by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 11 of
After spending most of last week in the background, Nitta makes a big return to center stage in this episode. Things start off with the introduction of a journalist named Seta, who wants to do an in-depth interview with Nitta. Seta has pinned his hopes on Nitta being a tough-as-nails yakuza kingpin, so despair and desperation quickly set in once he realizes that Nitta is essentially just a well-mannered middle manager. When his attempts at coxing Nitta into a fit of rage fail, Seta settles for splicing what little usable footage he has into a stunningly dishonest documentary. In the episode's second half, it's Nitta who tries to draw out the dark side of another character, specifically Anzu. Burning with rage and jealousy over the fact that Anzu's new parents get to raise such a well-behaved girl while he's stuck with Hina, Nitta vows to unleash the spoiled brat he's sure is lurking within Anzu. Needless to say, this doesn't quite work out the way Nitta hoped it would.
The interview storyline hinges on one key fact: as Hinamatsuri's original comedic straight man, Nitta is the most “normal” character in the series. The only reason Seta chooses him as a documentary subject is because of the reputation he gained in the first episode, and that was just a side effect of Hina's telekinetic rampage. The show does a nice job of pacing that revelation out in this storyline, with each scene bringing Seta a step closer to understanding that Nitta is a boring single dad who just happens to work for the yakuza. The one time Nitta gets talked into staging a scene, he immediately apologizes for hitting Sabu and starts administering first aid as soon as the camera stops rolling. The legendary gangster is so responsible that he makes for the world's most boring interview subject. That slow-burning realization runs alongside a descent from curiosity to desperation on Seta's part, and there's something innately hilarious about the idea of Nitta being so unremarkable that he puts a journalist's entire livelihood in jeopardy. Considering that Nitta is a fairly eccentric guy by most standards, that situation speaks volumes about just how out-there the rest of the cast is.
After all that entertaining buildup, the payoff of the interview's final cut is just a little bit underwhelming. That's not to say it isn't entertaining; Seta's narration is right on the mark as a parody of over-dramatic TV documentaries, and there's some pretty clever editing work on display in the way individual lines of dialogue are rearranged to make Nitta seem like a proper villain. It's perfectly good fun to watch, but this is also a rare moment where it feels like Hinamatsuri went with the obvious choice. After nearly a full season's worth of creative insanity, it's almost strange to see a storyline pan out exactly as I'd expect it to. Although the delivery is as strong as ever, I can't help but wonder if there was more Hinamatsuri could've done with this premise. At least the show doesn't allow us much time to wonder what might have been; the follow-up scene of Hina and the yakuza officers torturing Nitta by quoting lines from the documentary is funny enough to sweep any nagging doubts aside.
This episode's second half features a fun reversal of roles, with Nitta being the one trying to push someone else into breaking character. Pairing him up with Anzu is a clever move, both in terms of comedy and character development. The stark contrast between her and Hina is amusing enough on its own, and Nitta amplifies that by simmering with envy towards the Hayashi family. Even as we laugh at his attempts to spoil Anzu rotten as some form of abstract revenge, Nitta casually sneaks in some interesting reflections on how Anzu and Hina have changed since they first arrived in the city. Their vastly different experiences over the course of the season have transformed them to such an extent that they now bear very little resemblance to their old selves: Hina has gotten a bit too comfortable living with Nitta and has lost all connection to her “tragic psychic girl” backstory, while Anzu has come to appreciate the people around her after her time in the homeless camp. Nitta's failed plan to play the classic devil on Anzu's shoulder culminates in one of the best pieces of visual comedy the series has delivered to date, with a choir of angelic Anzus lifting Nitta up from the dark depths of his jealousy. It's delightfully excessive, and yet it still feels right on point.
The final scene features a clever last-minute reversal, and it sets the stage for the finale along the way. We go from comedy to drama in the space of a few moments as the news of Hina's disappearance interrupts Nitta's pity party over the prospect of having to deal with her again. The ominous phone call may be a bit heavy-handed from a storytelling perspective, but it gets the job done. As it has in the past, Hinamatsuri gives Nitta just enough room to rebel against his father-figure role before dragging him back into the thick of it. Time will tell if Hina's actually in danger or if she just got bored and wandered off, but for now the focus is on how Nitta will react to the situation. Regardless of how it plays out, this crisis looks like it could be exactly the setup Hinamatsuri needs in order to go out with guns blazing, with plenty of options open for balancing the show's comedic and dramatic elements. If past performance is anything to go by, it should be quite a ride.
Hinamatsuri is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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