Synopsis: Ohana’s manic mother boots her out of her Tokyo apartment, sending her out to Ishikawa to live with her grandmother, Sui, the manager of the illustrious but aging Kissui-so Inn.
I picked up Hanasaku Iroha coming right on the heels of both Barakamon and Silver Spoon, both shows about city-slickers winding up in the boonies. I was on a countryside high. Over a year into draconian lockdowns and I desperately wanted to leave the city. I thought, well, if I can’t do that in real life, then I might as well get my fix through anime. And so I started with Hanasaku Iroha, a show about a city-slicker winding up in the boonies.
Hanasaku starts off on a strong note. Genki teenager Ohana Matsumae is booted out of her Tokyo apartment by her mess of a mother. She sends Ohana to live with her grandmother Sui Shijima, an innkeeper from rural Ishikawa. Gifted with a troubling farewell confession from her childhood friend Kou, she leaves behind her former life to become a maid at the rustic Kissui-so.
Strong as the start may have been, I honestly found the first half of Hanasaku to be a bit of a letdown. It’s charming in spades, sure, and we’re given a lot of time to get to know the fellow staffers of Kissui-so – all great characters, mind – but for the first half, the show struggles a little in working out what story it wants to tell. There’s a sweet little arc where we watch a brusque Minchi, sous-chef of Kissui-so, slowly warm up to Ohana, but other than that, the first couple of episodes feel rather filler-y at times. The first half ends by focusing on the relationship between Ohana and Ko which, if you ask me, is the weakest part of the show. To be frank, Ko’s whole character feels like it was stapled on in post, in order to give the show a little bit of unnecessary romance. I honestly ended up abandoning the series for a whole month because of how flat the whole Ko deal left me feeling.
Now, I say the romance subplot was unnecessary because, clearly, the star of the show is the Kissui-so community itself – and on this, the second half delivers.
The faintest bud of a thesis statement peaks its head out of the woodworks throughout the first half, but it’s in the latter half of Hanasaku when the show really finds its footing. From this point onward, the show is about the inn itself, and the people who keep it running.
There are moments when Hanasaku veers away from the Kissui-so to focus on a single character. A two episode arc, for example, centers squarely on Nako, a shy but very capable maid. Even in these moments, though, the show makes sure to anchor itself around the inn. We learn how Nako feels most free when she’s at home with her family, and that in front of anyone else she has a hard time finding her tongue. In an effort to be more bold, she decides to put in extra effort to be more sociable at the inn – only for innkeeper Sui to tell her that everyone loves her for the person she is, and that she doesn’t have to struggle to be someone she isn’t. Nako finds a home at the Kissui-so, just like Ohana has, and how Minchi has, and how everyone else who works alongside them has done over the years they’ve dedicated to keeping the struggling little inn afloat.
Perhaps the most poignant arc in Hanasaku comes right at the end (makes sense, you don’t want to end your series on a low note.) After coming to terms with the animosity her daughter feels for her and the bungling of her filmmaker-aspirant son in his ailing management of the inn, Sui decides to close Kissui-so once and for all, believing that for all these years, she’d been imposing her own dreams upon her children. The staff, of course, don’t take this lightly, each having found a home in the musty halls of the crumbling inn. As the bombori festival closes in they whip up a whirlwind to attract as many visitors as possible, exhausting themselves and making robots of one another as they struggle to manage a flood of fresh customers. At this point Nako, truly the most mature person in the cast, steps in by saying that this is not the Kissui-so she felt most at home in. She reminds everyone that the Kissui-so they knew was one where they cared for every customer – where they took things slow and deliberately and with heart, treating each and every person who visited like family. That, she reminds them, was the dream they all lived up to. Seeing this, Ohana takes her grandmother aside to tell her that her dream – made once upon a time with her loving late-husband – was no longer hers and hers alone, but the hopes and budding wishes of the staff of Kissui-so.
Hanasaku Iroha proves itself to be a powerful piece on how one, single place can pull and tug and gather people around it. The Kissui-so is the focal point, the most interesting and beloved centerpiece to this story, to which we come to know and love the wonderful men and women, young and old, upon whose joint efforts and friendships the inn remains afloat. It takes a little while for Hanasaku to realize that this is what is most important to its story. I’m glad it finally did, because damn, my heart was so happy come the ending.
I really do, in the end, have to recommend Hanasaku Iroha. Give it a shot and come check out the Kissui-so. I hope you find something to love among the dusty corridors of that old inn.
(-) A bit of a slow and meandering start may lose some viewers
(+) A+ openings from nano.RIPE. Big fan.
(+) A very lovable ensemble cast, all of whom get their time in the sun.
(+) A wonderful story about one, single place and the effect it has on the people who come through it.