Yozakura Quartet – Hana no Uta – 01
OP: 「桜のあと(all quartets lead to the?)」 (Sakura no Ato (all quartets lead to the?)) by UNISON SQUARE GARDEN
「サクラサク」 (Sakura Saku)
“Blooming Cherry Blossoms”
To be honest, I never expected a new Yozakura Quartet series to ever be made. I don’t think the franchise was ever that popular as to warrant yet another anime production, nor do I remember the previous entries selling all that well. And I get it; if you were to ask me, I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell you what I liked about Yozakura Quartet if you didn’t first give me a couple of hours to ponder, such as with this blog post. Whether it was the original TV anime, the manga, the OVAs, or even this new reboot TV series…it definitely wasn’t the kind of show that was immediately appealing to people.
But watching this episode reminded me of what made the OVA so incredibly captivating. Yozakura Quartet’s setting of a town where humans and youkais live alongside each other is one that is fantastical, quirky, and oftentimes cartoony, but it remains so confidently nonchalant and natural about it throughout. I’m strongly reminded of Kyousogiga in the same way, and there’s a lot of overlapping feelings between the two. But instead of the frenetic energy that assails Kyousogiga, the phrase that keep popping back in my mind while I was watching the episode is “playfully laid-back”. There’s almost no discernable switching of gears from low to high. During the craziness of the supersizing goldfishes, every person in the town (except the panicky Touka) seems to treat the chaos as though it was an everyday occurrence, and what’s incredible is how the show progresses to this episode climax before winding down again in one smooth act. The storytelling in Hana no Uta feels incredible natural, and never seems to break from its playful and simple tone.
The other thing was the great chemistry between its characters; this is one of the few shows where the cast of characters achieves a great balance, and everyone is capable of playing off each other in really fun ways. Through the eyes of the lost child Lily (later revealed to be a bodacious magical witch antagonist) we are reintroduced to the world of Yozakura Quartet and its characters: Lily first stumbles onto Isone Kotoha (Sawashiro Miyuki), a Kotadama-powered half-youkai, and Kishi Touka (Tomatsu Haruka), an ogre with super strength. The feisty mayor of Sakura Town with an appetite, Yarizakura Hime (Fukuen Misato), soon barges into the picture with her aide, Touka’s brother Kishi Kyousuke (Ono Daisuke). Lily is then brought to the lost child area which Hiizumi Akina (Kaji Yuuki) and Nanami Aoi (Saki Fujita) are running, rounding off the introductions to the major characters of the show. Name dropping everywhere, and we haven’t even gotten to the supporting characters, like V. Juri F. (Ookubo Aiko)! But to the credit of Yozakura Quartet, it never goes overboard with the introductory exposition (it fact, it’s rather skimpy with it, if you’d believe me) instead taking its time to reintroduce the show without losing its head. As far as reintroductions for reboots go, this was definitely one of the best ones I’ve seen; keeping it as simple and as natural as possible.
Of course, the major selling point of this new reboot is that it’s being helmed by Ryochimo, director and chief animator of the series’s very excellent OVA, while bringing over much of the same core production team at Tatsunoko. If you haven’t seen those, I’d highly recommend watching them if you have an hour or two to spare; not only are they a nicely self-contained storyline within the Yozakura Quartet chronology, it’s also a great way to see if this show really is your cup of tea. Most of all, it really gives you a succinct taste of Ryochimo’s capabilities as a director and an animator. We’re deep into a visually spectacular season that makes the cinephile in me squeal like a little girl; shows like Kill la Kill, Kyousogiga, and Kyoukai no Kanata all wowing with their own distinctive cinematographic flair. Ryochimo’s Yozakura Quartet stands as another one to add to this list; just like his work on Birdy Decode and Noein, what we see of Hana no Uta feels kinetic, fluid and extremely expressive, with an emphasis on loose art and unorthodox cinematography. The short fight sequences with the goldfish was a great showcase of this, but what really stuck in my mind was the various little movements, expressions and artistic touches throughout; thing like the characters bobbing shoulders together, or Aoi rolling the mochi she’s been keeping on her head into her mouth.
You can’t dance round the elephant in the room when discussing the “new” animes of Yozakura Quartet: the character designs and general artistic direction marks a distinct departure from creator Yasuda Suzuhito’s sharp art style, undoubtedly provoking the manga purist just like the OVA did. What I do feel is that the character design really fit well with the playful energy in Ryochimo’s directing; The show revels this with a host of exaggerated expressions and playful movements of the characters, and gives the show much of its vibrant tone.
It’s been a veritable eon since I’ve last touched the manga, and I don’t think I’ve even reached the point covered in the OVA, so I’m about as new to this TV series as any other first time watcher. That said, I’ve heard the positivity over the narrative arc that the anime will supposedly cover, and if it’s anything like the OVA, I’m expecting the show will ramp up to another strong storyline. As it strictly stands right now though, this episode worked as a great reintroduction to the series; the chemistry between the characters is there, the brief action was incredibly fun (I’d actually put it around Kyoukai’s level) and the quirky, playful humor was in check. I don’t want to jump the shark and say we have a winner on our hands just yet, but we’ve evidently got a great setup working here. If Hana no Uta can just push the storyline into more enticing waters, there’s reason to be hopeful yet.
Full-length images: 09.
ED: 「ツキヨミ」 (Tsukiyomi) by phatmans after school