Hinamatsuri is turning out to be an exhilarating comedy with a lot of heart, in no small part thanks to a handful of key creators on the anime staff doing an outrageous amount of work. Let’s explore the director’s vision, plus the synergies between his style, the source material, and the show’s main animators!
─ My intention was to return to coverage of Hinamatsuri after a particularly impressive episode, but since so far it’s been consistent in the best of ways and episode #4 hit a sort of important narrative point, recapping how the show as a whole has been faring up until now seems like the best option. For starters I’d like to say that this consistency wasn’t achieved by chance: series director Kei Oikawa has storyboarded every episode, making sure this series is brought to life exactly as he’d envisioned it. Though he’s not the kind of glamorous director that fans flock around, over the last few years he’s established himself as one of the best in his field. Obviously it didn’t help that his first projects as series director were the third season of Minami-ke, affected by the franchise’s curse when it came to sequels, and the widely misunderstood Outbreak Company. However, after his amazing work handling Oregairu’s second season, which showed a much more human side to his usually comedic output, Oikawa’s been attracting more attention from the fandom and among producers. With two shows this very season, there’s no denying that he’s a rising directorial figure.
─ To put Oikawa’s contributions to Hinamatsuri in more precise terms, it’s worth looking at how he approaches its peculiar comedy. The series always exploited restraint in a humorous way: Hina’s deadpan, Nitta rolling with the punches ever since the first gag, even Anzu and Hitomi quickly getting used to the ridiculous changes to their lives. Oikawa understands that and has a tendency to be economic with loud reactions to make them stand out much more when they do happen, often having outrageous things happening in the background and not being paid much attention to, which only makes them funnier. Combine that with his understanding of comedic buildup (the emotional friendship montage between Hina and Anzu leading to the latter becoming homeless is a perfect example), and you’ve got an explosive cocktail. It feels as if he’s taken a page from Tsutomu Mizushima, current king of absurdism in anime, whose greatest subtle talent is how naturally he sells the most ridiculous events as somehow natural within their worlds – best seen in his flagship franchise Girls und Panzer, but also sprinkled throughout the likes of Shirobako and Mayoiga. In the same way that it felt like no coincidence that he was given the reins of Witch Craft Works and Prison School, series that thrive in that context of ridiculousness being parsed as natural, Oikawa being entrusted with Hinamatsuri feels like very deliberate casting. And so far, so good!
─ If Oikawa’s grasp of the humor is impressive, his ability to combine that with heartfelt relationships is even more of a feat. His warmth is sometimes conveyed aesthetically in a way that fans of his previous work will immediately recognize, but there’s a less tangible feeling of caring there that really makes the show. Considering that multiple characters are kind of terrible human beings and that awful things keep happening to a bunch of kids, a more standard series would lean hard on the comedy aspect so that the viewers can laugh with no worries. But Hinamatsuri’s insistence on maintaining a genuine emotional core allows it to keep a very tricky balance, which by all logical means shouldn’t work yet it somehow does. Not only that, it helps it avoid feeling like it’s punching down with the gags regarding some nasty situations, as the show really does treasure people like Anzu. You won’t find much anime with the finesse to work on two levels that feel like they should exclude each other like this, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
─ Much like the series director has turned out to be the perfect fit for this series, his recurring team of main animators has perfectly adapted to both his style and Hinamatsuri in particular. Unlike some of his peers who aim for a live action feeling, Oikawa’s direction is grounded but unashamedly still a cartoon, leading to work that in a way feels like it goes beyond reality – again, quite fitting to Hinamatsuri’s low key supernatural adventures. In similar fashion, the Takeuchi school of animation that rules over this series takes realistic precepts like intricate clothing folds, and then exaggerates them to the point that the result surpasses realism. There are many ways to exploit the possibilities of animation, and the answer Oikawa & co have arrived to is not to reject reality entirely but to build upon it to reach new heights.
─ As anticipated, those main animators that we introduced in the post about the first episode are doing an extraordinary amount of work. Kuniaki Masuda has shifted more towards supervision duties, but when it comes to the actual animation and despite some occasional guests like Toshiyuki Sato, the stars in every single episode are Tetsuya Takeuchi and Ryo Araki. The former will make any minor character gag into a memorable, ridiculous sequence, while the latter spreads his more steady charm while also jumping at any action opportunity. And beyond the many sequences they animate themselves, they’re the ones clearly setting the tone for everyone else in the team, meaning that even the scenes they had no direct hand on often showcase similar sensibilities. There are of course many other people doing wonderful work on this series – on an animation level I’d like to highlight the contribution of the very promising Khara-bred Jin Oyama at the end of the opening – but it would be equally unfair to deny the unusually strong importance a small group of creators have in this project. Hinamatsuri has landed in exactly the right hands, with staff that are very compatible with the material and willing to go the extra mile to personally carry this adaptation. I can only congratulate them for their exceptional work.