conflicts mesh with the cuteness. It’s very hard to do, because those two things don’t mix well together. She knows how to pace a show though, and the result is fantastic. I would love to see more of her future works. The script is handled by Reiko Yoshida, and I also think she did a great job with handling the original source. She has done a lot of script writing in her career, and I’m glad this anime was in safe hands from the very start. I love how she handled the characters, because they can go from serious to sweet with no big effect on the pacing of the story. She really stayed faithful to the original source, and I really love both writer and director for that.

Sight and Sound

Sou Hanayumiba is an amazing illustrator. His manga is just so amazingly detailed, and every page is just stuffed with so many things happening. You often feel the manga coming to life on its own. His style is just fantastic. The characters expressions are dynamic, the angles are complex and the flow of the story is superb. I was easily absorbed by the narrative long before the graceful designs hit me hard. Character design is pretty top notch. The anime nailed the characters, and I love how unique each design is. I personally love Naru’s design, because it’s brimming with so many small details. Her hairstyle is cute (with the two small twin tails on the side), her timid body frame is nicely composed and the details on her eyes are just captivating. I love how the pages of Sou’s manga are drowned in ink as it somehow transports you to the world in the pages. He had so many angles of Naru that she can basically do a 360 twirl from the many angles presented. It’s such a strong design that Sou confidently features it constantly next to the more amazingly designed Hana. Sou approaches the blond girl with as much grace and beauty as possible, and it offsets with her hyper personality. From her alien eyes to her flowing hair though, this character is just wonderful to look at. She was introduced dancing to the cherry blossoms, so you just know she was meant to be stared at. Anyways, the character design is really amazing and the anime captured it beat by beat. Every intention Sou had with his character is affectionately adapted into the anime.

I love how bright this anime is. You often feel blinded by how cheerful the colors are. It reminds me of the color palette used in Sunday Without God, but it’s a lot more enjoyable in this anime. The show is so detailed that they even captured Sou’s heavy inking style. He does a lot of face close ups with strong strokes on the hairstyle, and the anime did the same thing when adapting the characters. They really featured Sou’s incredible design as they are in the manga, and I just can’t get over it. I’ve recently reviewed three anime that didn’t capture the mangaka’s intention, and here I am now just gushing on one that did achieve that aspect of the manga. It can be done, but this one is just a high quality interpretation of it. I do recommend the manga once you finished the anime. The pace is similar, but seeing Sou’s pace is something to behold. It’s a unique experience of its own.

Animation is amazing. This is Madhouse, so that’s to be expected. I think the only time they ever f*cked up in the animation is in Mahou Sensou. There was no effort in that anime though, and there is clearly one in this show. From the facial expressions to the cute moments, the animation is always spot on. The serious moments are also nicely presented incorporating a darker color palette than the usual bright tone, and it’s paired with the amazing narration by the characters. I especially love Naru’s narration in the first episode, because it reminded me a lot of KanaHana’s voice work. I was even surprised to find out it’s a different VA. The yosakoi performances are fast and shot cheaply though. The one you see in the OP sequence is the best one you’ll see in the show. The anime didn’t really put heavy attention to the performances, and it does feel a bit unsatisfying. That’s alright, because the cuteness is still wonderful.  Every character had a different kind of cuteness, so I love how the anime captured each character’s small nuance. It’s incredibly hard to do, since cute is cute. Hana’s cuteness is different from Machi’s cuteness though, and I’m glad the anime actually made the distinction known through the animation. The anime also captured the ambitious camera angles Sou had in his manga, and the show’s pacing is very close to his own.

The anime’s OP is “Hana wa Odore ya Irohaniho” by Team “Hanayamata” [Naru Sekiya (Reina Ueda), Hana N. Fontainestand (Minami Tanaka), Yaya Sasame (Kaya Okuno), Tami Nishimikado (Yuka Ootsubo), Machi Tokiwa (Manami Numakura). I really love this song, and I always listen to it when the OP plays. It’s just so vibrant and festive, and the characters sound like they are really having fun as they sing it. The lyrics feels like it’s written by Naru, since it has a lot of “timid girl coming out of her shell” in the narrative. The rhythm of the song is the best part though, and Hana’s voice is just fun to listen to. It’s a little annoying, but you’ll soon grow to love it. The OP sequence features the characters being cute, bonding together and dancing together. It’s basically a gist of the show, but the high quality animation welcomes you hard and it’s very easy to be mesmerized by the sequence.

The anime’s ED is “Hanayuki (花雪)” by smileY inc. This is a duo theme comprised of a singer and composer. I like the singer’s voice and the song is nicely arranged. It has nice instrumentals to match the singer’s great voice. The song is also pretty good as it talks about a girl in love. It has a nice build up to its chorus, and it’s the perfect show to cool down the anime. The ED sequence features all the characters just acting cute and having fun in a bunch of still montages. I love the opening though, where the girls bow before leaving. It’s a very cute way to end the episodes.

Overall Score

8/10 “This anime is top notch. It features cuteness and seriousness, and they made them hold hands skipping down the park.”

I personally feel the show could be better, but I do think it’s amazing on its own. I think other people will even rate it a nine, because the elements are amazing. The character driven story is uniquely told, the familiar cuteness is beautifully done, and the serious character study is amazingly presented. One or two of these things can make an anime great, but all three is just divine. This is a very different kind of marshmallow anime, and I urge everyone to enjoy this rare work. I highly recommend it.

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