Title: Hanasaku Iroha
Company: PA Works
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 3 Apr 2011 – 25 Sep 2011
Synopsis: Matsumae Ohana is a bored and cynical 16-year old living in Tokyo with her single, licentious mother. Her mother decides to elope with a lover, leaving Ohana to live with her cold and distant grandmother, who owns a country ryokan, the Kissuisou. Ohana must quickly adapt to the Kissuisou’s unfamiliar (and often hostile) working environment in order to keep herself from being kicked out onto the streets. Yet, her indentured servitude slowly changes into a life-changing experience as the Kissuisou and its staff teaches her about labor, life and love.
Visuals: PA Works solidifies its status as one of the industry’s most talented studios.
Characters: With the exception of Ohana and her family, boring.
Made-up words: Unbearably stupid.
Writing: Fairly inconsistent.
Matsumae Ohana: One of the better leads to come out in recent years.
Too often, we find ourselves complaining about the banality of everyday life. We mechanically follow our routines and the world around us seems bland and gray. Matsumae Ohana, the protagonist of Hanasaku Iroha, suffers from this world-weariness. She’s bored, cynical and has nothing to look forward to— until her whimsical mother’s decision to elope with a lover turns her life upside down.
Spirited away from the alienating anonymity of Tokyo, Ohana is dropped on the doorstep of the Kissuisou, a traditional ryokan in the small hot spring resort town of Yunosagi. The owner of the Kissuisou is none other than Shijima Sui, her estranged maternal grandmother, who forces Ohana into, essentially, indentured servitude. The work is hard and the hours are long, yet Ohana finds herself slowly transformed by it. The staff of the Kissuisou is unsympathetic and distant at first, yet Ohana’s enthusiasm and tireless work ethic win them over. It isn’t long until Ohana becomes somewhat of a local celebrity, known for her upbeat enthusiasm and cheerful outlook towards life. She leaves Yunosagi a changed person, determined to be the best she can be with a clear sense of purpose.
Unfortunately, Hanasaku Iroha stumbles too much while trying to lead Ohana (and viewers) on her transformative life journey. The plot does not advance, it jolts. We do not see Ohana’s evolution on-screen— she literally transforms, overnight, from a cynical teenager into an optimistic young woman. Then, as if to cover up their own errors, the writers of Hanasaku Iroha quickly re-invent her into an angsty teenager involved in a semi-dysfunctional courtship with her childhood friend, Ko. Ohana’s character is all over the place. She switches from being cynical to friendly to angsty, but miraculously, Ohana does not come out feeling bi-polar and inconsistent. The script is subtle enough to make Ohana feel complex rather than insane. She is multifaceted and incomplete— in other words, Matsumae Ohana is human.
Unfortunately, she is also one of the few humans in Hanasaku Iroha. Her supporting cast (with the exception of her grandmother, Sui) is as bland and as thin as sheets of paper. What’s worse, Okada Mari, Hanasaku Iroha’s scriptwriter, saw it fitting to give each of them aggravating verbal tics— from invented insults to artificially exaggerated Japanese accents to garbled and nonsensical English, almost every character offers something to hate. Those that aren’t detestable are simply too minor to even be considered.
Throw the all-too-human Ohana into this flatland of cliches, and it’s no wonder that she quickly enters the limelight. Few of the characters exist independently of Ohana; they are all defined by her and changed by her. There are several episodes that deal almost exclusively with side characters, but these end up feeling more like omake episodes than anything else. Characters are “reset” to their pre-omake selves, and the narrative proceeds as if nothing had happened at all. Ohana’s aware of her status as the center of the universe: “It doesn’t matter where I am… because emotions and feelings are what create events…”
Yet, I must admit, sixteen year-olds don’t change the world. They go to school, hang out with friends and work part-time. In such a mundane daily routine, it’s wholly up to the individual to eke out meaning for herself. Ohana’s cheerful disposition enlivens her life and the life of those around her, but I can’t help but feel that there is something hollow about her happiness. It all seems too easy, too sudden, too disjointed. Hanasaku Iroha created Matsumae Ohana, a girl with fears, flaws and problems, and solved them with surgical precision. No mess, no fallout. Hanasaku Iroha becomes, then, a modern-day parable about the transformative qualities of hard work and the virtues of remaining optimistic. Ohana is excellent, but her story has little depth. Hanasaku Iroha’s cheap, inappropriate moralizing robbed it of its excellence.
The Rating: 6
Reviewed by: Akira