Take one yakuza, several middle school girls with psychokinetic powers, one normal middle school girl forced to work several adult jobs, add ice, stir. Pour into a chilled glass. And then just sit back and experience what was the Best Show of Spring 2018.
What They Say:
Nitta Yoshifumi, a young, intellectual yakuza, lived surrounded by his beloved pots in his turf in Ashigawa. But one day, a girl, Hina, arrives in a strange object, and uses her telekinetic powers to force Nitta to allow her to live with him, putting an end to his leisurely lifestyle. Hina tends to lose control of herself, wreaking havoc both at school and in Nitta’s organization. Though troubled, he finds himself taking care of her. What will become of this strange arrangement? It’s the beginning of the dangerous and lively story of a nice-guy outlaw and psychokinetic girl!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back in late March, when I first looked over the shows that would be debuting in April, there were several that I thought would be of special interest for the season. There were the heavyweight returning shows, such as Food Wars! and Full Metal Panic (one of which lived up to expectations while the other has managed to sour the fond memories I once had of the franchise). There were shows that fit my current preferences and interests and ones that are outside that zone, but would manage to find a place in my regular weekly viewing schedule. There was also, as usual, a group of shows which I knew fairly immediately from the premises that they would not meet with a positive response from me. Then, there was one show where I had read some positive comments online about the source manga further back when it was announced that it would be getting an anime adaptation and tucked that fact away into the back of my mind. That upcoming show was Hinamatsuri.
I had very little initial idea how this show would proceed from the advanced summary offered before it began to be broadcast. A yakuza? A girl with psychic powers? This…this can’t be good. Warning lights were flashing; alarms were going off.
And I was right, it wasn’t good. It was great.
What is it that makes Hinamatsuri special? It is that very rare show that can manage to combine both broad, at times slapstick comedy with genuine heartfelt emotions and heartwarming situations and characters. Most comedies aspire to be able to work in those two registers but few actually do both well. This is a show that fits within the very small group that manages the feat and does it well.
On its surface, Hinamatsuri is an absurdist comedy that enters the realm of farce. Yoshifumi Nitta is a young yakuza on the rise who enjoys his bachelor lifestyle of partying hard at night and collecting antique vases. Into his life drops, literally, a strange object inside of which is a girl who can’t be older than 12 or so. This is Hina, a girl with psychokinetic powers who has escaped from some group called The Organization (the origins, location in space and time, and purpose of The Organization is not made entire clear in the anime adaptation and I have never read the manga so have no idea if it is explained in any greater detail there; it’s immaterial, however, since they are merely a character framing and reference device and do not need to be detailed any further). At first, Nitta is understandably uninterested in Hina, but she uses her powers (by threatening to break all of his precious vases) to force him to take care of her, giving her food and lodging (Hina emerged from her transport module thingy with nothing, not even clothes—which isn’t played for fanservice, however).
Nitta, this young yakuza punk, is now forced to be the foster father to a middle school girl who has extremely dangerous powers that could wreak havoc with the world. Hina is extremely naive and has no experience with the world, but slowly starts to gain some through her interactions with Nitta and with the people she meets in school (she decides that she wants to go to school, something she never experienced in her time with The Organization). Of course, The Organization was not about to let a weapon of mass destruction be loosed upon the world, so they send another telekinetic girl, Anzu, to go after Hina. Anzu and Hina are complete contrasts in personalities: while Hina is lazy, largely self-absorbed (she gets better over time), and clueless, Anzu is earnest, hardworking, and much more considerate of other people’s feelings and desires. But Anzu, too, comes to our world in a weird transport module without any clothes or possessions. She’s forced to improvise…which leads to some funny scenes (I haven’t talked much about the comedy yet, but I will) and then a showdown between Hina and Anzu when Nitta finds Anzu on the street and puts 2 and 2 together. The battle the two power users have is…unique…in a medium that is overflowing (too much) with super-powered characters wielding unnatural forces in increasingly eye-rolling ways against each other. While the first episode had many funny moments (including a wild scene of Hina single-handedly taking out an entire rival yakuza organization for Nitta’s sake—all while keeping it humorous!), it was this second episode which originally sold me on Hinamatsuri being something special.
And then, it completely changed gears and got even better.
For it’s in the third episode where we start to get the other thing that the show does well: heartfelt, human emotion. It starts with changing the focus to Anzu, who has become a homeless girl who gets by through stealing food from the local shopping street. This naturally awakens the ire of the local merchants. But after nearly being caught one day, Anzu is instead taken under the wing of Yassan, an older homeless man who teaches Anzu that there is a different way to live. He shows her how to make money by collecting used cans and selling them to a recycling center as well as trying to find loose change in vending machines. It’s a hard life but it’s an honest one. One aspect to Hinamatsuri that is likely unique in anime and hard to think of examples from elsewhere is that it presents a very sympathetic portrait of the homeless. For Yassan introduces Anzu to the small tent encampment where he and a number of other homeless men live in a public park, out of sight. Normally, such men who have a very unsympathetic portrayal, as usually such a site and such a group would be shown to be shiftless, lazy and criminal. A young girl such as Anzu would expect to be…let me leave it there. This is not that place. These are not those people. Yassan and his comrades are indeed dropouts from society who would quickly use any extra money to buy booze and drink away their sadness, but they also are generous men who help Anzu build her own makeshift shelter and teach her valuable life lessons about living an honest life. The viewer’s sense of justice might cock an eyebrow over the shiftless, lazy Hina living in a luxury apartment with food always on the table while the earnest Anzu is living in a homeless encampment in the park, but remember, this is a farce. So, this contrast is constantly mined for humor and does so quite well.
Also early in the series, we meet Hina’s classmate at school, Hitomi Mishima. She’s the usual “model student” that we find in Japanese fiction, but through a chain of unlikely events, she somehow gets extorted into becoming a bartender at the local bar that Nitta often goes, operated by the sexy but unscrupulous Utako. The joke (naturally, there must be one for this situation) is that Hitomi is a natural bartender, better than Utako whose skills she surpasses within days. Hitomi is the cosmic butt monkey of the show, the character who has misfortunes constantly thrown in her direction, though she is partially responsible for her own misery as she cannot say no to other people’s requests and she’s far too competent at carrying out tasks, which results in more people asking more things of her. Later in the series, her inability to say no and her overpowered capability to achieve success in work are taken to their illogical conclusion for spectacularly funny results.
In many ways, these two girls are the heart of the heartwarming in the show. Nitta’s role is often that of wry, jaded spectator to this farcical circus. Hina is, oddly, the straight man much of the time as she’s the emotionally stunted, unexpressive character type. Add in an entire supporting cast of oddballs and the strange denizens of the underworld and you have Hinamatsuri.
As a final note, another character, Mao, is introduced in the very first episode in what is immediately revealed to be a flash forward (though you can also interpret the majority of the season as a flashback, with this intro being “the present”), three years after Hina arrived in Tokyo. Her situation is not explained until much later in the series where we see her initial arrival on Earth, far away from Japan and, as usual, without any clothes or possessions. The Organization really needs to work on their targeting systems for transport. Her story is picked up again in the final half of the season finale, which goes back to tie up the loose end of the opening moments of the show that take place three years after the ending of Hina’s stories for this season.
There is so much more I could talk about but won’t. I don’t want to ruin the surprise. That is what Hinamatsuri has been this season, an extremely pleasant surprise. Unless all of this is some kind of magical adaptation from the minds of director Kei Oikawa (who would have had an impressive season solely for the fine effort that is Uma Musume from PA Works; Hinamatsuri pushes him up to being the most impressive director of the Spring) and series head writer Keiichirou Ouchi working at animation studio feel., Masao Outake’s manga source must be something special. It’s funny. It’s heartwarming. It has various little moral lessons strewn about it (one of the funniest and yet touching is a episode late in the run where Anzu breaks through the cynicism and world-weariness of Nitta, allowing him to see the light and experience the better angels of human behavior, all accompanied by a fantastically funny visual sequence that is not to be missed). What is more impressive than all of those parts is the fact that this show manages to make these sometimes disparate and clashing elements work seamlessly together. It’s not very hard to be heartwarming. It’s not too difficult to be funny (okay, that’s not exactly true. As the old actor’s adage goes, dying is easy, comedy is hard). It’s very difficult to be both and be both successfully. Hinamatsuri is that rare example which shows that it is possible to achieve that. Hats off to the staff and the original author. Have I mentioned that it also has some of the funniest exaggerated faces I’ve seen in a long time?
This is a show that may well prove in time to be a classic, one worth revisiting in the future.
Yoshifumi Nitta, a young yakuza on the make, is suddenly saddled with taking care of Hina, a middle school girl. But Hina is not your average middle school girl, for she has psychokinetic powers and wreaks havoc with Nitta’s carefree bachelor lifestyle. This is a comedy? Yes, it is, one of the best ones this year. Add in a whole load of oddballs of various stripes in addition to some heartwarming moments and genuinely thoughtful elements and you have the potential classic that is Hinamatsuri. Very highly recommended.
Streamed By: Crunchyroll
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