What’s Missing from Hanasaku Iroha?

God damn, woman, chill your shit. You're taking a shower, for Christ's sake.

A measure of maturity and a useful supporting cast.

I vividly remember the hubbub surrounding Hanasaku Iroha when it first started airing. Many viewers (myself included) praised the show for its visual beauty and the treatment of its protagonist, Ohana. Personally, I was drawn to Ohana’s rather cynical worldview and her lack of ambition— in other words, I was pleased by the fact that she was not the stereotypical happy-go-lucky innocent schoolgirl ubiquitous in anime today. Though the show’s premise was lacking in originality, the strength of her character made Hanasaku Iroha an early front-runner for show of the season in my mind (and in the mind of many others like myself, I’m sure.)

Five episodes into Hanasaku Iroha, I’m fairly certain that my initial assessment was wrong. Though Ohana continues to develop, the pace of her development has certainly slowed in recent episodes. In addition, the supporting cast of Hanasaku Iroha is simply too weak to contribute substantively to any sort of plot or character development. With the exception of select characters, the supporting cast serves little to no purpose. The problem here is that the writers have underutilized the supporting cast in plot development— Tohru exists for the sole purpose of tormenting Ohana with his mindlessly cruel comments, Jiromaru serves as little more than comedic fodder (unfunny comedic fodder, at that), Nako’s inability to speak renders her virtually useless in plot-related conversations, and the rest of the cast is unmemorable to the point where I can hardly recall their names.

With such a supporting cast, Ohana must develop the plot on her own. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; many excellent shows have gravitated around a singular character. Consider Aria, for example, which follows the growth of Akari. The plot depicts her experience, almost exclusively; the thoughts and motivations of other characters are inferred through their interactions with her. In like manner, Hanasaku Iroha is quite clearly about Ohana. However, the difference between Aria and Hanasaku Iroha lies in the fact that the supporting cast of Aria contributes heavily to Akari’s development. They are much more than comedic fodder— they are her muses, her friends, her colleagues and her adversaries, pushing Akari to constantly improve herself and seek self-discovery.

The supporting cast of Hanasaku Iroha rarely fills these roles. The only characters that are truly relevant to Ohana’s development— the ones that motivate her actions— are Ohana’s grandmother and Minko. (Although Jiromaru initially had a hand in Ohana’s development, he has subsequently been relegated to a much less significant role.) Yet both Minko and Ohana’s grandmother are rather flat characters, which limits the spectrum of interactions that they can have with Ohana. Ohana’s grandmother’s severe demeanor and strict attitude towards Ohana have motivated her to work hard and improve herself; however hside from the disciplinarian functions that Ohana’s grandmother serves, her role has been minor, and her ultimate function in plot development remains to be seen. Therefore, I turn my attention now to Minko, the most important, outspoken and prominent member of the supporting cast so far.

Minko’s antagonism towards Ohana represents one of the main points of contention in Hanasaku Iroha. Despite being the central conflict of the plot at this point in time, the root cause of Minko’s antagonism towards Ohana is completely unclear. She first screams at Ohana for pulling out her plants, and it seems that Ohana’s every action draws her ire— but why? Minko never really explains to Ohana why she’s so irritated by her, instead choosing to simply scream at Ohana at every opportune moment. This, of course, is of no help to Ohana at all— she has no idea where Minko’s contempt comes from, which leads her to draw her own inferences about the motivations behind Minko’s wrath. This, in turn, leads to her taking a series of well-meaning but completely misguided actions, which are wholly unproductive. One can almost say that by this point, Minko’s simply annoyed by Ohana’s existence— there’s nothing Ohana can do to make Minko like her, and predictably, Minko will hate everything that Ohana does.

Of course, we are talking about 16 year old girls here, and 16 year old girls don’t act rationally. It could be that case that Minko’s simply extremely immature. In fact, all evidence points to this being the case. Her ridiculous, made-up swear words that she throws at Ohana, running away from home to become a chef and her wholly unjustifiable hatred for Ohana are all hallmarks of her immaturity. The immaturity of Minko would not be a problem were she simple comedic fodder. As the main source of tension in the plot, however, her lack of maturity becomes problematic. Firstly, Ohana is unable to rationally determine the root causes of Minko’s antagonism because of her immaturity, which leads her into taking misguided actions, as detailed above. This is problematic from a plot development standpoint because immaturity problems generally can not be solved through rational action. In other words, Ohana can literally do nothing about Minko’s antagonism towards her until Minko decides first that she’s going to grow up and stop acting irrationally belligerent all the time. Yet, were Minko to suddenly grow up and stop being immature, this would be inconsistent with her character, which is equally problematic for character development. By making an immature character like Minko the central antagonist in Hanasaku Iroha, the writers of the show have put themselves in a dilemma which is incredibly difficult to resolve. In order to continue developing both Ohana and Minko’s characters, the creators need to explain Minko’s motivations behind her hatred for Ohana in a reasonable manner. In addition, the change in Minko’s character cannot happen too suddenly, as people don’t simply grow up overnight. The writers are also unable to simply trivialize the problem and move on; relegating the central conflict of the first few episodes of Hanasaku Iroha‘s plot to joke status would be catastrophic for the show’s pacing and plot development.

Therefore, the reasonable diffusion of the tension between Ohana and Minko is critical to Hanasaku Iroha‘s success. The creators may be able to get around this problem by introducing another conflict somewhere down the line, and gradually shifting attention towards a new, more important central conflict than the catfights of two 16 year olds, but unless Ohana and Minko’s relationship reach a satisfying equilibrium point, there’ll always be something missing from Hanasaku Iroha. Had Minko been a more mature character, perhaps this wouldn’t have been an issue. If the rest of the supporting cast weren’t as useless, there would have been other places to draw viewers’ attention and shift slowly away from the conflict between Minko and Ohana. However, such an option does not exist at the time being, so the writers simply have to deal with Minko before moving on.

I will say that the “unseen” characters in Hanasaku Iroha are much more interesting than the visible ones. Both Ohana’s mother and Kou, her friend from Tokyo, have potential to become major forces in moving the plot of Hanasaku Iroha along. Ohana’s relationships with both Kou and her mother are in ambiguous places at the moment, and the awkwardness between Ohana and Kou following Kou’s confession of love shortly before Ohana’s departure represents a potential point of conflict in Ohana’s life. Both of these relationships have great exploratory potential, and Ohana is at her most complex when she reminisces about her mother or wonders about her relationship with Kou. I personally hope to see these themes explored more closely as the show progresses, and indeed, if the end of episode 5 is any indication, I might just get my wish.

But first, Minko.

Notes:

1. I have to emphasize again that the problem with Minko isn’t her inherent immaturity. Immature characters and elements of immaturity in characters are sometimes fun and add a degree of unpredictability(as well as realism)  to plot, but Minko’s immaturity hampers Ohana’s character development. Since Minko is the primary antagonist in the show at the moment, Ohana’s development is, in many senses, heavily dependent upon her— and her inconsistency and irrationality bar Ohana from responding to her actions or learning from them.

2. The issue of immaturity is a rather big one in anime. Whenever we say that characters act in an “unrealistic” manner, for the most part, we are talking about characters who are immature. (Sometimes, it’s simply the case that character motivations are not adequately explained.) Immature characters defy explanation, and therefore, prevent rational action.

3. Questions? Drop me a line at @Akirascuro on twitter or #nhrv/irc.rizon.net.

13 Responses to “What’s Missing from Hanasaku Iroha?”

  1. Those are pretty much my thoughts exactly, if worded a bit more eloquently. Iroha needs to get its act together if it wants to be remembered as anything other than a show that had potential, but ultimately failed to live up to it.

  2. intriguing, have to agree on the gravitating around a single character idea, though in my opinion that’s its problem. at most times it goes in all sorts of directions. at the end of episode 3, you think it will focus on Ohana, but it then shifts to Nako. in episodes 4 and 5, you think it will focus on Minko, but Ohana comes in and saves the day. Now i just don’t know where this is going to go, and i don’t mean that in a good way.

  3. Oh wow tl;dr. I did want to know what’s missing from Iroha but.. Lol I’m a super slow reader and I have better things to do~ If somebody would like to state it in a few sentences, I definitely wouldn’t stop them~

  4. So wait, you’re complaining that immature teenagers in a show that’s marketed for (as far as I know) immature teenagers are immature? Since when are teenagers mature?

    Immaturity is not a problem in anime. In all honesty, it’s more realistic. Not everyone makes the “rational” decision every single time in real life, why should every character do no wrong in anime? Furthermore, most people don’t go up to their friends/enemies and ask “Hey man, you’re hampering my character development, tell me what’s wrong so I can react to it!” In other words, we don’t necessarily know why people do what they do, which is your problem with Minko. So why expect in anime, especially this early on? I can see the viewpoint that it’s annoying to watch after a while, but immaturity has another advantage you didn’t mention, that it can allow for character development over time, as the character grows up and gains experience. If this was 20 episodes in, I would be concerned, but right now? It’s fine. So for now, let’s be patient and wait.

  5. I was drawn to Ohana’s rather cynical worldview

    Huh, what ever happened to that side of her character? She started off a fascinating character. Now she’s turned into a rather dumb happy go lucky character with none of that cynical, trying to view the world through literature viewpoint the first two episodes said she had

  6. While I’m starting to become more pessimistic it’ll happen, perhaps a saving grace might be the inn’s resident gossip girl, Tomoe. Both of Sui’s children think with their libido’s more than their heads, and I thought, in the early episodes, that their respective active social lives might be a topic of gossip around the inn, largely propagated by Tomoe. This may have created an interesting conflict for Ohana. At this stage, though, I’m not sure it’s going to happen.

    Another issue about Minko: I think Omigawa Chiaki has been miscast. It’s an aside to the writing, but after being so used to her in comedic roles, I’m not sure how seriously I can take her.

  7. If somebody would like to state it in a few sentences, I definitely wouldn’t stop them~

    Minko is an immature termagant. The side characters are shallow. Aria is better. Aria is the best thing ever made. Watch Aria now. :)

  8. Minko makes the show unwatchable.

  9. Good article, I generally concur. My opinion of this show has been on the decline, and you’ve said it more clearly than I could have. It’s because of the supporting characters.

    I also think, fundamentally, that I don’t want to watch a show about a bunch of immature teenagers doing immature things. It’s just not interesting to me, because I’ve lived through that, and well… in hindsight, it was all pretty dumb.

    This paragraph is going to be completely unrelated to this article. I remember, awhile ago, you wrote an article about why we watch anime. I commented on two things, which were short seasons and artistic freedom. I have a third thing to add, which is cheaper production costs, which result in increased experimentation and thus more interesting ideas. I think American TV is fairly stagnant because it costs so much to make a TV show (and also a TV show can be cancelled right after its pilot) that there is much incentive for a TV show to cater to the right demographics and not take any risks. I think this is really the essence of it; short seasons are a byproduct of this system (the broadcasting companies, then, must make seasons shorter to minimize risk, if they cannot cancel a show outright).

  10. I agree with the big guy’s comment. Futhermore why do we anime fans have to be so hypicritical about everything? if a show has dramatic episodes we want comedy if a show has comedic episodes we want the drama back. Why is that?

  11. @deluge: See first sentence.

    @Big Guy: While I agree with you (in my article, too) that immaturity is realistic and adds a layer of realism to the plot, her irrationality is restricting in the sense that it doesn’t add much to character development. The reason why we, in our lives, don’t go up to people and say stuff like that is because this is reality— not everything happens for a reason. Hanasaku Iroha is not reality. It is literature, and literature needs plot and development. Minko’s random outbursts serve no purpose, so they get monotonous really quickly. I’m not saying that Minko can’t be immature, but rather, I’m saying that her immaturity doesn’t contribute much to the overall character of the show, and is therefore useless. My concern is that this issue will simply not be resolved and left hanging awkwardly, which seems to be the case now.

    @Scamp: I’m disappointed as well in the flattening of Ohana’s character, especially when the integrity of the entire show rests upon her shoulders.

    @S-K: I disagree about the miscasting. Minko’s wonderfully belligerent; the problem isn’t with the portrayal, it’s with the writing.

    @DrIdiot: Interesting perspective about cheaper production costs, haven’t thought about it that way, although I’m sure even a short anime that doesn’t sell means significant financial ruin for production companies.

    @sally: We’re not hypocritical about everything. A show can either be a drama or a comedy, but not both at the same time. The problem with Hanasaku Iroha is that it’s not serious enough to be a drama, and not funny enough to be a comedy. In other words, it’s a camel, and camels are awkward as shit.

  12. For me the problem with Hanasaku Iroha is “why should I care?” I think you are trying to take it a step further by identifying why I don’t care. If Minko’s anger at Ohana made sense, I might be thinking, “Boy, how could Ohana get Minko to like her?” which would imply plot, and I would be engaged. Instead it just seems Minko is a bit of a bitch, so that’s life (I’m over it). Grandma is almost the same way, only even less interesting; at first I thought there was going to be all sorts of tension there, but I haven’t noticed any since episode 2. At this point Grandma could be any random old lady who lives next door. Again, “why should I care?”

    Unless this show pulls something unexpected (and soon), it will end up as a colossal let down, and a squandered opportunity.

  13. Minko’s hatred for ohana obviously stems from the fact that she likes tohru, but tohru likes ohana. It is simply jealousy. Problem solved. Stop bitching, it’s a good show.

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