Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Episodes 8-13 Streaming
Ohana has grown to love Kissuiso. She works harder, longer, and more passionately than anyone. When her grandmother falls ill, she wears herself to a nub covering for her. She is subsequently felled by a fever, but not for long. A cruelly dismissive review of the inn in a popular magazine soon has her on the warpath. She takes a break and heads to the city to confront the scurrilous critic, little considering the effect that her return will have on Ko, who has been suffocating in a sea of uncertainty ever since she failed to properly answer his confession of love. Things only get worse when she learns that the critic is... her mother?
In a previous review I claimed that Hanasaku Iroha was, and I quote, "just a few lapses in realism and a couple of missing punches to the heart away from the best of its type." There are still a few credulity-stretching coincidences lurking about, but you can now consider me properly heart-punched. Hanasaku Iroha finishes its first half by slugging us right in the pump. With a sweet smile, of course.
Hanasaku Iroha does so many things right these episodes, it's hard to know where to start. It discards the one-offs about Kissuiso's crazy clientele, shifting to a quietly continuous story about Ohana's mounting desire to help Kissuiso flourish. A desire that leads her to first question her usefulness and then to wage a crusade that forces her to confront her feelings for Ko and, ultimately, her mother. Ohana-versus-the-world drama is abandoned, gently supplanted by Ohana's struggle with the consequences of her insensitivity, especially on Ko, itself occasionally overpowered by her slow realization of Kissuiso's place in her life. Overt romance, in the form of Ko and also the progressively smitten Tohru, complicates the central relationships most satisfactorily and adds a little will they/won't they tension for the soaphounds. It's the familial bonds, be they bonds of blood or choice, rather than the romantic ones, that get the final word though. Which is exactly the right move.
It's the right move because it's in the familial direction that the show's other great asset lies: namely its supporting cast. It's a fine cast: expansive, interesting, and more realistic than it has to be. Like any real group of people, its members don't necessarily come across well at first. In fact, during the first couple of episodes they were pretty much a load of jerks. We saw them as Ohana did: prickly, hostile, uncaring. Like any group of real people, though, the more Ohana, and thus we, come to know, the better we understand them, and the easier it is to like them. Tohru is frosty and unpleasant to many, but is also caring and protective towards the people he cares about—a dichotomy perhaps most apparent during the mess with Ko. Minko is revealed as more awkward than truly mean, and Nako isn't passive-aggressive, just genuinely, painfully shy. With each passing episode their roles in Ohana's life grow more positive, their personalities more nuanced and endearing, and their makeshift family unit stronger.
That process makes the simple tales of inn life feel surprisingly substantial. Likewise Ohana's new knowledge turns the once-vicious personality clashes warm, and things like the inevitable main-character-gets-sick episode are made sweet and potent by the strength of the affection they expose in Nako and Minko and the rest of the staff. It's gentle, touching, bittersweet stuff.
The real heart-punching, however, is left to Ohana's blood relations. Both her mother and her grandmother go through a process similar to the rest of the cast, slowly revealing their weaknesses and motivations, the forces that have shaped them into the women they are. Miraculously (they were the previous episodes' most hateful characters) they emerge as highly sympathetic women whose respective strengths—steel will and an incorrigibly free spirit—are also their fatal flaws. Just like their (grand)daughter and her sometimes self-destructive drive to become a better person. The relationship between the trio is knotty, difficult, and written with care. When the misguided love connecting all three generations snaps into focus during an intergenerational drinking party the series briefly reveals an emotional intelligence that is as surprising as it is daunting. It also leaves you with a lump in your throat that'll take weeks to swallow.
Hanasaku Iroha is a lovely series. It has lovely art, lovely animation, a lovely (and appropriately stripped-down) piano score, and is fuelled by lovely sentiments. Masahiro Ando and P.A. Works breathe aged life into Kissuiso's old-fashioned suites, halls, and backrooms, lavish care on the rural town that surrounds them, tease emotions with minimalist panache from a variety of faces, and imbue each character with a distinctive physical presence. It's fine work, done by animators who know that less is often more. The most masterful visuals are usually the simplest: the look of fierce determination on Ohana's face as she decides where her home will be, a POV shot that betrays Tohru's feelings in a manner both understated and innocently sensuous. Ohana's drunken soliloquy in episode thirteen wouldn't be half so hilarious or half so heartbreaking if it weren't for the teary belligerence with which Ando has her deliver it. The scene should be required viewing for anyone who wants combine honesty, emotion, and good-god-my-brain-just-turned-to-jello cuteness.
That scene also ties the series' primary interpersonal conflicts up so satisfactorily that it's a little difficult to see where else the show could go in its next thirteen episodes. The relationship between Ohana and her mother and grandmother has plenty of unresolved ragged edges—it is honestly written after all—but if the series has any sense they'll be left that way. Perhaps something about Ohana's father (yet to be even mentioned) is in the cards. Or maybe a Minko-Tohru-Ohana triangle. I'd go for that. Come on, part two.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Resolves, with quiet grace and real feeling, the generational strife in Ohana's family; secondary characters keep getting better with time; lovely to behold.
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