Ooh Melodrama! Hanasaku Iroha Does it So Salaciously Good

[HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 04 [720p].mkv_snapshot_21.48_[2011.04.26_05.26.22]

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.”

[HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 04 [720p].mkv_snapshot_08.06_[2011.04.26_05.29.41]

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:

[HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 04 [720p].mkv_snapshot_20.31_[2011.04.26_05.18.32]

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

[HorribleSubs] Hanasaku Iroha - 04 [720p].mkv_snapshot_22.06_[2011.04.26_05.26.46]

Also, ANGRY (POTENTIALLY SYMBOLIC) BIRD!

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18 Comments

  1. Hogart
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Melodrama is like pretentious.. a word totally devoid of meaning to most people, except that it means “bad”. Woe be to the one who carelessly throws such words around.. much like to those who hoped Iroha was going to be a straight-laced drama.

    I just wonder if it’ll settle into a groove.. the first four eps were surprisingly inconsistent in tone, and it’s tough to know what to expect since the show seems to want to be serious, just not really. It’ll be hard to take it seriously now, so I’m just in it for the lovely visuals.

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Yes, pretty much this. It’s hard to get a handle on what the show really is, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed… and so we do.

  2. Posted April 25, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Episode 3 did throw me, and now I’m not quite sure what to make of this show, but what-evs. At this point it has shown enough potential, not only in visual quality, but characterization and, yes, DRAMA, that I will keep virtually tuning in to see how it turns out.

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      I personally think that the bondage thing in 03 is wrong on so many levels, but I have come across an intelligent defense (sorta) of it as an earnest portrayal about the srs bsns lucrative writing sub-genre of erotica.

  3. Posted April 26, 2011 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    Still a little behind on Hanasaku so I can’t address nearly all the plot elements, but I do agree that P.A. Works definitely have their heads screwed on straight in keeping the production values high (or at least appearing to do so).
    I feel it’s one of the great strengths of the animation medium – shows look progressively better and more eye-catching with increased input, unlike live-action (although I suppose redoing takes and heavy use of post-production effects could amount to something similar). If anything, the consistently good visuals that P.A. Works puts in draws in viewers that they wouldn’t pick up otherwise (visuals were pretty much the only reason I could stick with Angel Beats! and CANAAN at all).

    Also, that bird appears to be a Grey Heron, which is the most iconic and most common, relatively speaking, species of heron in the Old World (the Great Blue Heron in the Americas fills the same ecological niche). Herons (and the related egrets) are pretty significant in Japanese folklore and myth – they’re associated with pheonix myths of rebirth, as well as romance (herons mate for life in general), and elegance. Not sure if any of this will play into the story, but the heron we see frequenting Kissuisou may at least make for an interesting mascot!

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      That “more is more” element in animation is why I have this excited attitude over remakes, rebuilds, updates, etc. It could always stand to look better unless it was superbly budgeted to begin with and all that’ll change are style elements. But this should be very rare and almost all TV anime could stand to be remade if they could look as good as Iroha.

      I mean, I’d certainly wish for a Kare Kano with actual money in its production.

  4. Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    just curious, if this is melodrama, what is Ano Hana then? Episode 4 definitely changed my mind about this show. I was ready to drop it after episode 3 but glad that I didn’t. I still like Ano Hana a whole lot more though

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      AnoHana has melodramatic content — albeit with less exagerration than Iroha: Tsuruko and Anaru had a faceoff in the street and not while naked in the bath (LOL), but Tsuruko’s extreme not wishing to associate with low-rent slobs like Anaru is quite melodramatic… as with the ‘rival’ for Menma bearing a grudge because he can’t see ghost Menma and has built a life of superiority and contempt due to his jealousy from childhood.

      The opening scene in AnoHana (ep 01) is just as salacious than anything Iroha has done.

  5. fathomlessblue
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never understood all the negativity over melodrama, especially regarding anime, seeing as under it’s dictionary defination (‘A Drama… characterized by exaggerated emotions, stereotypical characters, sensational events and interpersonal conflicts’) most modern tv/films/performances etc, utilise it in one way or the other. I’m no expert in Japanese media, but from what I’ve seen both in animation and live-action tv/films suggests that the country uses melodrama even more excessively than western shows, with deliberately exaggerated actions/facial features, not to mention in terms of (mostly romantic) conflicts. Saying you don’t like melodrama seems almost tantamount to saying you don’t like anime; it’s pretty hard to escape from it in one way or another.

    Perhaps I’m defining melodrama somewhat differently to other people; I know many use it solely to describe ott performances that deliberately pluck at your heartstrings for emotional effect, but again, so what! I want to feel something when I watch shows like Hanasaku Iroha or Ano Hana, whether positive, sad or bittersweet. I don’t really care that my emotions are being deliberately exploited by a show to make me care, as some people argue, for me that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sure, the are cases of shows based entirely making a viewer sympathetic to the characters, while not actually putting any effort into the personalities of said cast; Air is a perfect example, personally speaking, of trying to force you to care about a bunch of empty shells; however, as long as theres something to get behind then I have no issue whatsoever.

    I find it hysterical hearing some people out there badmouth the likes of Ano Hana for using melodrama to exploit it’s viewers, whilst heaping praise on the likes of Showa Monogatari, a show that uses nostalga for the same effect. As far as I’m concerned theres a moot distinction between the two.

    Sorry, this turned into a mini rant. :P

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I get you. It’s become a generic put-down word. But well, anime fans. I’d chalk it up to internet-enabled schoolyard jockeying. The game is whose opinion will influence everyone else’s, and a lot of opinion you’ll see and hear are regurgitated soundbites from the cloud/crowd. The more popular the show is, the more extreme opinions you’ll hear (often) and just as often I question the authenticity of such opinions.

      The anime ‘discussion’ community is really quite melodramatic.

  6. Itsu
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    I love this series, it’s really well written. I really like the series which leave you a dumb smile on your face after each episode.

    Serious humor is what saves the series from been too melodramatic, things like the erotic book and the (potentially symbolic) bird where funny as hell for us, but surely not for Ohana. Fanservice is also used to lower the drama, let’s just hope its not abused in the future.

    Abusing drama elements turns series into dark drama (School days, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien) so the use of comedy and fanservice to smooth the drama show that the writer knows what he is doing.

    • Posted April 28, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      But School Days had TONS of fanservice and humor! It had all these slapstick boobs and panties stuff all over the place!

      The darkness really was the surprise end.

  7. Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Meh, Melodrama, Shallowdrama, who cares!
    As long as the anime is good, that’s all that counts. :P

    Anyways, I am seriously enjoying this anime, I tend to steer clear of stuff that is too serious (when it comes to human relationships, I tend to get iffy around serious things like love triangles, betrayals, and forgotten birthdays), but this looks like fun, so I will be watching.

    • Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Meh, opinionated not thought-out comments, who cares!

      As long as there are people engaged by the blog post, that’s all that counts. :)

      Anyways, I am seriously enjoying blogging this anime, I tend to steer clear of stuff that is too serious (when it comes to getting too affected by humans who read and comment on my blog posts, I get iffy about wanting to grabbing them by the figurative collar and letting them know exactly what they’re not getting in what I wrote so we can have a meaningful discussion), but I think you’re a nice guy anyway, so I’ll be responding.

  8. Posted April 27, 2011 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    I’m really confused since episode 3. Everybody in the show feels so different from the first 2 episodes.

    • Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t think they were so different at all, but more like themselves. What’s obviously odd in episode 3 is the outrageous levels of fanservice relative to our expectations for this show.

  9. Locke
    Posted April 29, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Fanservice always seems to deplete the quality of an anime, which is disappointing especially with Iroha. Episode 3 really felt as if it came from left field. There is something inconsistent about the tone of the show. I thought this show started off nicely, it has potential and the visuals are simply incredible, so i’ll probably keep it for a few more episodes.

    • Posted April 30, 2011 at 4:14 am | Permalink

      Do you mean sexual content? It would depend on how the show is positioned: if it’s sold as some kind of art piece then yes I suppose the salacious content may deplete the effort unless it is erotic art or something like that.

      But if it is some kind of sexually gratuitous entertainment piece I think the salacious content will only deplete it if it doesn’t look good or is executed poorly.

      I think Iroha is a show positioned to appeal to adolescent males who enjoy ogling at young girls in suggestive situations. The drama and character development are comparably significant content, but no more important than the sexual fanservice.

      The thing that we viewers need to get that sexual fanservice shows need not be the crass To Love-ru, Queen’s Blade, Ikkitousen kind of show. There are those (like me) who on their most forgiving days may stand to watch that kind of show only with liberal use of the progress bar. But a fanservice show like Iroha? I can watch shit like this no problemo.

      This, despite the fact that I don’t go out of my way for sexual fanservice. I prefer robot fighting, transformation, large battles, manly speeches, GAR, etc. as fanservice content.

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