Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 10

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In the first half, Ao and three classmates take care of Hime when she falls ill. Vice Principal Uzu visits to deliver the elders’ offical request that she resign as mayor as she’s “not suited for it”, though he himself believe she’s doing a great job. In the second half, Hime, Kana and Mina visit Juri, but she’s asleep. She dreams of when she first arrived in Tokyo, eager to grow into an adult so she can silence her ancestor’s detractors. She meets Hime’s grandmother Machi, who takes Juri to the empty lot where her descendant ran a clinic. There Machi tells her she can take her time, and introduces her to Hime.

This week is even lighter-weight than last, starting with a sick-day slice-of-life that confirms what’s already quite well-established: the quartet are tight, devoted friends. Hime is beloved as the mayor. Everyone depends on one another. Ao wears shimapan. Then we were treated to the origin story of Juri, a minor character in the previous YQ anime, but is being given a lot more to do here. The thing is, just as the elders aren’t sure Hime is suited for mayorship, we’re not sure Juri is suited to such prominence in the show. She’s got a great bod and all, but the Frankenstein story is just a tad ridiculous. We’re not sure why that particular name from literary history had to be dropped (suddenly, like a mic) into a story primarily about human-youkai relations.

It doesn’t help that past Juri’s a dull, bull-headed, angsty high school student who wants to kick all the adults’ asses for making all those libelous movies about her many-great-grandfather(?). However, we can forgive half the episode being about her if it meant finally meeting Hime’s granny, who’s just as magnificent as we imagined (we also catch a glimpse of adorable Lil’ Hime). Machi is a quiet but immensely strong old woman who makes everyone around her better—as a mayor must. She has no trouble at all setting young Juri on a more peaceful,  life path not dominated by hatred. Be they loud or soft, Juri’s words won’t change anyone’s minds, but her actions will. As she wakes up in the present, her honorary little sister curled up beside her, in the clinic she built to help the townsfolk, we’d say that they have.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 09

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In the first half, the episode follows new resident Kurumaki Zakuro as she finds her way around Sakurashin, encountering fellow half-youkai Kotoha and Shinozuka on the way and ending up at a memorial ground for the tuned. In the second half, Akina, Juri, Morino and Kohime visit the same ground, and are confronted by Enjin, who tries to steal Akina’s body. Elder Iyo and Shidare arrive and intervene, as Enjin is desecrating the memorial. Juri and Akina also fight him, and he eventually retreats.

Our first thought at the end of this episode was “Wow, what a scattered, disjointed, random mess!” But we did learn a great many things: Kotoha prefers going commando in the summer; Juri is descended from Frankenstein and wears pink panties; the elders use a kind of scientific magic substitute called “esoterism” to keep youkai in check. And once you get past the persistent and overt fanservice (from which even poor Kohime isn’t immune) and look back on everything that happened, there’s a method to the madness, and it’s this: the episode focused exclusively on half-youkai and humans, and their role in the coming trials.

It may have been random to focus on Zakuro, a character no one who hadn’t seen any previous YQ would know about, for half an episode but it’s also a very interesting move. Everything newbies needed to know was shown, not told, in the opening credits. We see that even those with horrendously violent pasts can live a peaceful existence in Sakurashin: watching her awkwardly adjust to that life with Rin, Kotoha, etc. demonstrates what the town is all about. And whether it’s esoterism, Frankenstein strength, or the powers of the dutybound, there are humans who will stand with their full- and half-youkai friends to preserve and defend it. It’s okay if everyone’s a “monster”, as long as there’s balance.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

 

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 08

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Shinozuka accompanies Kana and Mina on a Seven Pillars Tour, using the opportunity to apologize to everyone he fought. Hime asks Akina if anything’s changed now that he knows she’s a youkai, but he doesn’t have a chance to answer. He and Hime are called before the elders; Akina is reluctant to go beause of their disregard for youkai. They warn him that Enjin has taken up with four half-youkai youkai hunters.

Hime’s position as mayor may be stable and the townspeople seem fine with her being a youkai, but she’s still uneasy, particularly where Akina is concerned. Now that he knows her secret—and she knows his, for that matter—she’s worried that something’s “changed” between them. And she doesn’t get any straight answers, so she can only judge for herself by how Akina acts around her. She may well be worried about nothing at all—Akina’s all about harmony with youkai—but even if you tell her that, she’s still likely to be worried. Every scene the two are in is a nice mixture of comfort in each other, tinged with tension from recent events. But all either of them can do for now is carry on and hope for the best.

We really dig the subtle, tender Akina-Hime dynamic, and while not a lot happens in this episode, watching them interact are the highlights. They’re united in the belief that Sakurashin remain a town of humans and youkai. Akina is not willing to sacrifice the youkai to save the humans, but he has yet to find a solution that will stop the pillars blooming without losing anyone. If there even is one, odds are Enjin’s one of the only people who knows about it Of course, Enjin wants them to bloom, so convincing him otherwise won’t be easy, especially now that he now has his own quartet of powerful new friends.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Nanami is confident her brother’s soul is still intact and fighting Enjin. We wouldn’t be surprised if sometime near the end of all this, Nanami Gin regains his body and reunites with her.
  • Hi, Kotoha’s panties!
  • Offering Akina a bowl, then asking if she can eat it after all: a classic Hime move.
  • The head elder’s quite the dick, isn’t he? Akina is having none of his nonsense.
  • We like the many ways Hime’s ridiculously-long scarf is used, including as a way to pull her near you and to hide her tears.

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 07

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Hime has the bad guy cornered with her Dragon Lance, but he still has Kohime as a hostage. He conjures a super-massive lizard, teleports to the top of a building, and prepares to drop Kohime into its gullet, but Mayor Morino and Shinozuka save her. The bad guy reveals himself as Hiizumi Enjin, a descendant of the branch family member sent to the other dimension, possessing the body of Ao’s brother Gin. He stabs Akina, and Kyousuke, Touka, Kotoha and Hime respond by beating the crap out of him. Shidou stops Hime from killing him, and he vanishes. Yuuhi arrives and judges Kohime too young to be mayor.

The third and final chapter in the “Mayoral Crisis” arc takes a little while to get going and is a bit too stationary, but was ultimately an improvement over last week. For one thing, it finally reveals who the hell the old guy is and what he’s after. Akina learns that the branch family members didn’t go to the other side willingly, but as sacrifices, which could potentially make him question his role as dutybound; that, is, if Enjin wasn’t such a dick about things. First he steals the body of Gin, a good friend of Akina’s and Ao’s beloved brother. Then he attempts to kill Kohime and Akina and threatens to destroy the town. None of these actions are bound to endear anyone to his plight or that of his ancestors. But Enjin isn’t really looking for love or sympathy…just revenge.

He and his family were hurt by the head Hiizumi’s, so he’s going to hurt them back. It makes for a rather simplistic, all-too-easy-to-root-against villain, but he’s also a tough cookie and someone who brings out the best in the good guys. When everyone thinks the utility knife to Akina’s chest was fatal, it’s great to see his friends lose their shit and start whaling on Enjin with unrestrained rage. We also liked how Enjin also ended up being too evil for Morino to have anything more to do with, gaining the esteem of his loyal Shinozuka. We were also mildly amused by Yuuhi showing up and in five seconds making the whole mayoral stuggle moot, as Kohime really is too damn young to be mayor. Obviously the mayor thing was just a means for Enjin to announce his presence to Hime and the others, and letting them know he’s not going away.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 06

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Akina and Kyousuke are beaten back by Shinozuka, but Shidou, Touka and Ao rescue them in Shinou’s car. Unable to leave town, Kotoha conjures a railway gun and fires it at the Tokyo Tower, destroying the anti-youkai field. Rested enough to fight, Hime relieves Akina, takes out Shinozuka, and and along with a revived Kyousuke, fights off the numerous lizards their opponent is summoning. When the old storekeeper watches Hime protect her shop, he blows it up, revealing the “Dragon Vein” from which Hime is able to draw the Dargon Lance Sakanade.

We carried lofty expectations into this payoff episode after last week got all the game pieces into place. In the end, this episode didn’t quite meet them. Despite some truly inspired and redonkulous moments of action (Kotoha’s awesome railway gun; Kyousuke hitting a lizard with a telephone pole like a batted ball; Hime’s sundry acrobatics), and some lovely isolated moments (the flashback with Hime andJuri catching the KIshis; Akina grasping Hime’s scarf) the episode suffered from bouts of what we’ll call “Shounen Battle Paradox”, in which a battle actually hinders its own momentum with too many escalations in the combat, thus stretching things out when a shorter battle would’ve had more potency. Take the old bad guy (whose name still escapes us) helping the mayor: He creates giant lizards that Hime and Kyousuke quickly dispatch; then he just makes another batch. Tactical genius, this guy is not.

A smarter villain would’ve retreated as soon as the anti-youkai field dropped, yet he stays put. The battle gets a bit too tag-team happy, with someone showing up just in the nick of time to someone else. And the entire sequence with the old man and the giant crane that pops out of his shop—that just didn’t make a lick of sense to us. Kotoha’s toying around with giant machinery makes sense—she’s a conjurer—we don’t know what this guy’s deal is. He’s just there so he can blow up his shop (inches from where Hime was—a lil’ warning would’ve been nice, geezer!) and show Hime the next escalation in the battle, when she pulls the real Dragon Lance out of the wreckage. The last flaw that keeps this Part II from living up to the potential of Part I? The fact there’s a Part III next week.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 05

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An old man arrives at Hime’s house with the mayor Kohime is running against and a powerful monster, and activates an anti-youkai field that weakens full youkai, including Hime, who is badly beaten. The man demands Kohime drop out of the election and for Hime to relinquish her mayorship to him. Juri arrives and takes Hime to the hospital. Akina and Kyousuke fight with the half-youkai Shinozuka while Ao uses her Satellite ability to locate the source of the field: the Tokyo Tower.

This episode is only one half of a two-parter and is mostly setup for a showdown with a so-far nondescript villain, but it was a waaaaay better effort than last week’s dawdling clunker. We already knew from previous version of this anime that Hime was a youkai, but the flashback with Akina was very touching, and we liked Hime’s reasoning for wiping everyone’s memories of what she really is so she can better understand her constituents. This episode did something else gutsy, in taking perhaps the most powerful fighter of the quartet completely out of action in the first minutes.

This leaves her friends to save the day, and so far they seem more than up to the task. Once everyone leave’s Himes house and splits up, there’s a great energy to the story. Everyone is given something to do (except Touka…where’d she go?) and they have to do it under considerable duress (in the form of flying scooters for Akina and a rampaging dragon-thing for Ao and Kotoha). This was more or less table-setting, but highly competent table-setting. We look forward to seeing how things shake out, which is more than we could say after last week.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • That “anti-youkai field” is a hell of a plot device…but we like Yae’s workaround, as well as Yuuhi’s subtle hint to Ao. Gods can only interfere so much, after all.
  • As soon as we heard “Minato” and “high place”, Tokyo Tower immediately came to mind. Though we’re a little disappointed it wasn’t the Tokyo Sky Tree.
  • About Minato: didn’t Juri point out to Akina and Kyousuke that no one could physically leave Sakurashin? If that’s the case, how are Ao and Kotoha going to get to the field? Hopefully this quandary is answered and isn’t just a plot hole.
  • Seems odd how Ao is able to use her ability at such a high level when the anti-youkai field still in place and Yae weakening all youkai power town-wide. Perhaps it’s just evidence Ao is one seriously powerful cat girl. She says all of Tokyo is “no sweat”; perhaps if the field were down she could read the whole country’s minds…
  • The huge pile of gifts from townsfolk was a cute little scene that quickly showed Hime that the people in fact do love their mayor. Who wouldn’t? That scarf is adorable.
  • So far the nameless villain is pretty damn bland. Here’s hoping we won’t have to watch him standing around yammering all next week.

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 04

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On an unusually hot spring day, the office has a pool party, after which Yuuhi warns Akina that the Seven Pillars will bloom in a year or less, merging the human and youkai worlds. Hime’s nine-year-old cousin Kohime, who is running for mayor of her town, joins Hime patrol; they’re observed by Kohime’s incumbent opponent. After a party thrown for Kohime at Hime’s house, Akina tells Hime about the Pillars upsetting her. Ao and Touko answer her doorbell and encounter a strange white mass filling the doorway…

Yozakura Quartet dispensed with the pretense and simply devoted nearly half of the episode to a pool party that is nothing more than an opportunity for the animators to draw the girls in swimsuits (and only the girls; the guys curiously elect not to swim, despite the heat). Yeah, you could say it portrayed how sweet life is now compared to what Yuuhi warns is down the pike, but it still seemed overindulgent and a careless use of time considering what’s looming. We also could have done without the new character, a hyperactive nine-year-old who is running for mayor of her town for some reason. We’re not sure what she adds besides shrillness. Less full orchestra, more quartet, please.

The episode wasn’t a total wash, as it did a good job laying out the respective weights both Akina and Hime carry on their shoulders. Akina is staring down the very real possibility of the town being destroyed by the very apparatus his ancestors erected. The pillars will bloom, and may well bloom sooner than expected due to all of the unsavory elements working to make it so. Meanwhile Hime harbors doubts about whether she can ever fill the shoes of her late and universally-beloved granny; she’s shaken by an old man calling her a failure and even more troubled when she hears the truth about the Pillars for the very first time from Akina. They both face tests in the near future, as does this series: can it dig itself out of the hole it’s digging after a promising start?


Rating: 5 (Average)

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 03

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While saving Kana and Mina from Mizuki’s runaway car, Touko squeezes them too hard, seemingly killing them, though they’re later revealed as vampires and heal quickly. Kyousuke blames Akina for not beng “dutybound” and they have a row. Mizuki and Kotoha tell Kana and Mina about Akina’s duty as Hiizumi family head to “tune” youkai into their own dimension. But because tuned youkai never return, the act is thought of as murder. In a confrontation by the river, Akina proves he’s inherited the power to tune, but chooses not to use it.

True faith does not require proof (just ask Major Kira!); so throughout the generations the Hiizumi clan has performed their duty with the faith that what they are doing is right, and that they are safely bearing grateful youkai to their proper place, even though no one knows for sure if they’re actually reaching that place, rather than simply being killed. Since becoming the leader of his clan, Akina has not performed that duty, and the youkai have piled up in Sakurashin. But it’s not for lack of faith, or resolve. Akina simply likes having youkai around, so he’s in no hurry to dispatch any of them. Mind you, he’s well aware it’s a selfish decision.

It’s understood that youkai in the human world are “irregular” elements that upset the balance between the dimensions, so things won’t always go smoothly. Take Touka: beneath her cute exterior she’s an immensely powerful ogre, and had the kids she grabbed been human, she’d have popped them like balloons. And shady characters like Lily and Ao’s brother are constantly trying to destroy everything Akina’s built. But regular human society isn’t perfect either. Akina is trying something here, and he has faith it can work.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • The car accident scene, which we watched not knowing exactly what those kids were, was perhaps the most visceral of the season; a true WTF moment, set up perfectly by the extremely mundane events that preceded it.
  • Speaking of those mundane events…now Ao is just flashing her panties every chance she gets.
  • Touka’s line to Akina about taking responsibility was pretty funny, especially when she praises herself for saying it.

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 02

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An ordinary day unfolds in Sakurashin, as Hime juggles her mayorship and high school while Akina, Ao and Kyousuke work at the counseling office, receiving youkai health certificates from Juri then issuing copies for Shidare and Shiina from the Senate. After school Hime and Kotoha spar within a safety box conjured by Yae as Ao keeps watch. Lily appears and recites and incantation that causes Kotoha to go berserk, but Yae diffuses the situation.

This episode featured quite a few moments of superfluous indulgence: Ao’s weekly panty-shot; Juri teasing Kyousuke with her sexy nurse outfit; a peek in a girl’s locker room; and boob-gropings that went on for far too long. But those were only moments; thankfully there were much longer sequences in which the episode seems to totally forget we’re watching, so we can sit back and enjoy a typical day in the town. Taking calls, making copies, ordering take-out…getting ogre shackles repaired; these seemingly mundane things enrich our exposure to both the characters and the setting.

There’s also an element of foreboding here: we know what the gang doesn’t: that Lily is more than a lost little girl – so when they all get identical postcards from her, we know something’s rotten in Denmark. That, and Ao keeps seeing Lily in the corner of her eye. When Lily finally makes her move, manipulating Kotoha, Yae puts a stop to the impending carnage. Lily’s still poking and prodding, researching her prospective prey. The overt presentation of everyone’s ordinary, fun, happy, balanced lives showed us what’s at stake should Lily and her ilk keep ratcheting up the mischief.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • While the episode is focused on the office, Kyousuke gets excited and storms off without explanation. When the focus switches to Hime, we learn why: he ran off to stop her from eating too many calories. Clever way to tie the two stories together.
  • For all the short skirts and boob-groping, we really appreciated how maturely and subtly Kotoha and Ao’s apparent relationship is handled – especially when Ao tries to snap Kotoha out of her trance by giving her a passionate kiss.
  • We liked how Hime couldn’t get her shirt off because of her ridiculously long scarf she always wears. Hell, if we had such a scarf, we’d probably rock it constantly too.
  • In case anyone doubted the potential danger Kotoha’s powers pose if left unchecked, she dumps several heavy weapons in a park in the middle of town in the blink of an eye. Yikes.

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 01

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During the town sakura festival, Isone Kotoha and Kishi Touka find a lost little girl, Lily. Mayor Yarizakura Hime takes her to Hiizumi Akina and Nanami Ao, who reads her mind and makes a crude drawing of the parents. A bored Hiizumi Enjin starts trouble to entertain himself, summoning dark lightning that turns several goldfish into enormous menaces that bounce around town. Hime, Akina, Kotoha and Ao work together to capture all the fish and defeat the final “boss” fish. Lily finds her parents, but it’s later revealed she’s actually an adult mage acquainted with Enjin who was testing the skills of the town’s protectors.

This episode starts off slowly, like a slice-of-life but radiates calm confidence as a pleasant, ordinary sakura festival takes a turn for the bizarre. Kotoha’s cheating with the fish-catching foreshadows the foe of the week: a school of mega-goldfish bouncing around like gargantuan medicine balls. Hardly a world-class threat, but as Enjin remarked, merely a “gentle nudge,” the first, and likely easiest test for the quartet who comprise the intrepid Hiizumi Life Counseling Office. Yet it still demonstrates their superb teamwork and complementary abilities.

Most anime series we try to watch are either fun/interesting to look at or sets forth some kind of original, appealing ideas. Out of the gate, Hana no Uta is both, like the Hoshi no Umi OVAs that preceded it. The visuals are polished and bright, and whenever something “supernatural” happens, the animation crackles, pops, and bangs with engaging playfulness and a little alarm. There’s a lot of nice detail and flair in the characters’ movements. Combine that with the charming, whimsical concept of jumbo goldfish, and the twist that the lost girl who was really a powerful (and stylish) new adversary in disguise, and you have an auspicious start to a promising series.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Some of our favorite funny little moments: Hime eating an enormous mass of festival fare in one gulp; Ao having a ton of fun with a toy plane, and a panicky Touka telling a calm crowd not to panic.
  • The cold open had a nice WTF quality to it, with Kotoha summoning a giant fish tank in the night sky, which then evaporates in a cloud of pigeons.
  • We also enjoyed the reveal that Ao’s crappy drawings of Lily’s “parents” were actually dead accurate, as the sexy witch conjured them from small cow dolls.
  • Those who’ve watched YQ know the first blow Hime lands with her spear is rarely effective.
  • The only letdown this week? Akina didn’t yell “TUUUU-NIIIING-GUUUU!”