From the beginning, Hanasaku Iroha immediately sets itself apart from other typical shows within the same genres. The show seems to be aware of the tropes and conventions that are usually tied to romance comedy dramas, and so it actively differentiates. Instead of the classic lead up to a love confession, Hanasaku Iroha hits you with one in the first episode, letting the viewer see the aftermath rather than the rising action. When Ohana leaves Koichi without an answer, she changes the fish out of water scenario that would be the first act.
You see, the story is that Ohana has to depart from her mother and their home in the city to go work for her grandmother’s traditional Japanese inn out in the country. Normally this might be a chance for a fresh start, to meet new people and start a new life, and without Koichi that’s all this would’ve been. But because of her ties to him, she’s left grappling with her feelings and her regrets. Ohana hadn’t completely abandoned Koichi, but she did leave both of them in an incredibly confusing place. She still has his number so they eventually text each other again, yet they’re not quite sure where they stand.
It’s this relationship with Koichi that ultimately shows her growth as a person. Ohana doesn’t necessarily grow from her connection with him too much, but what they have is a clear effect of what Ohana learned from her family and her work. Their relationship is able to grow because Ohana is, and her mistakes are just a marker of who she is at that point in time. An example would be when she thought she could just move on from Koichi, thinking that he would eventually get over her and move on as well. What she was neglecting was her own feelings, as well as the fact that she left him without an answer. How could Koichi move on without being properly rejected and why would Ohana want to live with that regret when not trying seems so opposite to the nature she had working for Kissuiso?
The romantic drama between these two is only part of the overarching plot though, and it’s not part of the average day to day in which most of this series takes place. Ohana needs to first learn the way the Kissuiso inn operates and what her place in that operation is. The grand rule of the inn is to always serve their customers with the highest degree of dedication and effort, and so as a maid, Ohana has to cater to every need, even for the more eccentric guests. Through her hard work, she starts to feel a connection to this inn and a thriving motivation to withhold its standards, so much so that she’s willing to do crazy things like crash a wedding or listen to a certain guest’s drafts of their erotic novels.
Mostly, Ohana grows through her bonds with her coworkers, friends, and family in and around the Kissuiso. They teach her and of course she teaches them. Sui (madam manager) teaches her how to have passion in your career and the importance of putting the customer above all else. Enishi, her uncle and heir of Kissuiso, is a classic example of willpower, never giving up despite his near constant failures. Nako is an embodiment of exceptionalism, being great at her job while dealing with the shortcomings of her shy personality. Minko shows how (or how not) to handle frustration. And every other main character demonstrates an important life lesson as well.
What’s really interesting is seeing how Ohana changes their lives, mainly with her positive attitude and ability to sort of save the day with her brash and short sighted actions. Whether it’s crashing weddings to find the cook that Kissuiso is in desperate need of, or fighting clearly biased review scores of their inn, Ohana is always ready to take things a step too far for the things she cares about.
And somewhere down the line, that thing is the Kissuiso. Maybe she threw herself into her work because of the drama with Koichi, maybe she just found out she had a natural gift with inn labor. Point is, Ohana began to love this place she worked at, and so at around the half way mark this show became less about adapting to a new environment and more about finding your place in the world/loving where you’re at right now. Ohana comes face to face with the reality that she isn’t a person with some sort of grand dream, a goal that she decided. So instead of having her own dream, she followed someone else’s and made it her own.
This where she, and really everyone around here, starts to really change as a character. She isn’t really about big melodramatic attempts to save the day by the second half of the series, and this is due to a number a reasons; one being a certain shift in her relationship with Koichi, another just being that she learns from her mistakes and sees that when she sets out to do something it never really ends the way she wants it to.
But the other characters are the ones that truly shine in the second act, with almost all of them getting their own arc. Change is blatantly evident in characters like the madam manager, who was first introduced as a strict and violent innkeeper to a woman more willing to take risks and open up. Others like Nako come to grips with who they are, and while they don’t change as much as characters like Sui, they do become conscious of who they are as people. Ultimately, the arrival of Ohana is a learning experience for everyone involved.
Moving on from the heavy details, I’d like to talk a bit about the comedy of Hanasaku Iroha. At times, I’d find myself laughing quite hysterically at the sheer excellence of a well-timed joke. Other times I’d find myself shaking my head in disapproval. No, Hanasaku Iroha is not a perfect show by any stretch, and one of the reasons for that would be the hit-and-miss variety of gags it tends to dish out. Mainly, the show occasionally makes itself appear too hokey with off-tone antics that only end up feeling weird and cartoonish. At times, the show literally uses a slide whistle. It comes out of nowhere and has virtually no setup, but for some reason a poorly cobbled joke shows up and wastes about a minute or less screen time. These gags aren’t hard to shrug off, mind you, but it’s strange and unnecessary.
All in all, Hanasaku Iroha is an incredibly fun and heartwarming show. Ohana, alongside her friends/fellow employees work hard and wrestle with things like love and loss in their pursuit to understand where they truly belong. While a little forced at times, the humor of this is usually impeccable and (like real life) is much needed to get through hard times.
And the OPs and EDs are amazing.