Who here likes atypical sport anime stories? Well, it’s time for another review that I have been looking forward to. I didn’t really think that I would get the chance to cover this show but luck is on my side once again, courtesy of the good folks at Sentai Filmworks. This title happens to be my 2nd favorite anime of 2014, which is….
Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Script: Reiko Yoshida
Naru Sekiya is a very plain school girl who aspires to stand out and be amazing despite her wallflower status she seems to assign to herself. She draws inspiration from fairy tales and a particular event in her childhood. But one spring night she meets a mysterious young blonde girl, doing some ritual dance. Said girl offers Naru a chance to dazzle everyone and while it might have been just a chance encounter, it turns out this girl is the new transfer student Hana Fountainstand, from Princeton New Jersey; a very energetic and cheerful girl. Naru initially rejects her offer, in part due to Hana’s forwardness but after some cajoling Naru along with some of her other friends get involved. Hana aims to create a yosakoi club at the school which Naru joins up to help out with, the ultimate goal being to take part in a local festival competition. Dancing ahoy!
Now Hanayamata is very atypical sport story. I mean, it covers yosakoi which is a combination of ancient japanese dancing sequences and modern music/rhythm which is exclusive to Japan only. But luckily it serves as a nice primer for the hobby which is good for us outside of Japan who might not know about yosakoi. I even read up and it has a generous following in Japan, with festivals still holding events for it to this day. So to me, Hanayamata is a very Japanese piece in terms of what it deals with.
Of course, as with most sports anime, it is really about the characters and I got to say Hanayamata boasts an excellent cast of characters. Naru is quite a good girl who learns through a well-done character arc to be more assertive and confident in her own abilities. Yaya is a great example of the childhood friend who has to accept that her friend has undergone a change for the better, even if it isn’t to her own benefit. Hana is just a great ball of energy and enthusiasm with her bringing together a group of friends in a new place she has moved to is quite impressive. Machi and Tami are alright characters but I feel we only get so much development from them when they could be so much more. Yeah I know there’s a manga which is still ongoing, but still.
Of course, one wouldn’t think of this as being a manga adaptation. To its credit, Hanayamata does tell a complete story in its 12 episode run. Granted, most of it contains the typical story beats of the sports anime: forming the team, getting practice in sport X, dealing with internal and external troubles/doubts, making it to the final round, etc. But the thing that makes Hanayamata a bit better is that we get to see the characters interact both in context of the sport they are playing and outside of it. It helps that Reiko Yoshida, mistress of slice of life series like this and GaruPan, Non Non Biyori and others supervised and wrote the script for the show. She really knows her stuff when it comes to these kind of shows. Yoshida manages to find a neat balance of the more light hearted comedy moments and the serious/dramatic material (especially with regards to Machi and Tami’s story material). And while, yes I would like to see Naru and her yosakoi friends continue on their dancing adventures, what I got out of the anime is enough to sate me.
Hanayamata looks very shiny, pretty and cute right from the first shot to the end of the ED animation. It is this beautiful show courtesy of Atsuko Ishizuka and her Madhouse production team, who had just done No Game No Life the season prior to summer 2014 when Hanayamata came out. Then again Madhouse, along with a few other studios like BONES and KyoAni, tend to produce some of the more better looking anime on average compared to other studios. Ishizuka does seem to be obsessed with using purple/magenta color filters and flowery tidbits work their way into scenes that seem to serve no purpose other than as an aesthetic flourish. But still Hanayamata looks pretty enough, especially for a slice of life story, that I don’t mind that too much.
Now the fact that Hanayamata got an english dub was something of a surprise to most people. Sentai Filmworks don’t tend to dub slice of life shows usually just putting out a barebones sub release to market. Nevertheless, the dub is quite good. Chris Ayres and George Manley worked on this as director and scriptwriter respectively and they do a good job with the show. I will say that when it comes to directing dubs, Chris Ayres brings at least a decent level of consistency and reliability that only recently Houston dubs have been able to recapture. Ayres does the typical feature of recent Houston dubs in having a great cast containing a mix of new and veteran talent. Standout performances from the main cast include Luci Christian, Caitlynn French, Monica Rial, Cynthia Martinez and Carli Mosier who while might be overused in a lot of C. Ayres dubs, there’s a good reason for that; they are quite great and capable actresses. There are also some good turns by Molly Searcy and John Gremillion in the supporting cast. It is worth a listen in both Japanese and English.
My Final Thoughts are that Hanayamata is great slice of life story that combines that genre with an underdog sports team storyline that ends up being very excellent at getting across a story that is very compelling and worthwhile. If you love this kind of story, buy it and cherish it.
(Edit-6/15/16: Due to real life stuff, I will be not doing reviews on the blog for June and July. I will be doing some pieces for Anime Herald so be on the lookout for those. August will be something truly special I promise you that.)
Til next time dear readers