Going off to work as a waitress at a traditional Japanese inn in the countryside is every girl’s dream, right? Well, maybe if you were Japanese Cinderella. Hanasaku Iroha takes the basics of the Cinderella story (minus the prince and magic fairy) and tries to weave a story of understanding and friendship out of the dredges of despair and lonliness. I’m not going to describe the whole anime, so instead here’s the plot summary from MyAnimeList:
After her single mother decides to run off with a boyfriend to dodge debt collectors, the young and energetic Ohana is sent to live with her grandmother. However, her grandmother is the strict owner of a hot springs inn and requires her to work at the inn to pay for her living expenses. Although Ohana is unhappy about this situation at first, she decides to make the best of her situation and work hard. Ohana’s life is suddenly filled with fun, mischief, and drama!
Seeing as Hanasaku Iroha was P.A. Works’ 10th anniversary project, they certainly did their best to make it a hit. The first two episodes were a shock to say the least. Here was a little city girl (Ohana) living out an ordinary school life and one day her mother disappears and she’s shipped off to who knows where. The amount of drama that happened was enough to fill a whole season of a Japanese soap opera, and it was acted out very nicely.
The third episode and onwards was where I thought things started going downhill. At first, I thought this was going to be a drama starring a young girl facing the world by herself, but then it goes into a big merry-go-round of character backstories. The focus of the story quickly shifted away from Ohana and onto every single character at the inn where she works. It would not have been so bad if there was an overall story that these mini-arcs developed towards, but other than invoking a sense of “life goes on”, nothing ever materializes. The rough transition from a serious coming-of-age drama starring a teen girl to a comedy starring a washed-up perverted mangaka doesn’t help either.
While I was unhappy with the format of the anime, I have to admit that there were a few good arcs worth mentioning. Tomoe’s arc involving the military junkies staying at the hotel was amusing, and the couple of Ohana arcs after the first one were just as good. Light humour also played a big role in holding my attention until something noteworthy happened. As an example, there was one scene in episode 16 where Ohana and Nako are pretending to be flying around on brooms and they looked so silly that I couldn’t help but laugh.
Animation-wise, the quality in Hanasaku Iroha is nothing short of excellent. If you’re like me and simply aren’t interested in the daily lives of some side characters, then at least you’ll enjoy the stunning visuals. From the picturesque countryside sunsets to the gorgeous detailing of the furnishings, P.A. Works not only made sure every scene was perfectly drawn, but that it was appealing to the eyes.
In a way, Hanasaku Iroha was both a hit and miss for me. I thoroughly enjoyed Ohana’s story, but the rest of the series simply felt like filler material. The fact that there really was no resolution for the other characters by the end of the series also reflects on their importance or lack thereof in the series. Thinking back on why the writers would do this, I figured that they may have been going for the “it’s the journey that matters” ending, but it hardly felt like a journey for any of the characters other than Ohana. So is Hanasaku Iroha worth watching? I’d say yes, for Ohana’s story and the great animation, but just beware that there is a lot of filler.