Category Archives: Hanasaku Iroha

Year in Review: Team Iri Wear Pants – Comedy Reigns in 2011

If Mawaru Penguindrum can be explained by the transfer of fates via the vehicle of an allegorical apple, then Fate/Zero can be explained by the wearing and ownership of pants. The idea here is that, well, what did Rider work to get? What did Saber wear? What did Iri wear? In Urobuchi’s world, people wear pants. I mean that is typically what happens during winter in Japan anyway. Without spoiling it for you, the winner of the Holy Grail War this time also wear pants. All who survived as participants wore pants. Pants is clearly necessary for survival in the Holy Grail War.

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I’m going to say that 2011 is the return of the comedy. There were a lot of funny shows in 2010, but it feels like the funnies have for the most part stayed for the year as well. What is notable is seeing more of it in serious shows. I think if OreTsuba can bust my guts laughing, anything can. The potential is there.

I mean, talking about Mawaru Penguindrum again, was it funny? It isn’t epic funny like those Nanami episodes in Utena, but there were good chuckles all along the way. And man, Ringo. Ringo!

I watched Nichijou and Sket-Dance this year, so that may have skewed things. I think Hanasaku Iroha sometimes is really funny, although I don’t think some of those instances were intentional.

Working!! returned, which is usually solid for a few laughs. Bakatest, too, had some really big ones, despite season 2’s more somber tone. Squid Girl S2 also was solid, again. Majikoi and Horizon had laughs, and the latter is as serious as Fate/Zero is. Haganai, for the most part, was still funny. Oh wait, I’m suppose to laugh at the manual stereo mage orbit talk was I?

R-15 was pretty funny, despite being more hetare-funny half the time. Twin Angel was all hetare-funny all the time (but it wasn’t THAT funny unfortunately). Yuruyuri had a couple gut-busters, which is pretty surprising. And in 2011 we learned the true meaning of being a mage.

Going back to the start of the year, we did have Mitsudomoe S2 (which was pretty funny for the most part). OreImo True End was funny enough. Level-E was epic. And, well, there was Qwaser S2.

Looking back I think I ended up watching more comedies this year than what is fairly represented, but that is probably because they didn’t suck, like, say, in 2009.

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This year I read both the fan-translated Kara no Kyoukai series and fan-translated Fate/Zero series. They are available here and here, respectively.

As a result, over large stretches of 2011 my mind is full of Type-Moon-ness. It is like a keg of kerosene to react to some spark from Type-Moon. But Fate/Zero isn’t that spark.

Carnival Phantasm is that spark that blew my mind. I’m not too sure what to make of it besides that I have to fight that urge to import the whole thing. Because it doesn’t seem to make sense especially since I missed the boat on all that Take-Moon stuff way back when. I mean this is before Fate/Zero, sorta, and Fate/Zero’s been around the block once or twice already.

There is so much that goes on in that show. The visuals are engrossing and varied. It is funny. What the hell is going on? I don’t know. Does it matter? Not really.

The only regret left is that Fate/Zero content is not represented in Take-Moon, and thus missing in Carnival Phantasm. I mean, take a look at this to get an idea.

PS. #cp_dateall ftw.

PPS. ALTER! ALTER! ALTER!


Year in Review: N-Listing

So, the tradition continues. 12 lists of 12 things. Some are ranked, others are not. One this year is not ranked but merely numerated.

Continue reading


Year in Review: Working Hard Writing

Urobuchi Gen has a breakout year in 2011 between Fate/Zero and Madoka, but we already know Butch is the kind of writer that now more people have come to know. Beats trying to watch Blassreiter or Phantom of the Inferno lol (not a knock, just the truth…I still need to play the game version of the latter). However I want to talk about Okada Mari’s work some more.

Okada is responsible for at least four notable shows this year: Fractale, Hanasaku Iroha, Anohana, and Hourou Musuko. I think it is in Hourou Musuko that her writing really came off well. Given how much that deviated from the original manga, there may be enough space to infer that her style carried a relatively brisk adaptation (Note that it is directed by the director of Fate/Zero, which is probably no coincidence) into the animation medium with a lot of punch. In fact, there’s just something magical about the whole experience. It’s like, laced nostalgia or something potent. And I don’t even care about the whole genderbending aspect at all; the supporting cast of characters are all wonderful and the chemistry is well balanced, dramatic and entertaining enough to keep things moving without getting dragged down by the weight of its seriousness.

I find it so wonderful that if I had to list my top 2011 anime, it would be between that, Madoka, and Steins;Gate. It had me, actually, at the OP.

Hanasaku Iroha is, more relevantly, a Okada original. I think the story is really basically about the nature of work and career in the life of, in some mainline, culturally accepted sense, a woman. However I think it’s important to see how there’s this double talk of sorts in light of what is happening to Ohana versus her mom. I think it is right that so many people hated on Satsuki but I think she is the one thing that makes the story at all credible–it isn’t about societal expectation or doing what society think is right. It’s about actually having that heart of a mom. I mean that is ultimately the issue; people cannot be held to uniform standards when it comes to parenting, or so it would be the framework that I interpret the story.

The career side of HanaIro is probably less thorny but just as tricky. On one hand you have Sui doing her thing at the end of the series, and on the other hand you have someone like Satsuki who pursuits it without regards to the other women in her life. I think it might just want to paint an image where there is conflict and there is no harmony, but people are still able to prioritize what is important in their lives and resolves things in respect to that. It is here that I can see some people raise a stink about its anti-feminist message. It really doesn’t bother me: if I was a feminist I would not be a fan of Japanese animation at all.

The truth is, it becomes more a cultural contextualization problem. If we can either power through or sidestep that, Hanasaku Iroha is a fairly sharp series, perhaps mired in the typical, 26-episode style of presentation that had to feature the backstory of everybody. But make no mistake; it is about a woman’s work. And that is an empowering message in a society where women have always been treated poorly than men.

It made me wonder a couple things: how much of HanaIro was taken out of a page from her life? And what was it like working on that and working on Fractale at around the same time? LOL. As we know, Fractale is the brainchild of Yamakan, cultural critic Hiroki Azuma (who authored that Database Animal nonsense that I refer to all the time) and Okada. I think it’s unfortunate that it didn’t end up doing well, but it makes you wonder what went on between the three of them. You would think that there’s probably potential for something great. I guess it doesn’t always work out that way.

There was also Anohana. It is a very charming and bittersweet story featuring likable characters despite the somewhat predictable path of character development they were on. It is also a little way too sappy, and unfortunately (and ironically) something I find difficult to remember 6 months later. The smiling-crying Menma-face and the sexually-charged nicknames (MANMA wwwww) of our cast of characters aside, Anohana leaves me little to go on besides to wonder how many other references to Forget-me-Not it can squeeze in that 12-episode package. Like Okada’s other stories, it is a very tightly-woven package. I mean if we can boil HanaIro down into the same size it will probably have the same overall format. Both shows have a fairly “slow” segment just after the half-way point in which the story builds up to the dramatic conclusion, and Anohana remedies that drastically thanks to its limited length.

Looking back, I think again the TV anime packing issue is still the one most consistently problematic thing for me when I poke at these works at the big picture level. Urobuchi’s style, in contrast, makes tighter packages–think of it like a HBO mini series–for the same format. Still, it makes me wonder how much you could fit in that 22-minute package every week, with enough of a build-up and release, and keep enough suspense for next week. It cannot be that easy.

Yet if you think about it, given how prolific Okada is in 2011, for whatever the reason, she is probably batting above average overall. I am someone who typically puts down the contribution of writers to quality of TV anime narratives, because I think in general fans elevate that aspect beyond its due worth, but certainly writers (especially people who come up with this stuff from scratch) are important parts to the creative core that brings every anime to their inevitable conclusion. Between them and the directors, the fate of many anime is in their hands even before the horse is out of the gate, and if anything 2011 is definitely the year that demonstrated this.

Something to leave you with: Okada wrote 9 episodes of Simoun and worked on True Tears (both Nishimura projects). She is credited for series composition for Bantorra.  This is somehow NOT a coincidence either, I believe. To go back to the same baseball analogy, I’d safely say she’s batting the proverbial 300. And not entirely a coincidence, in 2012, Okada is thus far tapped for the new Kenshin Shin Kyoto-hen remake,  Black Rock Shooter TVAquarion EVOL and the AKB48 animeOh boy! I’d say that’s about 300, how about you?

PS. Meeting Nagai Tatsuyuki and Tanaka Masayoshi at AX this year remains one of the highlights of con life for me in 2011. It was wonderful to see some of the people responsible for all that Taiga mania.

PPS. I’m not sure why I’m going with Japanese name order in this post, but oh well.


Steins;Gate, the Distant Avalon

There are some light spoilers in this post. And since I’m going to talking about overarching points to Hanasaku Iroha and Steins;Gate (and make a couple other references), it might make more sense to have seen most/all of those first before you try to read this.

Hanasaku Iroha is about the craft and pride, it is about calling and following and forging a way. It is a message about generational empathy through shared exercise of overcoming adversity with a dash of cognitive dissonance and a twist of estrogen. The key ingredient is attitude. In episode 25 Nako identifies the difference maker (without spelling it out), the one thing that makes Ohana the special little girl Tohru pinned as awkward and clumsy, but ultimately she does “fest it up”; to bring a certain joy to the people around her. Just like how both opening sequences are the Kissuisou staff bustling and hustling, and it’s fun to watch. (Well, to be fair, it’s not just attitude, but that is the key ingredient.)

Steins;Gate is about doing what you’re called to do despite the situation that you have endured thus far.

To bring up Chaos;Head first for a second, the story of that is about this NEET/socially maladjusted dude and his semi-delusions. In Steins;Gate, the same idea is diluted by this compelling piece of time-traveling SF mystery, but it’s still there. We’re talking about a band of people who are also needy socially for one reason or another, with a protagonist that is socially maladjusted with some delusions of his own.

The main difference is that Takumi’s issues are played as some kind of mad-man ranting. Okarin’s issues are just an extreme case of chuunibyou. This difference is a matter of perception as the way each anime presented the eccentricities are different. I think on paper they are much closer than it seems. [And I think this is why I keep referring to Chaos;Head in Steins;Gate's context, despite the discrepancies between the two anime. That, and Super Special.]

To finally get to the punch, ever read about people complaining about self-esteem education in public schools in the 90s? And how it may be blamed for certain emerging trends towards young people and their attitude about life and people? Not that I want to apply it to Steins;Gate, but the mechanism behind the claims may be similar. If we take the perspective that Okarin is the victim of Japan’s lost decade (in a way he symbolizes that entire crowd), and in a way Steins;Gate is some larger symbol about generational conflicts, it can be said that the present state of things can be blamed on the past state of things, and those who had control over the past. I mean, the penultimate “villain” and Kurisu’s little back story makes this painfully clear. The symbolism and analogy are just only beginning, here. What is Okabe fighting for? For a better future, am I right? [Can I have some Suzuha x Doreamon doujinshi?]

Is this why Steins;Gate can be seen as a strange coming-of-age story in which Okabe goes through these trials to redo and undo D-mails written out of the lingering regrets and uncertainties from their original senders? Only if we were [insert something regret-like] while growing up in the late 90s? Well, except Moeka’s case; but she’s kind of nuts already. The plot generator makes a compelling case, re: being able to change the past in order to change the present and future. If you read this NYT blurp about the book I linked above, it does also make the argument that this sort of self-esteem education can make you hardier. I don’t know if it does; but in traditional Japanese ways, it’s about slapping you in the face a few times so you get over yourself, so you can be yourself. I think that too would make you hardy, probably more so than staying delusional about that secret agency with acronym beginning with an S. Or was it a C? Heh, C.

Then again, this slapping business go way back. Mayuri’s up to date with her real-mecha anime history YEAH (massive nerd cred in my eyes)!

PS. I really want to do a tutturu collection, but ugh no time little motivation. I guess I should see if someone did it already.


Hanasaku Iroha Shoots from the Other Side, But Does It Score?

There are some overt themes, but I think you can figure them out. Maybe it’s worth wrapping it up after it ends; maybe it’s already too obvious.

What I want to talk about is the weird realism presented in anime. I think it’s something that you get used to if you have seen enough Asian live-action drama. The idea is there’s a particular set of conventions, a vernacular, in which you kind of pull in as context to interpret said drama. Anime’s got its own set too, but there’s usually some kind of weird gap between what passes for anime and what passes for J-drama. Shows that tries to ride that gap typically don’t end up well.

What anime that do try to ride the gap typically pleases people who only watch anime because it is somehow slightly different than most anime. But those who are familiar with both sets of vernacular or is just picky about that more live-action-y context will not take too kindly for mixing up those signals.

This is kind of where Hanasaku Iroha shines the most. There’s a sense of realism baked in, starting from the animation direction and artistic direction. I would like to just point out on all the silly “gimmicks” like seeing Ohana and Ko meeting on the pedestrian overpass, or when Satsuki leaps out of the pool of Enishi’s nostalgia trip. Or better yet, the whole angle for Enishi’s film club roots, or how Nako, Jiromaru and Takako all took a dive with their clothes on. Oh, yeah, the fox deity in those feverish dreams from Ohana counts too. And all the train rides! It’s like watching an indie Japanese flick at times. The most impressive thing for me was how Mel Kishida’s funky moe designs got turned around and became their logical, freakish expositions as taken to the animator’s extreme, trying to showcase different body shapes, sizes, of different age and gender; of cute, sexy, unsexy, uncute, or simply too hilarious to care. It was as un-moe as it gets in a way. Ohana’s saving grace was her two flower ribbons (and I guess it gave her twice the vote power in Saimoe?), and if you didn’t tell me Minko-hime is a “hime” I would not have guessed. She’s got style but half the time she looks aghast with those alien-sized eyes sunken in from her early morning routine. If anyone would have passed for moe, it would be Yuina; except her personality kind of ruined things.

But yet, even Yuina’s pampered appearance is a designed contrast to demonstrate Ohana and Minko’s relatively spartan lifestyle. And that goes for everyone in the show: I never really felt pandered to by anyone in the show on the sole basis of appearance. (Then again, it doesn’t take much more than naked high-school girls to get some people excited.) Everyone has a story, and everyone looks his or her part, nothing more. I think that alone is a huge deviation from your average “Aoi Nishimata everything looks alike except hair and apparel” mode of anime character design. In a lot of ways that alone was already worth the price of admission–waking up early Sunday morning and tuning in. I’m going to miss it after it ends in a couple weeks.

I can go on as to how the show did rely heavily on the visual representation of the cast to tell the story. But maybe it’s better to also talk about some of the writing stuff. Like how it is using that whole fest-it-up thing to say something.

Here’s a question: what does love look like? I think as of our confession scene in episode 24, it’s when you’re standing and surveying the land with the one you love in it. At least in this case. I think the show makes its strongest argument in the opening, when both first and second features our Kissuisou family going at it, hustling and bustling. It’s what those CR subs described as “fest it up.”

And going back to my initial point: does the whole hustling and bustling thing work? Does people hustling and bustling in a live-action mode convey the same impact and “look and feel” as opposed to animating it? There’s a sense of grittiness when Nako and Ohana run criss-cross with a pile of trays, as opposed to a more cartoony (see what I did there) feel that you might get with 3D rendered stuff that we’re more familiar with? Does this make sense to you? Or more importantly, do you see what I’m saying and do you agree?