Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Complete Series BD & Digital
Yakuza member Nitta is living his best life, enjoying the hefty income he makes by indulging in his favorite things, which include a collection of high-class pottery vases, when it all comes crashing down: a strange pod lands in his apartment. The pod contains a thirteen-year-old girl named Hina, a girl with strong telekinetic abilities who has escaped a secret research facility. Unable to turn her out, Nitta becomes Hina's de facto dad, and his peaceful life is turned on its ear as he discovers that being the father of a psychic teen is much more dangerous than being in the yakuza.
Hinamatsuri, which takes its name from a pun on the words for the main character's name and “festival” as well as the fact that “Hinamatsuri” is a specific holiday also known as “girls' day,” is a bit of an unbalanced show. It ranges between being very funny, indulging in mean humor, and being quite sad, and those elements don't always sit comfortably together in the script. Part of the issue is that the characters walk a fine line between being likable and not, and that doesn't always work in the favor of the plot's action, with it at times feeling like the good are punished while the not-so-good get off easy. While it never feels like the show is doing this to make any sort of real-world statement or moral judgement, it isn't always comfortable or funny, and in a series that's nominally a comedy, that's an issue.
The story follows a central group of three thirteen-year-old girls and their bizarre adventures in Tokyo. Two of them, Hina and Anzu, are essentially escapees from a secret organization that works with (or possibly creates) superpowered teenage girls; the third is Hitomi, a classmate of Hina's at school. Each story follows its own separate plotline that intersects with the other two at key moments, with Hina's being the silliest, Anzu's the most poignant, and Hitomi's the one that treads the closest to cruel in terms of its humor. Hina's story quite simply focuses on her relationship with Nitta, the yakuza whose apartment she crashes in and his attempts to not strangle her as he parents her. Anzu is sent to retrieve Hina and manages to fail, ending up being taken in by a community of homeless men in a local park, while Hitomi's involvement with Hina ends up with her working as a bartender for a woman who clearly knows better but simply doesn't care.
Although there is a clear advancement of time, the story isn't best described as “linear,” which does work in its favor, as at times it just makes it seem like there's so much lunacy going on that no one really keeps track of what's happening when. (A fourth girl, Mao, who comes in late in the series changes that a bit.) Things are at their best when the plot is focused on small moments rather than an overarching storyline, with some of the best being the tacit acknowledgement that most of what's happening is totally absurd, like Hitomi's teacher doing his best to convince himself that his seventh grade student isn't tending bar at his favorite watering hole or the entire lost in the snow episode. Both of these also poke fun at some of the standard tropes of anime, such as the school trip and the inappropriate teacher, with Hina's brief attempt to join the student council in order to get more lunch and naptimes ultimately ending in failure when she realizes that, despite what fiction says, student councils have exactly no power to dictate the way the school functions. (If that's your pet peeve about school-set anime, it's even better.) Likewise an “investigation” by a couple of boys in her class about Hitomi's illicit job is terrific, as it pokes fun at both the preternaturally developed teenage boy while having the kids actually act like kids. (Their inability to figure out what Hitomi might be doing with men is a highlight.)
The attempt to balance this out with some underlying emotion is where things start to feel awkward. The entire plotline of having Anzu living in the park with the homeless community feels out of place – if it's intended to be funny that this thirteen-year-old girl is homeless or that she's taking her cues and life lessons from what are clearly meant to be kind of creepy old(er) men, it pretty much fails. As a bittersweet story of a girl on her own, on the other hand, it works decently well, and it dovetails nicely with the underlying emotion present in Hina's storyline, which centers on her fear of abandonment and being used by the people who are nominally supposed to be caring for her. She expects Nitta to do so, and their bond is initially built up by the fact that he doesn't: she voluntarily helps him, which makes all the difference. (That she's not great at it is an entirely different issue…)
As with most comedies, your preference is going to be the ultimate deciding factor between whether the dub or sub casts are stronger. Initially the sub works a bit better, doing a little more with emotion early on, but by the end the two are equally strong, bringing it down to a question of whether you prefer Yoshiki Nakajima's lighter take on Nitta or Jarrod Greene's more gravelly bad guy version. All songs are left in Japanese, including the insert songs, but even in the dub that's not especially jarring and the music is good enough. Art is a bit more polarizing, with everyone doing a weird tongue thing when surprised (it worked better in the manga, really), and animation being good but not great. It does hold up quite well when compared to the source manga, however, which is always nice to see and makes the inclusion of six art cards with this set even more of a bonus.
Hinamatsuri is nominally a comedy, but if you're looking for just laughs, it may not quite deliver. It doesn't always wear its more emotional content comfortably, or even to be fully aware of it, but when it's funny, it really does the job well. Simply put, it has its moments, but it isn't entirely sure what they are.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Some genuinely funny and meaningful moments. Fidelity to manga art, good casts.
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