「オンセン・ガッシュク／スマイル・イズ・フラワー／ハナヤマタ」 (Onsen Gasshuku/Sumairu Izu Furawaa/Hanayamata)
“Hot Spring Camp/Smile is Flower/Hanayamata”
This was long coming, but now it’s time to finally give the final verdict on this series. Instead of talking about the last three episodes individually, this post will focus on the main themes of the show, both good and bad, particularly taking specific examples from the final arc. It’s been an interesting dance with the series, but here we have to make our stop and judge how that ride has been.
Right off the bat, I’d like to start off with the show’s best storytelling quality: the growth of its characters and the steadiness of that change. Over the course of twelve episodes, we have seen a significant amount of character growth from all five of the main characters, even from our late participant, Machi. Though each character has had their own ‘development arc’ to face their inner struggles, each character has exhibited growth outside of their respective arcs, often growing together than growing in turn.
Take for instance Naru, the best example in this scenario. Although her main development arc takes place in episode one, her personal growth never halts throughout the series. Looking at episode one Naru, we see a largely unconfident girl, trapped between sadness from mediocrity and fear of the spotlight. We see a girl who can’t dance for her life, yet desires to be swept off her feet in fairytale fashion. Move forward to episode twelve, and it’s quite surprising to see just how much Naru has changed. She’s managed to inspire her peers, form friendships and a club that’ll last beyond their schooling, and some sick yosakoi moves that episode one Hana could never imagine doing. Despite how stark the contrast is, the transition was actually very natural. Every episode, we saw Naru slowly improving herself, whether in her dance moves or in her fervor to do more for the club and its fellow members. While the focus was on other characters, Naru continued to work during those in-between scenes, making her growth part of a grander narrative than her own isolated situation. These changes were never big–even mid-way, Naru was still stumbling around clumsily–but rather small steps that made the entire show feel…natural in its progression. Rather than seeing these drastic shifts in character, there instead was this elegant transition that all the characters passed through, to the point where its almost hard to notice any significant change from episode to episode. Yet suddenly, we’re here at episode twelve, with five girls dancing in synchronization to the OP, which has been the rallying call for the dance ever since episode one.
On a related note, with the growth of all our characters came the ultimate theme of the show, which is the concept of “blooming” and displaying one’s best qualities for the world to see. Although this does tie in with character growth, the show explicitly ties in the symbolism of flowers to represent the untapped potential that each character unlocks throughout the show. Each contributed an important piece to forming the final yosakoi dance, however, before doing so, each character had to feel free to ‘bloom’, to free themselves from the self-imposed fears and worries that held back their potential. I won’t list them all here for sake of brevity, but never was there a time that the characters were actively being held back by other characters. The show’s conflict does not come from interpersonal conflicts, but rather self-conflict. Thus, the blooming analogy makes sense–though everyone was there to support one another, the decision to finally come out and show their true colors came from within. Naru recognized this poetic symbolism and capitalized on it, adding a nice touch to each character. It’s not particularly deep symbolism, but it is a nice visual touch to see how the end result has come about.
For all of its heartwarming moments, there was never an episode without some sort of drama rummaging about. Although the issues that the girls faced were definitely legitimate–sister complexes, jealousy, loneliness, fear of judgment, self-affirmation–the melodramatic baggage that came with those issues could be tiring and predictable. For instance, take the instance when the yosakoi club forget to register for the festival and missed the mark. For that event to be used only for Machi’s “I’m a hard worker” message seemed largely unnecessary and cut into what could’ve been a nice wholesome episode where the girls bond without worry. I mean, it was nice to see them stay together despite the apparent cancellation, but the whole thing felt a bit off and tacked on. This definitely wasn’t the only isolated instance, as I mentioned in previous episodes that Yaya’s drama felt a bit too forced for drama’s sake. It seems that the show was trying to strike this balance between cuteness and emotional drama, but really, the show would’ve done a much better job going more towards the ‘healing show’ type of approach, in my opinion. I congratulate the show for attempting to create some emotional depth during the drama, and sometimes it works very well (see Naru’s prince-like attitudes when encouraging Tami), but those moments should’ve been concentrated and spread out more often than spread thin. The time to digest one character’s troubles simply wasn’t there.
In terms of the production side, what’s most disappointing is perhaps the sheer lack of actual yosakoi animation, as well as the amount of recycled yosakoi animation. For a show that advertises itself on focusing on this new dance, it sure doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on that dance, save for a few moments in the show. Heck, if not for the heartwarming ending, I would’ve thought the ending to be lackluster due to the lack of a ‘grand finale’ in animating our five. This is more a problem in comparisons and expectations, since Madhouse had just come out with No Game No Life last season. Compared to that, this show felt like a side project that was meant to fill in the blanks between major productions.
Don’t get me wrong, the animation itself was pretty good. Though there were some non-key animations and drawings that were weird to look at, the general composition of the characters kept itself well-formed throughout the series, without a major dip in production. The comedic exaggerations were done well given the apparent budget, and the color palette used for the show is something I really appreciate looking back. In fact, it is perhaps the colors that gave the show a major facelift in its presentation, which I congratulate the animators on nailing well. However, where the animation was needed most–yosakoi–was often delegated to still images (that weren’t that great either) or short clips that obviously were trying to hide the lack of budget and manpower. It wasn’t something as bad as Magi’s Morgiana dance, but we were expecting more. Perhaps the reasoning behind this was to distribute production evenly throughout the show, but without that cincher that would really make the dances shine, the show becomes a bit more forgettable because of it.
This finally takes us to a conclusion…was Hanayamata good and/or worth it? I’d say…yes, if not for the expectations I had placed on the series beforehand. For those of you who remembered my preview for the series before much information was released, I was completely hyped up for this show. Both Madhouse and Ishizuka Atsuko had come off fresh from No Game No Life to work on this, which could only mean good things. I admire Ishizuka as a director, so I had hoped she would work her magic on this show just as she did for her previous work, with the full backing of Madhouse to support her vision. However, that would not be the case, as the story of Hanayamata is only good, but not great , and definitely not great enough to generate a huge amount of hype like No Game no Life. On its own, Hanayamata is a good show, yet perhaps not a memorable one. In comparison with its fellow Madhouse brothers, it isn’t a show that will be in many people’s minds once a season or two passes by.
In reflection though, perhaps Ishizuka has done more for this series than any other director could’ve done. I do admit that her tendency towards drama may have been a bit off-putting for this series, but in terms of character balancing, pacing, and general direction, the show is pretty solid in that regard. Hopefully she finds herself in some better produced shows, since her talent is wasted on more casual shows like this–her skills are better aimed towards the truly dramatic and action-packed than one about dancing.
In conclusion, Hanayamata ended well and provided what it set out to do. It gave us some yosakoi, but mainly cute girls. It accomplished great strides in character development and pacing, but failed in certain regards to drama and animation. It also turns out that Hana isn’t an alien or magical being after all, but rather just a really strong high schooler who can leap really high. Let it be known for the record that I totally messed up on that prediction. Dear reader, thank you for following this series to the end, it was an interesting experience to cover both LOVE STAGE!!, a BL-type show and its complete polar opposite, Hanayamata, simultaneously. In the end, both of them gave me much to smile for towards the end, mainly for maintaining balance between their characters and consistent development of the main cast.
However, as most of you may know already, this is the last show that I will be covering for until Spring 2015. I must go on a sabbatical away from blogging, simply because I do not have the time commitments to dedicate to blogging as of right now. It was completely unexpected work, but in situations like this, it’s best to cleanly handle the problem. This triple post is evidence of my current inability and I’m seriously sorry for postponing it so late. As of now, I’m unfit to give you guys timely coverage on a weekly basis, since I severely underestimated my workload in college this semester, and as such I have to say goodbye for now, at least for my blogging duties. I’ll still be helping to maintain the podcast and participate in them every now and then, but I will not have any time beyond that to contribute to the site, at least until I have my priorities and job security resolved.
I thank all my readers for supporting me these past two and a half years, both through the good and the seriously bad. I’ve made a lot of mistakes during my blogging career, some more excusable than others, but I really have to thank you guys for always being understanding and most of all forgiving of my situations. Episodic blogging is pretty tough stuff, so it always helped out when you guys publicly voiced your support in emails or in the comment section. Much like how Hana has to fly out to take care of some situations, I have to depart from a position here I love doing in order to focus on other passions in my life (like not failing). However, like Hana, I will hopefully return, with a renewed vigor (and time allocation) for blogging, so that I can keep the conversation of less popular anime on the table.
Again, thank you dear readers, I simply can’t thank you guys enough. I hope to see you guys again soon! ^_^