Review for Hanasaku Iroha ~ Blossoms for Tomorrow Volume 2 - Premium Edition
Let’s face it; it was inevitable that I would review the second half of Hanasaku Iroha after having reviewed the first. My problem is that I might have used up my entire gush on that first collection. Finding something new to say about this second half might just strain my critical abilities beyond their capacity. Add to that the slice of life nature of the show, which usually defies simple analysis. Hanasaku Iroha is about the mood, it’s about enveloping the viewer in a rose tinted idealised world with appealing characters, and where even the stressful situations balance the drama with the simple joy inherent in simply watching the show. This is the kind of show where if you get into it, you’ll most likely have a dopey grin on your face during each episode’s run time.
Ohana Matsumae pretty much has her life figured out. She’s the responsible one in her family, her mother Satsuki is the irresponsible one, and she’s learned from an early age and her mother’s example that she can only rely on herself. Still, she’s bright and optimistic, and faces the challenges that life throws at her with enthusiasm. She has no idea of just how irresponsible her mother can be. Satsuki’s boyfriend has got into debt, and her boyfriend has given her address as his own. The bailiffs are looming, and Satsuki decides to flee to another country, as that is the romantic thing to do. Having a sixteen year old daughter tagging along isn’t romantic, so Ohana will have to move to the country and live with her grandmother instead. And this would be the day that her best friend Ko decides to confess his love for her.
The thing is that that her mother and her grandmother are estranged, and the last thing that her grandmother wants or needs is her irresponsible daughter’s progeny being dumped in her lap, especially when she has to run the Kissuiso hot springs inn. Ohana doesn’t get a warm welcome at all; instead she gets a bucket and a mop, and told to work for a living as an attendant at the inn. Kissuiso is an old fashioned place that puts the customer first, and Ohana has a lot to learn about the hospitality industry. With a stinging introduction to her grandmother, a fellow attendant who’s too shy to talk to her, and a roommate that keeps on telling her to die at every opportunity, even Ohana Matsumae’s enthusiasm may start to wilt.
In this collection of episodes, Ohana might have fit into the routine at the Kissuiso hot springs inn, and she might just have found a place to call home, but just when her world seems to slot into place, the Kissuiso Inn faces its most dire challenge.
The concluding 13 episodes of Hanasaku Iroha are presented in this Premium Edition collection, on both Blu-ray and DVD. I’m reviewing the Blu-ray portion of this release. Note that this Blu-ray is coded Region A, and isn’t designed to work in UK players. However, when the disc locks up in my Panasonic player, pressing Top Menu takes you to the main menu screen, where all playback functions are accessible. This is no guarantee that it works in all Region B players though.
14. This is My Way of Life
15. Sunny With a Chance of Beans
16. That Sky, This Sky
17. Pool on the Hill
18. Mermaid Princess and Shell Bra
19. Sloshy Omelet Rice
20. Love-Korin Festival
21. The Return of “Die”
22. A Determined Unrequited Love
23. Compensation for the Dream
24. The Final Boss is Shijima Sui
25. The Kissuiso I Love
26. To Bloom One Day
Hanasaku Iroha gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution, and NIS do good work! HanaIro is a PA Works production, their 10th Anniversary release, and they are a studio that is renowned for the quality, and the sheer gorgeousness of their animation. They’ve collaborated on Moribito, and have been responsible for the Professor Layton movie, Canaan, Another, Angel Beats, and if you wander over to Crunchyroll, you’ll still be able to catch a glimpse of this show, and the more recent Eccentric Family and Nagi no Asukara. They are a company that deserve the best possible presentation when it comes to home video release and NIS America do this show justice by delivering an exquisite transfer.
The image is clear and sharp throughout, the attractive character designs come across without issue, the animation is smooth and unsullied by any form of artefacting, there isn’t even any of the digital banding that can afflict HD anime. Hanasaku Iroha impresses with the quality of the character designs, the magical use of colour to establish a mood and enrich the atmosphere, and the level of detail and realism in the backgrounds and world designs, edges ever closer to photo realism without ever stopping being anime. The Kissuiso Inn itself is a wonderful piece of architecture, and it comes to life on Blu-ray.
The images in this review are taken from the DVD component of the release, and don’t represent the Blu-ray transfer.
Hanasaku Iroha is a subtitle only release from NIS, the sole audio track is a PCM 2.0 Stereo Japanese track encoded at 1.5 Mbps. It is loud! I have to nudge my volume down to two-thirds of its normal setting to avoid disturbing the neighbours. It’s also clear, and presents the show’s dialogue, music and effects to crystal clear effect. HanaIro is a show that is most noteworthy for its music, although the prevalence of nano.RIPE in the soundtrack may be a marmite proposition for some. For me the music is perfect, and really elevates and enhances the magical visuals. The actors are perfectly cast for the roles, and give memorable performances. The subtitles are presented in a discreet white font with black borders, easy to read in all conditions. They are timed accurately and free of typographical errors. On screen text is selectively translated to provide plot specific information without overwhelming the screen with irrelevant text, although there are instances where you may be left wondering what some Japanese text actually means, irrelevant though it may be.
Note that the subtitles are listed on the packaging as locked during playback, and there is no option for the subtitles on the main menu, but you can turn them off directly via your remote during playback.
This is the Premium Edition release from NIS America of Hanasaku Iroha Part 2, and once again, it’s the whole package that warrants the Premium Edition appellation, where the disc content in terms of extras may seem a little Spartan.
HanaIro comes is a big, thick chipboard artbox, one which you will have difficulty finding shelf space for. It actually houses the two DVD sized thinpack cases for the discs side by side face up, not next to each other with the spines adjacent as you might expect. This certainly allows for some gorgeous artwork front and rear of the box, with the disc specs on one edge. Dimensions are 276 x 199 x 24 mm. This lets the thinpack cases exhibit even more art from the show with episode listings and disc specs at the rear with screengrabs. There is no inner sleeve art, and each case holds a Blu-ray disc on one face, and the DVD disc on the other.
The reason behind the big box becomes clear in the real extra with this set, the artbook, volume 2. It’s a hardcover, landscape oriented, beautiful addition to the set, 36 pages in length, and full of character art, layout corrections, staff interviews and loads of gorgeous art to devour. Again, a physical extra by far outweighs anything that could be put on disc, and taking the packaging and the book into account, makes the premium pricing for this release seem like a bargain indeed.
The extras are on disc 2, and amount to the textless opening and three textless closing sequences, 7 minutes of unsubtitled Japanese trailers for the show, and NIS trailers for Natsume’s Book of Friends Season 3, The Everyday Tales of a Cat God, and The Princess and the Pilot.
Note that you also get the show on Region 1 DVD, which presents the show in DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese, and with a 1.78:1 anamorphic progressive NTSC transfer. The subtitles are a little large on screen, especially in comparison to the Blu-ray, but generally the discs show off the show to the best of the format’s ability, fine if you don’t yet have a Blu-ray player. The content is simply repeated on the DVDs, albeit with a 7-6 episode split.
I’ll point you in the direction of my review for part 1 of Hanasaku Iroha for some unalloyed gushing about the show. That’s where I go into detail about the characters and some of the things that happen in the first half, and my feelings for the show in general. For if there is going to be gushing in this review for part 2 (and rest assured there will be), I’ll try to gush about something different. I'm partial to slice of life shows at the best of times, and Hanasaku Iroha is one of the best examples of the genre around, not least because it still manages to tell an overall story and take its characters on interesting arcs of development in the process. Watching this second half of the series again, the first time on disc, merely cemented the affections that I have for this show, and confirmed that it really is one of my favourite anime. Given how much anime I have seen at this point, it’s beaten out some really stiff competition.
It’s the little things that make it so special, the quality of the animation, and the observation of character. It’s the way people fidget, the way how incidental characters or onlookers might react to what a main character is doing, you get the impression that they really are all actors in a play, more than just animated characters, and they’re being directed in their performances. When that kind of love and care is put into an animation, all of which comes out so strongly with this Blu-ray presentation, it’s no surprise that I can find myself happily lost in an episode for twenty minutes, enchanted by the cast, invested in the characters, vicariously cheering for them when things go right, feeling for them when things go badly.
The writing too reflects this, with an emphasis on character and their emotional inner lives that drives events. You can empathise with these characters, their friendships, their petty squabbles, their hopes and dreams, their fears and concerns, because the writers craft the story with the characters at the centre, and let the story grow naturally from them. Hanasaku Iroha will take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotion, although it’s the most gentle and least terrifying rollercoaster around, and there are many times in this show that you’ll find yourself laughing through your tears.
The story sounds so innocuous on paper. In this collection of episodes, we see that Ohana has truly learned her grandmother’s values when it comes to service and consideration, when she goes on a school trip and stays at another inn which is lacking in those values and whose owners find themselves in a pinch as a result. There’s a bit of fun when a movie producer arrives to shoot a film at Kissuiso, one of Enishi’s ambitions, but there’s an unfortunate sting in the tail which has lasting consequences. There’s an episode focusing on fellow attendant Nako and her desire to become more outgoing. A couple of episodes are devoted to the school cultural festival, a staple of such anime, but here take a look at Minchi’s affection for Tohru affecting her judgement. Enishi and Takako get married, which leads to the conclusion of the series, where Kissuiso faces its toughest crisis.
In a way, Hanasaku Iroha is a classic anime setup, that of a main character arriving like a whirlwind of effervescent energy, and having a positive effect on all she meets through her example and personality. That the show has at its heart an appreciation for the ideal of work, of taking pride in one’s accomplishments, and in placing the needs of others before your own needs gives it a very strong and appealing message. The tendency for such slice of life escapism is to offer a little haven of permanence, an anime world where everything stays happy and perfect for ever, where the main characters stay together, and you know that even when you switch off your TV and eject the disc, that happiness will still be there. Hanasaku Iroha doesn’t do this. Instead, the creators embrace the impermanence of things, the idea that life changes, that people change and they move on, and much though they may wish otherwise, happiness is a fleeting emotion, one that must be actively pursued no matter where you are, and that hope is an even more important goal than happiness. The perfect world that this story presents may not exist after you eject this disc, but you know that the characters have become better people over the events of the story, and that is a very positive note to end on, both the series, and this review.