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 has no real issues outside of the fact there are just stereo releases 2.0 of both English and Japanese – this does seem standard for releases done via Sentai as many re-leases are done sub only but with this being a release that does get an English dub it feels a bit strange in these times. Still, the actual audio quality is not faulty – all characters, foley, background noise and songs come out concisely, especially with the music needed for the dancing segments and the English dub has some good veteran actors involved (Luci Christian, Monica Rial, Cynthia Martinez to name a few) so it is certainly more than pleasant, just a series like this would have benefited a lot with a better quality track.
Set in the standard PAL format (anamorphic), with the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio on a full screen format, this is a very colourful series that tends to verge from standard school attire to flowing kimonos and yosakoi attire – the animation doesn’t suggest majorly computer influences and the detail is pretty good with the flowing animation (the scene where Hana is almost fairy like in the first time we see her sticks out in the mind) – this does contrast with a majority of the school scenes like you can see where they focused the animation but the colour scheme is great, no pause slow down with the animation and no issues on any of the discs.
There was no packaging for this test release.
On three discs, the menus are quite basic – each has a character from the series (Naru on disc 1, Hana on disc 2, Yaya on disc 3) in a beautiful kimono in a smiling static pose, there is no Play All option, you select the first episode in the disc (ep 1, 5 or 9 depending) and then it plays all – the menu is scrolling on the left hand side on a flowery background, where you select your episode, languages or special features (disc 1 and 3). No problem accessing it but pretty standard.
The only extras we get are the clean opening and endings (special end on Disc 3) and trailers for Glasslip, La corda d’oro- Blue sky, Hidamari Sketch – Honeycomb and Hayate The Combat Butler – Heaven Is A Place On Earth – all Sentai releases that haven’t been licenced (yet) in the UK so unsure why they needed to be included…
HaNaYaMaTa is a series I was familiar with as was one of Sentai’s pickups of the Crunchyroll catalogue – was surprised that it got a dub though and got a release in the UK market as it does at first feel very niche with the subject matter (yosakoi) – however, the heart of it is more focused on the characters and their evolving friendships through the format, so for that it is very standard in a slice-of-life style series – though it doesn’t make it bad by any means…
The premise is very generic – we are introduced to our lead girl Naru, who is your typical school-girl – she says she is very average with no major qualities, outside of seemingly have few good friends apart from her childhood buddy, the beautiful Yaya who is in a band and is a top student – her only release seems to be in reading fairy tales, to the point where she wishes she could be in one as something different. A good girl, Naru responds to her parents’ wishes and does things like a good daughter, with homework or errands. However, one day after doing an errand for her father, she sees someone with blonde hair dancing around in the midst of a shrine as fireflies gather around her…
…which she makes the natural conclusion that she is a fairy. ^^ However, the ‘fairy’ actually asks Naru to dance with her when Naru asks her to take her to another world, and seems to have fun, albeit accidentally taking one of the fairy’s dance paddles with her. The next day of course, the girl is revealed to not be a fairy, but an American transfer student named Hana, a little bundle of energy who immediately recognises Naru and pretty much stalks her into wanting to do yosakoi with her, a unique style of dance which she was practicing when they met, involving costumes and the paddles called naruko. With Naru quite shy, Hana’s over-enthuastic way of trying to get her involved doesn’t exactly work at first, the fact Hana is trying so hard to get a yosakoi club combined with it being something she truly wants to do and Naru actually enjoying her time dancing with her, allows the two to become friends and also try and start a club together – and whilst Naru isn’t quite ready for dancing, this is the start when Naru’s shyness slowly is dissolving which makes up most of her character development…
This leads to Yaya actually being a bit jealous because for the longest time she seemed to be Naru’s only real friend but with Hana now taking time with her, it strains their friendship a bit as Yaya has always seen Naru as a weak girl and yet Naru wants to learn and do things – Hana herself never seems to care for the antagonist nature of Yaya and instead helps them get back together seeing Naru dance, and whilst Yaya isn’t a member, you know she will join, just how they get there is the question…
So now it is trying to form the club – some new characters all become relevant – we have the student council president Machi who is a bit strict and tells them about how many members they need, Naru’s other childhood friend, Tami – a perfect Japanese girl who has a very strict lifestyle who seems to get interested in their activities, Sally – their homeroom teacher who is young, friendly but a bit carefree who they try to get as their advisor, and also Masaru, the yosakoi shop owner who looks like a gang member but is actually quite friendly and helpful to the girls, and who they learn about upcoming yosakoi festivals. The girls now are pretty much in character development as the opening pretty much spoils who the group is going to be – it is the getting there part.
So Tami who is friends with Machi uses her puppy dog eyes a bit to make sure they can practice, and with her own skills in kimonos and ballet, they want her to join – here you learn about Tami’s troubles, her strict father and her own strict schedule for perfection, yet all she wants is to join with friends and activities. Yaya is the reverse, she doesn’t want to join the yosakoi club and perform, but wants to help them out with their timing and being friends with Naru so she does join by name (leading her to know Tami as well), making designs, getting Sally to help (with some fun moments as Masaru has a crush on Sally which Hana takes complete advantage of ^^) by Naru/Hana having to get certain scores on their exams before she can join, and the big one of Yaya actually joining the group after a shock…
Yaya actually is the most interesting character of the girls, as it is established early on that she is a member of the band, is very talented and a lot of girls look up to her. During her comedy moments with Hana and the gang, it is learned they are up for an audition which you see briefly before half way through the series. However, the big shock is that they fail and her band mates pretty much disband through the disappointment. Her depression gets noted by the yosakoi group and she tries to lash out at them despite not meaning it. It does lead to her confession that she was more jealous that Naru was learning to fly with her own wings and make friends more than the audition adding on top of that, and leads to her joining properly with the yosakoi club.
The last member becomes Machi, who gets a little story of her own as well – she is in fact the younger sister of Sally, and as Sally is a tad irresponsible, the two girls clash a little – especially when Sally forgets to bring the music for a performance. This, coupled with Naru getting a bit of stage fright, and Hana actually becoming ill, the hostility between the two becomes noted especially as Sally is only a temp so may not officially becoming an advisor, but Sally is more harder working that she appears and the relationship between the sisters is not as it seems – Sally uses Machi as an inspiration to become a full term teacher, which also spurns Machi to see if she wants to join her friend Tami in the yosakoi club…
With the big festival coming up though, there is still one bigger thing that happens. With Machi joining and working hard to keep up with the girls and them getting into the festival, Hana gets a call from her mother who returns to Japan. This of course will set alarm bells for anything familiar with this trope, and indeed it is what we suspected, that Hana is returning to America. It is the dreaded friends vs. family as we learn about Hana’s family life and her parents getting divorced (one in the US, one in Japan) and whilst it seems like she was going to remain in Japan, things have changed and she is returning to the US – and she does initially leave and the girls wish to still do the performance without her…
…of course, it does lead to her coming back to perform with them, and setting up a potential sequel as she looks ready to stay in Japan, but as of yet nothing on the horizon so we’ll see…
HaNaYaMaTa is one of those series that you don’t need to think too much about to enjoy. It is fairly predictable – you know immediately the girls who are joining just from the opening, it is just the journey they get there. A lot of clichés are pretty abhorrent (Tami being the rich girl who just wants to play with her friends, Yaya the hard worker who gets jealous over someone taking their best friend away from then, Naru the shy girl who wants to be a better person and Hana, the foreigner who is a breath of fresh air) and a lot of tropes are played out like the return to the US and the sister rivalry between the over strict younger sibling and the more playful older one when it should be the other way round. A lot of focus is on the characters development and each get their own – Naru with breaking out of her shell, Hana with her enthusiasm and realising her friends are important, Tami in wanting what she wants, Yaya with coping with her disappointments and the fact other people can be friends with her best friend, and Machi in her relationship with her sister.
The clichés and tropes however don’t make this bad – whilst you can predict everything that happens, the experience is still very enjoyable. It is a very relaxing show a lot of the time, a good slice-of-life, and whilst Hana is a ball of energy, the girls work round that energy – I particularly like how well Naru develops as there are little bits where her father is realising his little girl is coming home later, is a lot more happier but the comedy is that he thinks she has a boyfriend when in reality it is yosakoi stuff. The show is a lot of fun – Masaru; the yosakoi manager is a much underrated character as his crush on Sally is taken advantage of by Hana but also manages to be a very fun character and helpful exposition to those who aren’t familiar with yosakoi. Sally in Japanese is known as Sally-chan-sensei, which should be enough to see what type of character she is – an adult child who is liked by the kids because she is on their wavelength, but she has her teacher moments as well – her arc with Machi is actually quite serious for most of it. Tami is also a great character – the beautiful yamato nadesico type yet suffers because she sticks to such a tough regime when her father never seems to notice her, realising that she doesn’t have to stick to conformities and she is allowed to have fun, whilst Yaya’s moments of snapping when she thinks she is losing her best friend right after her failed audition clashes with her comic moments of jealousy with Hana (who doesn’t ever seem to notice it hilariously) – makes her the most interesting of the girls.
I won’t say this is amazing viewing – it is very predictable, there are many, many shows that use a similar theme of a school club and recruit members (with obviously different subject material) and you can see things happening before they do. However, the show is gorgeous to look at with the yosakoi sequences and designs, the characters develop surprisingly well for a 12 episode series, there is nothing offensive about it, and is just a standard, good, fun series that doesn’t rely on fan service or anything over the top, just 5 cute girls having fun, developing in their school life and facing troubles as they do.
And sometimes when you just want to chill, that is all you need.
HaNaYaMaTa details the journey of 5 girls, their teacher and a yakuza style guy who is a friendly dance master coach in 12 episodes – it isn’t thought provoking, it is predictable and the characters do fit into clichéd types. However it doesn’t deny the fact it is still an enjoyable show – Naru and Yaya in particular are well developed characters, gorgeous art and animation, nice music, some fun moment, some smart moments, some sad moments, it is the epitome of a slice-of-life show and whilst there are better out there, as something to just relax and enjoy, it is high on the list and I hope the yosakoi theme doesn’t put people off as something niche as the heart of it is just a nice relationship story. Give it a shot.
Japanese Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening/Endings
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: August 29th, 2016
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.