What They Say:
Created in Kochi in 1954, Yosakoi incorporates modern music and classic Japanese dance into a unique fusion performed in teams. However, while Yosakoi has become a growing phenomenon with huge festivals held across Japan, it’s never been more than a blip on high school student Naru Sekia’s cultural radar. Not that much has ever really grabbed Naru’s attention. She’s average in grades, average in sports and in art… really, the only thing that has ever caught her fancy is reading fairy tales. Until the day she encounters her own personal “fairy”: Hana, an American exchange student who is determined to start a Yosakoi dancing club at their school.
Entranced by Hana’s beauty and skill, Naru and her friends find themselves caught up in the whirlwind world of Yosakoi. It won’t be easy and just getting the club sponsored will be a trial, but between the movement, the melodies, and the friendship, Naru may have finally found a fairy tale of her own in Hanayamata!
The audio presentation for this series is pretty good as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the English language track – something we didn’t expect this series to get. Both tracks are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec in stereo, which works well for the show as it really is a dialogue driven piece for the most part. Where it makes out a bit better is with the music as they has a good, warm and fairly rich feeling to it as it ramps up. Both tracks really work well to fill the sequences with the right kind of sounds where there’s some richness to it all. There isn’t a lot of directionality with the dialogue, which is to be expected, and the music gives it a fuller feeling that’s very well done. It has a good bit of warmth to it overall and combined with the solid audio for the dialogue makes for a very good presentation overall.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second, giving it plenty of space to work with while having two audio tracks. Animated by Madhouse, the show has a very appealing look about it with some very bright and bold colors throughout, giving it a lot of pop in areas one might not normally expect it. The show has some fairly well detailed designs to it in both costume and areas such as hair and it really looks good here, maintaining a very strong look with the smoother action moments where the show gets pretty fluid. The dance sequences look good and the main areas of the cast hanging around and talking has its own pop and standout aspects as well. It’s a very clean and clear transfer that really looks great and makes for an enjoyable experience.
The packaging design for this release is done up in a standard sized Blu-ray case with both discs held against the interior walls. The front cover is an exceedingly busy piece that has the five main characters spread across it – though poor Hana gets the short end of the stick – with them all in their dance costumes while having a combination of detailed umbrellas and fireworks in the background. It’s got a lot of color and a huge amount of detail throughout it that’s pretty jarring. I like that it has so much going on but can also see how it can be a bit much with all the contrasting elements as well. The logo is kept along the bottom with more of a white background to it that lets the multicolored characters stand out with some nice pop as well. The back cover goes for a lighter color with softer whites in the background both with the visual that lets Naru stand out against the right but also the piece of paper that has the premise. They’re different shades and that works nicely to give it a little contrast. The premise is nicely covered and the extras are clearly listed as well. The production credits are laid out clearly and the technical grid covers everything accurately and in an easy to read fashion. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
Set against a blue shaded checkerboard background, the menu design here is really nice as the central image is that of Naru in her yokosai costume and doing her moves in static form. There’s a lot of little cherry blossoms floating about as well and with the various bits of pink in addition to that it has a really soft and appealing color palette, particularly when combined with the soft blues of the background. The navigation is kept to the left where it has its own shades of pink against a white and grey checkerboard design, which contrasts in a not so great way with the rest of the menu design. The text of the episodes isn’t all that clear as well since it uses black and white white with it on top of the pink whereas the episode numbers use pink and white in a way that blends better. The navigation itself is solid and works well with what it does both as a main menu and as a pop-up menu.
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Based on the currently ongoing manga from Sou Hamayumiba, Hanayamata is a twelve episode anime series that aired in the summer 201 season. Animated by Madhouse, the show is a slice of life piece that delves into a relatively little known aspect for those in the West and presents it in a very clean, accessible, and fun way. With the manga at seven volumes as of this writing, and that’s well over a year since the original broadcast, the show is one where you know it’s not going to have a true and formal ending. But what we do get out of the series here is something that feels very complete and with the right kind of “first book” closure to it that makes it a worthwhile experience as opposed to lamenting that there likely won’t be a second season. Which most certainly isn’t reflective of its quality.
The show revolves around second year middle school student Naru Sekiya, a pretty good kid all around that enjoys the amazing things that it seems like everyone else does. While she’s encouraging, friendly, and an all around nice kid, she’s also afraid to really put herself out there and become her own story. There are opportunities, but she mostly lives vicariously through others, particularly her best friend Yaya Sasame. Yaya’s the attractive and smart friend that seemingly is able to do things with ease but has her own quirks that come out along the way, including some really serious jealousy because of her own insecurities in life that come from the other areas. Yaya and Naru would make for a good story all on their own as the deal with middle school and prepare for what’s to come with high school and all the changes there, but while it’s not that story we do get elements of it spread throughout and some really good time focused on the relationship between the two of them.
The main focus is on that of Naru, however, and the changes that come into her life when she stumbles across a young woman named Hana N. Fountainstand. The introduction is one where it feels like it’s really out of a fairy tale almost, where you expect her to be ghost-like as she approaches Naru and even a bell ringing. Hana isn’t magical in that traditional sense, but she brings something magical into Naru’s life with her friendship. She’s a newly transferred student from New Jersey who ends up in Naru’s class and really gloms onto her in a big way, resulting in an awkward first couple of days before the two become really good friends. Hana is your standard outgoing type, and she has the mild Japanese fetishism that explains why she’s here without her parents, but it’s kept very in check overall, making her just enthusiastic and fun without being a mood killer or so over the top that you want to slap her. Yaya may want to, as she becomes more and more threatened by the growing bond between Hana and Naru, but that feeds into the aforementioned solid and engaging story for all of them.
What Hana really brings to the series is her love of Japan through the form of yosakoi, a form of dance that was introduced in the mid 1950’s as a new interpretation of a traditional summer dance. While a lot of Japanese dance forms from the traditional side are more precise and slow in nature, yosakoi is a lot more energetic and has a different sense of fun about it, though still very precise in its own way. Hana wants to partake in an upcoming yosakoi festival and manages to convince Naru to join in, which is a struggle considering her nature. Naturally, we get the fun of Yaya being reluctantly dragged into it and the push to try and find more members, become and official club, and all the usual things. These are naturally familiar elements yet they work it well, not dragging it out and making it the entirety of an episode as there’s a lot of character bonding and growth along the way.
Naturally, the cast grows along the way with Yaya’s friend Tami being drawn in as the student council vice president, who in turn has her own story that comes to light, albeit lightly. There’s also the actual student council president herself, Machi, who has a dislike for the club simply because the advisor is Sally Tokiwa, a substitute teacher that hasn’t been there all that long. And is also Machi’s older sister that abandoned her years ago with their very strict family that has their own plans for their children. It’s a familiar tale yet one that is executed very well as it progresses and isn’t something that feels overly drawn out or made more of early on. The tensions are there, but not a big focus until it’s time to really dig into it. Sally makes for the usual fun and competent teacher that’s drawn in by the kids enthusiasm and that works well as we, and the cast, move through otherwise familiar stories.
Madhouse is one of the better studios to work this kind of show because the look of it is important, particularly with the costuming, and they largely nail it here. There are a few bits with other yosakoi groups out there which gives us a feel for the designs, as well as the shop where there’s a lot of materials for it, but the main cast is in standard garb for most of it. When they step up towards the end they really put it all in there, especially with the umbrellas. But Madhouse makes it a very engaging experience with the dancing elements, which can be really hit or miss depending on how it’s done, but between the items involved, the costuming, and the actual fluidity of movements in practices and at the big moment, they really do it up right. And that makes it all worthwhile. For yosakoi fans, they’ll know far better than I if it’s right, but it all left me really enjoying it.
I had little idea what to expect going into Hanayamata but my expectations were raised a bit simply because the show is a slice of life series that got a dub out of Sentai Filmworks. They’ve been doing more of those in the past year, but still being careful about it. The series is one that definitely has a lot of charm to it and I really enjoyed the overall presentation of the characters – even if I’m still a bit wobbly on middle school kids at the moment. Madhouse did a great job animating, I loved learning a bit about yosakoi and the kids enthusiasm for it, and the whole group dynamic is spot on even if familiar. Sentai’s release is pretty solid throughout and there’s nothing to really knock against it. I liked what I heard of the dub and am still shocked that it got one. Hopefully fans will come out and support it, however, since more shows of this nature really do deserve a shot at a wider audience.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: b-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: January 19th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.