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?