Hinamatsuri (Cert 12)

2 Discs Blu-ray + Digital Copy (Distributor: Funimation) Running time: 288 minutes approx.

Release Date: May 30th

There are many combinations in life that have little to no chance of actually working, like fish and gravy, or Tories and the truth. Fortunately, we live in a world where anime exists and they thrive on taking disparate entities and bringing them together and damn the consequences. In this case, it is yakuza and esper girls… 

Yoshifumi Nitta is a mid-level yakuza, living a cushy single life in his luxury apartment adorned with expensive pottery and other art. One night, a large metal pod suddenly crashes through the ceiling, and when he opens it, a young naked girl named Hina pops out. Nitta thinks this is an illusion so Hina uses her telekinetic powers to cause his vases to levitate, and he agrees to let her stay.

Meanwhile, another girl Anzu arrives in the same town in search of Hina, but instead of landing in a plush apartment, she ends up living with hobos in a small commune in the middle of a forest, and is forced to work for her money. Unlike Hina, Anzu doesn’t use her powers for her own gain, although Nitta tries to limit Hina’s use of her abilities to avoid chaos, but Hina is inadvertently able to create mayhem in other ways.

Originally a manga by Masao Otake, Hinamatsuri – which is the name for a Japanese doll ceremony – is an offbeat, mildly satirical, deeply funny series that revels in the absurd but does so with a straight face and a knowing wink, making it funnier. The levels of improbability are typical for anime but the confidence behind the execution negates this, and we find ourselves in a world where credibility is a redundant concern.

And yet, despite the randomness of the adventures the cast embark on, there is a loose continuity to the episodes in that some stories carry over to the next chapter, although the general episodic nature of the narrative is prominent. In other words, this isn’t like say, The Simpsons where they reset every episode and certain newsworthy events are forgotten, if something big goes down, it remains cogent to the plot.

Having said that, there is plenty I am sure the characters would like to forget in a hurry but this all plays a part in their growth over this twelve-episode run. The basic thread that runs through the story is rather conservative given the inherent wackiness – i.e. how basic human interaction creates new experiences and emotions among the cast. For all its outlandish decoration, this is quite a grounded series.

Quite where Hina and Anzu come from is not explored, and whilst two other espers arrive – security officer Kei and a girl named Mao, whose own adventure bookends the show – the mystery remains: are they aliens, or from a secret organisation for the gifted, or even from another time period? The latter appears to be the closest candidate given the scant information that filters through.

Regardless, Nitta learns quickly that Hina goes berserk if she doesn’t use her powers, so she applies them for silly things in his absence. In one episode when Nita throws Hina out, she earns a living using her abilities to enhance the performances of a street rock band. Elsewhere, Anzu doesn’t appear to have the problem as Hina with her powers running amok which is just as well given her hobo circumstances.

I will admit I found Anzu’s arc more satisfying to follow than Hina’s purely for its social conscience in portraying the rich/poor divide. Hina relies on Nitta for everything and is a lazy sod; Anzu, under the guidance of elderly homeless man Yassan learns the value of hard work and the rewards they reap. Anzu collects empty cans and used manga which she hands over for cash, and enjoys a cup noodle for her efforts.

Later, when Anzu is taken in by a middle-aged couple running a Chinese restaurant, she is staggered by the price of the meals, equivalent to a week of cup noodles! Anzu also finds it hard to accept the luxury she is now afforded, like a bed or hot running water, because she hasn’t earned them through work. It’s such a touching journey Anzu goes on that even Nitta wonders if he can trade her for Hina!

Speaking of whom, Hina befriends a shy girl named Hitomi, and through this association, Hitomi ends up working as a bartender at the Little Song bar Nitta frequents as he is in love with the proprietor Utako Sakura. The running gag is Hitomi is too good at her role that even her teacher and school principle turn a blind eye to her unlawful employment, giving us another character to enjoy over Hina, though she too is good value.

Nitta also bucks the trend by being a nice guy yakuza, allowing the script to take a few careful liberties with the gangster mentality, often to amusing effect. And this really sums up the whole show – despite its obtuse premise it is a well-meaning show that sets out to entertain first and make you think second, if indeed there is a message beyond the aforementioned social disparity and finding good in people.

Beautifully animated by studio Feel, the visual aspect is another integral ingredient to the show’s success, from the meticulous backgrounds, to the unique character designs, and fluid animation. A martial arts fight in the final episode is flawlessly executed and cinematic to boot, just one example of the effort gone into making this a standout work on all fronts.

Japanese humour can often struggle to translate outside of its own orders but when it does, the rewards are enriching for all. Hinamatsuri is a great example of how well irreverent, deadpan comedy can travel when the strokes are broad but don’t suffer from its cultural distinctions, and in fact, they only enhance the experience. Original, funny, observational, and astute, this is one show that is too good to miss.

Extras:

English Language Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Japanese Language Dolby TrueHD 2.0

English Subtitles

Disc 2 Only:

Clean Opening Animation

Clean Closing Animation

Limited Edition:

32 page art book

6 art cards

Rigid box

 

 

Rating – **** ½    

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