Fourteen-year-old Naru Sekiya is a timid girl who doesn’t stand out much, preferring instead to hide her face behind the cover of a good fairy tale book. Naru has shunned the spotlight for most of her young life, but that all changes when she crosses paths with a pintsized blonde named Hana Fountainstand. Due to her short stature, Naru mistakes Hana for a pixie – although if you ask me the girl’s fangs make her look more like a loli vampire. Instead of Neverland, Hana is in fact an American transfer student hailing from the far less magical land of New Jersey. Smitten with Japanese culture, Hana dreams of starting up a Yosakoi club. After much pestering she convinces Naru to join her cause, giving the shy teenager a chance to finally dazzle in front of others.
Based on Sō Hamayumiba’s manga, Hanayamata is a twelve-episode anime revolving around the exploits of an after school club. When compared to other “cute girls doing cute things” programmes the series stands out as it revolves around Yosakoi, which isn’t well known over here in the West. A series featuring an obscure Japanese dance, were participants groove to the beat of rattles called Naruko, is certainly more novel than cartoons centred on pop idols or rock bands. The activity being performed is the only original thing Hanayamata has going for it though, because the storylines feel like they are lifted from Love Live and K-On. In Hana’s defence though, her chums actually practice their craft rather than waste time scoffing down tea and desserts.
Over the dozen episodes the Yosakoi club expands from a duo to a quintet. Tami Nishimikado signs up because every Moe show needs an affluent lady like girl, although before joining she struggles with getting her pop’s approval. The second recruit is Naru’s best friend Yaya Sasame. Despite already being occupied with other hobbies (she plays drums in a band) Yaya enlists to help Hana’s posse meet the minimum student quota necessary to be sanctioned as an official club. Yaya constantly feuds with Hana, as she is jealous of how the diminutive Yank monopolizes Naru’s free time. Last, but not least, is student council president Machi Tokiwa who is initially opposed to the club’s unauthorised use of school facilities. Machi’s change of heart could be considered a spoiler were it not for the fact that she appears dancing with the others in the show’s OP! The title HaNaYaMaTa also gives the game away, as it is a construct of each girl’s name.
My rating for Hanayamata is three stars. I enjoyed the series thanks to Hana’s hyperactive antics and the adorable moments provided by Naru’s bashful displays. Come to think of it, most of the girls blush when complimented by their fellow club-mates. Should you seek ships there are more here than in your average port. I do however wonder if other viewers will share my positive opinions. People, who watch more slice of life anime than I, may have a lower tolerance for Hanayamata’s lack of originality. Naru overcoming stage fright, Hana’s quest to find a club advisor and one of the dancers leaving at the eleventh hour have all been done to death in other properties. If you ask me Hanayamata shines when it tries to be sweet/funny, but flounders when it feels the need to inject drama via the appropriation of borrowed plotlines.
Complaints about recycled ideas aside, I can’t accuse Hanayamata of being a lazy cash grab that is hoping to capitalize on a popular anime genre. The artists at Madhouse Studio have clearly put a lot of effort into adapting the source material. Backgrounds are gorgeously drawn and the animation is fluid, which is always a plus when dance choreography is a big part of the show’s appeal. I also found the characters to be charming, even the adult supporting cast. I especially liked Sally Tokiwa the absent minded homeroom teacher who has a weakness for cute outfits. Like most anime senseis she laments not having a boyfriend. Any single guys looking for love should purchase an airline ticket to Japan post haste. Evidently the country has an abundant number of unmarried female educators.