A balanced and measured review of Hanasaku Iroha.
Hanasaku Iroha is a show that’s been on Crunchyroll for a while now. But even though it’s been six years since the anime first aired, it remains relevant today, not just because it’s a darn good watch, but also because it started a yearly festival in the Yuwaku Onsen area where the story was set. That event, called the “Bonbori Festival,” is still held to this day.
In preparation for the Bonbori Festival next month, I’ve been “festing it up” by watching Hanasaku Iroha. It’s actually my first time watching the series, and there were a lot of things that took me by surprise. For your convenience, I’ve decided to summarize my impression of the series under three headings: The Good, The Bad, and the Kawaii.
Hanasaku Iroha is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl named Ohana and the struggles she faces with her first job and relating to her family. It’s an amazing series… depending on who’s writing it.
The first episode is, in my view, one of the best opening episodes to exist in an anime. It’s beautiful and poignant, and sets up every major conflict of the story with a sharp sense of wit and a brutal sense of truth. Watching the episode, I wanted to laugh and cry, often at the same time.
The major turning points in Ohana’s life were also depicted well. Like at the midway point of the series when she returns to Tokyo after being away for months and discovers that her relationship with her best friend has changed forever, or when she tells her mother about her pent-up feelings of resentment. The final episodes of the series also deliver a strong climax, complete with drama, humor, and an air of wistfulness.
It’s probably no surprise that these key episodes were handled personally by Mari Okada, the anime’s lead writer (otherwise known as the “series composition writer”). She didn’t write the script for every episode, but the episodes she did write made the biggest impact.
I was also a fan of the episodes written by Junji Nishimura, the director of True Tears (as well as Glasslip). His episodes have a kind of surreal feel to them, as if something about the atmosphere is “off.” Yet somehow, his episodes work in context because they end up showing unexpected sides to the characters. For example, in episode 10, Ohana has a fever, and the whole episode has a “stream of consciousness” feel to it. It’s hard to distinguish between Ohana’s fever dreams and her reality, which is a great way of showing what goes on in her subconscious mind. The idea behind the episode is simple, but the atmosphere is memorable.
Unfortunately, not all the individual episodes are as good as the ones written by Okada and Nishimura. A lot of them are episodic in nature, which is not a bad thing in itself, but their themes simply aren’t as interesting as the more story-driven or atmosphere-driven episodes. For example, episode 7 (written by Keigo Koyanagi) attempts to flesh out Tomoe’s character, but it’s hard to take the central conflict in it seriously, and she still feels like a stereotypical “unmarried older woman” character by the end of it.
Sometimes, it even feels in these self-contained episodes as if the characters act in ways that go against their established characterizations. For example, in episodes 14 and 15 (written by Tatsuto Higuchi), Yuina seems more mean-spirited and selfish than she’s normally depicted. In other episodes, you get the impression that she’s pampered, but she’s still sweet and considerate of others. In episodes 14 and 15, she just seems annoying.
This is all without mentioning the infamous episode 3, which features a lot of tasteless jokes about bondage. Hanasaku Iroha has a lot of dirty humor (in fact, some of its best jokes are sexual in nature), but it’s only in episode 3 that threats of sexual violence are played off as jokes. Putting aside the insensitive nature of such jokes, the tone felt completely out of place after all the serious drama before then.
It’s worth mentioning that Mari Okada, who wrote all the good episodes, also wrote episode 3. She ain’t perfect, is what I’m saying.
No matter who’s writing the episode, Ohana is cute. This is the indisputable law of Hanasaku Iroha.
The other girls are cute too, of course, but Ohana is the one who shines. She’s short compared to the other girls of the same age, and she moves around with so much energy that it’s hard not to get swept up in her enthusiasm. I’m also a fan of her character design in general, especially the flowers in her hair.
Also cute: the relationship between Ohana and her childhood friend Ko. Ko himself is kind of a one-note character who only really exists to pine after Ohana, but Ohana is adorable to watch as she tries to work out her feelings for him. When she’s confused about him, she shows an insecure and vulnerable side that the viewer doesn’t often see. It’s obvious that she’s young and inexperienced, assuming that everything that happens is the end of the world. It can be frustrating to watch at times, but it’s because her teenage emotions are so human and understandable that I feel like I want to give her a pat on the shoulder. It’s also the kind of thing that makes me think, “Ah, youth.”
Sometimes, watching Ohana struggle with her feelings can be funny too. There’s one scene where she cheerfully imagines Ko wearing a waitress outfit like her own, and then wakes from her dream, wondering, “What the heck was that?” Ohana is a mess of teenage hormones.
Conclusion: There are good things and bad things about Hanasaku Iroha, but Ohana’s cuteness is what stands out above all. You should probably watch Hanasaku Iroha.
Kim Morrissy (@frog_kun) is a freelance writer and Tokyo correspondent for Anime News Network.