Fest It Up!
What’s the Story?
When Ohana’s mother takes off with her iffy boyfriend to avoid paying his debts, Ohana is sent to live with her grandmother who owns an inn, Kissuiso. At first Ohana is convinced this is going to be a grand adventure, but five seconds after meeting her grandmother, that delusion is well and truly gone. Ohana’s grandmother is a harsh taskmaster and she expects Ohana to work if she’s going to stay with her. So Ohana becomes an attendant at the inn, and while the work is hard and often gruelling, Ohana starts to notice something. She actually enjoys it. Whether it’s giving the best experience to a customer, or finding out more about her new co-workers, there’s a special feeling from doing a job to the best of your ability. Of course Ohana is still a teenager, so awkward feelings, misunderstandings and a whole lot of drama are soon to follow.
Yes! I finally made it! Ever since I watched Sakura Quest I’ve been meaning to get around to this series and that time has finally arrived! For those that don’t know, this series forms a loose set with Sakura Quest and Shirobako as part of P.A. Works’ ‘Working’ series. There’s no actual connection between the series, each one has a completely different cast, location and it’s own themes and ideas that it wants to explore. The only real things connecting each series is that, one, the cast is largely female-centric, two, they’re done by P.A. Works and, three, they’re focussed on some sort of job. Shirobako was about working the anime industry (check out my review HERE), Sakura Quest was about working in tourism and revitalising a small town (check out my review HERE) and Hanasaku Iroha is obviously about working in an inn. They’re also about more than that, but I’ll get to that once I’m into the review proper. For now, if you want to check out each series, then I thoroughly recommend each of them, but if you’re wondering if there’s a particular order to watch them in or anything, don’t worry, pick what you want and watch that (Technically speaking, Hanasaku Iroha is the first show in the series and I’ve watched it last with no problems whatsoever).
Right, now that the set up’s out of the way, what is this series actually like? It’s really, really good. I’m often up front with my opinions in reviews and there is no way I’m holding that one in any longer, this is a really great series and I want to kick myself for waiting so long to watch it. It’s honestly amazing to think that this series is roughly eight and a half years old, because it holds up astonishing well. Maybe the animation isn’t as bright or flashy as some current anime, but in a lot of places this series is stunning to look at. From the streets of Tokyo to the sweeping vistas of a more rural Japan, this series just makes me want to step through my screen and end up at Kissuiso. Admittedly a lot of this is shown through panning shots and there isn’t a great deal of dynamic action, it’s a show about an inn, having everyone running about isn’t really the desired scenario. When it counts though, the characters are filled with all the energy and impact you could ask for.
What makes this show though, is the characters. Each of them is just brimming with personality and while there are those who aren’t really the focus of the series, everyone gets their own little moment in the spotlight. Whether it’s the shy and nervous Nako, the bloody-minded and often infuriating, Minko, or even the resident erotica writer and his antics (I was worried said character was going to be really annoying, but after the first couple of episodes his role is toned down and he gets used for some effective comedy), everyone has their time to shine. I especially love that the majority of the characters get their own little arcs and develop across the series while still remaining the kind of tight-knit team I always enjoy in a series. Of course Ohana is our main character and she gets the bulk of the development. A lot of it is your typical coming-of-age stuff, with Ohana working out her feelings for a boy, finding out where she belongs and thinking about what she really wants to do with her life. What keeps this storyline fresh though is Ohana’s attitude.
Ohana has a habit of rushing in head-first into a situation, sometimes not even understanding why she’s doing something, just knowing that it’s the thing that needs to be done. She wants to ‘sparkle’, as she puts it, to find her thing and excel at it, something that she’s never really given much thought to while she’s been taking care of her disaster of her mother. That’s another thing I’ll give this series, it did actually manage to redeem Ohana’s mother by the end, somewhat, though I’m not going to let her off the hook entirely. It speaks to the depth of these characters, that every one has shades to them and as the series progresses we get to see more and more sides to them and learn what makes them tick. Even the central romance between Ohana and Ko is developed in a natural way, between the awkward conversations and the constant back and forth of them trying to work out their feeling while living miles and miles apart is kind of adorable and you can’t help but root for them (not as much as I rooted for Minchi to confession though, but that was purely so she could get her feelings out in the open and stop being such a nightmare to everyone. I seriously wanted to strangle that girl on several occasions, which just goes to show how much I got invested in this show and these characters).
On a last note, I suppose I should rank the ‘Working’. For me, personally, Shirobako comes out on top. Hanasaku Iroha is a better series on a technical level, but Shirobako just means more to me on a personal level with it giving an insight into the anime industry and the fact that I watched it at a time in my life when I really needed it. Hanasaku Iroha takes second place, but it’s only a whisker behind Shirobako and that leaves Sakura Quest in third place. All three series are really good though and I thoroughly recommend each of them.
Hanasaku Iroha is a fantastic series following not only an energetic protagonist finding her way, but a whole host of eclectic and fascinating characters. There are some gorgeous backdrops to look at and a wealth of drama, whether that be in the workplace or in personal lives, to keep you glued to the screen. There’s a slight lull in the middle of the series, as the show takes time to explore some of the characters in a bit more detail, but I like these characters so much that I honestly don’t mind. This is twenty-six episodes of anime goodness and I’m now really sad that I’m done with the ‘Working’ series from P.A. Works. Then again, I can always watch the series all over again, so I might just do that.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.