I’m Pleasantly Surprised that Hidamari Sketch Hasn’t Ended

hidamarisketch-vol8

Though I’ve been away from the series for a while, I recently read Volume 8 of the Hidamari Sketch manga. Rreleased in the US as Sunshine Sketch, it covers Sae and Hiro’s transition to college and the arrival of a new girl named Matsuri. With graduation and all that it typically entails in anime and manga, I expected this volume to be the last, so color me surprised when I found out that the series is still continuing.

Fan favorite K-On! had a similar change, but while I loved the move to college for K-On! and the transition into a new environment, I also know I’m the exception. It’s very telling that the series didn’t continue much longer after that. If I try to look at it from an unbiased perspective, it was perhaps too sudden a change in terms of how time seems to flow (or not flow, as the case may be) in K-On! Prior to graduation, Azusa is the only major underclassman in that series who was also a club member, and the rest were all of the same age. As a result, when they go to college, the focus shifts sharply away from their familiar and beloved high school setting, while the girls who remained in high school don’t have quite the group dynamic that readers loved over the years (even if Ui deservedly got more of a spotlight).

I don’t think Hidamari Sketch will have that problem, or at least not quite so much. When the series began, it was already about senpai and kouhai, whether that’s Sae and Hiro in contrast to Yuno and Miyako, or how later characters both older and younger are introduced. There is a greater sense of the forward progression through high school, even if Hidamari Sketch is moe slice of life comedy at its most mellow. Also, because it’s only a part of the cast moving on (not to mention that Sae, Hiro, and probably even Natsume still show up), the transition also doesn’t feel quite as jarring.

I’m looking forward to reading more, and I’m especially looking forward to Miyako as a terrifying high school senior.

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The Relationship Between Classic Toei Heroines and Moe Characters

Not too long ago I half-jokingly suggested that the first moe character was Hilda (pictured above), the heroine from the 1968 animated film Hols: Prince of the Sun. The basis of this was that Hilda was the creation of a young Takahata and Miyazaki, who would later go on to form Studio Ghibli, and if you’ve ever read Miyazaki’s recollection of his first time watching Legend of the White Serpent, you’ll not only see similarities between Hilda and Pai-Nan, the heroine of Legend of the White Serpent, but also between his reaction and the way fans of Key games talk about their beloved works: Miyazaki actually cried the whole night, and fell in love with Pai-Nan. Of course, if Pai-Nan had such an impression, then it’s possible to argue that she’s the first moe character, but regardless of what character has the distinction, I suspect that the tragic element which defines both of these characters also has an influence on the development of female characters in anime and manga, and by extension the idea of moe.

In the trailer to Hols: Prince of the Sun, Hilda is introduced, accompanied by on-screen text saying, “Am I a demon, or a human being?” This highlights the inner conflict of her character, as Hilda is both the sister of the main villain as well as the love interest of the hero. She plays both a romantic and an antagonistic role, and the fact that she struggles over which is her “true self” is the inherent tragedy of the character. Star-crossed lovers are nothing new to media, of course, but according to The Pretty Character Chronicles: The History of Animation Heroines, 1958-1999, the early Toei animated films, of which both Hols and Legend of the White Serpent are included (though these titles are themselves about a decade apart), often feature heroines who begin the movies as antagonists.

Pai-Nan doesn’t quite fit this concept, as she’s more of a tragically cursed character, a princess in need of rescue in the vein of  a classic Disney Princess. This makes a degree of sense, given that Toei’s goal was to try to be the “Disney of the East,” but when you look at heroines in classic Disney films, none of them fulfill the role that Hilda or other similar Toei heroines play as partial antagonists. In fact, if you look at Disney animated films as a whole, there’s pretty much only one character who does fit this bill: Megara from Hercules, a film from 1997. In other words, “damsel-in-distress” is not quite the function of these Toei heroines.

What relevance does this have to current anime and the presence of moe, then? My argument is that the tragedy component of heroines such as Hilda has been reduced or compacted to varying degrees, so when you have a character who has traits commonly considered moe, such as a character who suffers from being short in a slice-of-life comedy, what you’re seeing is an on-going series of tiny tragedies, like with Yuno in Hidamari Sketch. The tsundere, especially the more contemporary tsundere type, is another example, as a character who struggles with being true to her feelings can be considered tragic in her own way. Hidamari Sketch also provides one such character in the form of Natsume, whose feelings for the character Sae remain unrequited due to Natsume’s own stubbornness.

While I think the criticism of moe characters as feeding off the desire of men to want to rescue the poor female victim is valid to a good extent, I think that the quality which has transmitted itself from those early Toei days all the way to the current age is not so much that of the “helpless girl” but that of “helplessness.” A girl tragically trapped in a situation can be moe, but what’s considered even more moe is the heroine who can’t be helped no matter what. In such a case, powerlesssness becomes not so much the half-way point in an elaborate power fantasy, but the end point in and of itself, with the potential for empathy between not just the viewer and the hero, but the viewer and the heroine. Of course, that’s somewhat of an extreme case, and the end result really depends on how individual works wish to resolve the inner conflict of the descendants of the tragic antagonistic heroines.

The Hidamari Sketches

While looking through my recently-acquired volumes of Hidamari Sketch, I found myself enjoying the comic well enough, but gravitating more towards the interstitial drawings that populate the pages in between the 4-panel comics.

“Wow,” I thought to myself upon first noticing them, “These drawings are really nice and and have excellent line quality to them. I kind of wish the whole comic was drawn this way.”

But then I wondered about how that would actually affect Hidamari Sketch. Part of why I like a looser, heavier brush style is that it gives off a good sense of vibrancy and energy; it’s really visceral in a way but also can be extremely elegant. However, all of that has to do with the drawing itself and connecting to the artist, as opposed to the art style being a way to connect with the characters. Given that Hidamari Sketch is a pleasant slice-of-life story, soothing like a spoonful of honey, drawing that much attention to the hand behind the art might not be the best thing for it.

I can still hope though.

To Understand Nazuna

There are characters out there who are accused of being overly bland. They’re decried as dragging the quality of a series down below where it should be, and not contributing as much to their respective series as other characters. More recently, this accusation has been leveled at the new girl Nazuna in Hidamari Sketch Hoshimittsu.

While I believe it is possible for characters’ blandness to hurt a series (see a large number of harem shows), and I also understand the desire for characters that aren’t wishy-washy, I feel that in many cases, particularly with Nazuna, these criticisms do not do these characters justice.

By comparison with the other girls in Hidamari Sketch, Nazuna can definitely seem more “bland,” especially because of her passive personality, but I think that passive personality goes a very long way in making her a good character. While the entire rest of the girls in Hidamari Apartments are artists and creative types of all varieties, ranging from a computer graphics specialist to a published writer of short stories, Nazuna is not. Already meek and soft-spoken, this deals a subtle blow to her already wobbly confidence levels. Because she worries about not being “good enough” or “smart enough,” Nazuna is sometimes afraid to speak her mind. The other girls don’t really think any less of her, but in her mind there is a wide chasm separating her from the others. She worries that she might not truly “belong” with the others.

Personally, I think this quality of Nazuna’s makes her a fine character, though I can see why others dislike her. I’m somewhat hesitant to bring out the “moe” argument in all this, but I think it really applies here. Nazuna is a very strong example of a character with a lot of “moe” to her, in that those who like her enjoy the fact that she has such a complex, while those who think she makes the show worse probably think that such “blandness” is the last trait any character should have, especially in a comedy like Hidamari Sketch.

Now you might think that Nazuna is getting a free pass because she’s a girl and that she’s cute, but the idea of having trouble finding some place to belong is a common trait among people both male and female, and this extends to characters as well. To find one, we need go no further than my favorite series, Genshiken, and its main character, Sasahara Kanji.

Sasahara is a somewhat closeted anime fan who in the beginning hasn’t developed his taste in anime anywhere in particular. To some extent he is a reader surrogate, being a newbie to the wild world of PVC figures and doujinshi, but over time his experiences with Genshiken enable  him to mature as both a person and as an otaku. Overall, he is a well-written character.

Moe is not really a factor in real life and when dealing with real people, but it is an abstraction of reality. And so it’s a very real worry to have, to think that you’re just not good enough to hang with your friends and that they might just be humoring you. I once talked to a friend from high school who told me that while hanging out with our group of friends, they were always concerned about not being interesting or quirky enough. I don’t think any of us thought of that friend in that manner, but there it is.

Sunshine + Glass = Happy Times

News so good I had to post about it twice (wait for the Otaku Crush article).

As anyone who reads this blog might know, I am a fan of both Hidamari Sketch and Glass Mask, so when Scott Green over at Ain’t it Cool News Anime informed the twitterverse about their acquisition and release by Section23 (one of the licensing companies that grew out of the now-defunct ADV), I found myself dancing on the streets, and everybody knew to get out of my way because we got some serious Dramatic Shoujo About Drama here.

I’ve previously written reviews of both Hidamari Sketch and Glass Mask, so if you want to learn more about each series, you can check them out, or if you want to experience them firsthand and totally legitimately, Hidamari Sketch’s manga  is being released in the US under the title Sunshine Sketch, while Glass Mask is being streamed for free online via Crunchyroll. Keep in mind that my review above was written before the streaming was available.

So in conclusion, hell yes.

The Legend of the Running Yuno

As some readers might notice, I finished the original Hidamari Sketch anime only a few days ago in order to prepare myself sufficiently for the new season, Hidamari Sketch x365. It turns out that nothing would have prepared me for x365.

It is Hidamari Sketch to the extreme, but in the most soft and pleasant way possible. Because it’s Hidamari Sketch after all.

Supposedly Shinbo received huge sums of money because of the DVD sales of Hidamari Sketch (thanks Japanese otaku consumers), and with that giant pile of cash, which I assume was given to him in either some sort of non-descript briefcase or a giant sack with a prominent dollar sign, he made a money bath and rubbed it all over his body.

After those 10 hours, he went and created eye-exploding animation.

I am not kidding, if you haven’t seen the new season and you’ve watched ANY of Hidamari Sketch, I recommend checking it out.

Every time I go to watch another show I find myself gravitating towards Hidamari Sketch x365 episode 1 just to watch the animation again.

In fact, I think I’m going to do that right now.

A new legend is born, and she is…Running Yuno.

Also Sleeping Yuno and Jumping Yuno.

(Guest starring Upside-down Miyako).

Wahaha: Hidamari Sketch

With Hidamari Sketch x365 currently airing, I finally decided to watch through all of the original series.

Stupid me, I should have done this sooner.

Hidamari Sketch is the sort of show that is the most supremely difficult to convince others to watch if they aren’t already well-versed in shows of its kind. I’m referring to that dastardly “slice of life” genre of anime, the genre that can make or break someone’s opinion of anime.

It’s the story of four girls attending an art high school who live in the nearby Hidamari Apartments. Though they all live alone, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the way they support and love each other. The main cast consists of Yuno (shy and eager to learn), Miyako (energetic and unpredictable), Sae (mature yet easily flustered), and Hiro (soft-spoken but surprisingly willfull). Personally, it is very difficult to decide on a favorite character. All of them are just so wonderfully endearing that when I try to choose one I recall another very memorable scene from another character and then I’m back to square one.

One thing that constantly bothers me about Yuno is that she sounds a lot like Kinomoto Sakura despite not being voiced by Tange Sakura. I definitely know she isn’t, and I can also recognize the fact that she plays Ran in Shugo Chara, but it can be startling to hear such similarities in inflection and expression. I think if Sakura and Yuno met, they would have a wonderful friendship as Sakura would look to Yuno as a beautiful older sister of sorts.

…Back on topic.

Hidamari Sketch was directed by Shinbo Akiyuki, director of Pani Poni Dash and Zetsbou-Sensei among others. The show has the same sort of self-awareness by viewer and creator as Shinbo’s other shows. However, combined with the mellowness of the daily life of Yuno and friends, Hidamari Sketch becomes more like lucid dreaming, and it’s the kind of dream that while at first you’d prefer not to get up from, you are thankful that you did awaken as it lets you greet another day.

Slice of life is Hidamari Sketch.  It’s funny, witty, pleasant, and emotional, but not once do any of those adjectives overpower the other. It’s a show that, no matter your circumstance, you can use it to unwind. Watch as little or as much as you want, by the end you have no choice but to smile.