by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Nitta might have wanted to run away and hide after the end of last week's episode, but it's someone else entirely who gets shipped off to the ends of the earth this week. This episode starts off by introducing Mao, a third psychic girl whose teleportation has gone even further off-course than Hina or Anzu. Stranded on a deserted island, Mao puts her powers to use in making coconut replicas of her former companions. Once her castaway dilemma is resolved, the story moves back to Japan, where Nitta finds himself stuck in an uncomfortable position. With the current president of his yakuza group on the verge of retirement, Nitta's efforts at ensuring a peaceful transfer of power almost lead him to a watery grave. The whole incident does eventually net him a promotion, but Hina's idea of a surprise celebration isn't exactly normal. Nothing says “congratulations” like a makeshift funeral arrangement.
Considering this is her first appearance in Hinamatsuri, Mao does a remarkable job of carrying the first third of this episode on her own. To be fair, it's not quite a solo act, since Mao's coconut versions of Hina and Anzu get almost as many lines as she does. It makes for a bizarre, telekinetic variation on a ventriloquist act, with Mao controlling the coconut heads like a pair of floating puppets. This setup plays directly into one of Hinamatsuri's biggest strengths: its ability to fully commit to a premise, no matter how absurd it may be. It helps that Mao's imitations of her friends are spot-on, and the “three” of them quickly settle into a natural comedic rhythm. There's an emotional moment to be found in Mao's eventual realization that she's all alone, though that pivot from comedy to drama isn't quite as effective as some of the show's previous tonal shifts. Apparently, going from tears to laughter works slightly better than going the opposite direction. Overall, though, this is an excellent little castaway story, told with exactly the kind of straight-faced lunacy we've come to expect from this series.
Once the focus returns to Japan, it becomes clear that Hinamatsuri isn't going to do much with the final twist from last week's episode. The script acknowledges that things are a little awkward between Hina and Nitta after Nitta's private farewell party, but it seems like we'll never get to see exactly how that situation played out. Instead, we get a fresh look at Nitta's yakuza life through the lens of a succession storyline. For the most part, this sequence is a slow burn on the comedic front; there are some clever bits of dialogue here and there, but most of what happens is just setup for the final scene. From where I'm standing, the payoff is easily worth the wait. The awkward moment when Naito and the lieutenant realize they were about to kill Nitta for no reason is handled superbly. Their fumbling attempts at easing the tension of the situation, Nitta's dead-eyed facial expression, and the image of everyone cheering for Nitta as he sits trapped in a barrel full of concrete are all comedy gold. It's almost good enough to earn the series a free pass for sweeping the previous episode's events under the rug. Almost.
Nitta's “sorry we tried to kill you” promotion goes on to provide the setup for this episode's final segment, with Hina trying to figure out the right way to celebrate. While it's not as uproariously funny as the first two thirds of the episode, the lower-key character humor in this storyline is still pretty strong. The premise gives Hina an excuse to hit up the rest of the cast for advice, and the suggestions everyone offers play nicely into each character's personality. Hina's party preparations have the same sense of carefree idiocy as her ill-fated attempt at cleaning the apartment earlier in the season, and the gradual transition from good ideas to terrible ideas is paced out nicely. It might take a bit of cultural knowledge to “get” all the details of the final joke immediately, but thankfully Nitta calls out Hina's offerings as looking like a funeral arrangement in case it's not clear to the audience. The scene makes good use of the comedic chemistry between Hina and Nitta, with Hina's slow rise from the cardboard coffin serving as the big highlight. It's a nice “back to basics” moment for the series, circling back to the core dynamic of action and reaction between the lead duo.
This is another strong episode when viewed in isolation, and I'll give the show credit for at least owning up to the fact that it's skipping right over any potential consequences from last week. Mao is a great new character, and her storyline is funny enough to be worth the screen time regardless of whether or not she ever reunites with the rest of the cast. The yakuza story comes to a hilarious conclusion, and the surprise party is a classic case of Hina and Nitta doing what they do best. Despite all of that, I can't help but feel a little cheated by the absence of a proper follow-up for Hina's near-departure and Nitta's disastrously-timed solo party. It feels like a waste of a good plot point, but it's difficult to stay angry when I'm laughing loud and often enough to annoy my neighbors. You're off the hook for this one, Hinamatsuri, but not by much.
Hinamatsuri is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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