by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Last week's episode ended with Hina making an ill-informed attempt to clean Nitta's apartment, and now we finally get to see the outcome of that misadventure. Nitta decides he's had enough, and he kicks Hina out. This doesn't work out terribly well for either of them: Anzu briefly takes Hina in before throwing her out for being a lazy freeloader, and Nitta is banned from his favorite bar after Utako finds out what's going on. After a brief stint providing telekinetic special effects for a group of street musicians, Hina returns to Nitta's apartment with a peace offering. Meanwhile, Hitomi's secret bartending gig leads her to accidentally befriend Anzu.
This disownment story arc is reminiscent of Nitta's earlier “ignore Hina and go out drinking” bender in that the series allows our yakuza hero to be a jerk but ensures that he also suffers the consequences of his actions. The image of Nitta being shouted out of the bar is amusing, but it also indicates that Hinamatsuri has a conscience about its harsher moments. There's actually a fair amount of moral ambiguity in this situation. Hina doubles down on her habit of being a terrible houseguest while living with Anzu, Nitta comes to regret his actions and ultimately keeps the cheap replacement vase on the same shelf as the genuine articles, and apparently Utako does charity work when she's not busy blackmailing middle school kids. Whether by design or as an unintended consequence of its genre-bending story, Hinamatsuri has assembled a cast of characters who are neither bad nor good in any given moment. Most of them tend to be complicit in whatever misfortunes befall them to some extent, and yet it's their better natures that eventually save the day. As the season plays out, it will be interesting to see if this results in genuine thematic depth or merely an unfocused series of comedic vignettes.
The comedy this week is not as openly bizarre as some earlier episodes, but the show does seem to be finding some clever tricks to make its humor and sentimentality play well together. There are several cases this week where the more emotional side of the story is used to set up a joke: Utako's soup line is hijacked by Hina's deadpan demands for free food, and Anzu sabotages the dramatic tension in her encounter with Nitta by declaring that she could only go three days before kicking Hina out herself. Even the storyline of Hina joining a rock band is as much a comedy skit as a plot device for getting her enough money to buy a new vase. As all of these bits play out, Hinamatsuri manages to strike a decent balance between giving the audience time to appreciate the jokes and moving on before we can ask too many questions. While it doesn't reach the hilarious heights of Hina's initial appearance or the rock-paper-scissors game, it's a good sign that the series is finding ways to make its separate halves work in tandem instead of competing with one another for screen time.
Then we have Hitomi's encounter with Anzu, which is frankly an odd way to cap off the episode. With most of the narrative focusing on Nitta and Hina's journey of reconciliation, this side story feels conspicuously unrelated. That'd be fine in a pure comedy with no real cohesion from one scene to another, but it stands out awkwardly in a genre hybrid like Hinamatsuri. That said, it's at least a decent sequence on its own merits. Hitomi is quickly developing into the show's second comedic straight man, reacting to absurd situations with genuine shock and disbelief where Nitta leans more towards exasperation and quiet despair. As a reasonable kid surrounded by dysfunctional adults and psychic girls with no common sense, Hitomi is able to act as a frequently ignored voice of reason. She has some good chemistry with Anzu here, especially as she suffers silently through the conversation about how much money the two of them make. If Hinamatsuri is smart about the way it uses Hitomi, she could become an indispensable member of the cast.
Throughout this episode, Hinamatsuri appears to be tinkering and experimenting with its basic formula in search of an ideal balance between the heartwarming and the hilarious. In the short term, that experimentation yields an episode that's entertaining but not as impactful as some of the show's previous efforts. In the long term, however, it may prove to be necessary. A series can only get by on being weird for so long, and I'm hopeful that all these little adjustments will give Hinamatsuri the depth and dramatic substance it needs to hold up across a full season.
Hinamatsuri is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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