Monday, December 1, 2014
HaNaYaMaTa is one of the better examples of the "a bunch of girls start a club" subgenre of anime, this time focusing on yosakoi.
Naru, like many an anime protagonist, is nice but kind of directionless. She wishes someone would whisk from her mundane life into a different, more dazzling world. Enter Hana N. Fountainstand (I love her name), an American girl who insists that everyone has the potential to be dazzling and introduces Naru to the world of yosakoi dance, which Naru develops a passion for. Hana and Naru start a club consisting of: Naru's childhood friend Yaya, who puts up a cool girl act but has a soft spot for Naru; Naru's other childhood friend Tami, who is your classic Yamato Nadeshiko but learns that it's okay to not always do what's expected of you; and Tami's friend Machi, who is the most mature and buttoned up one of the group, befitting her bespectacled-ness. Their club chaperone is their teacher "Sally-sensei", who works as the cynical adult who cares until episode 7, when the writing for her character becomes inexplicably horrible. The girls also get some mentorship from Masaru, the guy who runs the local yosakoi shop and looks like a yakuza but is basically a big teddy bear.
The series follows the girls forming their club, with each new club member getting at least one spotlight episode, and their preparations to dance in a yosakoi festival. Hana's mom unwittingly causes some drama towards the end by flying to Japan and instigating the most "yup, this is fiction" resolution to a divorce you'll ever see. I'm not complaining since more realism in that plot point would have ruined this series' tone. Befitting this series' iyashikei-ish-ness, everything turns out well, it's only a question of how.
Yuri comes in the form of some crushy interaction early in the series. (My girlfriend dubbed it "the gay dance show" when we watched episode 1.) You have Naru's lily-scented reaction to Hana playing the role of the Prince she wanted to her Princess by showing her a more exciting world, Yaya thinking Naru's cute and being willing to do pretty much anything Naru gives her puppy eyes over, and Naru's googly-eyed admiration of Tami as her ideal Princess. The eau de gay was pleasant, but in my ideal world, it would have gone somewhere instead of being bait-y and thus par for the course for this show's subgenre.
My only other knock on the show is that in episodes 7, 8, and 10, Sally-sensei acts like a stand-in for a creepy portion of this show's intended otaku audience that I never want to meet. I wouldn't have liked it in any show, but it was especially jarring here since until then, the show was something my friend could have shown his 9-year-old anime fan child, and I enjoyed it as a relaxing, optimistic show. It's also baffling because it's an obviously pander-y move, but anyone still watching the show seven episodes in would presumably be happy with it not having any weird shit like that. (The one show with a creepy teacher where I'm not bothered by it is Azumanga Daioh, since its characters react realistically to Kimura and the point is that he's creepy. Sally-sensei is a Frankensteinian combination of the ickiness of Kimura, the wackiness of Yukari, and the caring mentor-ness of Nyamo.)
Despite the baitiness of the yuri and Sally-sensei being turned into the kind of person I want to curb stomp for no good reason, overall this show was pleasant to watch. It develops its characters more than most shows in its subgenre bother to and Studio Madhouse does a much better job on the visuals than they needed to. It also has an unexpectedly great, unsurprisingly dance-themed opening animation.
HaNaYaMaTa is streaming on Crunchyroll. All Crunchyroll Premium members outside of Asia can watch it, and all Free members in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden can watch it.