Hanasaku Iroha and Its “Conflict of Interest”

Hanasaku Iroha, one of the new shows of the current season, is unusually divisive in an equally unusual way. Whereas most shows will divide people according to whether they love or hate it as a whole, Hanasaku Iroha has its fans disagreeing as to which specific episodes are the good ones and which are the wastes of time. I think the reason that this is happening is not just because different fans have different tastes and preferences, but because Hanasaku Iroha is a generically (as in genre) transitional show with a contradictory feel to its purpose and the purpose given to it by fans.

The basic premise of the show is that a teenage girl, Ohana, has to move in with her grandmother, who runs an inn. Ohana, leaving behind a boy and the rest of her old hometown, has to adjust to working at the inn and figuring out how to get along with all the personalities at the inn. It’s a big change in her life, but she enjoys it day by day. In other words, Hanasaku Iroha has both elements of a coming-of-age story and slice of life, and this is where the conflict lies, as the two are mutually incompatible in certain ways (though I think they can work well together, and Hanasaku Iroha is one such example).

Coming-of-age stories are primarily about the transition from childhood to adulthood. They are about growth. Gurren-Lagann is absolutely full of this. Slice of life stories on the other hand are about the every-day. Even if time moves forwards, the characters do not have to. The girls of Hidamari Sketch don’t ever have to change. Those are very different values, and Hanasaku Iroha has some of both, so I think it’s easy to see why someone can look at episode 1, which has a good deal of the coming-of-age element, and find it to be one of the weaker episodes of the series, and then look at episode 3, which was more every-day hijinks, and regard that as one of the better. On the flip side, it’s just as easy to see why someone would argue the opposite, and say that episode 1 is particularly strong. Overall, it results in a very character-based show where the story moves ahead primarily through subdued character development, and it is something that might not be terribly apparent because of how Hanasaku Iroha sits at the cross-section of two disparate genres.

I believe Hanasaku Iroha to be part of a larger transitional trend in anime, even if other shows aren’t quite doing the same thing as Hanasaku Iroha. Many anime since, let’s say, Evangelion for a convenient starting point, have been about expressing a certain sense of melancholic loneliness which manifests itself into several forms, from oft-mentioned topics such as hikikomori, to simply depression. If not, they have been about soothing those feelings, being a remedy for unease and internal strife, and I think the interaction between these two routes can even roughly approximate the development of moe over the past decade and a half. Both have been very good for anime and its viewers I think, but now we’re starting to see shows not just address those negative feelings but try to encourage people to find solutions for them, or at least try to show people moving forward and growing. Ano Hana, which is also running this season, shows a group of kids trying to mend their friendship and personal problems after drifting apart. Madoka Magica, for all of its gloom, leaves hope on the table. Fractale takes a look at a society of isolation. Even K-On!, which follows the “time passing with no real change” formula almost to a tee has the younger character Azusa feeling the impact of the four main girls upon her life, particularly their corrupting (but unconsciously welcome) influence upon her work ethic.

For Hanasaku Iroha, the divisiveness that springs forth from the contradiction between coming-of-age and slice-of-life is how this period of change manifests itself.

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12 thoughts on “Hanasaku Iroha and Its “Conflict of Interest”

  1. Where did the assumption that coming-of-age tales aren’t compatible with slice-of-life stories come from? Does it have to due with the speed of personal growth in the former, since I feel like there are a couple of shows with SOL stories that while they might not have the coming-of-age in main focus, still has it as a point in the background.

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    • Yeah, like what N said, if you asked me what are some of my favorite coming-of-age stories, Hidasketch and K-ON would be near the top.

      Here’s a hypothesis: the weird reaction from some group of fans who like and dislike different episodes are reacting to the nature of pacing in HanaIro where it accelerates and decelerates to suit the whim of that week’s particulars. The ebb and flow of drama and tension is what bothers people, and not so much theme or narrative devices.

      Actually, I’m thinking it’s just all in people’s heads. I bet the creators didn’t think twice about this particular junction as proposed. I don’t know.

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      • Change is the operative word. How are the characters changing as they come of age? What is causing them to come of age? It can’t just simply be the passage of time, but rather what happens in that time. As much as I like Hidamari Sketch, I can’t say the characters are effecting major changes in each other, aside from maybe Yuno learning more about art and what she might want to do with art (though this is very much in the background) and Nazuna becoming a little more comfortable with others.

        With HanaIro however, I can see the characters making an impact on each others’ lives that is influencing who they are and where they’re going, particularly with Ohana who has to adapt to her new environment with new rules, and we can continually see the process of adapting as the series goes along, even in the more frivolous episodes. Yuno kind of has this, but not really.

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      • Oh, and as for K-On, I feel like it has a little more coming-of-age-ness than Hidamari Sketch does, but it’s still secondary to the slice of life everyday moe humor, whereas HanaIro has them in much more even proportions. The final year of high school for the girls had some reflection on them growing up, but at the same time, aside from Azusa, I can’t see that any of the girls really changed.

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  2. I don’t quite follow. Iroha had two episodes with one tone, and the rest have had another tone. It could be seen as a “bait and switch” by those who preferred the first two eps. That’s all there is to it.

    Iroha is honestly just another “moe girls becoming friends” anime at heart, it’s just not in the KyoAni style, and as usual for PA Works it tries to cover it’s flaws by being as jaw-droppingly beautiful as possible. Nothing wrong with either of those things, it’s all down to personal preferences.

    I also don’t know if I’d quite agree with the trend as you’ve mentioned it, because I have seen lots of shows from various times that feel a lot like Iroha, just geared towards the designs and tropes of their time.

    The trend I’m seeing is for these shows to star a cast of moe girls forming a friendship, instead of it being a boy with mainly girls around him (harem or otherwise). Iroha twists this trend by making the girls obnoxious little balls of trouble instead of different stereotypes of otaku perfection.

    But enough of my negativity. You’ve raised some interesting points.. I wonder what others have to say.

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    • Well for one thing, I have to disagree that the tone has been remarkably different from the first two episodes compared to the most recent 4. You can say that the show is just another “moe girls becoming friends” anime, but whereas other shows of that vein would have the progress of the story take place in how their friendship is causing them to get in all sorts of situations, the meat of the progression in Hanasaku Iroha is in how these characters are influencing each other as they learn about each other, and in turn influencing their growth and maturity.

      I know this is the big subject, so I’ll talk about episode 5 in particular. SPOILERS, of course.

      Episode 5 is criticized by some as an episode where “nothing happens,” and the show undoes all its potential for real progress, but this is missing where the story actually takes place in Hanasaku Iroha. Yes, while the whole Tohru thing turns out to be a misunderstanding, we get so much from that misunderstanding.

      First, we see Ohana and Minko getting closer, but more importantly, we see them starting to understand each other better.

      Second, we get to see the depth of Minko’s feelings for Tohru, and just how much she thinks about him and wants the best for him. Just that one scene where Minko says she wouldn’t let Tohru pass up the opportunity to become a head chef at a prestigious inn shows that she understands him well.

      Third, Ohana realizes what she’s been doing to Kou by not responding to him, and it has her reflect on her actions (or inactions) as it were.

      So in the end, no, Tohru did not create a dramabomb, but we learned so much from that episode, and the events of it caused the characters to move ahead. And really, that sort of stuff was in the first two episodes as well.

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      • Actually, for me it was episode 3. It went from “Ohana’s bitter coming of age” to “the wacky adventures of Ohana and friends”. The hints were all there, but it still threw me off. But don’t read this as me disliking the show because of the change in moods. One melancholic show like AnoHana is enough. I wasn’t really aiming at saying Iroha isn’t a “good” friendship show.. it’s way too early to tell.

        And again, you could be correct with your analysis.. it stands to reason. I just don’t feel as though it started only 10-15 years ago – I remember similar shows explore these sorts of themes way back in the 80’s, beyond which the number of earlier shows I’ve watched cuts off dramatically. I too am glad that moe is cycling back to exploring how to deal with feelings, however.

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  3. That’s a great point you make about how this mixes slice of life and coming of age. I just find the transitions between the two themes kind of jarring. K-ON handled this much better on an episode to episode basis. But HanaIro just started, so we’ll see how it handles this over the course of the next 20 episodes.

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  4. I don’t mind that the narrative goals(?) mix, but rather I prefer that it be consistent with the kind of melodrama and comedy it wants to be. On one end it’s a kind of thing that wants to be taken seriously and wants to give insight to how people are, relationships, family, etc.

    On the other hand, it’s this far-out wild thing that doesn’t seem to want to be taken seriously and makes itself a joke.

    I enjoy it more when it’s the latter — because it’s still quite capable of giving genuine feel good moments (as with the vintage kimonos) that were set up by the salacious, ribald, and unbelievable interactions with the management consultant and her china dresses.

    It’s just as implausible, as Sawako’s costume craziness in K-On!

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  5. I think the conflict makes no sense. Ghostlightning came to me after ep 5 saying the show suddenly sucked now, and I can’t even wrap my head around it. What I’ve seen has been very consistent, very well-played… I mean this show is pretty much the same thing as Aria.

    I like that as the end of that paragraph, I’ll stop on that.

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  6. I think the problem lies in with what expectations the viewers started watching this show. Episode 1 and 2 promised great pacing. I don’t know where you get the opinion ‘5th episode is the episode where nothing happens’, but it’s generally the 3rd episode that got people thinking what the show is actually trying to achieve.

    Hanasaku Iroha seems to be trying to balance comedy and light-hearted drama (which some people may call slice-of-life). Sometimes it just doesn’t know where to put emphasize at, nor does the show seem to understand where it’s going; it lacks an overall plot, and therefore ending, to work on. Instead it decides to resolve mini-plots within one or two episodes. It’s because of this the show loses its pacing compared to episode 1 and 2. That and the very out-of-place episode 3 make some viewers disappointed.

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  7. I’m considering yielding to your analysis on Iroha, you make a strong case. My thinking about the show’s problems, wasn’t based on grading each episode; for example, if I decide to dislike episode three, I miss the scene where Nako swims, and having something she’s very good at makes her character so much more likable for me. My thinking up till now had been that for some reason the staff doing the Iroha anime couldn’t successfully tell dirty jokes. It’s like a timing problem for a stand-up comedian, they set up a naughty moment, the elements are all there, but their delivery fails. So if I can block out those moments, the anime’s appeal becomes entirely coherent to me. I agree with the first poster that coming of age and slice of life don’t inherently have a conflict, but your discussion of the conflict in pacing seems sound.

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