Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 28 Mar 2007 – 13 Jun 2007
Synopsis: Asai Mugi has serious problems with public speaking, to the point that she will even freeze up at the simple task of speaking in front of her class. In spite of her flaws, Mugi gets unwittingly caught up in the Drama Research Club. The club’s president, Ichinose Nono, notices that Mugi does in fact have a strong voice suited for stage acting, and decides to take it upon herself to guide Mugi to overcome her stage fright and become a competent and confident actress.
Characterization: Almost every major event in the plot leads to character development.
Drama: Not without a significant dose of angst and melodrama.
Seiyuu: Inconsistent; Mugi’s seiyuu is less than memorable.
Pacing: Too rushed, especially early on.
Execution: Flawed; some questionable story elements and wasted episodes.
I’m buoyed by the fact that character-driven drama have become a little more prominent in recent years, but, as partial as I am towards the genre, not all of them are good. While Hitohira has all the right intentions, with a cast of sympathetic, yet flawed characters, many of which are faced with different, but interesting hurdles to overcome, its execution is far from perfect. While some of its flaws, such as inconsistent voice acting and plot devices, can be easily forgiven, character-driven dramas need time for genuine character development to play out. Hitohira lacks this needed time, but ultimately it’s the rushed pacing which most hurts what is otherwise a fairly enjoyable story.
Almost every plot point in this anime somehow contributes to the character development. There’s no question that the intended focus of the series was how the characters grow past their initial character flaws, but it’s admirable how much this series commits to this, particularly in the second half where pretty much every interaction, achievement, and dilemma results in an obvious change in a character. I also found it interesting that many conflicts are resolved through reflection, showing that the bonds formed between characters through events of the past are strong enough to survive quarrels. In the end, the characters come through everything stronger, and all the more closer. Character development through reflection is something that reminds me of Marimite, and the fashion in which it is done is reminiscent of that, although not quite as well executed. Unquestionably, the characterization in this series is a highlight.
Unfortunately, some of the finer aspects of the plot struggle to survive critical analysis. One’s suspension of disbelief may be challenged on many occasions, with fairly blatant plot devices forcing characters’ hands a number of times. Characters angst, and the story crosses the line between genuine drama and melodrama on a number of occasions (particularly in one scene which breaks out into a catfight). A rivalry is forced from one side, and, as such, contributes nothing to the story, while several romances are hinted at, but ultimately go nowhere. The ending is weird; I liked the way the finale celebrated how far its characters had come, but the abstract fashion in which it was done will no doubt raise eyebrows.
The voice acting is a real mixed bag. Kawasumi Ayako is (as usual) superb as the stubborn, yet encouraging Nono, but I found Mugi’s seiyuu to be very clumsy in her attempts to portray the differences between her normal, shy, softly spoken side and the loud, confident voice she uses on stage… the latter being too brash and jarring compared to the first, given we’re supposed to believe that both voices come from the same character.
More episodes would have immensely helped this series, since there simply wasn’t enough pause-time throughout the series to let the audience reflect on the steps the characters had made along their path of development. I enjoyed this series, but it’s simply too flawed for me to recommend to anyone who isn’t already a fan of character-driven stories. It’s a fair way to spend some time, but series like Marimite or Nodame Cantabile would make for far better introductions to the genre.
The Rating: 6
Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun