You often hear how melodrama is some kind of bad thing, as if there’s a high drama that people are so familiar with that they easily dismiss a great many shows because the drama is ‘melo.’ I’m not trying to stir up melodrama here with my straw-mannish opening to this post, but rather I suggest that melodrama isn’t a value judgment. Rather it is a mode, method, or even a kind of content in itself.
I enjoy a whole lot of melodrama: SDF Macross, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Revolutionary Girl Utena, so much of Gundam, Romeo & Juliet (stage and film), Friday Night Lights (TV), Kare Kano, Toradora!, Honey and Clover, Aria the Origination, K-On!!, Legend of Basara (manga), NANA (manga Oh god), etc etc.
But ghostlightning Gurren Lagann is a mecha show not a melodrama!
Ugh. For the nth time I’m less interested in the taxonomical archiving of anime and I won’t indulge this kind of discussion here. TTGL has melodramatic content, and that’s what’s relevant in this post. I care far less whether a show is slice of life, action, moe or whatever fans are hung up on defining a particular show as. We’re here to talk about melodramatic content. After four episodes, I’m really enjoying what Hanasaku Iroha is doing.
I wouldn’t be able to say this after only watching three episodes, because the third episode is utterly preposterous in what it tried to play for laughs. But that misstep is part of its method to make the melodramatic content to go down easy. Spoonfuls of sugar so to speak, to make the melodrama seem less heavy, dragging, and NARM-y which are the things people don’t like about melodramatic content.
It doesn’t make making light of non-consensual attempted bondage things okay, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
After four episodes, Minchi still hates Ohana and shouts insults to her face (who does this on a daily basis? DRAMA!). After four episodes a rival girl appears and creates a rivalry on two fronts: hotel heiresses battle with Ohana (DUN DUN), and love battle for Tohru with Minchi (DRAMA!).
What the show overtly says about this: “It’s not a rival if it came here first.”
Sophistry. By dismissing notions of rivalry, it only heightens the melodrama especially between Yuina and Minchi. Minchi really likes Tohru, but as she discovers, Yuina got to him first. Will this tarnish her idealization of Tohru (he comes off as some kind of prince when Minchi talks about him)? I’m not sure if Minchi heard him speak to Ohana:
The successor to the Fukuya Inn goes to your school, right? I can’t believe you two are the same age. Wouldn’t be able to tell with your body development.
Brilliant. This statement encapsulates the play with perceptions that characterizes this show and its viewers. The viewers, like how Minchi idealizes Tohru, were quick to annoint this show as some kind of anime hipster messiah. But like Tohru’s statement, this show is just as interested in what hipsters would condescend to as lowbrow fanservice: the aforementioned bondage scene with the frustrated smut writer played for laughs, the wet t-shirt scene with Nako, and the melodramatic showdown in episode four inside the bath:
Classy. The early humpers of this show had to re-set their expectations, and perhaps so must Minchi regarding Tohru. As for me, I’m pretty happy with these reveals, these conflicts, and these characterizations, and the attempts at humor, as long as the production values stay as striking over the first four episodes (I am rather in love with the provincial setting, perhaps ever since I’ve seen Summer Wars I’ve been wanting to see more of these rural places in anime).
Hanasaku Iroha isn’t doing anything really new, anime usually attempts to dull the awkward edge from melodrama by making attempts at humor. In this case part of why it works is how high the production values are. The show really looks good from the character designs to the environments. Iroha amps the intensity by charging the drama with… fanservice. Not all the time, but definitely more than once.
The content is undeniably melodramatic, humorous, and salacious. I don’t go out of my way to enjoy this kind of thing, but if it looks this good, why deny it? Now, for that wet t-shirt contest vs. the cast of AnoHana…
Also, ANGRY (POTENTIALLY SYMBOLIC) BIRD!