Hanasaku Iroha Episode #01 (Mania.com)

By:G.B. Smith
Review Date: Monday, April 04, 2011
Release Date: Sunday, April 03, 2011

Ohana Matsumae gets out of the city and starts to experience country-living in a hot springs inn run by her grandmother. But it's not at all what she was expecting.

What They Say
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 Kissuisou. While restarting her life there initially seems daunting, Ohana beings working at the inn, makes friends with the other employees and watched her life take an unexpected twist.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
16-year-old Ohana Matsumae seems to be in something of a rut. Living in Tokyo with her mother, who is about the farthest thing from a good mother that one could possibly image, Ohana is the practical type, the striving child who has to take care of herself and her worthless mother while living your normal teenage life in the capital. But everything changes when her worthless mother's boyfriend (there is no hint of what happened to "dad") comes around and tells Satsuki (mom) that he's in big trouble and used her address as his reference address. Thus, it's time for the pair to split town. Instead of taking Ohana with them, Satsuki shoves her daughter on her own mother, who runs a hot springs inn out in the countryside. Ohana, who has been hoping that she might be able to reinvent herself and get out of her rut, embraces the change.

What she finds at the other end, however, is nothing like what she expected. Her Grandmother who runs the inn, does not embrace the daughter of her wayward child, but instead treats Ohana as a minor nuisance to whom she does not owe anything, but will, out of the grace of her heart, allow to stay at the inn so long as she works for her keep. Once she's finished with high school, however, she can go off to the four winds as far as she is concerned. Ohana also meets her uncle Enishi, who apparently has a long-standing grudge against his sister Satsuki, though we have yet to see whether he truly means her ill or is just playing with her for his own amusement. Ohana's co-workers are another story. The first one that she meets, a stern girl her own age, Minko, immediately commands Ohana to die, since Ohana starting pulling up some weeds outside the inn that turned out to be edible roots that Minko was trying to grow. The other young girl working part-time at the inn, Nako, is extremely quiet and reticent to the point of blending in with the scenery. When she is asked to show Ohana around town, she mainly keeps to single lines of commentary, and quietly staring off into the distance. Tomoe, the head waitress, is a gossip, who wants to hear all about Ohana's mother, the black sheep of the family.

Judging from the first episode, so far we have many fairly standard elements: a fish out of water, with the urban Ohana thrust into the rural environment of Kissuissou, her grandmother's inn. Many of her fantasies about what life would be like at a hot springs inn are quickly shattered by her grandmother. There are also many of the standard cliches that one finds in a workplace comedy: the wacky cast of co-workers who, for the moment, are largely one-dimensional caricatures: the shy one, the mean one, the gossip, the taskmaster (taskmistress in this case). There are others as well whom we have yet to meet, but who I am sure will be introduced in due course. There is as well, from the closing animation (which might well be the opening animation, we'll see next episode), the hint that there might be a school comedy element, though it is not certain whether there will be any romance, since the "romance" part was already broached in the opening, back in Tokyo, where a potential suitor, a school friend, was already put forward, but now obviously separated from his object of affection. Of course, that might just have been a curve ball thrown out to mislead us as to what is to come.

The execution is pretty good in the first episode. The animation is fairly fluid, as to be expected from a first episode, and the animators will likely not have too much of a challenge before them, as the scenery, both in Tokyo and at Kissuissou do not call for the exotic or the weird. The character designs are pretty much what one would expect from a slice-of-life show focusing on a high school girl, with Ohana's face being fairly pleasing, framed by her short haircut and use of decorative hairpins. That we are in the realm of "relative realism" is demonstrated by the use of believable bodily proportions for all of the female characters. The hair colors are also fairly muted: there are no blue-haired or green-haired characters so far, but your standard palette of dark brown to fairly-light brunettes, which matches what you would find in modern Japan right now thanks to the wonders of hair dye. The faces are drawn fairly expressively, with the usual features that give you a hint of the outside character right away: Ohana has big, wide eyes that express her wide-eyed innocence; Minko's mouth is often turned downward in a frown, as is Ohana's grandmother's. Tomoe, on the other hand, has a mischievous glint in her eye, while the chefs, Tohru and Mr. Ren, have the serious look of men who work for a living and do not treat lay-abouts and fools kindly.

While not much would seem to set this show apart from other slice-of-life and fish-out-of-water stories so far, it does have one secret weapon: the voice for Ohana, Kanae Itou. Of those seiyuu who have come to prominence in recent years, she has one of the most expressive and impressive voices around. In the hands of a lesser voice talent, the role could easily veer off into either a boring staid-ness, or perhaps melodramatic over-emoting. For Ohana, the voice just fits very well, providing the right feeling of well-meaning clueless that Ohana should be exuding. It is cute without being cloying. It conveys feeling without the sense that it is mere affectation.

For a first episode, the elements and quality of execution seem to be present for a good run. I am cautiously optimistic as to how things will progress from here, so long as the show does not veer too sharply into either over the top melodrama or exaggerated workplace humor. A good balance of elements might sustain interest for the long term.

In Summary:
While the story elements presented so far are not new or innovative, the execution has been quite competent, and the lead character, Ohana Matsumae, is likable, even if not all of the new people she is living with have friendly feelings towards her. There looks to be potential for both touching sentiment and quirky humor, as Ohana begins to acclimatize herself to living far away from the only world she has known before being suddenly thrust out of Tokyo and the precarious existence she shared with her less than savory mother. One to keep an eye on.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Apple Mac Mini with 1GB RAM, Mac OS 10.5 Leopard



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: NA
Video Rating: NA
Packaging Rating: NA
Menus Rating: NA
Extras Rating: NA
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: All Region DVD
Released By: Crunchyroll
Running time: 24
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hanasaku Iroha