When I first started watching “Hanasaku Iroha” (also known as Hanairo, and in English, “The ABCs of Blooming”), I wasn’t expecting much. With the recent influx of slice-of-life shows starring stereotypically cute girls with cliche character development, doing very cliche things, and meant to appeal to appeal to 18- to 30-year-old men (a genre of anime called Seinen), I thought that this was just going to be another pretty, but boring show. I was wrong.
Cynical high-schooler Ohana Matsumae is forced to move from her hometown of Tokyo and into the country with her grandmother after her irresponsible mother chooses to run off with her debt-ridden boyfriend.
However, when she reaches the inn her grandmother owns, Kissui Inn, she learns that her grandmother had previously disowned her mother and therefore Ohana isn’t considered family. The jaded Ohana will have to work at the traditionally-minded Kissui Inn to earn her keep.
The animation is gorgeous. It’s obvious that the creators of this show loved what they were doing. From the realistic character designs to the attention given to the sky, scenery and minute details of the Kissui Inn, everything indicates that lots of time was spent on this anime. The animation steps it up at the end of an arch and becomes beautiful enough to bring tears to your eyes.
The music is also good. Although some tracks are forgettable, most blend nicely with the tone of the anime. The opening and ending songs, in particular, fit with the themes and values of Ohana as she finds her way through her life.
However, where this anime really shines is in the story and what the show has to say. It’s an anime centered around growing up, changing yourself and learning who to rely on and where you want to go. Normally, anime that deal with this topic concern themselves with romance and how love (and someone else) will help you discover who you are and who you’ll become.
While there is romance in “Hanasaku Iroha,” it has more to do with how your family, friends and job can create obstacles, challenges and opportunities for you to discover who you are. This anime will strike a chord with anyone who has had to deal with family drama — divorce, irresponsible parents, single-motherhood and financial problems — and has had to overcome them on their own.
The main character, Ohana, seems like a real girl. She starts off pragmatic and cynical, but eventually discovers who she wants to be: cheerful, hardworking and goal-oriented. She has to make several hard decisions to discover this, though.
Everything about Ohana and her journey is captivating. This is the anime’s strength and its flaw. As the anime strays from Ohana for several episodes in the second season, it slows down and becomes tedious. None of the other characters are as realistic as Ohana; instead, the show starts out with stereotypes and tries to flesh them out after the fact. While this works to a certain extent, it still feels forced, and you won’t be invested in these characters the way you will with Ohana.
Eventually the anime comes back to Ohana, and manages to make up for the earlier episodes with an ending that fits its themes and manages to be happy, satisfying and completely realistic. There is no fairy-tale ending here, only an optimistic hope for the future, and it is the realism of this anime that makes it so inspiring.
All in all, “Hanasaku Iroha” is an anime that exceeded expectations and managed to create a wonderful story that stands out in a genre that has become bland and unfulfilling. I give “Hanasaku Iroha” four out of five stars. It is available to watch legally and for free at crunchyroll.com.
Cara Hillstock is a sophomore in English and theatre. Please send comments to [email protected]