Hanayamata – 01


The two final shows on my Summer watchlist—Jinsei, and this—bring my total up to six, and no, I won’t be reviewing all six. Since I picked up a couple of recommendations that turned out to be the better shows I’ve watched so far this season (Barakamon and Nozaki-kun), these two stragglers have to prove they’re worth bumping an existing show or two off my list. Hanayamata may have pulled it off.


The first outing focuses heavily on Sekiya Naru, who is average in every conceivable way; human garbage; a waste of oxygen…Or so she’d have us believe, in an inner (and sometimes outer) monologue that is exceedingly self-devaluing. Being friends with the gorgeous, confident, multi-talented rock star Sasame Yaya does nothing to help her opinion of herself. Everywhere Naru looks, people are choosing what to do with themselves, and they’re all on her case about reading fairy tales.


One night, after delivering a package to another one of her richer, prettier friends, Naru happens to bump into a tiny, nimble, elegant fairy-like creature perched upon a shrine gate. In a fit of fancy, Naru chases after her, hoping she’s the one to show her another world. And she’s not wrong, she’s just being a bit too literal. The little girl appears in her class, a transfer student from America (Princeton, NJ, to be exact) named Hana N. Fontainestand.


That’s a silly name, but true to her American roots, Hana comes on very strong, chasing Naru all over the school asking her to join the yosakoi dance club she just founded. Hana is mortified just by the attention Hana’s pursuit of her is attracting, so dancing around in public is totally out of the question. She’s not dazzling! She’s as undazzling as a lump of charcoal! As much as she wants to change, she’s scared of losing the comfortable routine she’s settled into.


Of course, a person as unremarkable and awful and empty as Naru says she is was always eventually going to be worn down and join. For one thing, she feels bad about everyone else at school utterly ignoring Hana and giving her weird looks. To Naru’s surprise, Hana doesn’t give a shit what other people think. She’s loved yosakoi ever since she first visited Japan, saw it, and dreamt of being a part of it. Now that she lives here, she’s giving that dream it her all.


Hana makes Naru remember her own neglected dreams, and she respects the hell out of Hana’s passion and devotion. Hana also looks really awesome while she’s dancing, so there’s that. And so, she signs on as a tentative “helper” for the club, still not committing to actually dressing up and dancing. Of course, now that she’s in Hana’s clutches there’s no going back, and she won’t be the only one to join, as the OP indicates.


This episode was very pretty and its characters exceedingly cute. Neither Naru or Hana are too irritating, going right up to the line at times but never crossing it. The focus on yosakoi screams CULTURE and appeals to us in the same way as Chihayafuru’s devotion to karuta another offbeat cultural phenomenon that has evolved with the times. Yosakoi looks to be the vehicle for Naru’s metamorphosis from banal caterpillar to dazzling butterfly.


Car Cameos:

Music: “Sora’s Folktale” from Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea

2000’s Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea was not particularly great movie, straying too far from and failing to capture the same magic as the superior 1996 anime series. but one thing it did have going for it was this trip-hop remix of the song “Sora’s Folktale”, written and sung in a made-up language by the incomparable Yoko Kanno.

This particular version is only an incidental song sung in a nightclub by Eriya and Naria during their brief cameo appearance in the movie. But it still manages to pack a lot of beautiful, bittersweet, transcendent FEELS in its less than two minutes of run time.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – 01


Commiserations, Ao Haru Ride: you had the misfortune of being followed by this on my watchlist; not that you would have fared much better had I watched them in opposite order. Getting down to brass tacks, this slick, nimble laugh-fest of an episode made Ao seem like a feckless, nebulous, lethargic, overly straight-laced chore. And we didn’t even dislike Ao Haru Ride…while we were watching it!


We could only summon a slight snicker or two from Ao Haru Ride, while numerous parts of this episode had me loosing legit belly laughs. It’s a show that’s not afraid to let its hair down and get silly and ridiculous, as it does when Nozaki and Chiyo brainstorm ways for a guy and girl to ride a bike, culminating in the two riding a tandem bicycle in similarly goofy ways. Also, the misunderstandings between the two in matters regarding romance were understandable and/or clever; never labored.


The bikes are just one example of the many ways the show grabbed hold of ideas and squeezed just the right amount of comedy out of them before moving on (the many cats mistaking Nozaki for a telephone pole, or something, were another). The exercises in futility that are Chiyo’s attempts to confess to Nozaki are another; both attempts bookend the episode and end in the same undesired result for Chiyo: a signed autograph.


Another plus: unlike the kids in Ao Haru Ride, Chiyo and Nozaki aren’t just bland, confused students milling around school trying to fit in; they’re artists. Nozaki is a published and highly popular manga artist; the fact he’s an enormously successful shoujo artist is one of the many running gags, as it’s never adequately explained exactly how he’s able to touch the hearts of so many girls with zero romantic experience.


But that lack of experience also informs how he looks at Chiyo. She’s always looked at him as a love interest, but gains even more respect and admiration when she finds out what he does (even if she’s not sure how he does it). Nozaki, meanwhile, has been watching her for some time too, but as a mangaka scouting for talent, which Chiyo has. The two settle into a nice cozy creative routine, and their “bicycle research”, while hilarious, also exemplifies their collaborative efficacy, as it leads to a popular manga, a source of pride for Chiyo.


In short: they make a damn good team. Sure, they seem incapable of seeing eye to eye on matters of romance between them, but chalk that up to Chiyo simply failing to get unmistakable words out (she only gets out mistakable words, like “I’m a fan!” She may have struck out twice, but she’s still very much in the batter’s box, just as Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun has earned a solid place on our roster. Sports metaphors!


Stray Observations:

  • The sheer volume of laughs approached those of the very best episodes of Sket Dance; not faint praise from us.
  • Never heard Ozawa Ari before, but she’s very good here as Chiyo, expressing a great range of emotions. Both her inner and outer dialogues fizz like a fresh Alka-seltzer.
  • If there’s ever an anime where the guy speeds off in a bike while the girl runs behind him, I want to watch it.
  • A subtle but ever-present sight gag is in effect here as well: Chiyo is absolutely dwarfed by Nozaki, underscoring the figurative “heights” she’ll have to scale for her feelings to reach him.
  • Those cats…so random…but so good.
  • The ending theme was kinda obnoxious…but who cares?