Why Hinamatsuri needs Anzu
Hinamatsuri needs Anzu. Even though she's not the main character and doesn't even have a major role in every episode, it wouldn't be the same show without her. The reason for this comes from Hinamatsuri's odd combination of genres. The anime alternates between being an absurd comedy about a psychic girl who moves in with a yakuza, and a heartwarming tale of people finding their own surrogate families, sometimes within the space of a few minutes. This doesn't seem like it should work – poorly timed comedy can easily kill a dramatic scene –but the key to its success is how it divides its genres between the three leads.
While Hitomi's stories are primarily comedies about a middle school girl being blackmailed into tending bar, and Hina's stories bounce between gags about her lack of social skills and sweet moments between her and Nitta, Anzu's arc is purely a coming of age story. It starts out comedic with her "battle" against Hina, but takes a more thoughtful look once she meets the group of homeless men she starts staying with. The keenest distinction between this part of the story and the rest is that everyone involved is an all-around good person. Unlike the occasional bouts of selfishness we see from Hina, Nitta, and Utako, Anzu and Yassan's group are just all-around good people. Shige and the others are a bit rough around the edges at first, but end up treating Anzu like a granddaughter as they teach her how to live as a homeless person.
Their lessons on how to gather cans or magazines to sell are never framed as comedic or silly; instead, they become life lessons for Anzu. She learns to appreciate everything she works to earn, even when it becomes a lot of work for something small. She turns her initial frustration with the lifestyle into a form of pride in what she can do. She berates Hina's laziness, and only accepts money from Nitta because she wants to help the others.
Even when Anzu's trying to earn money to buy a video game, it's only because she sees Hina playing games and wants to join in, not out of greed or anything like that. Her life with the homeless group is one of simple pleasures: sharing a small meal with friends, meeting new people in the city, and learning new skills like how to make a cat's cradle. None of it is particularly ridiculous or comedic like Hina and Hitomi's storylines; the focus is on the life she enjoys and the things she learns.
When the city moves to close the park to homeless people, the show frames it as Anzu learning to let go rather than some struggle against an unfair system. Unconventional as it is, Anzu and the group are a family. They help each other through life, brighten each other's days, and generally take care of each other. With this kind of relationship, their parting is just as heartbreaking as you'd expect.
Even so, everyone comes out better for having known each other. Yassan, Shige, and the others now know that there's someone out there who knows who they are and cares about them, even if they might never see her again. Anzu struggles at first, but ultimately takes comfort in the memories of her family and the knowledge that she'll always carry on the lessons she learned from them.
Even though Anzu's story has almost nothing to do with the "main" story of Nitta and Hina, Hinamatsuri needs her to really shine. Without her plotline acting as an emotional anchor, Hinamatsuri's more sentimental moments would be too few to really fit in with the rest of the show. Even when she's not around, Anzu's story of kindness, pride, and happiness serves as a counterbalance whenever the anime leans too far into its comedy. Whatever happens from here, Anzu's smile will always be there to add an element of warmth to Hinamatsuri.
Skyler has been an anime fan since he first saw Naruto on Toonami in 2005. He loves action shows and strong character writing, and finds writing about himself in the third person awkward. Read more of his work at his blog apieceofanime.com and follow him on Twitter at Videogamep3.