“Acting is the greatest answer to my loneliness that I have found.” —Claire Danes
Crippled with anxiety whenever speaking with folks she’s unfamiliar with, fifteen-year-old Hinako Sakuragi moves to Tokyo and resolves to join a theatre club with the aim of overcoming her shyness. When her high school’s theature club is found to be inactive, she forms a theatre troupe with the other tenants of the Hitotose Bookstore and gradually develops more confidence as she learns more about the theatres. After the school’s theatre club is reinstated, Kuina, Mayuki and Chiaki do their best to help Hinako, who earns the ire of Yua. Despite her doubts, Hinako’s resolute effort in improving catches the eye of advisor Ruriko, who makes her the lead in the school’s play. Hinako’s determination in improving earns her Yua’s respect and friendship, and the play is a success. Later, the Hitotose troupe put in separate plays for Hinako’s mother and for Christmas, before visiting the Suzuran venue to watch a play there. Simultaneously unremarkable and heartwarming, Hinako Note is the latest anime I’ve seen that serves little purpose beyond warming the heart with its character dynamics: at its core is a girl who freezes out of anxiety when faced with social interaction, on a journey to rectify this. While lacking the same magic and coherent themes as GochiUsa and Urara Meirocho, which featured exceptionally detailed worlds awaiting exploration, Hinako Note nonetheless holds a certain charm for its brand of comedy: the unusual situations characters find themselves are amusing and adorable.
The events and presentation of Hinako Note correspond with a subset of the slice-of-life genre – anime and manga of this sub-genre share several commonalities. Anime of this category feature an all-female cast with a very limited number or total absence of male characters, and are completely devoid of any semblance of a narrative. In its place is a loving, detailed depiction of all of the most ordinary and mundane aspects of everyday life. Such anime are designed with a very specific purpose in mind: it is pure escapism for viewers whose realities are stressful, offering a respite from a difficult day, and some interpretations go further, stating that an all-female cast is appealing for viewers whose fortunes in courtship are sub-optimal. Such anime are informally known as Kirara-kei (Kirara-style) after Manga Time Kirara, a manga publisher, and while usually referring to the style of manga published in this magazine, the term can be generalised outwards: Hinako Note is published by Kadokawa but features all of the elements described in the Kirara-kei genre. It’s the first one I’ve seen outside of a Kirara adaptation, and despite not being quite as compelling as the best works from Manga Time Kirara, it’s certainly not the worst, either (I never did manage to finish Sansha Sanyou, Anne Happy and Stella no Mahou, for instance). Kirara-kei anime and manga are definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, especially for individuals who long for tasteful, thought-provoking entertainment, but it is well-suited for acting as a means of stress relief and escapism.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Initially, I did not have plans to watch Hinako Note, as the core concept sounded unremarkable, and the idea of Kuina eating books was a bit of an off-putting element. A friend recommended Hinako Note to me on the merit of the catchy opening song, so I relented and gave it the three-episode rule. Once it became clear that Kuina’s book eating was not a substantial focus (she enjoys food in general, as well), and I became more drawn to Hinako’s story, I decided that I would continue with Hinako Note.
- The flashbacks to Hinako’s childhood in the inaka act as the magic moment that motivated me to check Hinako Note out, presenting her past and how her tendency to adopt a scarecrow-like stance whenever frightened. Her neighbours use this to their advantage: she becomes a human scarecrow that helps the farmers fend off animals and bolster agricultural production, and in thanks, she receives fresh vegetables. Longing to thank them, her timid nature prevents this from happening.
- At the Hitotose Coffee Shop (which has nothing to do with Tamayura), Hinako finds friends in Mayuki, Chiaki and Kuina, whom she can speak with normally. Their friendship is what helps Hinako slowly progress throughout Hinako Note, and even though her progress is slow, it’s also naturally depicted: for some, the pacing counts against Hinako Note, and in my case, I did not find there to be a standout message in Hinako Note beyond the importance of friendship in imparting change amongst individuals, a familiar, well-worn theme in anime of this class.
- Anime of the Kirara-kei category vary with respect to how brazen their attempts to excite the audiences are, from Kiniro Mosaic and GochiUsa‘s non-existent or subtle instances to the more visible depictions in New Game! or Urara Meirocho. Hinako Note goes the whole nine yards in its portrayal, with wide-angle shots of the different characters in more revealing clothing and focus on their figures being presented much more prominently.
- Yua is a girl in Hinako’s class who greatly admires Chiaki and competes with Hinako every chance she gets. Serious-minded and unpleasant, she warms up to Hinako later, but is shown here with obvious envy at Hinako’s figure. With her personality, Hinako reminds me greatly of GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto: both are kind-hearted and friendly, unable to tell when someone is treating them coldly and generally willing to look past this.
- During a rehearsal, Miyuki appears and performs a dance, but reveals that she’s never been fond of being the centre of attention. It is also revealed that Hinako is a fantastic singer, hence Ruriko’s decision to make her the play’s lead. She’s visible in this image here: the theatre club’s advisor, Ruriko is a child actress of prodigious talent, although certain facets of her character fall into the realm of implausible.
- Despite the typical hiccoughs, involving Hinako forgetting her lines the day before the play and Yua failing to bring a mission-critical prop, the theatre club’s first play is a success. While ostensibly about theatre, Hinako Note takes after K-On! in that there is very little in the way of technical elements, focussing on the characters bouncing off one another to an even greater extent than K-On!.
- By the first play’s conclusion, Yua’s become a regular part of the Hitotose troupe, and she’s mellowed out somewhat towards Hinako. Of all the characters, she and Hinako see the most development over the course of Hinako Note – Hinako gradually gains more confidence in performing and interacting with strangers, while Yua is more respectful of Hinako. Watching characters change over the course of time is the most rewarding part of slice-of-life anime, but it is usually the case where only a small number of characters change, with other characters remaining static.
- The landlady of the Hitotose tenements, Chiaki is a soft-spoken sixteen-year-old with experience in acting. Despite outwardly resembling Maho Nishizumi, while their physiques might be similar, Maho and Chiaki’s personalities are a world apart – she’s gentle and friendly to those around her, drawing Mayuki and Yua’s feelings. Chiaki is voiced by Hisako Tōjō, a voice actress whose roles are not those I’m familiar with. Here, she discusses the additional applications of her swimsuit beyond being suitable attire for the beach with the others.
- While it would have been quite appropriate to have Ayane Sakura provide Hinako’s voice, the casting decision to have Mao Ichimichi play Hinako is a wiser one – to have Ayane in the role would reinforce the notion that Hinako is merely a more visually stimulating but shyer version of Cocoa. I know Mao best as And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?‘s Kyō Goshoin. I rolled through that one earlier this year, finding it to be a fun critique of online gaming and for excelling in providing a plausible depiction of the hazards associated with being online for both freshmen and seasoned gamers.
- Hinako’s ability to draw animals to her is absolutely adorable, and when such moments arise, Hinako Note reverts to a chibi-style artwork, something that was absent in GochiUsa and Kiniro Mosaic. By this point in time, I decided to continue watching Hinako Note for moments such as these – while lacking the same strength of world-building and character growth as something like GochiUsa, Hinako Note nonetheless presents enough heart-warming moments that make it a solid means of kicking back and relaxing.
- The crux of the beach episode’s narrative revolves around Mayuki getting lost, with Hinako very nearly becoming lost herself to find Miyuki. Sensitive about the fact that she’s continually regarded as a primary school student, Mayuki is older than Hinako. After running into Ruriko, Mayuki and Hinako reunite tearfully. Having the chibis on-screen is meant to clearly express to viewers what they should be feeling; while no doubt effective, well-written Kirara-kei anime can elicit a similar response even without any changes in the artwork, counting on visual and audio cues to convey the moment.
- Kuina, Hinako, Mayuki, Chiaki and Yua’s day at the beach turns out to be a blast, and they return home by evening utterly exhausted. Hinako Note is an anime that offers very little in the way of discussion, and correspondingly, it’s been quite tricky to find any discussion elsewhere for the anime; most folks are content to react to various moments in the anime and leave the talk there. If and when they are asked, they will remark that the anime’s been enjoyable – it is sometimes the case where audiences can enjoy something even if it is not the most intellectually-stimulating or thought-provoking work around, and this is perfectly fine.
- After the beach episode, depictions of Hinako Note‘s characters in more interesting situations increases in frequency, and I’ve done my best to ensure that not more than twenty percent of the screenshots in this post is of such moments. It ended up being a bit trickier than expected: 23.3 percent of the screenshots wound up being thus. Here, Hinako’s collapsed from exhaustion as a result of a fever manifesting while serving a customer.
- Common knowledge states that bed rest and plenty of fluids are usually sufficient for besting a cold. Chiaki does her best to make sure Hinako is not disturbed, but after everyone expresses concern and remain by Hinako’s side, everyone winds up contracting her cold. This stands in contrast with Frame Arms Girl, where the FA Girls only end up making Ao more sick with their methods. I’ve not reviewed Frame Arms Girl this season because, as fun as it was (it’s essentially a combination of Toy Story, Gundam Build Fighters and Sky Girls), there’s not much in the way of discussion. The two-and-a-half hours I save by not writing about Frame Arms Girl will go towards Far Cry 4 and enjoying the summer weather.
- Hinako proposes a play hosted at the Hitotose Café during a stamp rally event here. While their conversation is happening topside, the camera momentarily relocates itself conveniently beneath the table, providing audiences with an unexpected and unnecessary glimpse of Chiaki’s pantsu as she crosses her legs. Even though I’ve long become accustomed to moments such as these in slice-of-life anime, there are occasions where it feels a little out of place, especially in Kirara-kei anime.
- The training camp that the girls wind up organising draws Ruriko’s interest and they prepare for a night at the school. Here, they discuss what they’ve bought to spend the night, and Yua remarks that all they really need are the basics, standing in contrast with the others, who’ve brought quite a bit of extra gear. This brings to mind my one-night stay in Kelowna during the UBC Giant Walkthrough Brain performance early in 2016, where I boarded the aircraft with a gym bag and backpack worth of equipment and clothing. Unlike Yua and the others, in that case, I had a legitimate reason for additional gear: my laptop was required to assist with the presentation.
- Even though Hinako Note might not have the most revolutionary artwork or visuals in the world, Kuina’s love for food means that food is brought to the forefront of discussion on more than one occasion. Here, she scarfs down curry rice while Mayuki prepares another plate for her. Curry rice is something that I’m fond of, with the exception that I add beef or chicken to mine. In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that I watch anime for the scenery and skies; I also watch it for its depiction of food, although I’ve yet to see any anime show off a home-made crab soup yi mein with large prawns and char siu, a dish of a custom origin that I’m sure will never be seen in any show.
- Like Chiaki’s pantsu moment, there seems to be very little merit in including moments such as these in Hinako Note beyond drawing the viewer’s attention, and that, it completely does well. Having said this, it did come as a bit of a surprise to find out that Hinako Note is something that is better watched with a wall to one’s back for fear of being spotted: details in the play of light on Hinako and Chiaki’s bodies are gives the moment a more three dimensional feeling, and one cannot help but wonder whether or not any kind of play involving such outfits is suitable for human eyes.
- The point of having a variety of costumes seems to be limited towards pulling in the audience’s attention, and characters often mention that this is why they are forcing another character into an immodest outfit. Hinako herself seems to be immune to the sort of embarrassment that typically accompanies wearing such outfits, and has no trouble walking around in a bunny girl costume.
- Hinako’s mother pays her a visit, riding into town on a motorised unicycle. A doting parent, Hinako’s mother cares deeply for Hinako and is thrilled to learn that Hinako’s taken up acting. She departs here to explore town, asking Hinako to look after her belongings, and Hinako finds herself nervous as to whether or not she’ll put on a good performance.
- Despite a rough start, some assistance from Mayuki puts their play on the right path, leading to yet another successful performance. While initially slow, Hinako’s persistence becomes increasingly apparent as Hinako Note progresses, even if viewers do not get to see the plays performed in full (likely a budgetary constraint). Overall, the animation and artwork in Hinako Note is of a reasonably good standard, while the soundtrack remains quite ordinary. While some find the opening song catchy, I enjoy the ending slightly more.
- The innocent-seeming artwork of Hinako Note has not stopped the anime’s artists from rendering Chiaki and Hinako’s papilla mammaria visible through their clothing. Here, Chiaki has donned a costume that Yua has lent her, finding it ill-fitting in some spots. Such depictions are usually reserved for anime of the sort that I am unlikely to review or watch, so it was a bit unexpected to see that sort of thing in Hinako Note.
- By Christmas, Hinako performs in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol despite challenges in drawing in an audience earlier on. While she and Mayuki are scared stiff by the large number of people walking by, the presence of a live reindeer manages to entice audience members into coming, and the play itself is quite successful.
- While trying to figure out how to best strike up conversation with Chiaki, Hinako is asked to help out as a Shrine Maiden, and here, runs into a jealous Yua. Typical of most anime of the Kirara-kei genre, time flies in Hinako Note, and episodes cover things at a high rate: I’ve now lost track of how many shows I’ve seen during the summer that deal with Christmas.
- After encountering Mayuki concocting something during the middle of the night, Hinako learns that she’d been preparing Valentine’s Day chocolate for Chiaki, whose popularity means that she receives a considerable amount of chocolate every year. Here, Hinako and the others welcome Yua into the Hitotose Café as they are handing out chocolates for the customers.
- If and when I’m asked, I do not mind the special emphasis that is placed on Chiaki or Hinako — by this point in Hinako Note, I’ve become accustomed to such shots of Chiaki, and they can be quite pleasant to behold. I believe the phrase for moments such as these is “a vision of loveliness”; while Chiaki remains a static character without much development, her subtle encouragement of Hinako and the effects it has on Yua’s interactions with Hinako drive the latter’s change as a character.
- When Chiaki reveals that she’d bought tickets for everyone to spend an afternoon at a play, Mayuki throws a minor temper tantrum by means of sulking in the corner: her desire to spend some time alone with Chiaki have been discarded. It’s utterly adorable to watch Chiaki try and coax Mayuki out of this state, bringing to mind what would happen when we’d accidentally bothered a relative’s rabbit, who would refuse to be petted for a while afterwards. Allowing her to cool off and giving her some space meant that a while later, the rabbit would be open to benig petted again.
- Hinako Note‘s finale did not feel like a finale, so languid is the anime’s pacing. After watching their play at a well-known venue, Hinako and the others manage to run into Yua and Ruriko, after which they decide to return to Hitotose Café for dinner. Despite the absence of a clear narrative and an inordinate level of anatomy presented for everyone to check out, Hinako Note wound up being fairly entertaining to watch for me, although not everyone will share this perspective.
- Overall, I would count Hinako Note as a B-. I’ve heard from readers that a B- is a relatively high score, and in this final figure caption, I will explain my scoring system: it is based off the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ grading, where B- is the lowest grade one can have before they go on probation. Similarly, I will not take time to write about an anime that scores a C+ or lower. With the Hinako Note post in the books, the next big discussion on my horizon will deal with the third and final part of Washio Sumi Chapter, set for release this weekend and presumed to become available for discussion in the near future.
Unlike the works of Manga Time Kirara, which emphasise adorable elements over everything else, the one aspect of Hinako Note that sets it apart is the liberal and brazen presence of anatomy. Such elements would be seen as blasphemous in something like GochiUsa, but here in Hinako Note, they seem to offset the more endearing moments in the anime. The unusual contrast between the heartwarming and less-than-modest moments is conveyed through the artwork: characters are rendered normally whenever anatomy comes to the forefront, but when the situation is intended to draw out fuzziness in audiences, chibi designs are used instead. These pieces come together to form an anime that is quite unusual, similar to the concept of a bacon cheesecake, in which the sweet and savoury elements are thrown into sharp contrast with one another. Neither fully sweet like a cheesecake (e.g. GochiUsa) or savoury as with a bacon cheese burger (e.g. Strike Witches), the end result will not likely resonate with everyone, although there are invariably people who might be either comfortable with the results, or are open-minded to see what things are about. My end verdict on Hinako Note is that I enjoyed watching it, similar to how I do not shy away from unconventional desserts, but I would not likely recommend it to other viewers unless they share a similar perspective on life as I do.