First Look: HaNaYaMaTa

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Alternative titles: Hanayamata, Lesbian Mating Rituals: The Anime
Manga by Madhouse
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Naru Sekiya’s life consists mostly of reading and taking severe blows to her self-esteem. This all changes, however, when she meets Hannah S. Fountainstand, a transfer student for New Jersey who introduces Naru to yosakoi dancing.

Aqua’s verdict: Dance Like No One’s Watching

If it’s relaxed and nostalgic anime you’re looking for, feel free to leave P.A. Works in the hole they’ve dug themselves in and check out HaNaYaMaTa, the most aggravatingly syllabled show since So-Ra-No-Wo-To. Before you ask, yes, this show is simply named after the first syllables of its main characters, which should probably tell you something about the level of intellect to expect. Nevertheless, shows like these are a known weakness of mine, and for looking and sounding virtually identical to every single other cute-girls-doing-cute-things anime, HaNaYaMaTa does have a few things going for it.

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First of all, it is incredibly pretty, with dark blues and pink hues dominating the atmospheric colour palette and animated cherry blossoms filling up the screen at every opportunity. If the show proper can live up to the gorgeously adorned kimonos and quirky choreographies of the opening credits, Kyoto Animation might have to start worrying. With last season’s No Game, No Life, director Atsuko Ishizuka already showed off her (!) prowess for hyper-stylized use of colour, and HaNaYaMaTa tones down the excesses for this more grounded (and far less creepy) story.

Furthermore, HaNaYaMaTa‘s cast surprisingly managed to charm me a lot more than, say, Kin-iro Mosaic‘s or YuruYuri‘s. Characters move in and out of scenes naturally, and they all seem to have a bit more flesh on their bones than the easily categorizable archetypes which often populate the genre. If HaNaYaMaTa‘s ability to make the simplest characters and plots engaging reminds you of anything, it’s only because there is a regular Kyoto Animation screenwriter at work here. Reiko Yoshida goes the extra mile to show the various side characters having their own lives outside of their interactions with Naru, and while Naru herself might have her particular kind of angst in common with pretty much every shoujo protagonist ever written, Yoshida’s romantic writing style, though anything but understated, makes her relatable enough to emphasize with.

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Speaking of romantic, HaNaYaMaTa is definitely one of these shows that becomes much more entertaining if you interpret everything as rampant innuendo (“I’ll take you away to another world if that’s what your heart desires”), but it actually has the characters to back up any potential teasing, let alone make its humour work. Gorgeous graphics, a character-driven approach and pretty dancing has to set HaNaYaMaTa apart from the gazillion other schoolgirl shows out there, and if this first episode is any indication, it seems to be succeeding to make at least a case for itself. It’s great to see a team of actual women handling a schoolgirl series for once, so just this once, you have my permission to swoon over cute girls doing cute things like it’s the second coming of Haruhi. And then go back to your room.

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