It’s good for what it is.
That’s the safest thing a reviewer can say when they’re reviewing something that they have absolutely no interest in, and probably didn’t even enjoy, but have to say it because they need to be able to respect the genre and the fanbase. I did this when I reviewed that very interesting AKB48 anime a while back.
Hanayamata falls in the same category as one of those school club anime like K-On!, and when I read the premise that’s exactly what it reminded me of. I did not like K-On!, not even in the slightest…. I mean an anime about a bunch of kids that start a band and succeed with ease, it’s hard to find that kind of optimism endearing, but I suppose that style of anime has its place when you just want to watch something light that portrays the absolute bare minimum of first world problems. I was expecting Hanayamata to be exactly that, where bunch of rich school kids start a little music/dance club and nothing but joy ensues. Little did I realise that it went above and beyond that basic premise by focusing on the challenges of growing up, making friends, and holding on to the precious joys and friendships of childhood. Hanayamata was a surprise, and I’m not going to say that it’s only good for what it is or its genre, I’m going to say it’s good no matter who you are or what your preference in anime is.
Hanayamata follows the lives of middle school girls who are navigating the ups and downs of growing up and trying to figure out what makes them unique little snowflakes. It follows the journey of Naru, a shy but imaginative young girl who wishes she and her life were more magical than ordinary existence she seems to be stuck in. A chance encounter with Hana, who is dancing in the temple, somehow captivates Naru so strongly that she feels as if this was the magical moment she had dreamed of. Soon she learns that Hana is a foreigner who ends up joining her school and classroom, and from there a magical friendship ensues. Other characters join the circle, and it leads to a formation of a yosokai club. What is Yosokai you ask? Well it’s a traditional Japanese synchronised folk dance.
The thing about anime that focus on a school club is that the activity itself overshadows the characters and story, but in Hanayamata the activity itself is slowly introduced to the viewer… mainly because the characters themselves are completely new to Yosokai. Most anime portray characters becoming experts in the activity overnight and then becoming world famous, but Hanyayamata has its characters stumbling and tumbling as they try to get their club going before they even get to the dancing. That’s what this anime does so well, as instead of rushing to the end, it takes time to organically develop the characters and their learning of Yosokai and what it means to work together in a club.
Hanayamata focuses on the little things, like the challenges faced by the girls to even get their Yosokai club approved, which involves them seeking the help of a substitute teacher who becomes a memorable part of the anime. Their process of learning Yosokai is a slow but meaningful journey, and the best part is how the anime portrays the string of failures and setbacks that the girls face. Whether it’s messing up their first public performance, struggling to maintain the grades or faculty support needed to continue the club, or even completely overlooking the registration deadline for the school festival.
Over the course of the 12 episodes, Hanayamata first and foremost develops the characters and their relationships. In fact, that’s what the anime does so well, it takes tried and tested ideas but executes them in a very endearing manner. Hana for example is portrayed as this highly likeable and vibrant young lady, and yet the anime shows how difficult it can be for a foreigner to fit in a new town, and even more so when she tries to adapt Japanese culture. Then you have someone like Yaya, who comes across as pushy and confident, and yet is very insecure about her friendships and very easily jealous. These characters are charming and their little quirks and interactions will grab your attention and make you smile.
As simple and light this anime sounds, it does a good job of portraying some deep feelings of longing, wanting to belong, and a desire to make life mean something special. The values of friendship are expressed beautifully here, so much so that the challenges and heartbreaks these characters encounter in trying to hold on to their friendship is quite meaningful. Hanayamata certainly has moments of sadness, as it moves away from the chirpy optimism you see so often in the genre. These girls have to learn to deal with failures, and even the fact that they’re powerless to change the direction of their lives. There’s some bittersweet anti-climatic moments that will really surprise you, and by the end of it all you may even shed some tears… tears of joy that is.
Visually Hanayamata is breathtaking, as the vibrant bright colours are almost neon-like and quite similar to the visual effects and hues found in the Nisekoi anime adaptation. It has a magical and sparkling demeanour for sure, one that will hold your attention. The music is sweet too, it doesn’t really overshadow the rest of the production and blends nicely with the scenes being depicted.
Hanayamata caught me by surprise, and even the most cynical and picky of anime fans will get a lot of enjoyment from watching this series. It’s a wonderful series that is rare in the sense that it went beyond its basic premise to deliver a story, and portray a vivid cast of charming characters, in a way that anyone can find endearing. Most anime tend to get stuck and defined by the barriers of their premise and subgenre, but Hanayamata becomes something so much more than just an anime about a school club.