Tag: Crunchyroll

Review: Hanasaku Iroha


With so many Anime drama’s being built around horrible cliches and stock character designs it’s refreshing to see a show that thrives for realism above recycling tired old anime tropes. P.A. Works celebrates their tenth anniversary by crafting a show that is closer to a live action drama then traditional anime drama. Does their attempt to bring a realistic drama to modern anime work or does the show falter? Ohana Matsumae is a sixteen year old girl forced to mature faster thanks to her less-then-ideal mother, Satsuki. When Satsuki’s boyfriend becomes involved in a crooked deal they’re forced to flee Tokyo sending Ohana to stay with her estranged grandmother at a traditional Japanese inn. Ohana needs to work, learn to deal with people, and attempt to repair the relationship between Satsuki and her family.


There is a beautiful simplicity to Hanasaku Iroha. It doesn’t relay on any of the standard anime tropes or set ups, it doesn’t seem to be one of the many shows that wants to appear to the niche anime audience through their fetishes, and it doesn’t seem to care about wish fulfillment. At first glance, I expected all of these things from the show and it surprised me by avoiding all those traps of most recent anime. It has been hard to find shows that don’t reflect some of those problems, even from modern quality anime. Hanasaku Iroha strives for realism and after spending a short time with the characters and living in the world for a bit they’ve definitely hit the mark.

The show centers mostly on Ohana and her move out to her grandmother’s inn where, to her surprise, she is put to work. Quickly the staff challenge her world view and force her to reflect on some of her actions up to that point, especially romantically. Ohana seems like anything but a selfish character, but the tiny flaw that is exposed is exasperated when she is placed in a new location surrounded by new people. Her tiny ability to be inconsiderate is placed in the spot light and undermines her first impression of the inn. The starting point is a flaw, and the flaw is not obvious or overt but simply a normal flailing of an adolescent girl. Something that all children have to grow out of in other to adapt to new surroundings. Ohana is a relatable and likable character because the series captures her as she readies herself to become an adult.


The animation is vibrant and the backgrounds contain an incredible amount of detail. Being the anniversary work of P.A. Works clearly the studio dedicated a large amount of time and resources into crafting the best looking show they possibly could. The animation aids in the immersive feeling of the narrative and the audience gets lost in the beautiful sights around the hot spring village. The contrast between different inns or the city versus the country are enhanced by the amount of care taken to craft specific details. The designs of the main female cast are all cute without falling into cliche and the personality of the entire cast can be deduced by simply looking at them, the goal of all great character designs.


Narrative style in Hanasaku Iroha is a combination of standalone episodes that are united with a unifying thread.There isn’t exactly an overarching story that ties the entire series together, rather there is an overarching theme that is planted in episode two and then is slowly cultivated over time, coming to a beautiful crescendo in the finale. However, there is some continuity that begins in seemingly stand alone episodes and end up effecting later events. It’s a great way to construct a slice of life show where there isn’t a strong narrative, the show is moved by the strong characters, but the author still wants t o create a sense that everything that happens in the series matters. That the events of the show affect the characters in a meaningful way. The fantastic part about the stand alone episodes is the shows ability to use them to craft some fun scenarios within the construct of the show. The best one being where the head waitress is determined to get fired and treats a group of rowdy military otaku guests rudely. The guests, however, being obsessed with all things military loved the harsh treatment. The episode is one shining example of how the formula can be flexible while still crafting a cohesive narrative. In the second half of the series this principal is carried over except standalone episodes before rarer and two or three episode arcs follow this same pattern. They seem like a contained story yet small elements work in subtle ways to aid the unifying narrative.


While most of the characters in Hanasaku Iroha are vibrant and interesting there are some points that subtract from the experience. As with a lot of anime I complain about I don’t think we get to see as much of the secondary characters as we might have, and much of the time we do get to experience the secondary characters it is through the filter of Ohana or one of the other young girls. I wanted to live with the chef or his assistant and really get to know them. With most of the characters the small bits were charming, at least, but there is a relationship between the managers son; Ohana’s uncle; and his college sweetheart that I found trying. On one hand I think Hanasaku Iroha was being realistic in crafting a relationship that seemed to come from benefit rather than love but up until that point I didn’t see the pair has anything more than friends or business partners, even if the young master was a little obsessed with the woman. They never even shared an onscreen kiss at that point and showed no affection for each other. It didn’t feel right and took me right out of the narrative.


The last few episodes, leading up to the finale, are heart warming tearjerkers but is also where the few cracks evident in the series start to show. The manager makes a decision that the staff disagrees with and Ohana accidentally finds herself on the other side of the argument. I thought that most of the characters broke form in those moments. Ohana for not being gung-ho against her grandmother, the staff for being so bitter and hostile, the manager for blatantly ignoring the rational arguments against her decision. In the heated moments it just felt like climactic drama for the sake of climactic drama and ultimately fell flat.

Hanasaku Iroha is a fantastic, realistic, and beautiful drama which is worthy of being P.A. Work’s tenth anniversary work. The animation is some of the best the industry has produced, character designs are exceptional, and the narrative avoids anime cliche’s and traps in favor of realism. While the mostly solid character drama has some detracting flaws and the drama inserted to build towards the end feels contrived, it doesn’t take enough away enough from the series to spoil the experience. It’s a part relaxing, part stressful, part fun, but will leave any audience with a satisfying warm feeling in their heart.

Review: Usagi Drop

Based on the Eisner Award nominated manga, Usagi Drop is a beautiful anime about an adult learning how to take care of a small child. What seems like an adorable slice of life comedy slowly turns into a much richer experience as the show explores themes of sacrifice and what it means to be a parent. Daikichi, a thirty year old salesman, goes home for his Grandfather’s funeral and learns that he had a six year old daughter with an unknown woman. After overhearing the family’s plans to set Rin up for adoption he swoops in and decides to take the girl home.

The basic structure of Bunny Drop is as a slice of life show. The entertainment comes from Daikichi learning how to cope with the sudden change in his life as Rin grows and develops. The audience is carried along with Daikichi as he learns what taking care of a six year old girl requires. The problems start almost immediately when Daikichi forgets something as fundamental as signing Rin up for a nursery school. The single change, having to make sure Rin gets to and from Nursery School, forces him to complete alter his morning routine and prevents him from putting in the hours of overtime that he is used too.

The refreshing aspect of this slice of life show is that it isn’t played simply for comedy. While Usagi Drop is extremely funny it takes a realistic approach to the subject showing how a man like Daikichi’s life would change if he was suddenly tasked with taking care of a young girl. The humor of the show comes as a result of Daikichi failing to remember or realize an obvious aspect of raising a child and becoming frustrated, or as a result of Rin or one of her friends doing something cute. It’s a natural humor and is worth more because it comes from how endearing the characters are to the audience and not from a simple one off joke.

The animation and character designs of Usagi Drop are beautiful. Taken directly from Yumi Unita’s Manga they favor a more realistic approach while maintaining the anime style. Characters’ age is expressed well with the fresh faced Rin having a simple, round, cute face while Daikichi carries distinctive characteristics of age while displaying emotions subtlety, with the occasional exaggerated expression. It’s a little refreshing to see adults in anime actually take on the characteristics of age, especially in a show like Usagi Drop where the narrative is about growing up and gaining responsibility. The color palette of the show also helps with the realistic tone, choosing muted colors and even employing watercolor style art for some backgrounds and wild life.

Rin gets the most character development throughout the series, although Daikichi is a close second, mostly because she is still a young developing child. It’s fantastic to watch her go from the shy and mostly quiet little girl shown in the first episode at her father’s funeral and over time slowly grow into an intelligent, smart, and somewhat independent little person. The show does a good job of highlighting important moments in Rin’s development such as her first few moments at Nursery school where she first started making friends, her struggles with wetting the bed, getting over her fear that Daikichi will die one day die like her father did, and her ability to get herself ready for school. All of those moments are small but each one of them represents a large move forward for Rin. Even watching her skills develop as the series progresses is a treat, for example she goes from knowing how to make rice balls, to helping Daikichi with small tasks in the kitchen, and finally to cooking mostly on her own. My reaction to thinking of those moments can be summed up as an emotionally charged “D’awwww,” and unless a viewer doesn’t have a soul they’d be hard pressed not to admit the same.

The surprise of the series is how deep it would get at points. The theme of sacrifice runs through the entire series as Daikichi talks with different parents about how they dealt with the burden of parenthood. The most profound one is Daikichi’s coworker who asked to be demoted so she could spend more time with her child this goes against the classic image of the Japanese business ethic where work comes before family in almost every respect. Yumi Unita wants to challenge that notion, to rewrite that idea in the minds of the Japanese people. With Daikichi starting as the classic notion of a Japanese salary man, one who works long hours and drinks with coworkers long into the night, the idea of having to sacrifice career for family is radical, even upsetting, for his coworkers and subordinates.

The exploration of personality types and parenthood also is a constant theme that runs through the series. Again, Daikichi’s coworker displays a noble love for her child to the point of sacrificing personal goals where Rin’s own Mother disappeared from her child’s life so she could pursue a career. Various other foils pop up throughout, the most extreme being Daikichi’s sister who is getting married but laments the fact her husband wants children cause she isn’t finished having fun, while the other father’s Daikichi meets at Rin’s school wouldn’t exchange fatherhood for anything, even the fun of their youth. Yumi Unita goes through extra effort to cram in the full range of parental personalities into the show. Early I found her negative attitude towards men, because of several women who complain that their spouses do nothing to help raise the children, as her own opinion on the majority of fathers and Daikichi stood alone as the ideal man. However, further into the series she introduces men who are more involved with their children than their wives. Again, realism wins in Usagi Drop above all else as Unita goes through the trouble to explore all attitudes people have towards parenthood.

The only misstep in the series is the strong hints at a romantic relationship between Daikichi and Yukari, Rin’s friend’s mother. There is a ton of tension and clues throughout the series but at the end the audience is left knowing nothing about the progress of their relationship. Some small hint before the series ended would have been enough but hopefully that thread gets explored more fully in the manga. From what I’ve heard after the anime ends there is a nine year time jump, so the possibility of that relationship being developed beyond a crush is unlikely, which makes all the tension between the couple a tease and nothing more.

Usagi Drop is a beautiful slice of life series about a man learning to cope with suddenly having to care of a six year old girl. His struggles with the new responsibility create a wonderfully subtle and realistic sense of drama throughout, combined with some fantastic characterization of both him and Rin. Beyond the simple Slice of Life narrative is some deep commentary about Japanese life and the impact and meaning of being a parent, which takes the show from being about a cute little girl and transforms it into an exploration of personality types within parenthood. The subplot of Daikichi’s romance with another parent is sweet, but never develops anywhere profound before the end of the series. However, that is one small blemish on an otherwise perfect piece. Usagi Drop is a rare gem that many will try to imitate in the coming years but none will be able to balance the elements with the kind of precision that Yumi Unita has achieved.

Usagi Drop is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.com. No excuses.

Review: Occult Academy



Waldstein Academy is a high school devoted entirely to the occult. Mara Kumashiro returns after a long absence for the funeral of the principal, her father. Having seen her father’s obsession destroy her family she sets out to destroy Waldstein. But her plans are interrupted when Fumiaki Uchida, a time agent from the future, arrives to stop a world ending calamity. Bandaged[1]

Occult Academy starts off as a tool to poke fun at shows containing supernatural elements by building its  premise around a school dedicated to the occult. This becomes a vehicle to explore different types of stories involving supernatural elements from monsters to near death experiences. In fact, the entire premise of the show transcends genre in an attempt to combine science fiction and fantasy into one big super show. But all these elements don’t fit together perfectly and parts of Occult Academy seem like they don’t belong in the show at all.

The first episode is about a poltergeist haunting in place of the dead principal, the second episode is about a time traveler who returns from the future in order to prevent an alien attack, and the third episode plays out like a wacky romance anime. On paper those two plot lines sound like they couldn’t possibly fit together but the early episodes of Occult Academy enable these elements to work well together and it is fresh that a show is attempting to transcend the tropes of these genres by combing them, by weaving them together. But that pattern soon ends and Occult Academy becomes a monster of the week show where the group encounters a new occult-esque problem and go off to find its source while the main plot is completely ignored. This seems comparable to the X-Files where each episode Mulder and Scully encounter a new supernatural element and attempt to disprove it. However, the monster of the week episodes of Occult Academy have the characters doing a lot of running around and participating in cheap action sequences instead of exploring the source and mythology behind these unique creatures. I have always been a fan of stories that have been able to combine elements from different genres. Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road and the anime Scrapped Princess filled that desire but Occult Academy constantly fell short because of its silly tone but also because the show didn’t juggle its genres well. Not that all the elements of Occult Academy failed, a lot of the genre mixing was interesting and gave the show its initial shine. There was simply too many elements playing in this and no one genre was treated with proper respect. 

Maya%20upset[1] While the one off episodes hurt the overall quality of the show the characters do a good job of rescuing it. The two main characters are complex and each get plenty of time in the series for their stories to be explored and it brings a human element to the jumbled narrative. The time traveler, Fumiaki Uchida, is forced to face himself in a past where he has no utility over his life, having his physic ability exploited for profit by his mother. This adds a compelling element as Uchida has to confront his demons by literally facing his past self. Maya Kumashiro goes through a similar arc, hating everything about the occult because she believes it made her father distant she is brought into a world where the occult is revered. She slowly comes to accept her father’s work and the positive impact he had on the students of Waldstein.

The background characters act only as that, background. While they do help shape the two lead characters all the side characters lack depth. I didn’t expect them to have much of an impact on the story but they appear in every episode and never seem to grow or change along with the story. Even after being witnesses to some pretty amazing supernatural spectacles they go on as if nothing happened. I’d expect them to think about withdrawing from the school after a few of the deadly encounters with supernatural monsters but no, nothing prevents them from making it to class on time every day.Evil%20Witch[1]

While the monster of the week episodes distract from the main story it picks up in the final three episodes, which  are completely dedicated to the main plot of the show bringing the total number of plot centric episodes to six. The elements that made Occult Academy fresh and exciting in the beginning return, but with more elements and genre switches the plot becomes weighed down and overcomplicated. Occult Academy attempts to make all the monster of the week episodes connect to the main plot but it is forced with only the tiniest of hints being in the individual episodes that they are all connected to the central plot. Each episode leading to the finale introduces more twists that change the show, destroying any payoff the main storyline could have possibly had. Despite the inadequate juggling of the material I found the last episodes enjoyable because it went back to the original aspect that made Occult Academy such a huge star of the summer season, the show reinvented itself with each episode. While the narrative didn’t pay off, it certainly was entertaining. More importantly the best aspect of the show, the character arcs of Maya and Fumiaki, were brought to a satisfactory end.

The most offensive elements of the show were the pseudo science fiction that the show implemented. In a show that combined so many genre elements I’m not surprised that Occult Academy didn’t really has a solid grasp on any of them individually. But it breaks its own rules constantly as it reaches towards the sacrosanct conclusion that I could tell the writers just didn’t care about following any kind of logic. Inconsistency and illogical plot harm any story but it is especially detrimental to science fiction.

While many of the elements of Occult Academy are refreshing and the main characters have some real depth that is explored well throughout the series, the pointless monster-of-the-week episodes and haphazard main storyline drag Occult Academy down to mediocrity. Still, there is a lot to like about Occult Academy because of the innovative ways it plays with genre. I think this will serve as an example of how the mixing of genres can be interesting but still serve to undermine the quality of a story.


  • Main characters and compelling and developed well
  • Innovative in the way it combines genre and plays with genre tropes


  • Monster of the week episodes don’t advance the main plot or characters.
  • Main storyline becomes weighed down and over complex
  • Ending relies on “twists” not on building a successful story arc.
  • Minor characters are flat, don’t act realistically.