Naru Sekiya is a shy middle school girl who encounters one night a strange but cute blonde-haired "fairy" dancing gracefully. The "fairy", an American girl named Hana Fontainestand, is dancing the Japanese dance yosakoi. She then invites Naru to join the yosakoi club at her school with her. Naru is hesitant, but Hana encourages her to eventually join. The rest of the series involves them getting others to join, including Naru's best friend Yaya, Naru's upperclassman Tami, and Tami's best friend Machi.
And for one single episode, HaNaYaMaTa almost suckered me into thinking this it was going to be great, with its wonderful animation and the cute, likable Hana.
Yosakoi, for those who do not know, is a type of Japanese dance, involving girls wearing yukatas or happy coats while synchronizing the playing of small wooden clappers known as naruko. It's a large event in Japan, with some teams consisting of hundreds of members! An annual festival called the Yosakoi Matsuri even attracts as many as 200,000 participants.
Also helping is that HaNaYaMaTa was going to be animated by Madhouse, one of the most beloved Japanese animation companies. Considering the company's reputation - including the film works of the late Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Hosoda - high-gloss animation and lots of dancing was expected. As numerous as these "cute girls in a club do something" shows are getting, the fact that Madhouse was doing one - and about dancing nonetheless - was enough to get people interested, myself included.
Sadly, after the first episode, HaNaYaMaTa turns from an interesting concept to a clone of K-On! (overplaying character tropes for laughs) and Love Live! (set-up of gathering girls over the course of a season, and even some of its plots). They don't even do a good job ripping them off, either.
But even more so than that, the single most disappointing thing about HaNaYaMaTa is the animation. While the first episode boosts some impressive animation, every other episode just looks bad. Outside of the opening animation, you'll seldom see any dancing (and what little there is shown far away a la K-On!), characters look off and have minimal facial features, and the colorful but boring backgrounds feature nasty bloom and/or lighting. The unpleasant character designs, especially the ugly egg-like eyes all the characters seem to have, don't help. Now granted, art and animation aren't usually vitally important in anime, but for a series about dancing, it's a big letdown. Even K-On! tried harder.
But poor art and animation are just icing on the cake. HaNaYaMaTa's cast is also composed of stereotypes. Naru is wishy washy, Hana is an energetic American blonde/Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Yaya is the flustered, bitchy best friend of Naru's, Tami is the big sister figure, and Machi is a grump. There's also Seiri, their woman child adviser who's literally Sawako from K-On! (only without any of the humorous backstory Sawako had), right down to the animal ears fetish and brown hair. The only unique character is Masaru Oofuna, the scary-looking but harmless and hammy owner of a yosakoi shop who teaches Naru and Hana the basics of yosakoi, and he's underutilized and used as the butt of jokes on Seiri's end shortly after his debut.
Normally a show like this would warrant a very low three star review on this site even with weak artistic merit, but what ranks HaNaYaMaTa so low on the star rating is its execution of its plots, while offering nothing to help stand out from the recent crop of series of its kind. You see, every major character in HaNaYaMaTa has her own backstory about themselves, and you're forced to watch all five main girls' pasts and why they're either for/against yosakoi. When it comes to Naru's, Hana's, and Tami's pasts and their reasons, they're handled relatively okay. It's when the series gets to Yaya's that the show loses itself.
It's also with Yaya's backstory here that one finds that script writer Reiko Yoshida (who, surprise, wrote for the K-On! anime) is no better at writing character drama than she is at her flat attempts at comedy. You see, Yaya is not so much a character as she is a living joke, being used for the sole purpose of making corny jokes out of. When she's not being used for that, she's an asshole to Naru and the others for no good reason, even after character development.
And now I have to put in some spoilers in the next three paragraphs. For those who haven't finished watching this series, you might want to skip them.
You see, Yaya, unlike the other girls in HaNaYaMaTa, is in her own club already - a girls-only rock group. (Don't THAT sound familiar!) After being badgered endlessly by Naru and Hana, she joins the yosakoi club while still a part of her band, who later enter a contest. They don't qualify, and all of Yaya's club members disband immediately after (some friends she has..), leaving her bummed out. This leads to Naru trying to give Yaya a pep talk, which she not only refuses, but then tells Naru and Hana to their faces she hates them and never wants to talk to them again. Naru cries her brains out as Yaya leaves her, regretting her rage immediately at her. The next day Naru and Hana shout on the rooftop that Yaya's an idiot, which gets her to chase them upstairs. Here Naru and Yaya apologize, and then everyone cries. Now Yaya can permanently join the yosakoi club because her music group, who she spent countless months of practice on the drums for, disbanded and her whiny friend convinced her to join. Hooray??
Machi's plot is just as contrived. You see, she and her older sister Seiri don't get along because Seiri broke a promise with her when they were little. Due to the way this series' plot is set up, though, it takes until episode 8 for HaNaYaMaTa to start touching on this, and until episode 9 for Machi to do, well, anything in this series except for being grump and/or a douche, despite being in the opening and ending themes of the series. The show also loses points for playing the "I'm not going to tell you what I'm up to" card with her sister Seiri. Later in the series she is forced to step down as the girls' adviser due to not being a full-time teacher. But as we later find out, Seiri didn't bother to tell anyone except for Tami that she was also taking an exam to become a full-time teacher, Machi included! Why would she not tell Naru and the others this - or hell, her own SISTER! - beforehand is beyond me.
So after that, all is good and dandy, right? Nope. We got to rip off of Love Live and countless other harem shows and have one of the girls have to move away (well, back in this case) to America, the plot device used in anime to get rid of a character when you have no other ideas. Hana has to go back home to America to spent more time with her mother and father. Problem is, Hana's father is still staying in Japan anyway to get work done before he can leave. And her mother just so happens to want Hana to leave right before the big festival Naru and the others have been getting ready for for half of the series. Hana doesn't bother to tell her mother about said festival at all until it's nearly too late; hell, she doesn't even tell her mother she's in the yosakoi club until she's back in America. Of course Hana makes it back in time (I guess her mother had a couple of grand to blow), but all of this could've been avoided in the first place if she just spoke up.
And all this is intermixed with lots of filler, including 5 minutes of one episode spent on the girls going on a diet, only to drop it and for the "real" plot of the episode to begin, never to mention it again. Or how the series likes to recap its events over and over again, at a repetition even Teletubbies would be ashamed of.
So that's HaNaYaMaTa. Despite a decent first episode, the show falls faster than the public interest in the Virtual Boy. The characters are walking clichés, it looks terrible, the music's forgettable (save the pretty ending theme), there's next to no dancing - there's nothing going for it whatsoever. Although the girls proclaim at the end of the series that they're heading to another festival in the near future, I sure won't be joining them if a second season does get made. Only a few humorous scenes with Masaru and Hana raise it from the dreaded one star rating - and then just barely.
A rather weak show overall. It starts off okay, but after Yaya's story arc begins, all bets are off. Those who don't mind the low-budget art might consider another star. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: There's nothing particularly offensive in this series outside of its lack of originality, aside from some minor fan service in a hot spring episode.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
HaNaYaMaTa © 2014 Sou Hamayumiba / Houbusha / Hanayamata Production Committee
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