Posted by: Leek | January 10, 2010

Humble Beginnings: Hanamaru Youchien

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One of Leek’s favorite manga series has finally got itself an animated counterpart. After hyping it’s release since announcement and imagining all the possibilities, he got to see first hand what he was in for. But less about the first episode, what is it that a fan really wants when they see their cherished manga meets pure bred animation?

So if you’re not interested in some of my psychobabble I tried to break it up. I think episode impressions are at the very bottom of the page somewhere. This probably isn’t new to anyone.

Background
It’d be no lie to say that I’m a fan of Hanamaru Youchien. To me it’s always been something like “my series”. Now I don’t mean this in a way that nobody else is allowed to enjoy it. All I truly mean by my words is it’s a series that I managed to dig out and enjoy on my own.

Honest speaking, I get into things with words such as “Leek, check this out!” or “Leek, have you heard about this?”. Very rare is there something anime, manga, or game related that I will bring up with people and have it come to be as a surprise. I’m very rarely a discover in this way and because of it Hanamaru Youchien has been much like a baby to me. I love the series to death and saying that I hype the release of each chapter is a gross understatement.

I’ve never read Hanamaru Youchien like any other manga. It’s a series that I pride in it’s simplicity, in it’s essence to capture some strange beauty in life through different means. Whenever I sit down to a chapter, or especially a volume I’ll often do the same. A nice cold glass of milk, open the window if there’s a good breeze, and then lay down and give it a good read. While I do tend to read manga in it’s Japanese format generally slow, Hanamaru volumes are infamous for taking HOURS out of my day. Not because there’s anything to get but merely because I love reading it like that. There’s not a concept to stumble over but the moderation of reading it like that only makes it all the more enjoyable. And with each hour of reading, it’s something I can use to lie back afterwords and reflect on things.

This is, in a nutshell, the process of Hanamaru Youchien to me as well as any specific ties I have with it. Not that it gives me any special rights behind talking about it but I feel it’s best to describe my relationship, possibly to justify whatever issues I may call out later. Since I will be talking about it a lot, it’s only logical to get a bit of a look through my eyes.

The Indiscernible Opinions of a “Fan”
It’s not a rare occasion that someone watching an anime has been following the source material. How they view the source may differ but it always creates expectations and usually very biased ones at that. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. In fact it’s only fair for those who know what the original is to be a little critical. But it also gets a little out of hand when things go a little unexplained to say the least.

Allow me to go on a little bit of a tangent for awhile. People often say that what our interests are sets a pretty good way to define us. Or more or less what may or may not hold our attention can be a good way to analyze who are. If you are what you eat, then you must be what you watch as well. Well I’m not quite sure what this says for me aside from, “Hey, you belong in jail don’t you?” and the whole spiel that goes along with that. What does this really all mean? I’m not quite sure actually. I thought I might be able to tie that in somewhere but I guess it’s just a lolicon joke, sorry about that one.

Continuing on, it’s not rare to see fans of source material making their complaints…

“Why did they leave this out?”
“Why did *name* end up with *name?”
“Is this filler really necessary?”
“Why did they add original content?”
“The events are all out of order.”
“This ending sucks.”
“WHY IS THIS NOT EXACTLY LIKE MY SOURCE MATERIAL?”

Alright, so the list could go on forever. I’m sure we’ve all heard it before and we’ve all tried to turn our heads and mutter something in another direction about it. It’s annoying to hear it all the time and someone always has to say it. It’s very RARE that everyone is happy. But are these complaints really legitimate? Is a faithful adaption really that necessary? Maybe. Maybe not.

My stance has always been very simple when I watch something. If I really understand the source material then there is that general understanding. If you really are a fan then you know the spirit of a series. Yes, it sounds crazy but you know well the nonsense I’m talking about. You know how a series should be animated in truth. The sights, the sounds, the flow, everything you could probably piece in your head. Well, in YOUR head anyway. And that really is just it.

It’s quite phenomenal the dedication people can have in accordance with something. There’s a series that runs deep with everyone, I can’t say it’s necessarily like that with me and Hanamaru but there is definitely a strong bond. What I am getting at though is that picture you can create in your head just needs to be broken down a bit. There is an exact picture you can create but it’s less about replicating that picture and more about conveying the same image.

If you have read the source material and are trying to analyze the changes that may happen there is a simple question you can ask yourself.

“Yes, this is different. But does this really fit the series?

Now you can stop yourself and think about it for hours but it all comes down to that picture you painted. Does this animation really give off the same feeling you got while reading that source material? Well obviously reading is a very different experience but I’m sure you understand what I mean. Of course this is entirely different then enjoying a series for what it is but that’s another conversation for another time.

Merely what I wish to get at is that a series doesn’t have to imitate a source directly to be faithful. While I’m sure any source reader would love to see a pen and paper copy it doesn’t always work and may even make a mess of things from an animation standpoint. And such in a way we weave our way back to Hanamaru Youchien.

My Hanamaru Youchien
I can confess I’ve always treated Hanamaru Youchien as something quite different. It’s nothing short of any other slice of life series but it’s approach and concepts may be something that I haven’t quite experienced all at once.

The manga started with quite a bang to be honest. Anzu’s full on attempts at love with Tsuchida made it seem positively Kodomo no Jikan from the beginning. As long as you remove the perversion and bring the age down, you could almost see the two side by side (which does change the tone entirely but I’m just kind of paddling towards an example here). Hanamaru’s focus though really just lies in using branch after branch of relationship, all of it going back to the roots buried in the past. It’s really a rather simple concept but I believe it’s just something about how it’s done that really makes it worth your while.

The sense of time in Hanamaru just has that spot on pacing. Events don’t happen too fast or too slow and you just kind of wade forward like you would in life. The transitions done between the past, present, and “future” feel abrupt at times but they’re really just done in moderation and at the end always feel worth it. The time navigation was placed well in the manga so you possibly didn’t learn full stories into late which just aided to draw bonds properly. There were times where I would just be waiting for more past events to fill in holes, or possibly to see more of the past in the present. Quite fun really.

That aside, Hanamaru Youchien is always about the simplicity. It’s nothing out of the ordinary and that’s just it. It’s hard to love it or hate it really just because of this fact alone. You’re read it sometimes and possibly not feel any which way about it. But it’s really just when that realization hits that you get that sort of warm familiarity with it. In the end it doesn’t just capture that sort of “youth is adorable concept” that you get in Ichigo Mashimaro. While it is there it almost feels like the tip of the iceberg in the appeal of the series.

Really all of this probably is Tsuchida’s fault. I’ve always considered him the one character I always identified with. Or in the words of a bitter friend, a person I wished I could identify completely on point with. Why wouldn’t Leek want to work in a Kindergarten with only women, taking care of little girls (two of which want to marry him), with a little sister with a brother complex, all while having the time to be the biggest nerd ever. So what was I talking about again?

Actually I could identify with that whole Yakuza threat chapter to some extent. Odd.

First Episode Impressions
Without further ado, there’s the issue of the first episode of Hanamaru Youchien to address. If you skipped down to this point then I will answer your pressing question. Yes, I just wrote around 1500 words that were mildly irrelevant to what you may or may not have come here for. That’s just how things are.

It was immediately apparent that the series had gotten off on a different foot to begin with. Where was my Anzu jumping all over her Tsuchi? Where was my Koume? My Hii-chan? Actually in the context of the briefness of the series it was only sensible not to take that route. The manga does a good job of slowly revealing things from the past but the anime unfortunately doesn’t have that liberty. In the essence I was rather pleased to see they did in fact go to the first day of class. More or less it was the only other logical choice and it did well to early establish the close relationship between the three young girls. It doesn’t quite make the opening as much of a bang so to speak but I believe there’s plenty more of that to come.

Sadly enough, no opening theme. While there are always ending themes, openings always set a certain tone for me when I watch something. But with that lacking I can’t say much on it yet. Either way I do look forward to seeing what animation might go with it next week, though I have a good picture of the generic route that would be logical. Calling it in my head so I can say I told you so to myself come the time.

To get down to the material, a lot was honestly covered to me. They did recap a lot of the important story points on the past to justify things (Anzu’s undying love for Tsuchida so to speak). But it felt like in the manga you didn’t see the face of Anzu’s father for quite awhile. It might be a memory lapse since it’s been seven volumes but more or less, it felt like more of a slow revealing of it. Just the same I figured they might have put it off a bit but it more or less isn’t that large of a bother. To go along those lines, the revealing of the other parents was also a little abrupt. Granted it was only a rough insight into the households, it was still just a little bit of a shock.

Pacing in the episode was rather pleasant. Things had to move a little quick to get past all the events but it slowed down at the segments I would have expected. On account they are grouping together certain mini-stories together to create a proper flow, I believe it was still done rather well not to make it seem awkward. Time was only manipulated once so it’s hard to say much on the topic but it was still well initiated nonetheless. The choice of fifteen minute segments rather then grouping will most likely come in handy later. I’m well aware certain endeavors were longer then others (in fact they could easily break it down to something of eight minutes if they so wished) which makes it an educated decision. I have a feeling it’ll come in handy when they get to the time skipping later and bringing in the future segments.

CV work so far is beautifully on point. Actually I had my initial whining period of “Why isn’t Ai Nonaka doing my Hii-chan?” but I think it passed today. Hii-chan’s voice is more then satisfactory and the same idea as of what I believe every reader would have imagined is there (at least those well aware of Pani Poni Dash). Anzu sounded a little more childish then I expected her really. It may just be because of her attitude in the manga but I also imagined her sounding slightly more bratty and maybe a little older. But in terms of what a kindergarten student should sound like, I probably should complain. Oh, and Koumei’s voice literally kills me. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. It’s just that fucking adorable. I mean really? Ouch. But it makes me anticipate a lot of upcoming characters (KUMICHOOOOO).

Music is another thing that I was looking forward to, to be perfectly honest. I’m really hoping for more of the same to be honest. I would enjoy to hear more of just a simple piano soundtrack and if I get that then I’ll be satisfied. There will be little intensity (aside from one arc) so I believe it calls for something like it. But so far it fit the mood but it’s not standing out to me either. When I rewatch the episode I’ll try and keep an ear perked up to try and notice it. I’m sure I was more scouting CVs then music in my first sweep. It’s just from what I did hear, it’s relatively forgettable.

Last, I find it important to address the ending animation slightly. In all honesty, I really loved it. Yuto always does illustrations of the girls depicting different fairytales so the small little tribute of fantasy elements put a smile on my face. Really it may have fallen off on deaf ears but it’s another of those treats that I think those familiar with the source will take a liking to. Even if not, you can’t say it isn’t adorable.

So perhaps it would be best to wrap it up a bit.

The Fan vs. the Critic
In terms of proceeding towards a smooth ending and getting across what the series is really about, GAINAX is off to a good start. I have to admit I was hesitant to pass off a series like this to them and I would have called someone like J.C. Staff in a heartbeat. But Hanamaru’s anime adaption really was set up on the right track in my first belief. If it just gets the right direction from this point onward then I believe GAINAX will have created a spiritually on point adaption of a lovable manga series. And if it does turn out so great I’ll gladly rank it on top of those series that give you the warm fuzzies.

That’s all cute and all but I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t Leek, he wouldn’t say something like this. And your thinking is right. Outside of my fan, what would I say about it?

It’s cute, it has it’s charms to the people, and in all honesty it’s hard not to enjoy the simple and joyful tone that it sets. The truth outside of that is that it’s nothing spectacular. I have high doubts it will be anything worth writing into the history books and the start merely justifies that. We saw merely what we would expect. The main character is your hopeless standard and the love interest is your hopeless bubble head. The sub plot so far of Anzu could just be considered a silly nuisance. As someone on the outside looking in, I was given a lot of information that I really don’t know what to do with. There are these people and now there is a kindergarten teacher who has a student after him. So what? Where do we go from here? I believe the opening is definitely a “So what? Why should I care? This series has little room to go.” kind of thing. It’ll be cute and it’ll be a slice of life but it has yet to break past those barriers as something different.

With those words in mind, I issue my challenge. I don’t plan on going easy on Hanmaru Youchien and these lovely words of mine early on are just because the fan inside is satisfied. The critic has his own words obviously (not the greatest ones at that) but if it continues I believe even that side will turn the other cheek. To me GAINAX did not take an easy path. It’s very easy to make a series cute but it’s nothing people haven’t seen before and some will only “awww” so many times. I’m placing it on their and most importantly the director’s shoulders to conduct things properly. The fan knows the series has potential but the critic wants to see it from this point onward.

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Responses

  1. Seiji Mizushima is a down to earth director. He moves around production companies and doesn’t seem to work exclusively with particular genres or staff. I don’t see specific strength in his directing, but there are no weaknesses either. He’s someone you can count on to get the job done.

    Judging from ED credits there is probably not going to be a whole lot of GAINAX key players contributing to this project. (It was a very nice ED, by the way. Lovely patterns.) I see many female staff and newcomers present. Which is probably a good sign considering this style serves better than the usual quirky animation of GAINAX as far as Hanamaru is concerned.

    Some GAINAX people are currently working under Production I.G. for Kimi ni Todoke. Others are probably focusing on movie productions. It might be safe to assume we’ll be seeing many second string animators throughout the year in television anime, not just Hanamaru, due to all the upcoming theatrical release.

  2. can’t believe i read those 1500 words of irrelevance. you should write a text book with your literary usage.

    i’ll give you props for pointing out things that are true though, in particular the view of the manga followers not accepting what is being adapted.


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