Hanasaku Iroha

Synopsis: (From Crunchyroll)

Hanasaku Iroha centers around 16-year-old Ohana Matsumae who moves from Tokyo to out in the country to live with her grandmother at an onsen ryokan named Kissuisō.

Availability: Hanasaku Iroha was simulcast during the 2011 Spring and Summer anime seasons by Crunchyroll and is still available as of this writing.

Rating: 10 of 10

I am not going to pretend that this is an unbiased review. I will say it up front: I loved Hanasaku Iroha! I found it compelling, radiantly beautiful, tender, endearing, and intensely satisfying. Now for the breakdown:

Art  – 10 of 10

View from train – Hanasaku Iroha – Episode 1

The first thing that will strike you in this anime is the art, in particular the background artwork. From the very first episode, the artwork was astounding in its depth of detail and realism. There were scenes that, as a professional photographer, I would have been proud to have captured their like in a photo, and it was hard to tell they were not photos!

Streets of Tokyo – Hanasaku Iroha – Episode 1

The portrayal of everything from the city streets, the passing scenery from the train, to the quaint and pastoral tourist village where the main portions of the show take place were rendered with exceptional care and quality.

Story  – 8 of 10

The place where the show comes the closest to not performing is in the story. It is a slice-of-life tale, which is not to everyone’s liking. I happen to like them when they are well done, because they concentrate on things like character development and the relationships of the individuals involved and I get caught up with the characters, feeling like they are people that I know. This is where Hanasaku Iroha really drew me in…

Characters –  10 of 10

Yes, the characters are the real prize here. In particular, the growth of those characters over the 26 episodes and the realism of the relationships between them. There are one or two “clunkers” in the batch, the perverted writer and the strident management consultant who drops English phrases like they are the names of celebrities that she knows personally stand out, but most of the characters are well wrought. The protagonist, Ohana, is a particularly well done character.

Ohana Matsumae

She grows from a fairly shallow girl with unrealistic expectations of life, to a strong young woman who knows where she is going and how far she has yet to go. There is similar development in many other characters, with time spent on each as you get to know and love the lot of them.

Sound and Music – 9 of 10

Excellent for the most part, the only downside I found was the original ED, which I liked well enough when listening to it, but found it unmemorable in the long run. (Which surprised me, since it is by Sphere, one of my favorite groups.) The various OP, ED, and insert songs by Nana.RIPE were well done, some to the point of hummable infectiousness. The incidental music and sound effects were all well done, adding emphasis to the story and knowing when to let the natural background noises hold court to emphasis a moment or simply carry the mood.

Voice Acting – 10 of 10

The voice work on this show was extremely well done. The voices fit the characters and uniformly had range, depth, and conviction. Particularly well done was one of my least favorite characters, Takako, the strident management consultant. Ayumi Tsunematsu voiced the character with flair, dropping English phrases with such inappropriate abandon that you felt the irritation the others around her felt. This is excellent work! In a way, it turned an unsympathetic character into a fun one. In the end, the character grows on you, kind of like a fungus, but less itchy. The work of the primary cast, especially Aki Toyosaki, my favorite voice actress at the moment, is wonderful and full of life.

Overall Enjoyment – 10 of 10

Overall, this is one of my favorite shows. It may fade as time goes by, but fresh off the end of the show, I find it a wonderful series that I will look back on fondly and purchase on BluRay if it becomes available here. The ending was a marvel for anime, in that it didn’t try to magically resolve all of the issues and chose a realistic ending that, while a bit bittersweet, left you feeling like the characters lives were on the track they belonged on to get where they want to go. That was really the touchstone of the series. Realism. There were some contrived circumstances and typical plot mechanisms in play, but the way the characters interacted and developed had a strong sense of “rightness” about it. The characters seemed like real people and interacted in realistic ways that brought them to life. In the end, this sense of familiarity with the characters is what brought me back from week to week and makes me feel that I will miss them now that I am out of their lives. In fact, the sense that I am out of their lives and not the other way around is the strongest indication of how well the writers did their job.

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