The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Celebrating Ten Years of Hanasaku Iroha and Bonburi’ing a Path to the Future, How People Blossom from Self-Discovery, Adversity and Hard Work

“You may come to a standstill or get irritated because things don’t work out the way you want them to, but what you gain from hard work will never betray you.” –Tōru Miyagishi

When high school student Ohana Matsumae’s mother, Satsuki, decides she wants to elope with a man, Ohana is sent to live at her grandmother’s inn, the Kissuisō. Although this change in circumstances leaves Ohana discouraged, working at the Kissuisō pushes her to better herself. As Ohana falls in love with her work and what she learns, she comes to know the Kissuisō’s staff better, as well. From serving customers, to learning about her coworkers, Minko, Nako, Tōru, Renji, Tomoe, Enishi and Denroku, Ohana stumbles and falls during her learnings, but always comes out with more resolve and spirit than before. In the process, Ohana influences those around her to be at their best, comes to terms with her old life, and determines that she wants to shine in whatever her endeavours are, the same as her grandmother had done. Thus, Ohana is able to take things in stride when her grandmother announces that Kissuisō is set to close. The staff part ways for new positions but promise to return the day Kissuisō can re-open, and Ohana returns to Tokyo with a new lease on life, with her world no longer unremarkable and drab. 2011’s Hanasaku Iroha was P.A. Works’ fourth production, and the first time they’d presented a series about coming-of-age through the workplace. Sincere, honest and gritty, Hanasaku Iroha pulls no punches; Ohana is thrown into the harsh realities of work, and despite losing her way, Ohana’s unquenchable sense of optimism allows her to pull through and become someone who takes pride in her work. This spirit was evidently infectious; the other staff at Kissuisō find it difficult not to get drawn into Ohana’s way of doing things; Minko, Nako, Tōru, Renji and Tomoe each come to appreciate what Ohana brings to the table, and with twenty-six episodes of runtime, there is plenty of space to flesh out each of the characters, who all have their own aspirations and desires. In time, the seemingly cold and hostile staff open up and become irreplaceable allies, all of whom support one another as they strive to follow Sui Shijima’s vision of running the best possible inn for their customers. This in turn opens Hanasaku Iroha up to explore its themes: while the series’ first half deals prominently with the reality of the workplace and depicts seemingly-disconnected stories, Hanasaku Iroha opens the throttle in its second half and boldy went where the studio had not previously gone. The end result is nothing short of touching, and for this reason, Hanasaku Iroha joins the ranks of series that changed my worldview after I’d finished with it.

There are two central elements to Hanasaku Iroha that unify the entire anime’s story together. The first of this is evident in how Sui receives Ohana during the first episode: Ohana’s first mistake earns her a triple-slap to the face, and Sui notes that as an innkeeper, the customers are first and foremost without exception. Ohana had arrived at Kissuisō expecting a færie tale of sorts, but this moment leaves her in tears, resigned to the fact that things will only get more difficult from here (her coworkers seem distant, as well). However, after Ohana and the Kissuisō’s staff save writer Tarō Jirōmaru from committing suicide, Ohana comes to realise that Tarō’s seemingly-dubious writings brought out something she never spotted in herself; having went through her life without direction, and always resenting her mother for being absent from important moments of her life, Ohana now wants to shine, to be the best that she can be. To this end, Ohana subsequently undergoes a dramatic change, improving greatly as a waitress, and in time, comes to fall in love with her job. The desire to reinvent herself manifests as Ohana’s catchphrase, to “bonbori” things up; to work hard with a clear purpose in mind and visibly benefit those around her. Seeing how her effort directly impacts those she serves gives Ohana something tangible to work towards, and waitressing at Kissuisō becomes more than a job to Ohana: it is a way of life, giving her purpose. However, Ohana isn’t merely just expending effort: having taken her grandmother’s words to heart, Ohana expends the right kind of effort. The sum of her experiences at Kissuisō makes Ohana more mindful of those around others, more empathetic, and more efficient. This accelerates Ohana’s growth, and time away from Tokyo allows her to gain new perspective on the problems she’d left behind in Tokyo. Ohana now understands her mother a little better, and realises that she’d been unfair to Kōichi Tanemura, a friend who’d confessed to Ohana but never got a straight answer. With the newfound outlook on honesty, Ohana ultimately resolves to return Kōichi’s feelings, too. Ohana’s efforts benefit her immensely, but also has a profound impact on those around her. Minko becomes more honest about her feelings, while Nako becomes more assertive. Meanwhile, Tōru develops a minor crush on Ohana and in spite of himself, finds himself looking forwards to seeing what crazy stunts Ohana brings to the table whenever a challenge falls upon Kissuisō. Being encouraged by hard work lies at the heart of Hanasaku Iroha, and here, P.A. Works is suggesting that all change begins with hard work. One must have that internal drive to better themselves above all else, and here in Hanasaku Iroha, it was because Ohana desired this change, that she ultimately ends up becoming more capable, dependable and mature.

Throughout Hanasaku Iroha, it is also shown that while change is prima facie an intimidating thought to entertain, once the events are in motion, it actually becomes easier to adapt and roll with the punches. The reason for this is that, while a circumstance may change, one will reliably enter with the skills and experience they’d previously accrued. For instance, it is the case that, once Ohana sets her heart on doing something, she goes to extraordinary lengths to get it done. In the beginning, Minko and Nako both irritate her, and she decides the best way to sort them out is to watch them eat their least favourite foods. This was something she’d done when her mother skipped out on a school activity, leaving her hanging. By applying past solutions to current problems, Ohana finds that skills become transferable in a variety of contexts, and that the determination to get things done, no matter what (equivalent to Takako’s “never give up!”), ends up being to Ohana’s favour. On several occasions, Ohana simply pushes into a situation with her typical stubbornness, and for her efforts, there is a result. When Kissuisō is swamped by visitors one weekend, Ohana manages to retrieve Tōru from a wedding. Later, she travels to Tokyo with fire in her heart after learning her mother had written a devastating review about Kissuisō, and despite her mother’s resistance to admitting any wrong-doing, Ohana ultimately does manage to convince Satsuki to show up and experience Kissuisō as a professional. Ohana’s tendency to stick her nose into business she has no business in always seems to leave a bad situation in a more manageable position: during a class trip, Ohana decides to help the inn her class is staying at. While the inn and their processes might be different, the things Ohana learnt from Kissuisō allow her to ensure the inn can keep up with the volume. Finally, it is Ohana who suggests that Enishi and Takako have their wedding at Kissuisō, and while this created more work for everyone, it also demonstrated that Kissuisō’s staff do have what it takes, allowing the newly-weds to save money and have a memorable wedding. Ultimately, the sum of their experiences is what allows the staff to accept Kissuisō’s closure: while everyone has grown fond of working at this inn, their skills are most definitely applicable elsewhere in life, as well. The accrued learnings and capabilities over time mean that oftentimes, the prospect of change can appear scarier than the change itself. However, one’s skill never leaves them, and so, by rising to the occasion, adversity simply becomes an instrument of helping one to advance themselves further. Hanasaku Iroha is speaking to viewers here and reminds them that while circumstances may appear insurmountable, help from both within and without mean that one is never truly alone.

Skill, hard work and the rewards these virtues give rise to are a central piece of Hanasaku Iroha, presented in sufficient detail as to make the anime a masterpiece already, Hanasaku Iroha goes above and beyond with its second theme, which concerns Sui’s personal belief about Kissuisō and her staff. Sui’s intention of closing down Kissuisō for the present stems from her desire to see everyone follow their own aspirations, and this initially created conflict amongst the staff, who’ve come to view Kissuisō as their home. As a result of Sui’s own devotion to her career, she created an environment where excellence was the standard, and appropriate effort was rewarded. This inspires Kissuisō’s staff to put in their best no matter the situation, all in the name for the customer. Ohana, Nako and Tomoe become better waitresses. Minko, Tōru and Renji thrive as chefs, and even writer-turned-staff Tarō becomes an integral part of the team. It is at Kissuisō everyone cut their teeth, and it is understandable to see everyone as being loyal to the inn. However, as Sui rightly puts it, staying put here would only serve to hold everyone back from unlocking their fullest potential. Familiarity breeds complacency, and complacency engenders stagnation. Hence, Sui indicates that each of Ohana, Minko, Nako, Tomoe, Tōru, Renji and Enishi would be giving up their dreams to fulfil her dreams. This is true in a manner of speaking: the original Kissuisō was, after all, built for Sui’s happiness. In order to truly develop their skills, everyone must embrace new challenges and explore new directions. There is an analog for me: when I began my career, I desired to stick with a company because above all else, I sought practical experience with software development. In my case, the combination of the companies running low on funds, and my skills reaching a ceiling of sorts, meant I was compelled to seek out new opportunities. While intimidating to step out of my comfort zone and put myself out there to see what new opportunities I could captialise upon, the end result was that over time, I would settle into my new role and therefore have a chance to continue improving myself. This is what Sui meant for Kissuisō’s staff to realise: granted, everyone works wonderfully as a team and are completely loyal to Kissuisō, but at the same time, a majority of the staff are still young and therefore have much to learn. Kissuisō’s closing therefore ends up being a blessing in disguise, and as Hanasaku Iroha entered its final phase, the anime clearly sought to convey to viewers that life is full of surprises. While it is tempting to follow the familiar, well-worn path, true growth and learning comes when one is pushed out of their comfort zone. Ohana had been dropped into a new environment at Kissuisō and rose to the occasion despite initial hiccoughs, but came to love her duties and her coworkers at the series’ beginning. Thus, when Kissuisō closes, armed with a better sense of who she is, Ohana is now better equipped to deal with her future, as are each of Minko, Nako, Tomoe, Tōru, Renji and Enishi.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I can’t believe it’s been ten years since I first watched Hanasaku Iroha, and what’s more, this anime hasn’t aged a day in terms of its themes and visuals. When I finished this series, I was just beginning the academic semester, having come out of one of my favourite summers of all time. I wrote that this anime had been about coming to terms with one’s identity and aspirations through hard work. The themes of Hanasaku Iroha aren’t deep and mysterious by any means, and the me of ten years earlier had readily identified what P.A. Works had sought to convey through this anime.

  • However, in the decade that has passed, my appreciation of Hanasaku Iroha has increased primarily because I’ve now lived through the things that Ohana experienced. Ten years earlier, I’d been a student, and my life had always been ordinary, allowing me to focus purely on my studies. I thus approached Hanasaku Iroha from a less learned perspective. Looking back now, and armed with a full decade’s worth of stories, it’s really hit me as to just how meaningful and well-done this anime is. For this reason, I’ve decided to go with a much larger post to articulate my thoughts on Hanasaku Iroha and its impact. On top of my usual themes and commentary, I am going to also reminisce a little about this past decade.

  • Out the gates, Ohana is pushed into a completely different world. While she’d come into the countryside and Kissuisō looking for change in her life, Ohana is by no means spoiled or lazy – she’s worked hard for herself back home in Tokyo, and had been hoping the change of scenery would lead her on a journey of self-discovery. However, her hard work at Kissuisō is not always met with praise, and Ohana earns herself three slaps to the face from her grandmother for degrading a customer’s experience. Immediately, Hanasaku Iroha sets the tone for what reality is like; there is precious little space to make mistakes, and errors are met with a firm reprimand.

  • Moreover, Ohana’s new coworkers aren’t exactly shining rays of sunshine: Minko is openly hostile towards Ohana, and Nako is too shy to be an effective mentor. Frustrated that no one at Kissuisō seems to be willing to show her the ropes, Ohana ends up confronting Minko and Nako directly, determining that she’ll only get to know them better by forcing them to eat something they dislike. While Ohana’s relationship with her coworkers starts out rough, one of the best parts about Hanasaku Iroha was that, once Ohana got to know everyone better, she came to see everyone as an integral part of Kissuisō and her own life.

  • After Ohana mistakenly clears out author Tarō Jirōmaru’s manuscripts, the entire Kissuisō’s staff hunt for them. Ohana ends up finding them, but gets “kidnapped” in the process. While Tarō appears a loser who overplays his ability, his attempts to get inspiration help Ohana find her footing: in a rather risqué draft, Ohana reads that her character should sparkle more. Tarō had meant it in a more questionable way, but Ohana interprets this to mean that she should do her best, too. When Tarō’s truth comes out, he attempts to run away, and he even attempts to commit suicide, but Nako ultimately saves him, and Ohana slaps sense into him, saying that his writing has at least inspired her to do better.

  • Ohana had already been a decent cook and possesses a range of skills as a consequence of her mother, Satsuki, working late and leaving Ohana to handle the household chores. As a result, Ohana is very hard working, and once she gets into her stride at Kissuisō, she is able to impart her personality on those around her. While Nako is able to accept Ohana and begins to change, Minko adamantly refuses to admit that Ohana has impacted her and remains angry wherever Ohana is concerned.

  • While Ohana’s mother may have never been much of a positive role model for her, this hasn’t stopped Ohana from being optimistic and cheerful. In this way, she is able to make the most of her time at Kissuisō, and when it comes time to transfer to Nako and Minko’s school, she takes in everything with energy, too. Hanasaku Iroha shows that Ohana has no trouble getting along with her new classmates, who initially find her Tokyo background fascinating. Over time, however, they come to respect Ohana for how much she’s capable of accomplishing.

  • The Bonbori Festival is mentioned early in Hanasaku Iroha – Nako explains that it was born as a festival to allow a local deity to return to the heavens, and in exchange for help, the deity grants people’s wishes. Ohana is fairly pragmatic, and approaches problems in her life head-on, but where her friend, Kō, is concerned, Ohana cannot help but wish for a bit of magic. Hearing about the Bonbori Festival also inspires Ohana to adapt a new catchphrase: to bonboru (a portmanteau of bonbori and suru, indicating a verb), or give one’s best efforts towards a goal. As memory serves, the variant of Hanasaku Iroha I watched back in 2011 translated bonboru as “fest it up”. Although perhaps capturing the spirit, I would give this only partial credit, since it doesn’t convey the effort Ohana is thinking of, to give it one’s all.

  • While Ohana initially is perplexed about her grandmother’s credos, of always putting the customer first, over time, she comes to understand what Sui had meant. There is a sense of pride in doing a proper job; I’d long believed in giving one’s best no matter what, and even prior to Hanasaku Iroha, I embodied this concept, knowing that no matter the outcome, trying my best meant there were no regrets after. Hard work and effort are closely related: putting an effort to do well lessens the mental schlepp, and increases the feeling of accomplishment when one’s finished their work.

  • Effort is something that I’ve always respected; this is something about me that hasn’t changed in the past decade, and my belief in effort impacts everything I do, from my work to how I run this blog. Like Sui states, effort isn’t just expenditure of time towards a task: it is about efficiency, succinctness and hitting one’s intended aims. I have heard people hold this against the blog: they argue that my posts’ length does nothing to impact validity because effort doesn’t equate to correctness. However, I counterargue that the effort I put into my post isn’t mirrored by post length, but rather, the accuracy and authenticity of what I say. The length comes about simply because I need the extra space to articulate the appropriate details.

  • Ohana is surprised to be getting paid alongside the other Kissuisō staff: twenty thousand Yen is a lot for Ohana, especially considering that her allowance back home is only eight thousand Yen. Ten years earlier, I’d never actually worked any summer jobs in the traditional sense; in my programme, I applied for scholarships and made bank during the summer by doing research for labs at the university. Looking back, I think it would’ve been a valuable life experience if, during my time in secondary school, I’d applied for a position at the local bookstore or similar; back then, I was a member of the local Chinese school’s staff and helped with various things instead.

  • The conflict between tradition and innovation is occasionally explored in Hanasaku Iroha, as Enishi and Takako attempt to bring new ideas to the table in an effort to increase customer count and customer retention. Sui’s intent is to do what works, while Takako believes that new visitors need incentive to show up. Having been on both sides of the fence, I’ve found that incremental innovation is usually the most successful: people desire a product that is familiar but does just enough differently to justify going with it. As a university student, I was all about the innovation, at least until I took a fourth-year course on iOS development and had the chance to appreciate why the expression “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” holds water: some traditions endure precisely because they work.

  • Yuina is the granddaughter of a rival innkeeper, but despite her position, she struggles to decide whether or not to inherit the family business or pursue a career of her own choosing. Her manner and personality comes across as a bit eccentric (she’s fond of switching accents at the drop of a hat), but this doesn’t stop her from gaining a large pool of prospective suitors among the male classmates. She getting along with Ohana, who also is the granddaughter of an innkeeper. Unlike Ohana, who has no qualms about getting her hands dirty and helping out, Yuina seems disinterested in the day-to-day aspects of running an inn.

  • When Ohana comes across the wa maid uniforms Sui herself had made decades earlier, she decides to give them a go. These uniforms show that Sui herself also once looked to the future and wondered if there were ways of livening things up a little. It’s certainly different enough to be noticed by the customers, who find the change refreshing. Subtle changes like these can often make a world of difference: as a software developer, I’m attuned to these sorts of things. This time of year, for instance, sees the release of Apple’s latest version of iOS, and I still vividly recall back in 2011, when iOS 5 came out. iOS 5 introduced the notification center and iCloud. Fast forward ten years, and we’re now rocking iOS 15.

  • I’m still getting used to iOS 15 so far, so I don’t really have much to say about it yet, so we’ll return to Hanasaku Iroha, where during one particularly hilarious segment, Tomoe attempts to drive off some rather troublesome customers who are into wargaming and airsoft after they begin frightening Nako and Ohana. At this point in time, Tomoe is looking for a change of scenery and imagines that she might as well get fired in the process. However, without really realising it, Tomoe’s “antics” are right up the wargamers’ alley, and they compliment Kissuisō for having improved their experience in an unexpectedly pleasant way. Sui praises Tomoe for going the extra mile to keep the customers happy, and Tomoe realises that there’s more to being a waitress than she’d previously seen.

  • When I watched Hanasaku Iroha for the first time, I was only a shade older than Ohana, Minko and Nako. On my revisit now, I’m older than Tomoe and Tōru: the struggles that Tomoe face (her mother can be heard bugging her about getting married and doing some matchmaking) are, incidentally, the same struggles I have. During this watch-through of Hanasaku Iroha, I came to appreciate Tomoe doubly so: while she’s a little sensitive about being single whenever the topic is brought up, these worries are professionally set aside whenever she’s waitressing at Kissuisō as she strives to make sure the customers are happy, and that her juniors are doing things properly.

  • It seems like that adversity continues appearing at the most unexpected of times; right when Kissuisō receives an influx of customers one weekend, Sui herself falls ill and is admitted to hospital. Even then, her main concern is for the customers’ well-being. At this point in time, Ohana still has a bit of trouble separating her personal and professional concerns. However, she does understand that her grandmother has a point, and heads back to Kissuisō with the goal of ensuring all of the customers are properly cared for.

  • When Takako and Enishi hear that a reviewer is scheduling a stay at Kissuisō, they attempt to make their visit as pleasant as possible with the hope of scoring a favourable review. This goes against how Sui runs things, and Ohana manages to push the other employees at Kissuisō to treat all of the guests equally, as her grandmother would do, so that the reviewer would have an experience that is most truthful to what guests can expect from Kissuisō. Ohana’s sense of integrity is wonderful; while she’s determined and driven, she never once considers using underhanded techniques to get ahead. Techniques or no, the surge of customers puts a massive strain on the staff.

  • Whenever the going gets too rough, Denroku Sukegawa is always on hand to offer advice for Ohana. Denroku is an elderly man who’s worked at Kissuisō since Sui and her husband took it over from the previous owner, and over the years, has steadily worked in the background to keep the inn’s HVAC and mechanical systems up and running. Previously, I’d not been too sure where Denroku’s nickname came from: I do hear various characters refer to him as 豆爺 (Hepburn mamejii, jyutping dau6 je4, literally “Bean Gramps”), but it turns out that his name was similar to the name of a well-known company that specialised in beans. Translations of his name vary from “Beanman” to “Mr. Beans”.

  • Spurred on, Ohana decides to request reinforcements from Nako, and to bring Tōru back herself. While she is unsuccessful, she receives a phone call from Kōichi: after she’d left Kōichi hanging when he’d attempted a kokuhaku, Ohana finds it difficult to speak with him, embarrassed about what she’d done. However, in spite of this, Kōichi continues to support Ohana as best as he can, and this support in turn leads her to do her best. While Tōru is taken aback, seeing that Ohana present shows him just how much he’s needed, and he hastens to get back to Kissuisō and help keep the kitchen going.

  • With the whole of Kissuisō firing on all cylinders, the staff are able to keep the ship upright. Hanasaku Iroha‘s first few episodes are a little chaotic and are only loosely connected, showcasing more critical moments as Ohana adjusts to life here and makes her presence felt. This approach is something that P.A. Works would carry forwards into their later workplace and coming-of-age series; Tari Tari, Nagi no Asukara, ShirobakoSakura Quest and The World in Colours all focus on unrelated but pivotal moments for the protagonists early in the game, before switching to a much more cohesive and driven story towards the end.

  • While Enishi and Takako were quite worried about pleasing the reviewer, it turns out that they had a wonderful time, impressed with the traditional but attenuative services that Kissuisō offers. Towards the end, Sui also returns from the hospital, impressed that her staff were able to keep things going despite how busy it’d gotten. By this point in time, Hanasaku Iroha had firmly established that Sui’s strict, no-nonsense attitude and methods in keeping Kissuisō ship-shape encourage her employees to do the same, and in turn, Sui also meets excellence with encouragement, creating a tightly-knit staff that are willing to give their utmost to their work.

  • Looking back, I’m not too sure how I got into Hanasaku Iroha, and I’m doubly uncertain as to when I actually started the series. What I do recall is that I began watching the series after some screenshots captured my interest, and it was a captivating ride for me. At the time, I would’ve just come out of what I feel to be one of my favourite summers of the 2010s; after a particularly rough semester that saw my GPU slide down to 3.29, just below the minimum for staying in the Health Sciences Honours programme, I resolved to relax and regroup that summer, spending my days building a renal model in Objective-C, and watching anime by evenings. In this way, I ended up building the foundations of my undergraduate thesis, and also had enough developed so that I could participate in the undergraduate research symposium.

  • By the time term started, I had my abstract and poster prepared for the symposium, and on the day of the event, I was fortunate in that my slot was scheduled in between classes. In university, missing even one lecture can be devastating, so I was lucky not to have missed anything. Here, Ohana develops a fever after overexerting herself: she collapses while attempting to shoo a bat from the rafters. The others immediately send Ohana to bed for some rest so that she may recover.

  • One interesting side-effect from Ohana’s fever is that Tōru begins to develop a minor crush on Ohana – Ohana is the only person who outright says that she needs his help, and was the one motivated enough to personally bring him back to Kissuisō. This creates all sorts of conflict later down the line with Minko, whose crush on Tōru is a badly-kept secret. Dynamics like these mean that Hanasaku Iroha never has a dull moment, but unlike soap opera drama, where characters are endlessly subject to suffering because they are never allowed to learn from their experiences, the characters in anime like Hanasaku Iroha do learn over time, making it far easier to root for Ohana et al.

  • When Ohana overhears that Kissuisō is running fine even though she’s down for the count, she becomes tearful at the prospect of having been sidelined. As it turns out, Nako’s particularly bad with words, and the way she puts things can be unintentionally hurtful; combined with Ohana’s tendency to take things at face value, misunderstandings can occur. I had mentioned this in an earlier post about the bus factor; for the most part, Kissuisō’s staff are capable enough to offset smaller inconveniences like losing a single member of their staff.

  • When Ohana recovers, Kissuisō finds itself facing another crisis: a scathing, blistering review of all the inns in their area threatens business, and Ohana sets off for Tokyo with fire in her heart. She is surprised to learn that her mother was responsible for the review, and stubbornly insists on forcing Satsuki back to Kissuisō so that she may properly experience things. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and the difficulty of the assignment is enough to make Ohana cry. I’d never really thought about this on my first run of Hanasaku Iroha, but despite her generally cheerful demeanour and optimistic outlook, Ohana is also prone to moments where even she feels overwhelmed.

  • As a bit of double damage, Ohana earns that one of Kōichi’s coworkers also has feelings for him, and her world begins unravelling after spotting the two being seemingly close at the bookstore. Fortunately for Ohana, Kōichi’s feelings for her never waver, and here, the other girl confronts Ohana, asking her to be forthcoming about how she feels out of fairness to Kōichi. This does become a bit of a sticking point throughout Hanasaku Iroha – originally, Ohana was not my favourite character, but with ten years of life experience, I now understand why many of the men in Hanasaku Iroha respect Ohana; despite being nosy and noisy, she’s hardworking, honest and determined, all of which are traits I respect in people.

  • Tears are the norm in Hanasaku Iroha for Ohana; they are present to show that Ohana is not without her weaknesses. A lifetime of counting on herself means that Ohana is reluctant to depend on others, but in Tokyo, this is ultimately what saves her from calamity, as Tōru and Minko end up stopping by and giving her a chance to regroup. In the aftermath, Ohana’s mother does end up coming with them to Kissuisō – Ohana’s raw stubbornness and determination is something that runs in the family. In reality, things turning in one’s favour through force of will alone is quite rare, but in an anime like Hanasaku Iroha, it is encouraging to see things work in Ohana’s favour, especially considering how she puts her heart into everything she does.

  • It turns out that Satsuki never particularly saw eye-to-eye with Sui; although Sui had intended Satsuki to inherit Kissuisō, Satsuki never really saw the in as a career path for herself, leading to a rift in the family. It turns out that Satsuki is a journalist who writes what higher-ups ask of her, and there had been indeed a plan to drive interest in a new inn in the area. This revelation might’ve only been a small part of Hanasaku Iroha, but it does underline a longstanding problem with mass media and journalism in general, specifically, can be manipulated to suit the interests of a few. In this case, Satsuki is a cog in a machine; she’s not responsible for the article’s tone per se and would likely face reprimand if she were to write something that didn’t suit the higher ups’ objectives.

  • I have a feeling that the host of negative anime movie reviews at Anime News Network are likely the result of something similar, which accounts for many slice-of-life movies are harshly, but flimsily, critiqued: the reviewers themselves are simply told what verdict should be reached at the film’s end, similarly to how Satsuki is asked to write a scathing tear-down about Kissuisō. Although Sui is reluctant to have Satsuki back, she determines that Satsuki is another customer and suggests to the Kissuisō team that there’s nothing special or challenging if they proceed as they normally do. This particular event helps Ohana bond with Sui more closely; while both are approaching this from a professional perspective, being able to iron out how to optimise Satsuki’s experience helps the pair to learn about Satsuki, and one another, better.

  • Sui reluctantly accepts Satsuki’s invitation to share a drink, viewing it as a part of her duty as Kissuisō’s landlady, and things quickly become a family reunion of sorts. Here, it turns out that despite their dramatically different outlooks on life, daughter and mother alike share the same inextinguishable spirit and determination to make something of themselves. This helps to close the distance between the three: Ohana had spent the whole of Hanasaku Iroha viewing her mother as inconsiderate and self-centred, unable to make time for her own daughter, while Sui has similarly felt her daughter to be irresponsible and unpredictable. However, despite Satsuki’s shortcomings, she doesn’t strike out a hundred percent of the time: this is something both Ohana and Sui are able to pick up now that Satsuki’s actually here.

  • Hanasaku Iroha marked the first time P.A. Works utilised what I would come to know later as “funny faces”: highly comical and exaggerated facial expressions that spoke volumes about how a given character was feeling. Their usage in P.A. Works’ other anime would come and go: they were largely absent from Tari Tari and Nagi no Asukara, made a big return in Shirobako, but were otherwise absent in Sakura Quest and The World in Colours. There’s a time and place for funny faces, but I’ve always enjoyed them, since it emphasises that no matter how serious a given anime gets, the characters are still human. In Hanasaku Iroha, Ohana is the only character seen with funny faces, similarly to how Aoi Miyamori was the only person in Shirobako to be rendered with features indicative of anger, frustration, stress and sorrow.

  • The end of Satsuki’s stay at Kissuisō marks the halfway point to Hanasaku Iroha: Satsuki remarks that it’s been a fun excursion from her daily routine and leaves Ohana with a review properly articulating how she really feels about the place as a professional, citing the attentiveness of the staff as being the biggest strength, and how the inn’s preservation of tradition allows visitors to appreciate things from an older time. Once half of Hanasaku Iroha‘s episodes are in the books, the series had clearly delineated that Ohana has not only settled in to life at Kissuisō, but has wholly embraced things in her pursuit to excel.

  • On its own, this would already be a satisfactory story; P.A. Works thus sets about pushing things to the limit and really showing what’s possible during Hanasaku Iroha‘s second half. I believe this marked the first time P.A. Works had done a two-cour anime; True TearsCannan and Angel Beats! each ran for thirteen episodes. Armed with a new opening and ending song in its second half, Hanasaku Iroha no longer focused on adapting to new environments; instead, the series was now about taking advantage of what one has learnt and applying it to their life’s challenges.

  • When it comes to things like backgrounds and lighting, the art style seen in Hanasaku Iroha is reminiscent of what was seen in Angel Beats!: lighting is extremely vivid, and reflections are very noticeable. Sharp contrasts in the palette help to make elements in an environment pop, and altogether, brings the world to life. This same visual style would return in Tari Tari, although over the years, P.A. Works would also utilise a wide range of different styles in their background art to better fit the story at hand: shiny surfaces and slick-looking buildings may not always line up with the aesthetic a series requires.

  • While on vacation with her class, Ohana stays at another ryōkan-style hotel. It turns out Yuina knows the assistant manager, Yosuke, and he’s about as harsh as Tōru on his subordinates, eventually causing them to quit right as things get busy. Ohana again intervenes, telling them off, but decides that she should help out. Although the assistant director and the hotel’s management state it would be unfair to Ohana, since she’s a customer on a school trip, Ohana’s determination eventually wins out: the staff allow her to help upon learning that she’s Sui Shijima’s granddaughter. Even when the automated cart breaks down, Ohana, Nako and Minko continue to pitch in as temporary waitresses and do what they can.

  • This aspect of Ohana’s character is something I’ve come to greatly respect, and it was for this reason that it becomes easy to see why people take an interest in Ohana: she brightens up the setting no matter where she goes, gets things done and isn’t afraid to go the extra mile once she sets her heart on something. In the end, Ohana even suggests changing up the schedule so that her classmates bathe first before settling down for dinner, buying them time to get everything set up: this was something she’d picked up while looking after Satsuki, and moments like these exemplify why I appreciate Ohana’s character considerably more than I did the first time I watched Hanasaku Iroha.

  • Yuina actually winds up a little jealous of Ohana after Yosuke figures it’d be nice to get someone like Ohana into the family and continue running the inn together that way. Truth be told, aside from Ohana’s tendency to be rather noisy (excellent voice acting on Kanae Itō’s part; she’s also voiced Ika Musume!‘s Sanae, Ayasa from Harukana Receive and Sword Art Online‘s Yui), she’s the sort of person I’d fall in love with; there aren’t many people around who can endure difficult times and face adversity with a smile. I’ve refrained from dating precisely because the times I’ve gone through have been very rough owing to my involvement with start-ups and the associated financial realities of being with a start-up.

  • I imagine that it’d be one-to-a-trillion where I would’ve found someone willing to put up with that sort of thing. These days, things are more stable now, so I suppose it is time to keep two eyes open and see if I can turn this part of my life around, although I wouldn’t consider it a loss if I continue to strike out because I can always better myself in the process. Ten years earlier, I would’ve begun the Japanese class where I’d met someone I ended up developing a crush on and had hoped to ask out. Folks who’ve read my stuff consistently know how that story turned out (elevator version: it didn’t work out so well for me). At the end of the school trip in Hanasaku Iroha, Yuina and Yosuke leave on better terms; they’ve known one another since childhood, and were originally set to marry one another. Yosuke promises to better how he trains staff, and Yuina determines that she should make a more sincere effort at determining what she wants to get out of her life.

  • This does lead to the inevitably question of whether or not I regret taking the route that I did. The answer remains a resounding “no”: when I left graduate school, I was half the developer my peers were (in a literal sense, since I only took half of the computer science courses that computer science majors would as a result of being in the health sciences programme), and I needed a chance to get some industry experience. Working with startups meant I became a self-taught iOS developer, and this has provided me the background needed to solve problems (or at least, know how to begin approaching problems). As it is, I’m probably a little behind in life, but I feel that I have, at the very least, found my footing, and that means what happens from here on out is up to me, which is an encouraging thing. Here, Enishi speaks to a director who’s looking to film a movie at Kissuisō.

  • Even a decade later, watching Nako become so distracted by the prospect of being in a film, subsequently mangling one of Kissuisō’s bonsai trees as a result and her resulting look of shock remains hilarious, a moment that has earned a spot here in this discussion. Filming subsequently begins in earnest at Kissuisō, with camera crews and actresses hustling about for principal photography. The director even brings in an editor so that footage can be put together on-site, and the project’s progress gives Kissuisō’s staff something to look forwards to.

  • Because the director had intended to use the pool for a scene, Enishi asks the staff to clean the pool up and make it screen-worthy. This assignment gives Minko, Nako and Ohana a chance to see a part of Kissuisō that had hitherto remain unused, and also gives viewers a chance to see Minko smile for the first time. While Minko is presented as being all-business and frowns more than she smiles throughout Hanasaku Iroha, it turns out that she has a dazzling smile where the moment allows for it. Minko’s cold personality was later revisited in Tari Tari: Wakana is her equivalent, and like Minko, is quite and devoted. Unlike Minko, Wakana is a bit more empathetic, and once she opens up to Konatsu, Sawa and the others, she becomes a reliable source of support for her friends.

  • While the film itself looks like an exciting opportunity for Kissuisō, it turns out that the director had used it as a scam, with the goal of taking the funds and paying off his debts. This element was meant to show how Hanasaku Iroha is willing to explore the ugly side of business, and how in reality, there are unscrupulous people looking to take advantage of anyone they can. In this case, Enishi is still a beginner, and as such, might not be fully equipped to handle such situations. Learning in this way is harsh, although in my case, I prefer listening to people before pulling any triggers: wisdom from my seniors and elders exists for a reason, and trusting their experience can save me a lot of trouble in the long run.

  • In the end, after a confrontation that sees Enishi and Takako fall into the pool, the pair reconcile, and Sui comes to respect Enishi for standing up for Takako and doing what he felt was right. The question of what happens to the money lost lingers, but for the time being, the learnings are apparent. Throughout these segments, Enishi recalls during his childhood, he felt that his older sister had always overshadowed him, and felt that she was someone who he might only attempt to catch up to. I imagine this is what the aircraft are meant to symbolise: Enishi will always trail because he’s the younger sibling.

  • From here on out, however, Eishi has his own life to life out, and isn’t bound to his sister’s fate. Folks wondering what aircraft are in the skies will be pleased to know that they aren’t difficult to identify: the aircraft from Enishi’s flashbacks are the F4 Phantom (based on its engine profile), while the fighters Ohana spots are the F-15J (based on the twin engines and shape of the real horizontal stablisers). The JASDF have a smaller collection of aircraft, making them easy to identify, and here yes another moment where P.A. Works is able to show off their craft: the afternoon sun glints off Kissuisō’s roof and creates a sense of warmth, accentuated by the afternoon sky’s deep blue hues and billowing clouds.

  • When I went through Hanasaku Iroha back in 2011, Nako was my favourite of the characters: I’d always had a penchant for sky, soft-spoken characters. Nako’s figure, and the fact that she’s voiced by Aki Toyosaki, makes her a very interesting character to behold. As it turns out, Nako is actually quite assertive while at home, since she manages her younger siblings and even keeps an eye on her parents so they eat properly. Conversely, while at work, Nako is quiet and reluctant to speak; for the longest time, Nako had longed to be more assertive and open with her coworkers at Kissuisō.

  • When Nako receives a bonus, she begins to grow worried that Sui might be expecting more of her. However, it turns out that the extra level of effort Nako had went for a visiting couple had been exemplary: Nako had been too nervous to convey to them that there’d been a beautiful meadow a short hike away, but feeling that it was worth the effort, draws the couple a map. The couple would take her up on this and found themselves with an adventure of a lifetime and mention this to Sui, who was impressed with Nako taking the initiative.

  • Ultimately, Nako’s ability to be more true to herself while at Kissuisō is a consequence of Ohana’s influence: Nako has long admired Ohana’s ability to speak her mind with conviction, and spending time with Ohana imparts this change on Nako. In the end, after an episode spent exploring what her best self is, advice from Sui allows Nako to be comfortable with herself, and she resolves to do things in her own manner. Hanasaku Iroha generally gives the characters a chance to shine, and although the time each character gets isn’t even, everyone does get their time in the spotlight. P.A. Works would later rectify this and give characters focus based on their contribution to the main story, but as Hanasaku Iroha was a trailblazer in this area, I won’t hold it against P.A. Works or this anime.

  • With Nako’s growth in the books, eyes turn towards Minko and the challenge she faces during the school’s culture festival. Having long held feelings for Tōru, Minko spends the preparations at odds with the cooking team when they ask to make omurice – one of the girls on the team had hoped to impress her crush, while Minko is trying to impress hers and feels that preparing a proper dish is not feasible given their gear. While the conflict is a messy one, Ohana ends up stepping in, and helps the two parties to compromise: she knows of a recipe that can be prepared with a hot plate, and it turns out to be a delicious one. With this issue addressed, both parties end up happy enough to go forwards.

  • On the day of the culture festival, Tōru shows up as planned, and Minko decides to go all in with her decorations. One aspect of Tōru’s character I relate to, now more than ever, is the fact that he seems quite unaware that Minko has a crush on him. With the wisdom I have now, I have a feeling I’ve probably lost a handful of people because of this part of myself; back then, I wasn’t exactly ready for a relationship, between trying to keep abreast of my studies and then pouring my full efforts towards my work. I am confident that I now possess the maturity needed to build a healthy and happy relationship, although the tradeoff is that the set of people with the traits I value is practically nil.

  • I am fond of problem solving (my occupation speaks volumes to this), but the challenge of dating at my age isn’t something I can sit down, design a set of solution candidates on a whiteboard and then test in a systematic fashion. Further to this, there is a much smaller tolerance for failure (if I mess up a method, I can simply adjust it, recompile it and have another go at things). Hanasaku Iroha captures in full the challenges of relationships: Minko and Ohana struggle with their feelings, and Tomoe is outright single despite being rather attractive. Even Enishi, who fell in love with Takako, has problems of this own to deal with: he worries that Sui won’t accept Takako.

  • Hanasaku Iroha‘s infamous bathroom fight embodies the sorts of problems the road to a meaningful relationship presents; Minko all but admits defeat after a conversation with Tōru seems to suggest that he’s into Ohana, while Ohana believes that Minko hasn’t even made a serious effort yet. In this case, Ohana is absolutely in the right; relationships are a game of selfishness, although I will append that timing and a bit of luck is also necessary. Regarding the young lady I met in Japanese class, there was no happy end there, since she ended up heading over to Japan for an exchange programme and began seeing someone from her host family. While love stories often make heroics out of people who are willing to drop everything and fly across an ocean to persuade their crush, I’m not that sort of person: I don’t go to war and then seek to win later, and it seemed foolish to burn an excess of three thousand dollars to pursue someone who’d all but forgotten about me.

  • It turns out that Sui had approved of Takako: she’s pushing Enishi to follow his own judgement, which was something that he is shown as lacking early in Hanasaku Iroha. While Takako had fully expected Sui to say no, Sui instead hands her the same ring that her husband had given when proposing to her. Moments like these speak to the incalculable power of love, and as Hanasaku Iroha demonstrates, when things line up, a proper relationship is one where there is synergy amongst the two partners. This is something that I’ve come to look for before even considering a relationship; to me, a worthwhile relationship is where I simultaneously knowing I am loved, and have frequent chance to express love, where the pair of us to be more than the sum of our parts. This is something Sui likely spotted in Takako after seeing her with Enishi.

  • Sui reminisces about how Kissuisō came to be: her husband had intended the inn to be a place where she could be happy. The flashback shows the young couple at the Bonbori Festival, hinting at the festival’s significance in the story. While Hanasaku Iroha had begun all over the place and gradually worked towards a coherent, compelling story, the Bonbori Festival is a unifying element that connects all of the pieces together, acting as a tangible endpoint for the story. The events of Hanasaku Iroha are set in Yuwaku, a resort located in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, and while the festival was originally fictional, an inspired bit of lore to really motivate things, the hot spring resort did end up bringing the Bonbori Festival to life. P.A. Works initially spearheaded the festival, but since then, Bonbori has become an annual tradition in the Yuwaku resort area.

  • This speaks to the power that anime can have: while the Bonbori Festival was originally intended for fans, it eventually became a full-fledged local event in time, creating new traditions rooted in hard work, determination and optimism. In a way, the Bonbori Festival in Yuwaku is an embodiment of Ohana’s spirits. On closer inspection, this is an impressive achievement: while The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya might’ve had a wider reach, the outcome of Hanasaku Iroha is more tangible, rivalling the likes of Gundam and Studio Ghibli’s works in terms of impact on society.

  • As Enishi and Takako’s wedding draws nearer, Kissuisō’s staff put the petal to the metal for preparations. It was on Ohana’s suggestion that Kissuisō host the wedding as an economical solution, speaking again to Ohana’s ability to put practical but exciting ideas out for consideration. Kissuisō’s open area becomes the wedding pavilion, and the staff can tend to the reception and banquet. While the wedding dress might be expensive, Ohana and Yuina put their efforts together to make their own dress. The entire wedding between Enishi and Takako is the perfect embodiment of what frugality can accomplish: while attention is paid to detail, and the quality of everyone’s contribution is high, it’s not breaking the bank, either, allowing for a cost-efficient and memorable wedding to occur.

  • From a symbolic standpoint, being married at the inn they’re working at shows that Takako and Enishi are completely devoted to their work as much as they are one another. I’ve found that the things that the best works P.A. Works have delivered have their roots in Angel Beats! and Hanasaku Iroha: the former showed P.A. Works as being able to handle fantastical settings and stories to create emotionally moving stories, while the latter indicated P.A. Works could also excel in bringing the mundane and oft-overlooked life lessons to the forefront. At the time of writing, P.A. Works has produced twenty-four anime series, and of these series, the ones that stuck with me the longest are their workplace and coming of age stories.

  • When I first saw Hanasaku Iroha, I was closer to Ohana, Minko and Nako in age. A full decade later, I’m now just a few years younger than Enishi, and a few years older than Tomoe. Watching Hanasaku Iroha from this different perspective meant that I was able to empathise with and appreciate what Takako, Enishi and Tomoe were thinking. However, it also increased my fondness for Ohana: I don’t think I’ve met any youth quite as spirited and as determined as she is, and while Ohana might be labelled a disturber of the peace, there is no doubting the impact she’s had on Kissuisō ever since she arrived.

  • Throughout Hanasaku Iroha, there’s a large number of emotional moments, and P.A. Works ensures viewers are aware of this through Ohana. However, perhaps speaking to my age (and the accumulated experiences I’ve picked up over the past decade), watching Enishi and Takako getting married actually did bring a solitary tear to my eyes (followed by several more solitary tears): P.A. Works did a wonderful job of capturing the joys of a wedding, a time where the future feels like it could brings limitless joy and possibility.

  • The wedding provides Kissuisō’s staff a chance to really show what they’re made of, and one of the consequences surrounding Ohana’s suggestion is that the whole of the team end up putting their best into everything. From Ohana and Yuina helping make a custom dress for Takako, to Tōru and Renji outdoing themselves with the cooking, preparing for the wedding is simultaneously exciting and hard work, as well. Along the way, Minko grows a bit sensitive to the fact that Ohana seems to be stealing Tōru away from her without realising it, but ultimately, a more assertive Nako defuses this fight, and by wedding day, Kissuisō’s team moves as one cohesive unit.

  • By getting creative, Takako and Enishi’s wedding is one to remember without introducing sticker shock: this moment in Hanasaku Iroha shows how a bit of lateral thinking can make even the impossible possible. A quick glance around shows that the average Canadian wedding rolls for around 30000 CAD, which is, when one thinks about it, an eye-popping price. Wedding planners suggest that it is possible to have a superb wedding for around 9000 CAD by doing things like going with fewer guests, not having an open bar deferring the honeymoon, as well as picking which aspects of the wedding can be scaled back and which areas are higher priority.

  • In Hanasaku Iroha, Sui provides the engagement ring, Kissuisō provides the venue, and Ohana hand-crafts the wedding dress. Overall, assuming 1200 CAD for the ring, 20000 CAD for the venue and 2000 CAD for the wedding dress, Ohana’s suggestion has saved Takako and Enishi an impressive 23200 CAD (a decent starter vehicle like the Mazda CX-30 or Subaru Crosstrek). Altogether, aside from a rather unconventional bit of entertainment during the banquet, courtesy of Tarō and Denroku (in turn leading to looks of shock from Ohana and the others), the event proceeds very smoothly. However, as a bit of a shock to the staff, Sui announces that with Denroku retiring, Kissuisō will be shutting their doors.

  • Altogether, the wedding story in Hanasaku Iroha was very moving, more so than it had been ten years earlier when I’d first watched it. It is not lost on me that ten years is a great deal of time, and in that period, a lot has happened: I’d earned two degrees, became a nidan, and have accrued a shade over five years of industry experience. In this timeframe, I’ve also begun looking towards becoming a homeowner. The ongoing global health crisis has had a nontrivial impact on the housing market, and housing prices have dropped in my area. Moreover, interest rates for mortgages are relatively low: it’s a buyer’s market at the time of writing, and this means beginning to examine the options available.

  • House-hunting is, of course, a very time-intensive process: from browsing through listings, sending out requests to book property viewings and even daydreaming about what to do with a given space, I’ve had little time to do my usual blogging. This is why I’ve been a bit more scarce of late: like anything worth doing, house-hunting requires time, and the hours of a day are limited, so I’ve reprioritised what I’d like to do with my free time. Admittedly, there is a certain amount of fun in doing this stuff, and I do see myself rolling back on the blogging as I begin going through the steps of purchasing a property; it is important to make sure for the processes, I follow protocol and ensure that all i‘s are dotted, and t‘s are crossed.

  • While this inevitably means I’ll be quite busy, I won’t leave readers behind, either: I’ll still be writing, albeit at a reduced rate. Back in Hanasaku Iroha, Takako and Ohana head back to Tokyo. It turns out with Satsuki’s help, Takako was able to track down the director who’d scammed them, and Ohana has a chance to seek out Kōichi and make her feelings known to him. This proves to be a monumental task for Ohana: she’s concerned about Kissuisō’s future, but also wishes to make amends with Kōichi and be upfront about how she reciprocates his feelings for her.

  • As such, when Ohana actually ends up running into Kōichi, she’s no longer coy or hesitant, and openly puts her cards on the table with her inviting Kōichi to the Bonbori festival. It’s a bit of a tearful moment, and although Ohana doesn’t outright deliver her kokuhaku here, it’s clear enough as to what’s going down. Ohana’s monologue reveals that she’d never been appreciative of what she did have: Tokyo was never dull, but rather, she’d come to take the positive things in her life for granted and failed to count her blessings. At this point in Hanasaku Iroha, it is evident that working at Kissuisō helped Ohana to change her perspective and come out more mature.

  • Back at Kissuisō, it turns out that Tarō had been the author of a little-known cooking manga that had inspired both Tōru and Minko to become chefs. While Tarō had appeared an arrogant but incompetent author at Hanasaku Iroha‘s beginning, he’s also a hard worker who accepts responsibility for his mistakes and agrees to work off his debts to Kissuisō. The revelation that his works did indeed inspire people positively shows how unlikely circumstances and fate can really bring people together, and for viewers, it’s a sign that given the right inspiration and effort, Tarō can pick himself back up and continue on his career as a writer. Of course, Tōru and Minko are devastated with this revelation: Tarō did, after all, come across as a little lecherous (unintentionally so).

  • After returning to Tokyo, Satsuki had written a sincere and honest review about Kissuisō, leading to a large uptick in reservations ahead of Bonbori. Sui’s plans to close Kissuisō shortly after the festival leads her to ask that they not accept more reservations than they have space for, but desperate to keep Kissuisō open, Enishi goes against this and determinedly presses forwards with livening Kissuisō up. This creates friction between Sui and the staff: the latter have long regarded Kissuisō as the place where their dreams are being realised and see it as a second home, wishing to work with one another for as long as possible to pursue new heights.

  • When Sui becomes exhausted after a visit to the family’s graves, Ohana looks after her. Ohana and Sui have come a very long way since the beginning of Hanasaku Iroha, from employer and employee to grandmother and granddaughter. Sui reveals to Ohana that with Denroku planning to retire, she feels that Kissuisō has been taken as far as she can carry it, and that she’d been remarkably selfish in bringing others along in the pursuit of her dreams. Having come this far, Sui thus feels that the other staff should also pursue their own dreams and become their best self. Ohana immediately understands what Sui is getting at, but the other staff are adamant about staying.

  • Ohana ends up being caught in the middle again, and is completely unsuccessful in conveying what Sui had told her. As the number of guests increases with Bonbori’s imminent arrival, things get pushed to the breaking point after Tomoe falls and sprains her ankle. Because the whole of Kissuisō is committed to their guests, all differences are set aside. Sui steps in to fill in for Tomoe, noting that before she became Kissuisō’s landlady, she was a waitress, too. All leadership is passed over to Enishi, and he finds this an opportunity to direct the staff in a way that ensures all the customers are looked after.

  • Seeing three generations of the Shijima family fulfilling their waitress duties side-by-side was therefore quite touching in that it shows how challenges can bring people together: it had been clear that Sui and Satsuki do not get along, similarly to how Satsuki and Ohana do not get along, but unified by a common goal (in no small part, thanks to the sheer optimism and determination Ohana brings to the table), grandmother, mother and daughter work together, keeping things at Kissuisō ship-shape prior to the Bonbori festival. With the guests looked after, the staff can finally turn their attention towards the Bonbori festival.

  • Ohana sets off to place her wish on an ema before heading off to meet Kōichi. Under the gentle glow of lanterns lining the path up the mountain, Ohana finally gives Kōichi her kokuhaku while the pair purchase yakisoba at a street-side vendor during the series’ climax. The vendor tactfully draws a heart on their yakisoba, and it speaks volumes to excellence on Hanasaku Iroha‘s part that things were timed so well. The aesthetics and atmosphere surrounding the Bonbori Festival makes it the perfect place for a moment as monumental as a kokuhaku, and the lore behind it, that making wishes here will see them granted, belies the amount of effort that go towards every wish.

  • Through the Bonbori Festival, what Hanasaku Iroha suggests is that behind every wish is a lot of blood, sweat and tears: those who are utterly dedicated to pursuit of their goals doubtlessly encounter untold adversity along the way, and as such, one cannot help but wish that a little bit of luck and external help might be what it takes to push them along just far enough for said dream to become a reality. Ohana had longed to find her place in the sun, and this is her wish at Bonbori, but even without her wish here at the festival, she’s put in the effort to improve herself; viewers thus come to feel that Ohana does deserve to find her success and make her dreams a reality.

  • Throughout the Bonbori Festival, a song called “Night of Bonbori”, which was composed by Shiro Hamaguchi and performed by the Suginami Children’s Chorus. This was custom-written for Hanasaku Iroha using traditional Japanese style, bringing the festival to life. Hamaguchi’s resume is absolutely impressive: besides other of P.A. Works’ titles (Tari Tari and Shirobako), he’s also scored the musical pieces to Ah! My Goddess and Girls und Panzer, demonstrating competence in a variety of styles. Unsurprisingly, the whole of the Hanasaku Iroha soundtrack is an aural treat to listen to, consisting of sixty-three tracks that cover off the more introspective and slice-of-life moments, to chaos and tension that accompanies life at Kissuisō. Like Kenji Kawai, Hamaguchi has a distinct style, and some of the motifs and tone from Hanasaku Iroha‘s soundtrack can later be heard in Tari Tari and Girls und Panzer.

  • With the Bonbori Festival in the books, Hanasaku Iroha prepares to wind down with Denroku’s retirement. By this point in time, the staff have accepted that Kissuisō is closing, and have prepared themselves to part ways for the present. Everyone is leaving on excellent terms with one another; Renji is seen fighting back tears, and Tomoe is openly bawling her eyes out on the day of departure. However, this isn’t the end: Enishi promises to further hone his craft as an inn’s landlord and reopen Kissuisō some day, and upon hearing this, everyone remarks, with conviction, that they’d be happy to be a part of any inn Enishi is managing.

  • Kōichi had struggled to get in touch with Ohana during the course of Hanasaku Iroha and had come close to reaching Kissuisō on several occasions, but self-doubt had led him to turn back every time. At the end of things, Ohana is finally able to show Kōichi the Kissuisō that changed her. Hanasaku Iroha wrapped things up in a highly satisfying and definitive fashion, leaving no stone unturned. During its twenty-six episode run, Hanasaku Iroha had demonstrated what was possible within the space of two-cour anime: in the present day, production studios often go with seasons, deciding whether or not a given anime will get a continuation based on sales figures. Two decades earlier, two-cour anime were more common, and four-cour anime lasting an entire year also existed, speaking to changes in market trends.

  • The longer runtimes mean that anime are given a chance to properly explore the characters, but at the same time, if not properly done, they can also drag on. Back in Hanasaku Iroha, once the staff have headed off for their separate ways, Sui takes some time to walk through the now-silent halls at Kissuisō, with memories of both good and bad times returning to her. She subsequently runs into Ohana, who missed the train and is giving Kissuisō one final cleaning while waiting for the next one.  Sui and Ohana share a little bit of family time together, as grandmother and granddaughter, before Ohana heads off for the train station.

  • Ohana might’ve started Hanasaku Iroha with the vague dream of reinventing herself, but by the series’ end, she still retains all of the optimism and energy she did previously. The difference now is that, having channeled so much of her effort towards something bigger than herself, Ohana is better attuned to the feelings of those around her, and is able to direct her effort towards things that make it better for others. Before she departs, Sui hands her one of Denroku’s journal logs, and Ohana cherishes it, promising to one day pick up where they’d left off.

  • The new Ohana is still Ohana, but with a more mature outlook on life: she prepares to leave for school with a smile on her face, knowing her life has always been colourful, and that she has much to be grateful for. Hanasaku Iroha might’ve been P.A. Works’ first shot at the coming-of-age/workplace genre, but with an execution defined by finesse and care, Hanasaku Iroha set a very high bar for what sorts of stories are possible within the genre. Possessing relevant and critical themes for viewers, relatable characters, artwork and animation that withstood the test of time and stories that pull one in, Hanasaku Iroha got everything right. In fact, a decade later, I better appreciate all of the messages Hanasaku Iroha strove to convey as a consequence of my own experiences, and it is reassuring to know that, even if my path towards tomorrow isn’t so clear-cut, hard work and optimism will help me see what’s upcoming, one step at a time.

Hanasaku Iroha presents two immeasurably powerful themes during its runtime, wrapped up in a story of self-discovery and self-improvement; on these merits alone, the series is a masterpiece. In conjunction with still-gorgeous visuals and aural work, and the fact that emotions are so-well conveyed that I cried alongside Ohana on several occasions Hanasaku Iroha earns its “masterpiece” status several times over. Of course, Hanasaku Iroha does have one further contribution to anime that is meritorious of praise – the unique premise achieved by combining the workplace and coming-of-age stories in Hanasaku Iroha was unheard of for P.A. Works at the time. Striking a balance between two different settings cannot have been easy, but P.A. Works managed to achieve this. Ohana’s story is simultaneously a tale of pursuing one’s best self, acclimatising to and fitting in with her new workplace, as well as how her work contributes to personal growth. As a result of the success from achieving this, Hanasaku Iroha‘s left a lingering legacy on P.A. Works which impacted the sort of series they produce to this day. As the forerunner in combining seemingly-unrelated, and evidently multidisciplinary elements together, Hanasaku Iroha would set the precedence for what was possible. Tari Tari was about a choir-and-sometimes-badminton club’s journey to end high school with a bang, as well as reconcile the gap between dreams and reality with familiar characters (Konatsu is Ohana minus the love story, Wakana is a more honest version of Minko, and Sawa is a more assertive, determined Nako). Sakura Quest and Shirobako both told stories of how people adapt to and overcome challenges in their workplaces, with Sakura Quest similarly running Yoshino against a timeline, and Shirobako had Aoi grow into her responsibilities, much as how Ohana and Kissuisō do in Hanasaku Iroha. The World in Colours showcased another multidisciplinary club as Hitomi strove to learn the meaning of friendship and the worth of magic with her grandmother, Kohaku. Hanasaku Iroha sets the stage for what P.A. Works would explore for a decade after it finished airing, and indeed, some of P.A. Works’ strongest titles had arisen from the successes and learnings derived from Hanasaku Iroha. Today, The Aquatope on White Sands is continuing on in the legacy Hanasaku Iroha had created: in its first half, this series impresses with its story of self-discovery in the workplace. There is no denying the impact Hanasaku Iroha had on P.A. Works – this is on top of the series’ already extensive list of strengths. For this reason, Hanasaku Iroha is exceptional, a cornerstone anime that raised the bar for what’s possible and moving viewers, and as such, I am more than happy to count it a masterpiece for having changed the way I view the world, given me moments to become tearful about and for setting the groundwork for several more titles that similarly inspired and encouraged me to give my best in what I do, a credos that continues to impact how I conduct myself a full decade after Hanasaku Iroha finished airing.

12 responses to “Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Celebrating Ten Years of Hanasaku Iroha and Bonburi’ing a Path to the Future, How People Blossom from Self-Discovery, Adversity and Hard Work

  1. Michael E Kerpan September 25, 2021 at 15:26

    Having been swept away by True Tears and Nagi no asakura, this was the first anime I bought completely sight unseen (as it wasn’t streaming anywhere at that point). As with those other PA Works show, this was a case of love at first sight. And I thought the movie really added a lot to the series. Being more the age of the grandmother than the young workers, put me at a different vantage point — but I found this interesting and moving, as well consistently beautiful looking. By the end of this, I was a dedicated PA Works fan. For whatever reason, no studio focused mostly on seasonal anime turns out a higher percentage of shows I wind up loving.


    • infinitezenith September 25, 2021 at 20:06

      P.A. Works’ repertoire is an impressive one: at least for me, they hold the distinction of turning out the most masterpiece series that change my world view, and at the same time, put out the two anime that I dislike the most! I am left with a question: given you’re closer to Sui’s age than I am (I’m a shade older than Tomoe), what are your thoughts on people like Ohana?


      • Michael E Kerpan September 26, 2021 at 15:51

        I’m not NEARLY so strict as Grandma Sui (one year younger than me). I think Ohana is a delight. I find Ohana pretty wonderful — I’d love to have a grandchild like her (alas none at all so far).

        There are a couple of very fine Japanese live-action films that involve young city-dwellers going to work at a relative’s inn (at least over the summer): Jun Ichikawa’s Tsugumi (1990) and John Williams’ Firefly Dreams (2001). Not sure if these may have had some (at least small) influence on HI.

        I assume Glasslip is one of your PA Works “worsts” — what’s the other?


        • infinitezenith September 29, 2021 at 22:31

          I myself wouldn’t mind working alongside someone like Ohana: I’m probably a cross between Toru and Enishi depending on the day.

          I appreciate the live-actions: perhaps if I am lucky in finding them, I should give them a whirl, as well 🙂

          Finally, the other P.A. Works anime that made my list was 2013’s RDG: Red Data Girl. I had a great deal of trouble understanding what the series wanted to accomplish back then. Unlike Glasslip, however, I am basing my existing opinions of the series on my impressions after I finished, eight years earlier. For Glasslip, I did a revisit last year to see if my thoughts changed (they didn’t), so in fairness to RDG: Red Data Girl, I have plans to rewatch that one at some point to see if my thoughts on the series still hold, or if some redactions and updates are needed.


  2. jsyschan September 25, 2021 at 16:39

    This show is one of those shows that I’ve heard so much about, but I never really had the courage to watch it (same with A Silent Voice, though for other reasons). I tried reading the manga in an attempt to get used to it and then watch the anime, but I guess initial impressions left me wanting to not continue (specifically, the mistake with Ohana and her grandmother putting customers at an inconvenience). Perhaps my mindset back then found the reaction shocking, though I’m not sure how I feel about it now, considering how I’ve seen similar stuff in works like Sound Euphonium. I suppose I should make an effort to get back into it and hopefully have a more positive experience.


    • infinitezenith September 25, 2021 at 20:08

      Sui decking Ohana three times was a bit of a shocker, but in my opinion, it also opened Ohana’s eyes to the reality of workplaces. Hanasaku Iroha‘s characters are notable in that at Kissuisō, everyone is distant to Ohana early on. One of the things I found particularly noteworthy is how people who were indifferent to, or even antagonistic towards, Ohana end up being the same people she brings up with her. Hanasaku Iroha is therefore worth giving a second chance: as the series wears on, everyone becomes more likeable!


      • Michael E Kerpan September 26, 2021 at 15:54

        The Grandmother’s behavior IS shocking — but at least it has a genuine point (rather than simply arising from generic strictness). I find the slapping scene in Takahata’s Only Yesterday far more shocking (as the girl is far younger — and her only infraction was forgetting to put her shoes on before stepping out the door).

        Liked by 1 person

        • jsyschan September 26, 2021 at 22:46

          Aside from that one instance in Sound Euphonium, the only other time I recall was in the Pokemon Adventures manga, between Crystal’s mom and Crystal herself (funny how Viz Kids censored it in the English release). I suppose it makes sense if it has a point to it, but still shocking. It was that initial impression that left me not wanting more, but now that I’m older, I feel mildly confident that I can understand it a bit more in context.


      • jsyschan September 26, 2021 at 22:43

        Well, I guess I’m sold. Luckily, this series is available for free (no need to buy it on Blu-Ray…yet), so I’ll have to get to it sooner (currently watching True Tears), and I’ll have to pick up Shirobako at one point. If I recall correctly, this was one of a handful of works that could be described as a sort of….”catharsis” for Mari Okeda revolving around the relationship between her and her mother, coming full circle culminating in Maquia. I don’t remember where I heard it from, so take from that what you will.

        Out of curiosity, are you going to revisit some older KyoAni works in light of the aftermath of the arson and what it means, specifically Kobayashi (season 2)? I read recently a final impressions of the second season, and it really struck me, realizing that the people who worked on the first season are no longer with us and how people worked hard to ensure the vision of S1 was kept in S2.


        • Michael E Kerpan September 28, 2021 at 08:51

          True Tears and Nagi no asukara set off my quest to track down as much of both PA Works’ shows and shows in which Mari Okada has a major creative role. Still a couple of missing links (mostly of shows that don’t seem especially “essential”), but these were long and worthwhile quests.

          The grandmother in HI (and the mother too) are really great, complex characters. They do lots of things wrong at times, but in the end they do love each other (and Ohana) after all. I love the way this show (and so many other PA Works ones) refuse to provide easy answers (and easy endings).


          • jsyschan September 28, 2021 at 21:58

            Mari Okada is one person whose works I’ll strive to watch (when I can). Though they may not all be home runs, it’ll still be an enjoyable experience.

            I’ve been thinking of something, that there was another work that also focused on complex family relationships: The Visit. Took me a while to think of it. Since HI focuses on grandparent/grandchild, the film seemed to fit here.


        • infinitezenith September 29, 2021 at 22:27

          Once you do have a chance to watch Hanasaku Iroha, I hope you’ll enjoy it. I’ll have to take a look at Okeda’s story to see how her life experiences feed into the works she creates, but there is no doubt that she can capture those emotions well.

          Regarding Kyoto Animation, I wrote extensively about what I felt of their return through Violet Evergarden: The Movie back in August, and for Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, I do have plans to watch that one. Things fell by the wayside for me, but there are some thoughts I probably would like to share about that, as well. I can’t guarantee anything for now, however, since my life’s gotten a bit hectic, but I will do my best to write about Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid‘s second season as I am able.


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