The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Hinako Note ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
There is nothing actually wrong with Hinako Note – in fact, its heroine's desire to use theatre as a way to overcome her shyness even makes some sense; it's amazing what a costume and a script can do for your ability to speak in front of people. Nevertheless, if you're not a fan of cute girls being cute, this first episode doesn't have a whole lot going for it.
The story follows Hinako's first day in Tokyo, which is still big and terrifying to the country girl despite the fact that she's in one of the parts of the city that more closely resembles a small town. Hinako's got something going for her in that she's not adorably incompetent – her only real issue is her crippling shyness, which she compensates for by “turning into a scarecrow.” This is the only note that truly plays false for me, because, having some experience in the painfully shy department, it's pretty unlikely that you'd strike a pose that would get you noticed more; curling into yourself is a more natural response. (Or at least for me.) Hinako's scarecrow act gets her a lot more attention than she's likely to be comfortable with, although perhaps that wasn't the case back home; I'll be mildly interested to see if it remains a running gag or if she comes up with a different coping mechanism now that she's in a place where scarecrows stand out as odd.
As with the scarecrow trick, everything about Hinako Note is carefully crafted to be adorable. Hinako's new housemates include Mayuki, who dresses like a maid as “practice,” although her statement that she wears the maid dress to learn not to step on her skirt is patently ridiculous, since there's no danger whatsoever of stepping on a hem that only reaches the tops of your calves, and Kuina, whom we first see ripping pages out of a book and eating them. At first I thought she'd be like the title character in the Book Girl light novel series, but it turns out that she just loves books so much that she…thinks of them as her friends and eats them? Really? You'd have to be physically threatening most book lovers I know to make them dogear a page, much less rip pages out of a book, so this again reads like the story trying too hard to give Kuina a cute quirk.
Once the theatre action gets going, there may be more room for this show to develop a plot and characters who are more than just bundles of cute behaviors interacting adorably against a pastel background. Until then, if cute girls doing cute things in cute ways aren't your thing, you can probably let this one slip by.
I have absolutely zero legitimate complaints about Hinako Note outside of the fact that it's not a show for me. Cute girls doing cute things simply isn't enough to hold my interest, despite its attractive art design. And sure, it takes its plot beats from a number of different places. The coffee shop and pink-haired Hinako immediately reminded me of Is the order a rabbit? while her poor conversation skills and desire to enter theater is similar to Clannad and Hitohira. At this point, it's hard to create an anime series with a hook like “creating a club” that isn't going to crib from other works. A production's best bet is to instead focus on unique characters, landing its comedic timing, or tight dramatic writing.
Hinako Note's focus, though, is squarely on “cute” in the most harmless way. Its cast is rounded out with the usual staples. Kuu is always thinking with her stomach, Mayuki a big sister type trapped in a little sister body, and Chiaki is the unfazed, stalwart sempai. Chemistry between the character types is okay, but I personally wouldn't be able to stick around for multiple episodes of “Kuu is so hungry, just look at her go” and “Hinako is overwhelmed, omigosh she's a scarecrow again.” Sure it's cute, but it's not much to mine for future humor and I'm not inclined to believe the writers have their sights on dramatic character growth.
Hinako Note is a particular type of thing. Made up of an attractive cast (there's even a maid!), it will surely fill its specific niche this season with seemingly no competition. That doesn't preclude it from being a pointless show with little to distinguish it from recent predecessors like Three Leaves, Three Colors, Anne-Happy Wakaba Girl,, and Danchigai. That isn't to say slice-of-life comedy shows can't have staying power. Nichijou is still brought up by fans despite being in licensing hell for years. Shows about nothing aren't always doomed to be forgotten.
Hinako Note probably is. It'll fulfill its designated niche this season without making waves and if its fanbase responds well enough, we'll get some cute merchandise to go with it. I wouldn't expect anything else.
I feel like I'm generally pretty amenable to the “cute girls do nothing in particular” brand of slice of life shows. Shows like that can succeed by crafting a light atmosphere that helps the viewer relax, or by creating a specific place that it's enjoyable to visit, or by introducing charming characters, or through a variety of warm jokes. They can be elevated by strong direction, creative animation, or top-tier voice talent. There's actually a fair amount of room for success in the subgenre, even if a lot of the shows share many similarities.
Unfortunately, Hinako Note doesn't really seem to offer anything that rises above the genre's rote basics. Its characters are simplistic, art design purely functional, animation minimal, and jokes… well, there is one pretty funny gag about Kuina, the bookstore employee who loves books so much she can't stop eating them. But by the time Hinako Note has run through its seventh “Kuina sure loves to eat things” gag, it's apparent that there isn't a whole lot of gas in that particular tank.
The show's other gags suffer from equally tortured repetition, meaning you can't really look to Hinako Note for comedy. And as far as atmosphere goes, the show also doesn't really succeed in creating a sense of space - its backgrounds aren't particularly compelling, and the characters spend at least half the episode in chibi-mode with no backgrounds at all. Overall, little about this adaptation elevates the underlying material above the 4koma comic it was adapted from, leaving me with the feeling that this all felt a little more charming in comic form.
The one thing about this episode that did grab me was the occasionally poignant articulation of protagonist Hinako's feelings of anxiety. If the show can tether its other characters to equally human points of connection, it could rise above its current level of non-interest. But currently, there's not really anything about the show that compels me to continue. It's a passable effort for genre enthusiasts, but that's about it.
Hinako Note is cute, I'll give it that much. It's also the first series of the season to lay claim to the “quirky girls sit around eating snacks” niche, so it's not like it has a lot of direct competition at the moment. Judging by this first episode, however, I don't see it climbing beyond this genre's long list of disposable titles. It has most of the basics figured out, but that's about all there is to it.
The visuals are generally solid, with character designs that radiate an appropriate level of adorability. Hinako fills the role of the terminally shy heroine, with her official gimmick being that she freezes into a scarecrow pose and attracts birds whenever she gets flustered. (Wait, aren't scarecrows supposed to keep birds away?) The inscrutable Kunia might be the most memorable of the group, thanks to her habit of eating the pages of books along with any actual food that's placed in front of her. Maid girl Mayuki and teenage landlady Chiaki don't stand out as much, but the group as a whole falls squarely into “mildly amusing” territory. If that's enough to hold your interest, then jump on in.
What bugs me at the moment is that it feels like something's missing from this episode. It lacks that intangible spark of creativity that elevates the best shows in this genre above the rest. There needs to be a moment early on that makes me think, “Ah, here's why this series is going to be special.” It can be a piece of clever visual direction, better-than-average writing, or just a scene where the characters stumble upon a neat little observation about life. I didn't get anything like that from Hinako note, possibly because it hasn't yet done much with its supposed premise. For a story about girls starting a theater troupe, there's almost no theater-related content to be found.
If the next couple of episodes can get the girls working on some kind of play and put them up on stage, then it's possible that Hinako Note could find its groove. Genre stalwarts like K-On have gotten a lot of mileage out of the thrill of a live performance, and this show could do the same with some savvy direction. For now, however, it's merely competent on a basic level. It needs to up the ante quickly if it's going to stand out from the crowd.
If you're looking for your seasonal dose of “cute girls do cute things” then this series looks like it will fill that need just fine. If that's not normally your thing then there isn't a whole lot here to entice you in, with one possible exception: there is actually somewhat of a storyline here.
That storyline involves Hinako and her efforts to reform herself from being a social scaredy-cat. She has a tendency to freeze up like a scarecrow when overwhelmed by social interactions (which always attracts wildlife), and she sees theater as a way to break out of that. I suspect that's not going to be quick to happen, as the scarecrow thing is, so far, her defining quirk, but it gives at least some promise of a story impetus to go along with the girls prancing around being cute. Three of the advertised four other girls are introduced in this episode, although only two of them are firmly established with their quirks: Kuina, who could practically be the taller twin of Konata from Lucky Star!, eats pages from books and is always hungry in general, while Mayuki is both the one who looks like an elementary school student and the one with a thing for maid costumes. (She flatly insists that it's her normal casual wear.) She also has a tendency to alternate between being a big sister figure and a little kid. The other girl, Chiaki, is only introduced near the end of the episode, so we don't get to see much of her. All we know by the end is what Mayuki tells us: that she's quiet normally but an entirely different person on stage.
For the most part the first episode involves establishing the setting and main cast, especially allowing the girls to show off their quirks, but that's all that a series like this really needs to do to get off to a successful start. What matters most are whether or not the girls are likable, and there are definitely no duds here. The shenanigans of the girls are also genuinely mildly funny in a number of places. Production values are surprisingly solid, too, especially since the series is well beyond the stylistic norm for both animation studio Passione (Rail Wars, Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers) and chief director Takeo Takahashi (Rokka, Spice and Wolf). Of course, the original manga-ka is more known for hentai manga (which may explain why there's a mildly fan servicey bath scene towards the end), so this project is a creative departure for most involved.
But the important thing is that the episode works exactly the way that it should. I probably won't watch any more, as this series isn't my kind of thing, but it looks quite promising for those who do like such fare.
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