What Could Have Been
Not gonna lie, readers, this review was a hard one to type.
I remember starting on Hinamatsuri quite recently, the naiveté I possessed as I dived deep into this delightfully feel-good show. I was blown away; the simplicity of the premise was a breath of fresh air. The characters were very realistic and had shades of every emotion in them. This was somehow brought about with no character being either outlandishly vilified or made overly righteous.
Then there was the principal figure Hina herself, an artless psychic as infuriatingly irritable to her caregiver Yoshifumi Nitta as she was lovable to her father later on. Her innocence obviously belied her unimaginably dark past, but in the here-and-now, like the entire starring cast, she was given a clean slate to work with.
What I liked most, however, was how most of the story was completely open ended. The resolution of pretty much every unexplained plot point was left solely to the viewer’s discretion.
A crucial difficulty in attempting this story device, however, is that a show can go wrong in two ways. It either spoon feeds the viewer with possible scenarios or looks down upon their attempts by making sure the complicated narrative leaves no room for the existence of a feasible fan theory. Far too many shows have attempted to strike a fine balance between these two aspects and far too few have succeeded; for me, Hinamatsuri belonged firmly in the second camp.
Imagine my disappointment, then, in now realizing how hasty I was in recommending this anime to the extent I did.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the Hinamatsuri experience started to go awry for me. (Disclaimer: this experience is highly subjective and most likely not what you’d take away from the viewing.)
Maybe it was the inclusion of a character arc for Anzu, a fellow psychic sent from the future to either retrieve Hina or dispose of her. However she fails at both, and has to make do with what she has before being rescued. Throughout the rest of the series, we see her progress from arrogance to humility.
At first, her progression felt deserved, even perfectly fitting the narrative, for me.
However, I was soon rudely awakened to the contrast between her growth and Hina’s lack of it throughout the season. This wasn’t bad by means; it was obviously intentional and ironically, was referenced numerous times by Nitta in the show.
What the show failed to realize, however, was that it wasn’t just Anzu being given this treatment; every starring protagonist from Hitomi, Hina’s classmate and bartender extraordinaire, to Nitta himself undergo far better evolution of their respective personalities.
The only “improvement” our heroine undergoes is superficial and serves as nothing more than fodder for a (admittedly necessary) plot detail.
At this point, I can only think of Utako the bartender and psychic introvert Mao having gotten less development – with only a fraction of Hina’s screen time.
I understand what was attempted here; rather than have a clichéd hero’s tale of redemption; mangaka Masao Otake sought to instead portray Hina as the impetus for every other character’s blossoming. However, the handling of this gambit backfires and all we’re left with is a not-quite-fleshed out champion than a catalyst for anything.
There is also the issue of realism, while this is even more of an opinion than a universal observation. After all, I do get that the show serves as an escapist fantasy of simpler times. Yet, that would mean that the realism so painstakingly shown early on was nothing more than a ruse.
Because later, you have overwhelmingly righteous and stand up people populating most of the screen. The amounts of saturation of such cut and dry Samaritans existing simply isn’t plausible. Heck, even the deadly Yakuza are portrayed as nothing more than gangsters cut from wet cardboard.
The only thing that lived up to my expectations (and more) was the sharp sense of humour — it managed to be sharp and subtle or outrageously slapstick at just the right moments. Unlike the emotional elements of the show, not once did the comical moments feel out of place.
Yes, almost all of the supposed shortcomings I managed to find in this show stem from my own premature presumptions. They originate from me callously setting the bar for what the anime should be achieving after as little as two episodes into the season. Rookie mistakes, I know. None of these could have possibly been retroactively rectified by a mangaka and a production team that did not and still does not have a clue about my grievances.
And yet, personally, my recriminations feel justified at the end of the day.
The gold standard that I expected it to reach is something Hinamatsuri could have genuinely shattered through, had it not completely let up on the gas. Those presumptions I had about the story-line did come true, only in a far more lackadaisical manner than whatever progression the first three episodes had achieved.
Those episodes were a picnic on a windy, beautifully sunny day eating the best food with my friends on a green meadow overlooking a pristine lake. Everything else felt like a very obvious simulation of the same; albeit well put, it just wasn’t the real deal in any sense.
I would be buggered if this was it, after all of the promise it held initially. Fortunately, the adaptation of the manga is far from finished, and a second season is rumoured to be around the corner. Here’s to hoping that it makes up for all of the lost ground, and more.
It fully deserves to.
Decent Six. Hinamatsuri starts off well enough, backed by a robust story and a refreshing take on the psychic tale. That proves to be a false dawn, as elements of the story falter later on by contradicting themselves from earlier episodes. Character arcs are all over the place. However, the finale furthers the plot convincingly, with the promise of more (and hopefully, better) things to come.
(Japanese): Light Eight. The VA covered all the required bases without being anything extraordinarily brilliant. Nitta (Yoshiki Nakajima) and Hitomi (Kaede Hondo) are, w.r.t emotive performances, the standouts here. However, Takako Tanaka's Hina also deserves a shoutout for managing to convey copious depth even in monotone.
(English Dub): Decent Seven. As is the case with virtually all anime, foreign language VA simply does not hold a candle to the original. That said, Hinamatsuri is one of the better dubbed shows I can recall watching in recent times. For an anime of its tone, the dub did not nearly seem as cringy as I thought it was going to be. Amanda Lee is very convincing as Anzu.
Light Six. A very subjective take, but for me, the supporting characters proved to be the show's biggest liability. They were inconsistently developed - either being quite realistic or completely idealistic. This made identifying the tone of the show quite difficult. Hitomi was a bright spot, but in the larger context, that was one of the problems the show had.
Eight. Hinamatsuri, coming from Studio Feel, was bound to have some decent (if generic) art, and it does not disappoint. Vibrant hues are employed generously and help give off a lazy, relaxed vibe to the show.
Decent Eight. The anime displays very competent animation techniques throughout it's runtime, especially scenes requiring consistent dynamic stances. However, the fight in the finale showed that we were still missing out on a lot. Hopefully more such scenes are realized in the future.
Decent Seven. The OP is pretty good, but it is the best thing about the OST. Other songs/themes are decent-ish. However, there isn't much out of the ordinary.
Composite Weighted Score: 7.16
Hinamatsuri is a decent anime that falls flat after the initial promise. Consistency being the keyword here, I would like to see the production firm up the script and develop some interesting character arcs for next season. Despite the slight tinge of disappointment, I expect great things moving forward.
Binge-worthy? With an easy-to-consume 12 episode format, Hinamatsuri is definitely good enough for a one-time viewing. Maybe more, if it's tailored to your taste.