April 13, 2011

Hana-Saku Iroha Pilot + Ep2: A Change of Lifestyle

Posted in Hana-Saku Iroha tagged , , , , at 10:41 pm by meotwister5

I think everyone as a teenager has a certain idealistic view of the world that lies beyond their windows. It’s really part of the naiveté I think, when all you know of the world is in textbooks and TV, or even the internet these days. When your own mother decides to run off with his boyfriend like some sort of cheesy day time soap opera, you’re left to your own devices to experience a world beyond your bedroom, where you quickly realize that not all pretty girls are good natured, not all grandmothers give their grandkids candy, and not all Onsen inns are paradises.

For our story, young Ohana learns about these things the hard way, but with a stride and spirit rarely seen in anime. She, in short, completely makes the show for me.

So when your own mother irresponsibly runs away with his boyfriend who gets in debt, what’s a girl to do? Why, run away to a provincial inn run by your family of course! Then again, getting there she realizes is isn’t all the homely romanticist place you’ve seen on TV, quickly experiencing that she’s seen as nothing more than an employee by her own grandmother who has pretty much disowned Ohana’s freewheeling mother. Too bad I guess for Ohana, who despite everything being the complete opposite of what she expected, still took things in stride.  Daughters of disowned mothers don’t have a lot of options after all.

So her life in Kissuiso starts off on the hellish end, not only with a slavedriver grandma but also a spiteful senior and a creepy as shit author.  She does still try to take it all in stride though, especially when we are reminded of her own personal philosophy of believing in herself and no one else.  When the author’s so called “work of the century” goes missing, she is forced to reevaluate her own beliefs.  As her grandmother says, careless effort simply goes to waste.

Some people, including me, were expecting something like either a mellow slice of life comedy about a bunch of girls working at a semi-rustic inn in the middle of nowhere, or more recently a melodrama about an abandoned girl forced to bear with the cruel hardships of abandonment from estranged family.  What we ended up getting was something more inbetween: a young girl left on her own to a rather unwanting grandmother, but still trying her damn best with the card life has dealt her alongside her coworkers.  She may not get along with them so far, but as you can see she’s trying to, and she truly wants to make a life out of all of this.

Call this a coming-of-age tale, and in most senses you are right.  The classic formula of a youngster venturing out into the real world different from the one she pictured in her head is here.  On the other hand, it isn’t the melodrama that sometimes plagues such shows, where the lead gets tossed every sort of hardship and sufferings imaginable by you and me.  In a way it’s a bit more tame, but no less effective, because it is much more believable.  This is the real life of working in the hospitality service folks, and not life in an internment camp.  It may not be the picture perfect life of idleness in the countryside she pictured, but given her situation, this is probable as good as things get.

As such, as a show about a young girl trying to find her roots and spread her wings in a very different (and partially hostile) environment, this becomes a character-driven show, and shows like this succeed or fail based on the caliber of their cast.  So far based on Ohana alone, the show is built on strong foundations.

Those strong foundations would be Ohana herself.  Simply put, while we’ve seen a lot of the other characters in this show, Ohana carries everything on her optimistically flawed character.  She is herself an active and wide-eyed youth dreaming of the world beyond the confines of her tiny apartment she lives in with her mother, and when her mother decides to move out with her equally loose boyfriend, she gets the shock of her life she is still reeling from.  Moving from one place to another is hard no doubt about that, but it’s another thing entirely to have the new place to be an almost 180 turnaround from everything you’ve expected it to be.  Even then she takes it with a smile, cries only to herself, and swears her best to go on and try her best.

She is, in fact, still a typical teenager full of dreams and ambitions, but as we’ve seen from her own experiences she’s also a bit world-weary and cynical of her life and circumstances.  She possesses that mixed bag of excitable youth with that of a weary and matured adult.  She knows how both to be optimistic of her future, yet also be cautious when drawing from life experience.  She is still young, but given her mother, forced to grow up faster than her peers.  Growing up faster does not equate to maturity obviously, but she still has a good head on her shoulders that is a world away than most people her age.  There is a big difference between blind optimism to a well-thought of one.  She herself realizes that her current life sucks, but it isn’t one to bitch and moan about, especially when she sees that other people have their own problems compared to herself.  This introspective and empathetic ability is a rare gem for characters in her position who would otherwise activate the emo switch and spend the episode whining about why life sucks.  Her life may be the suck right now, but she’s making the best of it, even if it is partly for the wrong reasons she had realized at the end of episode 2.

This is one of the reasons why she’s a rare and delightful character to watch, and arguably one of the strongest teenage leads of recent years.   She personifies the moderation of extremes and a work in progress.  She is neither an immature brat nor impossibly mature for her age.  She doesn’t bitch incessantly about her condition, but she doesn’t internalize every damn thing.  She tries her best at her new life but doesn’t clash with it head on.  She does actually try to understand her situation, adapt to it, and try to learn along the way.  She says so herself: she wants to learn.  She wants to learn about working at an inn, about relying on others, and living life in a new time.  She knows her own faults, knows she isn’t perfect, but still tries to improve herself.  In doing so she wants to reach out to other people and make not only a better life for herself, but for the new place that she now must call home.

This is a sense of maturity and wisdom rarely seen in 16 years.  How many teenagers can you claim to have this?

This then, is almost immediately THE show to watch of spring 2011.


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