Anime Spotlight: HaNaYaMaTa

HaNaYaMaTa is an anime series based on a manga by Sou Hamayumiba. The series is produced by Madhouse and is directed by Atsuko Ishizuka. HaNaYaMaTa aired on Japanese television from July 7-September 22, 2014. As of this writing, Sentai Filmworks holds the North American distribution license for the series.

The main character of the series is Naru Sekiya/ She’s a 14-year-old girl who likes fairy tales and is worried about her lack of other interests. Her worries are compounded by the fact that her friend, Yaya, is so talented (she’s won a writing contest and is part of a band with some of the other girls at their middle school).

One day, as Naru is heading home, she thinks about seeing the film of Cinderella when she was a little girl, and how she thought that someday, someone will take her away from this world through a mysterious encounter. Suddenly, she encounters a blond-haired girl who is dancing. Naru sees her and thinks she looks so pretty that she must be a fairy. Naru tells the girl that she thought the girl could take her away to another world. The girl says she can, if Naru will dance with her. Naru says she can’t dance, but the girl tells her all she needs to do is twirl around and have some fun. After a brief dance, Naru lets go of the girl’s hand and says she’s not dazzling enough to do this. The girl tells Naru to wait for her and that she’ll come for Naru someday.

Later, the girl is jumping around and accidentally jumps on top of Yaya, who is waiting to cross the train tracks. Unfortunately, this leaves Yaya with a bad impression of the girl.

The next day, the blond-haired girl is a new transfer student in Naru and Yaya’s class. She introduces herself as Hana N. Fountainstand, an American from Princeton, New Jersey. She recognizes Naru and runs over to her. Hana asks Naru to dance yosakoi with her, and Naru says no. But after Hana and Naru become closer friends, Hana convinces Naru to give yosakoi a try. At the same time, Yaya becomes jealous of Naru’s friendship with Hana.

Hana and Naru try to recruit additional members for a yosakoi club at their school, but don’t have much luck. It also doesn’t help that Machi, the student council president, says they can’t recruit at school because the club isn’t an officially recognized school organization.

As the series continues, Hana and Naru recruit Naru’s friend, Tami, to join the club. Yaya ends up joining but claims that she’s not going to be an active member. Hana also gets Sally-sensei, a “leave of absence” teacher filling in for someone on maternity leave, to become their advisor. Later, when it’s pointed out that Sally can’t be an advisor since she’s not a full-time teacher, this almost destroys their club. But Sally finds a way to rectify the situation. Her younger sister, student council president Machi (who’s also friends with Tami) ends up joining the club near the end of the series. The club’s goal is to perform at the Hanairo Yosakoi Festival.

After watching the first episode, I found myself thinking that the animation was very bright and colorful. Also, all the female characters seemed to have a rather “cute” look to them, which gave the series a “moe” feel.

Storywise, I thought HaNaYaMaTa was off to a decent start and appeared to have the foundation for an interesting story. At the time, I hoped that the series could continue in the style I saw in the first episode and not devolve into yet another “cute girls doing cute things” show.

By the end of Episode Three, I had to give HaNaYaMaTa some credit for the fact that while it had a “moe” look and feel to it, the girls came across as actual characters and not as girls that fit various character types. There was also an overarching story that helped to keep a viewer interested, unlike many of the more recent “moe” type shows that seemed to focus more on vignettes and simply being cute rather than having much in the way of substance to its story.

At the end of Episode Six, I was impressed by how the series’ plot kept the story moving and how the portrayal of the characters endeared them to the audience since they were characters and not simply character types. I appreciated HaNaYaMaTa for proving to me that a show with cute girls can have substance to it and be enjoyable to watch week after week.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as satisfied by the ending of HaNaYaMaTa as I hoped I would be. A major event happens at the end of Episode 11 that really affects the Yosakoi Club, but Episode 12 brings a resolution to that roadblock in such a way that I had a hard time using my “willing suspension of belief” or finding any way for the ending to be anywhere near realistic. Also, I thought there was a major loose end that was left resolved at the end of Episode 12.

Overall, I did enjoy HaNaYaMaTa, even if I was a little disappointed in how the expected resolution with Hana ultimately transpired. Unfortunately, the ending does make me more hesitant to add the series to my anime home video collection. However, I would recommend HaNaYaMaTa to viewers who enjoy watching anime that feature cute girls and don’t mind a “happily ever after” ending that isn’t very realistic.

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