HaNaYaMaTa Complete Series (Cert U)
2 Disc Blu-ray/3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 310 minutes approx.
Spare a thought for anime reviewers like yours truly for when a show comes along that is so generic and clichéd, the reader will divine every aspect of it from the central plot premise without having to read the rest of the review we have been industriously slaving over.
HaNaYaMaTa is a show that crystallises this problem and does so without any sense of shame or attempt to hide its blatant rehashing of hackneyed conventions. It concerns a group of school girls who form an after school club and… at the risk of appearing disingenuous, do I really need to go on?
I do? Sigh, Okay then. Naru Sekiya is a 14 year-old girl with self-esteem and confidence issues, unable to make friends whilst feeling inferior to others including her only friend, the popular Yaya Sasame, the drummer in a rock band. One night Naru sees a blonde girl in a yukata dancing in the moonlight and thinks she is a fairy.
Naru gives chase and begs the fairy to take her away to a magical world, but the fairy just wants to dance. The next day the fairy shows up at Naru’s school, revealing herself to be American transfer student Hana N. Fountainstand, and she promptly asks Naru to join her in setting up a club devoted to the traditional yosakoi dance.
Should my earlier comments been taken as flippancy, perhaps now, having read the plot synopsis, you will agree the cynicism is justified. This is not intended to be mean but the lack of imagination and originality in this show, based on the manga by Sō Hamayumiba, is eye rollingly offensive, even if the show itself isn’t.
Anyone who has seen the likes of K-ON!, Love Live! and other anime based on an after school club will no doubt groan when the club registration application becomes the first hurdle, followed by the “four members” rule and the search for a teacher to be supervisor. That is the first five episodes taken of, what’s next? Awkward first public show? Hot springs training camp? Personality clashes? All present and correct.
The only fresh element found in this series is the focus being on a traditional dance and not rock music or being an idol. The girls have no interest in this at all, just the love of the dance itself, while the catalyst being a gaijin (from Noo Joisee no less but speaks fluent Japanese) who is keen to indulge in her love of Asian culture is a nice nod to the continually growing international interest in all things Oriental. Except of course the actual dancing is often demoted to the background to allow the focus to remain on the interpersonal hijinks.
Yosakoi is a fairly recent dance, first performed in 1954, and involves fluid but restrained choreographed movements delivered with graceful poise whilst the dancers, clad in vibrantly coloured yukata, keep the rhythm with a wooden paddle called a naruko. We saw one example of this dance (sans paddle) in the recent anime Golden Time.
Ensuring the overall journey has its fair share of lachrymose drama and personal triumph, it is Naru’s exponential growth from timorous wallflower to blossoming dancer which anchors the tale in a relatable arena for the more impressionable or equally downtrodden viewers out there who need some positive inspiration in their lives. Again, nothing new but it would take a complete curmudgeon not to recognise when a heart is in the right place.
With a checklist of the familiar character tropes – both in design and in personality – and dilemmas one can see coming from a mile away, it is something of a surprise to learn that this is quiet an amiable chunk of slice-of-life bubblegum which does elicit the odd giggle or two thanks to the outrageous silliness of the situations.
Hana is a whirlwind of energy who exasperates everyone around her with her excitable helium voice permanently turned up to 11, thus begets most of the comedy through the reactions of her steadily growing dance club (the credits typically spoil the entire line-up from the onset). Yet, it is Hana’s penultimate episode bombshell which leads the show to its predictable feel good climax, revealing another side to her gregarious personality.
If the title and its spelling seems a bit obtuse that is because each syllable represents the first syllables of the group members – HAna, NAru, YAya, TAmi, MAchi – although one could be forgiven for thinking this was the title of a goofy four-panel anime adaptation. Rounding off this likeable line-up are club advisor Ms. Sally and the hilariously festive yosakoi shop owner Masaru Ofuna.
Considering their pedigree in the anime world it might surprise some to see famed studio Madhouse responsible for the production of this title, but, aside from the uninspired character designs, the background artwork is glorious. Suffused with heavy strokes of blue and red, this eerie veneer may seem incongruous, lending itself to a horror or fantasy, yet the mystical aura it creates fits in with the lofty aspirations of the cast.
In keeping with the tradition of faithfully recreating dance moves in idol based anime, the same CGI technique is employed to replicate the yosakoi routine when finally shown in all its glory in the closing chapter. Some may not be able to differentiate it from regular idol dance moves, possibly exposing yosakoi as the inspiration behind much of modern choreography.
For a show that has little new to offer the audience aside from yosakoi dancing, HaNaYaTaMa benefits from the complete series collection format as opposed to weekly TV broadcast in being able to surreptitiously dig its claws into the viewer’s psyche and keep them watching until the end.
Even if we know full well there are no surprises to be found, the vivid presentation, occasionally pertinent drama and the sheer ebullience and gusto of the characters makes the anime equivalent of a cold lemonade on a hot day.
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS-HD MA w/ English Subtitles
English Language 2.0 DTS-HD MA
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
Man In Black