Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 1st 2011
Himawari! Season 1
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
24-year-old unemployed teacher Hayato Marikoji was conned by a friend into accepting a massive debt, so he naturally jumped at the first money-making opportunity he came across: a job at Shinobi Academy in a remote mountain village. As Hayato soon discovers, Shinobi Academy is actually a prep school for prospective female ninjas in a ninja-focused village and he will be their General Education teacher – i.e. the one who has to teach them about the world outside their insular village, a subject which the kunoichi have little interest in. He has some especially tough nuts to crack, too, as nearly all of these girls were test tube-bred specifically to be elite ninjas. The one that wasn't, Himawari Hinata, is the transfer student who arrived the same day as Hayato and immediately latched onto him as her Master, partly because he saved her from a kite calamity (in true ninja style, she arrived by glider) and partly because he has a birthmark similar to that of a ninja who saved her from a plane crash when she was little; that event also inspired her to become a ninja. Though she clearly has some talent, Himawari struggles to match her specially-bred peers on ninja skills, and most of what she does know about being a ninja comes from her favorite ninja-themed TV show. Her misadventures as she strives to become a good enough ninja to protect her Master/love interest Hayato mirror Hayato's own misadventures as he struggles to keep his sanity, resolve, and budget amidst all of the ninja craziness, including a ninja stalker who seeks to kill him for some ages-old transgression.
Although Naruto took itself and its setting mostly seriously, it also showed on several occasions that ninja students in a dedicated ninja village is a premise ripe with potential for self-parody. Ninja Nonsense took a variation on this concept (setting it in a dojo instead) and turned it into a terribly funny gag comedy by going balls-to-the-wall in its exploration of the absurdity of its subject matter. This 13-episode 2006 TV series falls about halfway in between and suffers for it, as it seems unwilling to go far enough on its comedy side or take itself seriously enough for either aspect to fully succeed. The result is an innocuous and surprisingly clean effort which is typically mildly entertaining but only occasionally achieves better than that.
The quirkiness and general weirdness which underlies the series pervades every aspect of it, most especially its cast. Each of the core group of girls has at least one unusual affectation, and most have multiple. Azami is a boy masquerading as a girl who is a double-agent for the boy's school (facts which are open secrets) and a master information-gatherer, although his “according to my information” lines are commonly tagged with utterly unimportant side observations. Elfin-eared, traditionally-clad Tsukiyohime always appears in random places with miso soup which can contain visions of the future. Yusura is a cute young animal master who wears panda-like paws, a tail, and animal ears, has a cucumber-loving kappa for a boyfriend, and commonly spouts nonsensical animal-themed euphemisms. (“This could be as fun as a raccoon,” for instance.) Half-American Himeji is, of course, blonde, tanned, buxom, speaks strangely, is always hungry, and totes around all sorts of weapons, including shuriken-shooters. The only relatively normal one is the serious-minded, glasses-wearing herb specialist Shikimi. Himawari is also a comparatively normal character, a straight-laced earnest type whose one nod to revealed oddness is her penchant for recalling scenes from her beloved ninja TV series to guide her actions, while Hayato is a fairly typical put-upon teacher. The one other common character is Momota, an ugly, bare-butted, cat-like pet of Yusura who farts a lot.
The bulk of the series' antics consist of some mix of Hayato lamenting his situation or reluctantly coming to someone's rescue, Himawari striving to become a better ninja, the gang observing the two leads to see how they react to various situations, and participating in activities which give them a chance to exercise their ninja abilities and personal peculiarities. These can include building a giant karakuri (a type of mechanized puppet) for a contest with the boys' school, investigating rumors of an old Sage who lives behind a waterfall, repairing the Headmistress's broken automaton, taking a mountain hike, engaging in midterm exams with expulsion as a penalty for low performers, dealing with angered guardian spirits, hanging around (sometimes literally!) in a General Education classroom whose appearance regularly changes and sometimes contains ninja features like a collapsing floor trap, or engaging in a ninja-themed cooking contest (Valentine's Day chocolates shaped like fully-functional shurikens, naturally). These are all basically ninja-themed slice-of-life moments, which put an entertaining spin on antics that, in some cases, would be terribly clichéd in a regular setting. Lurking in the background are a lame side plot about a Turtle Ninja and his/her (gender is unclear) young subordinates, who are intent on offing Hayato but aren't too competent at it, and regular ruminations about whether Himawari is merely devoted to Hayato as a Master or in love with him and how Hayato feels about her. The latter is more ground in observations by observers than intensive self-examination by either lead, however.
Notice that “fighting” does not come up anywhere in the above paragraph. That's because what little serious combat the series does have is brief and definitely more incidental than a focal point; in this respect the action-intensive opener is misleading. The same could be said of the series' prurient content. Over the course of thirteen episodes the only scenes which could be called fan service are a handful of brief panty shots and a couple of shots of Shikimi in a bikini, and the former do not seem intended to titillate. Even the one hot springs bathing scene is quite tame as long as one does not stop to consider why a grown man would be comfortably sitting in a hot springs with several underage female students.
The series is directed by Shigenori Kageyama, who might be best-known to veteran American fans for helming the early '90s OVA Mask of Zeguy, and was animated by studio ARMS – which makes how tame it is all the stranger, since ARMS has built its reputation on vastly more sordid content. It looks little like any of their other projects from the mid-2000s, with less refined character designs that hedge more towards caricatures in many cases but definitely succeed at presenting a colorful (both literally and figuratively) and very distinctive-looking cast; even minor background characters often look unusual, such as one bald girl. Hayato is suitably handsome but otherwise the most ordinary-looking character of the bunch, which is to be expected given that he is the only non-ninja, while on the other extreme Momota looks more like a mini-demon than any real animal. The background art creates very curious village and academy designs, with an eclectic mix of modern and traditional architectural styles, while the natural vistas on display are so scenic that the area could rake in the tourism dollars if it wasn't devoted to ninjas. The animation covers its shortcuts better than most and is up to more typical ARMS standards.
A nimble and enthusiastic musical score ranges from traditional Japanese sounds to piano melodies to gimmicky instrumentals commonly used to play up silliness in animation and sometimes blends elements of all three. It does a great job of playing up light-hearted fare and gives at least some credibility to the more serious and sentimental moments. Regular opener “Taiyo no Kakera” gets each episode off to an enthusiastic start, while regular closer “Guruguru” provides a sweet and lightly playful finish. Sound effect support is also excellent.
The Japanese dub is one of the most distinctive of recent years, as many of the characters simply do not sound like fans would normally expect these types of characters to sound, especially the very bizarrely-tweaked Himeji and the unusually deeply-voiced Himawari (whose seiyuu was, surprisingly, only 17 at the time). Part of this could be the casting selections, as many of the principal seiyuu have limited or no significant anime credits beyond this franchise. The bigger names present also sound atypical; even astute anime fans may not recognize Aya Hirano as the voice of Shikimi, as she performs this character quite differently than her more prominent roles. While some fans may find the overall vocal styling annoying, it certainly sticks out.
Section 23 is distributing this title under Switchblade Pictures' Maiden Japan label, which belies an apparent earlier intent by the label to focus on adult-oriented titles, as this one is kid-friendly enough that it carries an entirely appropriate TV-PG rating. It instead suggests that the label is just focused on picking up cheap, low-demand titles. (And boy, do these former ADV entities seem to be in love with the year 2006. . .) It comes subbed-only with three Extras:the only Extras: clean opener and closer and a medley of character theme songs set to series clips.
Himawari! never elaborates about its most prominent dramatic event: the scene at the beginning where a ninja rescues a very young Himawari from a plane that is going down in flames. Why was she on that plane in the first place and being treated as a test subject? Why were the pilots ordered to dispose of her once they knew they couldn't get her to her intended destination? This is apparently explained in the sequel series, Himawari Too!, which Maiden Japan also has licensed and is expecting to release at the end of the year. That these thirteen episodes do not even faintly hint at the backstory seems strange, though viewers can probably make some educated guesses about the truth based on certain unrelated events that happen in these episodes. The mystery of Hayato's birthmark, and what exactly that means, is touched on a little here but is something else apparently explained in the second series. For now, viewers will have to be content with the interesting notion of genetically-engineered prospective ninjas and the oddball antics they enjoy.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Has some interesting ideas and quirks, can be funny and satisfyingly sentimental.
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