OP: 「花は踊りレヤいろはにほ」 (Hana wa Odori Reya Iroha ni Ho) by チーム”ハナヤマタ” (Team Hanayamata)
“Shall We Dance?”
Excuse the new format, but I’m finally going to try some new post styles again. Let me know in the comments what works and what doesn’t!
Anyways, welcome dear reader to Hanayamata, a story by Sou that’s about cute girls and beautiful dances on the surface, with all the emotional themes that revolve around that premise. Sekiya Naru (Ueda Reina) is an average girl, looking for a fairytale like fantasy to sweep her away. Although she enjoys the company of her excellent-in-everything best friend Sasame Yaya (Okuna Kaya) and affluent vice-president Nishigomon Tami (Ootsubo Yuka), being in their shadows takes a quiet toll on her self-esteem. One day, as Naru wishes to be swept away, a mysterious ‘fairy’—Hana (Tanaka Minami)–dances on top of a torii gate. After a failed attempt to sweep Naru (and her heart) away, a number of events occur, with Hana conveniently transferring to Naru’s school and starting a Yosakoi club, hoping that Naru will join her in dancing once more.
However, what exactly is yosakoi dancing. In a nutshell, yosakoi dance evolved from the more traditional Awa dance, combining modern music with traditional dance and clothing. As a reference, Golden Time featured Awa Odori prominently. The fact that the show highlights both Naru’s lack of knowledge about the dance as well as Hana’s love of the dance as a foreigner is reflective of the current rising popularity of the dance domestically and globally. Fellow UC Berkeley students, the Nikkei Student Union happens to have a yosakoi dance group you should check out!
This combination of old and new, east and west, and shy and spontaneous is just one way that distinguishes Hanayamata from the crowd. Additional hope comes from the presence of a strong production team. With Madhouse and Ishizuka Atsuko (Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo, Tsuki no Waltz) fresh from No Game No Life last season, it’s a good sign that this pairing will work on Hanayamata for the summer. However, those expectations can also become a burden–can we expect the same sort of successes from No Game No Life to transfer over here? Let’s find out!
For a first episode, the show performed amazingly well in animation and okay in pacing. As is usual in visual media, it’s very troublesome to get introductions out-of-the-way while setting up a plot to continue throughout the story, all while fitting it within a 20 minute time frame. Here, Hanayamata falls to some of those traps. For a surprisingly deep subject given the premise, the show really did go straight for Naru’s emotions immediately. The episode gets straight to the point, but without enough time to properly invest ourselves in Naru’s scenario, the intended emotional payoff is watered down. This is more a problem with the source material, as the same events happened similarly in the manga (with the exception of the added band scene).
The comedic bits are executed well enough that the show doesn’t feel too dampened by Naru’s melancholy, but there’s this sort of uneasiness in what type of tone the show tries to portray as a result. The mixture of these gags with the drama makes one wonder what type of episode they were aiming for. This’ll even out as the show progresses, but this sort of indecisiveness only leads to average enjoyment, since the average viewer is unsure of how to approach the show.
However, on a more positive note, the art is amazing, especially in the backgrounds and during the dancing segments. One may wonder why there’s so many cherry blossoms flying around constantly, but that’s a minor gripe in what’s sure to be an excellent art style this season. Similar to No Game No Life’s art style, the colors are rich. There’s a wonderful use of gradient, blurring techniques, and lighting effects in every scene. The backgrounds are excellent, especially during scenes of the sky or scenes around town at night. The character designs are drawn very well, with consistency in quality throughout and only a few minor 2nd-animation errors. Some may find the weird angling of the eyes a bit jarring, but with most of the characters in motion anyways, this becomes a lesser problem. The gags, although a comedic gamble, are drawn well and are cinematically creative enough to keep interest in the scene. Overall, good on Madhouse for preserving their quality and not landing another Photo Kano–let’s keep hoping this quality doesn’t drop!
But now comes the rundown. Why should you watch Hanayamata, if you’re not sold already? In short, this show has the potential to be a great emotional ride, touching on such subjects as inferiority and pursuit of the magical and fantastical.
For a moment, let me take a tangent to illustrate some context. When the phrase ‘Shall We Dance’ is said, a good number of people may be reminded of the musical and movie The King and I, where the phrase refers to specific song in the musical. Within that scene, Anna is apprehensive of dancing alone in front of the foreign king, but eventually is swayed by the king’s insistence to learn. Overall, it’s a very storybook-like setting, one that Naru would probably love reading.
However, for many Japanese people, the phrase ‘Shall We Dance’ is more familiarly associated with the popular movie Shall we ダンス? (if you’ve only seen the American version, please watch the original Japanese one). This movie paints a story of a salaryman who finds life and happiness through ballroom dancing, which transforms him from a clunky and disillusioned middle-aged man to a happy being who has once again found passion in his life. Again, Naru would resonate with this movie, as the themes of escaping one’s average life into a temporary world of magic are heavily present. Hana would point out that the show is about filling an empty person with experience through dance, just like Hana proposes to Naru.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see what kinds of sources influenced Hanayamata and how much potential there is for this show if it follows in its predecessor’s footsteps. Dance is an important tool of expression and intimacy, allowing one to grow close to their fellow dancers while individually expressing their own selves through movement. Best of all, while one dances, it’s almost as if one is in another world, temporarily detaching and often becoming the center of attention. Of all the characters in this show, it is Naru who would best benefit from the powers of dance. With her friends being the school idol and the vice president who regularly receive praise, it’s entirely realistic for Naru to have an inferiority complex given her skills. However, with this mindset also comes the defeatist attitude, thus creating a vicious cycle that’s hard to get out of, no matter who you are. Naru’s hobby of storybook tales as a way of hiding away from this issue may be childish, on a deeper level its representative of the secret guilt that people of all ages share–let there be an easy way out, with someone else leading the way.
Hanayamata illustrates what happens when that magic does come to save you, just like in fairytales. This would make for a generic plot, except when we consider the two sides of ‘Shall We Dance’. Instead of hiding away the problem and solving it, Hanayamata may very well become a tale of bringing those problems to the forefront naked, using dance as only the means to allow the true healing to happen, rather than being the healing itself. This episode was an example of admitting hope and allowing change into their lives, both to hurt and heal. Next episode will surely touch on Naru’s conflicted relationship with Yaya, where feelings of inferiority will have to be faced head-on so that Naru can freely dance without worries. If the show continues like this and improve its pacing, I’m sure that I’ll have a lot to write about in the coming weeks.
In summary, watch Hanayamata if you want to see things get potentially deep through dance, as well as for an artistic ride. I will continue to blog this up until the third episode and give my verdict then, but so far, things are looking good for this show. Sorry for rambling, but explaining the complexity behind the premise is proving to be a struggle. Hopefully someone out there has similar thoughts, so help me out here in the comments!
So what’ll you do? Will you dance yosakoi?
ED: 「花雪」 (Hanayuki) by smileY inc.