Saturday, July 7, 2018

ANIME REVIEW: Hinamatsuri is a really kind, sweet, funny show (unexpectedly)

I was searching for a new show to watch this week and stumbled on "Hinamatsuri" on Crunchyroll. It's about a middle-school aged female "alien"(?) with superpowers who lands in the apartment of a high-ranking yakuza and decides to move in. Honestly, I was worried that this would be a pervy show with lots of fan-service (sort of like Mayo Chiki or something) as well as one focusing on child-led violence within the yakuza. Thankfully, it turned out to be an exceedingly sweet, kind, and dryly-funny show about building relationships. Light spoilers to follow:

Nitta, our high-ranking yakuza, turns out to be a really really nice and decent guy which is put to great comedic effect in a later episode where a documentary film-maker wants to make a gritty piece about the life of a yakuza and ends up having to fake it because Nitta is so normal. Perhaps the only real flaw Nitta has is that he likes his life of luxury and remains a bit annoyed that he has taken in a psuedo-daughter who sometimes cramps his lifestyle. But it's clear, in every episode, that he actually has a soft spot for her.

Hina is the aforementioned alien, or something (child with esp?). She drops out of the sky naked in his apartment one day. This is of course where I really started worrying about the fan service - naked girl living with middle-aged man. But that was it, nakedness as nakedness (hidden behind objects too) and not exploitative or servicy in any way. Hina has a very flat personality, she sleeps through school, plays videogames, and likes to eat. Which itself, is played for excellent humor when a later character gives a doll in Hina's image the catch-phrase: "feed me." What's awesome is the hints we get that she was actually a murderous planet killer somewhere else in the universe, rather than a affectless, lazy, middle-schooler like now.

The show centers episodically around Nitta and Hina bonding, Hina pissing Nitta off, Hina breaking things accidentally, Nitta kicking Hina out, Hina in a band, Hina eating, Hina sleeping in school, etc... with plenty of gentle comedy about their growing relationship.

Where the show really shines is with the time and care it provides to two side characters, Anzu and Hitomi. Anzu is another alien(?) like Hina who was sent to retrieve her. Needless to say, this doesn't work and Anzu decides not to take Hina back, but has lost her ship (in the form of a red ball) and so must stay on Earth. Too embarrassed to ask for help from Hina and Nitta, she strikes out on her own, moving in with a bunch of homeless men in the park. This too is done with utmost sensitivity as they teach her the ways they survive and she goes from an arrogant pre-teen to someone who treasures the little things and values hard work (used in frequent contrast to Hina's slightly expectant personality throughout the show). This becomes even sweeter when Anzu is eventually taken in by a family that runs a restaurant and the way she bonds with them. Her story is carried to its funniest conclusion when she stays with Nitta for a week while her adoptive family is away and Nitta realizes that not everyone is useless or annoying like Hina because Anzu actually helps with chores, laughs, is polite, etc... even offering to pay the family to swap her. Anzu is a joy every time she's on screen in the series.

But the scene stealer is Hitomi, the sweet, smart, classmate of Hina's. Through a series of mixups she ends up tending bar (as a middle schooler) late each night at a bar Nitta frequents. The way she's both a savant at mixing drinks mixed with her constant desire to not be doing it (but failure to ever just stop) are used frequently throughout the show with her offering advice to fellow bar goers, tricking her teacher and principal into thinking she's someone else, etc... just brilliant comedy from the writers and voice actress.  But it just keeps going, she ends up getting suckered into moving out of her parents house into a luxury apartment (as a middle schooler) and gets endless job offers to help her pay the rent. She invites her mom to a party there in order to get her mom to blow the whole thing up so that she can move back home, only for her mom to be so impressed with the business connections she's made and supports her instead. She's the classic "trampled on" or  "put-upon" figure who is really straight-laced but gets sucked into everyone else's chaos. Her stories are the funniest moments within this show.

Aside from my worries about fan-service and pervy stuff (which absolutely are NOT present in this show - not a single perverted camera operator move or exploitative moment) I was worried about the yakuza. There is a scene early on with a fair amount of carnage and I was worried it was a show that would jokingly gloss-over its violence or the real-world complexities of yakuza in Japan. I couldn't have been more wrong with that either. First, there was no blood and no sign that anyone was actually hurt in that scene. It was also the only real yakuza scene in the whole show (except a funny sequence of fighting to be next in line to head their group pitting Nitta against some comrades). In fact, Nitta could have been a corporate executive and it would have made no difference in the show at all. The yakuza play almost no roll, whether they are good, benevolent, problematic is never addressed because it didn't need to be here because the yakuza were a non-factor in the plot at all. It really is just a show about Nitta and Hina and Anzu and Hitomi doing not much of anything, a comedy slice of life in a way.

I give this show a strong 7/10 (closing in on an 8) "recommended" because it caused me to genuinely laugh out loud at least once per episode (rare) and never crossed any of my red-lines of distasteful content. It is just simple, sweet fun. The middle-schoolers act like middle-schoolers including the juxtaposition of Hitomi and the bartending which is expertly written. And there seems to be the setup for future seasons which I'm looking forward to. I was really surprised just how enjoyable this show was.

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