The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide

Hope Chapman

Rating: 3.5

Review: Say, my anime-loving friend, do you like bloom? I mean do you really, really, really like bloom? Not necessarily to No Game, No Life levels, let's not get carried away, but if you like oversaturated golds and purples streaking across every frame in christendom, Hanayamata is the show you've been looking for!

I kid, I kid. This is a perfectly nice little slice-of-life comedy about girls learning the art of yosakoi dancing, even if it is a little visually overwhelming. It's clear that most of the effort has been poured into the artwork, while the animation budget has been sacrificed for the needs of the bloom, but this is a perfectly acceptable approach for this kind of chibi-heavy light gag and sentimentalism series, and after you get used to the aesthetic, it can be quite calming and enjoyable. It's not just the color design that sets Hanayamata's style a breed apart, there's also the character designs. The girls all have tear-drop shaped eyes that lie somewhere between a shojo and moe ideal, with eyelids that come to a crested point and hair that seems both firmly vectored with sharp points and angles but soft and outline-less. It's hard to describe, but the characters are just a little special, in a good way, although it can be off-putting at first.

The story is paint-by-numbers "normal girl who doesn't know what to do with her life encounters exciting transfer student, takes up new hobby and meets new friends" honey-covered dribble, but there's nothing wrong with that, and honey-covered escapism can be some of the most refreshing when done right. Needless to say, the show's all style way over substance at this point, but Hanayamata's heart seems to be in the right place, it's easy to watch, and if you have a strong resistance to sappiness, it might be right up your alley.

Hanayamata is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Carl Kimlinger

Rating: 3.5

Review: As a series director, Atsuko Ishizuka has made a career (if you can call two series a career) of making shows that over-perform on underwhelming scripts. Both The Pet Girl of Sakurasou and No Game, No Life were shows that were dispiriting in outline and surprisingly enjoyable in execution (less enjoyable for Sakurasou, but still). This time she's begins with a script about a bunch of girls starting a quirky after-school club and somehow emerges with a touching tale of personal growth and transformative friendship. How does she do it?

Okay, so to be completely honest, it's not all Ishizuka. On script duty this time out is Reiko Yoshida, whose skill with this kind of thing is bordering on the legendary. It's fair to credit her with heroine Naru's heart-squeezing battle to transcend her inferiority complex, and with the hidden pangs of feeling during Naru's inferiority-fuelled rejections of Hana, the American transfer student whose attentions (and comically weird attempts to start a dancing club) begin to change Naru.

But it takes an adept director, an artist of craft and intelligence, to capture Yoshida's nuances, to communicate the feelings she strives for. Even more so if that artist is to add layers and textures of her own. Whatever it is that Ishizuka does to sneak secret sensitivity under Hana's blindingly sunny personality, or to put that defensive edge on best friend Yaya's perfection, it's so subtle that I cannot for the life of me pinpoint it.

Now, none of Ishizuka's works are perfect. Imperfection is what makes them pleasant surprises. And Hanayamata is no exception. Its effect is spotty and occasionally strained, and often are the times when you want to slap some spine into Naru. But still, one taste of the episode's poignant conclusion, which steers timid little Naru exactly where she needs to go, and you know you're in good hands.

Hanayamata is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 3.5


Naru is a fourteen-year-old girl with a crippling sense of her own mediocrity. Her best friend Yaya is talented in pretty much everything, and Naru sees herself as a downtrodden Cinderella figure, just waiting for her fairy godmother to come and bippity-boppity-boo her into a more perfect life. One night while out walking she spies a beautiful platinum-haired girl dancing in the moonlight. She assumes that the girl is the fairy come to take her away, and when the fairy asks her to dance, Naru almost forgets her self-worth problems. They come screaming back, however, and she runs away. (Later that night Yaya also sees the girl and assumes she's a zashiki-warashi, or house spirit.) Sadly for Naru, it turns out that the “fairy” was totally human and a transfer student from New Jersey, Hana. Hana wants Naru to be her new bestie and help her start a yosakoi dance team. So much for magic wands...

Hanayamata, a title which my dyslexia hates, is a gently positive show set against exquisite pastel backgrounds of springtime beauty. Movements are graceful, colors and patterns are lovely, and small details are paid heed to, such as how Naru always puts a hand on her skirt to keep it covering her underwear. For the life of me, I cannot remember another show that paid attention to that basic tenet of skirt-wearing; most either just show the panties or have the skirts stick oddly to the girls' legs. Naru thus far is a sympathetic character. She's torn between wanting to stand out like Yaya and just wanting to get through by sticking to her comfortable routine, something that feels very true to life, particularly for a middle school girl. Yaya is a more difficult character thus far, as I got the feeling that she sort of enjoyed the way Naru depended on her; it looks like that might be explored in the second episode. Hana is pretty well within the American stereotype, although she seems genuinely unaware of how uncomfortable she makes the Japanese girls, which is a good touch. Making her be from Princeton, New Jersey is at least unusual, and being from a university town would make it more plausible for her to have learned a form of Japanese dance that's a bit more obscure.

Clearly the title of the show is derived from the first syllables of the girls' names. We've met Hana, Naru, Y.A.Y.A., and, briefly, Tami, so only “ma” remains. (Presumably she's the girl with the glasses in the opening and closing.) While it does have aspects of being a “cute girl” show, and probably if you're looking for it you can find yuri themes, Hanayamata is also just plain enjoyable, and this is coming from someone who doesn't generally like cute girl shows. I'm looking forward to seeing Naru come to like herself and to seeing some nicely animated scenes of dancing in beautiful haori. If those sound like things you'd enjoy too, definitely check this one out.

Hanayamata is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Theron Martin

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Naru is a middle school girl with a serious inferiority complex. She sees friends around her doing what she considers amazing things – learning English, becoming part of an all-girl rock band prepping for an audition – but does not believe herself capable of dazzling anyone like that, so she keeps to her own insular world of fairy tales and dreams of being rescued by a prince, like in Cinderella. Then a chance encounter brings her across a girl she at first mistakes for a fairy, one who invites her to dance. And she does, until her lack of confidence gets the better of her and runs off, but not before admitting that she wants to be rescued. The next the day the girl, one Hana, does, of course, show up at her school as a new transfer student from America, a lifelong Japanophile who is gung-ho about getting into yosakoi dancing and pushes hard to recruit Naru to that end. Naru is, of course, overwhelmed, and steadfastly refuses at first, but eventually Hana's passion starts to speak to her and she starts to realize that if she does not capture some of that passion for herself, she will never be able to change.

Looked at cynically, Hanaymata is merely “cute girls do dancing club.” However, maintaining any serious level of cynicism while watching this first episode is awfully hard to do – I know, as I tried and failed. A pitch-perfect delivery somewhat reminiscent of Makoto Shinkai's style mixes with some light humor to create a small but touching story about a girl desperately looking for some way to stand out, something on which she can build confidence, and possibly finding a path to it in a new friend and activity. Doubtless a lot of time will be spent exploring the aspects and intricacies of yosakoi (a modernized form of a traditional summer dance that is typically done in teams and as a competitive sport at all age levels) but character development looks like it will be a big part of it, too, and possible yuri leanings are not out of the question here. Soft, often pretty artistry and a gentle, poignant musical score also contribute to the heartfelt tone.

While this content might have easily become sappy if handled with any less skill, the first episode strikes just right: not too little and not too much. This is a potential winner.

Hanayamata is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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