Naozumi Tsuchida is late to his first day at work. While running frantically towards the kindergarten that is about to become his workplace, he runs across a little girl named Anzu. She promptly mistakes his referring to her as "Miss" as a come-on line, which causes her to mark him her future husband.
As it turns out, Anzu is one of the girls attending the kindergarten where Tsuchida works, so she is, of course, free to pursue him at her leisure. To make matters more complicated for them both, Tsuchida himself falls in love with Nanako Yamamoto, a fellow kindergarten teacher.
Winter 2010 was a very slow season for anime. Of the dozen or so titles we saw pictures of, the only one that caught our interest for an extended period of time was Hanamaru Kindergarten. (Tim being the one to check a few episodes and being surprised how good it was, later convincing Stig to watch with for our daily synchro sessions.) We thought that maybe, perhaps maybe, GAINAX wouldn't screw this up.
We should've known better.
But let's talk about the first nine and a half episodes of Hanamaru Kindergarten first. We'll begin with the setting, the titula kindergarten itself - Hanamaru, where the majority of the series' events take place. The school is very large and colorful, with a big playground, a gigantic slide, and quite a few classrooms. In this school we have our only male teacher and staff member, Naozumi Tsuchidai (almost always referred to by his last name). He's your typical young adult male who lives in a small apartment, likes video games, and keeps dirty magazines in which he oogles women with big breasts. So it should come as no surprise that he quickly takes a liking to Nanako Yamamoto, one of his fellow colleagues.
And let's face it; the first thing you are going to notice about Yamamoto is that she is busty. Bringing the proud tradition of the Gainax Bounce onwards, the show naturally features a pool scene for you to appreciate this fact, though in all honesty, the show actually comes pretty clean about her generous endowment. (Strange, huh?) Instead, she's portrayed as yet another beacon of Japanese feminine ideals, at least insofar that she's ludicrously cheerful and pretty damn gentle. To complicate things for us, she is also voiced by Erino Hazuki, whom some of you might recognize from the voice cast of Aria, her being the proprietor of possibly the sweetest laugh known to man. In fact, Yamamoto SOUNDS as much like Akari as Alice (also from Aria) sounds like Rakka from Haibane Renmei. We both concur that Erino Hazuki should be put to use more often in anime voice acting roles, but the character of Nanako Yamamoto still left us both at a loss, which will be explained a little later.
And then there's Anzu, who will gleefully and openly pursue Tsucchi (as she calls him), much to the amusement of everyone else. The show actually does good by having every single character in the show who witnesses her no-holes-barred pursuit as just that -- a childish crush given form -- instead of immediately labelling Tsuchida as a pedophile and blaming it all on him. (Even though he unwittingly caused this.) As it turns out, her mother, Sakura, is his old senior from high school, whom we learn actively pursued her art teacher until they married and had Anzu. It's still somewhat unclear why Sakura encouraged her daughter to pursue Tsuchida with all she had, but we don't necessarily think the fact that she married her own teacher is all there is to it. Still, Anzu's obvious crush (and the ensuing mayhem) isn't necessarily the problem we had with the show itself, at least not directly. In fact, her straightforward nature could actually be considered cute, though heaven knows the show runs these jokes into the ground, so it does become tiresome after a while. Her penchant for copying stuff she sees in the magazines her mother works for (like posing in swimsuits). or repeating things she hears, thankfully do NOT get run into the ground or overplayed, which would have gotten awkward pretty fast.
At the school we have Anzu's two best friends. Koume is shy, soft-spoken, and a crybaby who, like many young girls in anime, speaks often in the third person. She likes so many things that it often onverwhelms her what she wants to do when she grows up, as we learn in one episode when the kids in Tsuchida's write down their dream jobs for the future. Her other friend is Hiiragi, a girl wise above her years. Always displaying a permanent, bland expression, as well as no nose and mouth, Hiiragi is definitely the brains of the trio, if not the entire cast at times. There are a few other kids in the class as well - the energetic daughter of fishmongers, a boy Koume has a crush on, and a few boys who are just as much into video games as their own kindergarten teacher himself. Most notable among them is Hinagiku, the only daughter of a Yakuza clan, who wait on her hand and foot. She falls for Tsuchida at first, but turns him down after her debut. But that doesn't stop her and Anzu from having some wacky rival antics!
The other teachers in the school include: Kusano, who teaches PE and wants her students to become big and strong one day; Kawashrio, who teaches a supposedly rambunctious second year class; Kakogawa, the most mature of the teachers, usually with a slight frown on her face; and the very forgiving, fairly old Principal with no name.
Tsuchida also has a little sister, Satsuki, who's your obligatory jealous little sister who really likes her older brother, but is shy to admit it. Yamamoto also has a younger sister named Mayumi, who is plain but kind and caring to those around her. In a case of cruel irony, she is aware of Nanako's crush on Tsuchida, but is not aware that Hanamaru, a mangaka who works at the publishing agency she works part-time with, like her.
The main problem with Hanamaru Kindergarten -- barring the somewhat repeated jokes -- is the whole romantic aspect, namely Tsuchida's pursuit of Yamamoto. Tsuchida being the average "loser lead" who has problems getting the words across is another one of those aspects that quickly becomes tiresome, especially since the show sees fit to have everyone else (even Anzu!) be aware that Tsuchida is crushing on Yamamoto - badly! The most infuriating part, one which caused one of our reviewing party to drop the show stone cold, is Yamamoto's penchant for utter cluelessness, as well as the show's bad habit of ruining Tsuchida's every attempt at confessing to her in the worst ways. It's a gag that became tiresome long before this show, so seeing it happen all over again here is just draining. The fact that near everyone else is portrayed more like normal human beings just makes the whole thing worse. There's no way to get past this either, because it's pretty much all the show is about for the last two and a half episodes. We'd like to spoil things for you. We really would. But honestly, the ensuing scene after Tsuchida's confession is just going to be so bad for your forehead. It eclipses the whole thing where the girl goes "I like you too" just before commencing to list everyone else she likes, sending the poor guy to the depths of angsty despair. We mean... jeez! People gave Love Hina a hard time for being a forerunner to every bad romance/harem joke ever made, but at least Keitaro professed his love early and STUCK by it, and there was no one who misinterpreted THAT confession.
This killed Hanamaru Kindergarten for us partially. We were having so much fun most of the time, too. It's one of the first shows we can remember that accurately portrayed how kids think and act. (Save for Hiiragi, but at least the jokes about her wise-beyond-her-age personality trait were amusing.) It was also great to see that just about all the adults in the show acted like reasonable human beings, all of whom actually supported Tsuchida's pursuit of Yamamoto and kept the teasing to just that - teasing, and without alienating Anzu and her crush in the process. It was just so disappointing to see it go through every single annoying cliche a romantic comedy can go through. While we liked Yamamoto -- the kind, orange-haired woman with the giant ribbon in her hair who is voiced by the most gentle voice in the business -- we were getting sick of her unintentionally hurting Tsuchi over and over again.
So where does that put us in regards to Hanamaru Kindergarten? Honestly, it's an enjoyable series. And since it's available to watch on crunchyroll for free, you should definitely do so. Just remember to pad your forehead (or wear a helmet), because the wallbangers in the last quarter of the show might very well be lethal.
A very uneven comedy. 4 stars for the antics in the kindergarten, and 2 for the overdone 'romance' between Tsuchi and Yamamoto. Add a star if the latter doesn't bother you as much as it did us. — Stig Høgset and Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Despite its young cast, at times the show would often flash fanservice your way in the form of the endowed Yamamoto, as well as suggestive content from girls 10 years too young to be talking about that kind of thing. (Though thankfully the latter is played out like someone not completely understanding the implications of what she's doing, at least not fully.)
Version(s) Viewed: Crunchyroll stream, prelicense fansub
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Hanamaru Kindergarten © 2010 Yuto / Square Enix / Hanamaru Kindergarten Committee
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