Tomoe vs. Renji – Character Gags in Hanasaku Iroha

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Okay, I know I’ve been writing about Hanasaku Iroha a lot, but if you would please bear with me, it would be much appreciated. This is the last one, I promise. At least, for a while.

I just love this show so much and truly think it’s quite fantastic. There’s just so much to learn from this series, and one aspect in particular that I find worthy of taking notes on is how Hanasaku Iroha does comedy. The show’s not perfect, and some of what weighs it down has to be the 50/50 nature of its humor. Though the jokes can be hit or miss, I did notice that there seemed to be a discrepancy between the quality of gags tied to certain individual characters: Tomoe and Mr. Ren (a.k.a. Renji).

Renji is the 42 year old head chef of Kissuiso inn. He is mostly calm and a bit stern, but he becomes very nervous when under pressure. This is pretty much the opposite of Tomoe, as she is fails to keep her cool time and time again. At least she can perform well in a pinch, but she’s also obsessed with her age and extremely envious of younger girls (especially those with boyfriends).

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These characters are very different, and the disparity between these two can even be seen by the jokes and running gags attached to them. Tomoe is the token “middle aged single woman” character, and so all her jokes revolve around her being old. Rarely has a Tomoe gag ever gotten me to laugh, and it’s not because of the concept it’s based on. It’s the execution that really bugs me, be it the way the show goes about setting up each of her jokes, always being something to remind her how old she is, and the lame payoff is when she gets angry or disparaged or has any sort of over-the-top reaction paired with wacky slide whistle noises. Seriously, the show uses a slide whistle.

But I won’t knock on the slide whistle too much, as it’s not even close to the biggest issue with her. The real issue is that most of the setup is in her head. She’s always thinking about how old she is, so everything anyone does could set her off. In the movie, Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home, Tomoe is in the bath house, rubbing out the calluses in her feet. She then offers to help Minko with her calluses only to realize she doesn’t have any. And that makes her angry. The joke here is that calluses are something that develop overtime, and so they too are a reminder that she is old because young people like Minko don’t have them.

Her overreactions are probably the worst part, as I just don’t see how taking out your frustrations on others is in any way humorous. She’ll make an angry face, do something cartoonish and loud, and then the show will move on to the next scene.

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Another things that’s not too great about Tomoe is the fact that her gags happen all too often. Renji, on the hand, had his funny moments spread sparsely across the series, making it feel just a little more special when they actually happen. Mr. Ren is a laid back old man with nothing too serious to worry about in his life anymore. Tomoe is stricken with grief by the idea that she’ll grow old and die alone, but that idea isn’t something that ever seems to bring Mr. Ren down. Instead, he’s more focused on the little things in life, like his looks.

I love the part in the movie where Yuina mentions his crew cut, insinuating that the haircut is out of style. He doesn’t react to this brashly or overtly like Tomoe, but instead clams up and says nothing, blushing as she just struck him in one of his deepest insecurities. Later on, as quick proof to how bad she got to him, we get a short shot of Renji staring at his reflection within a kitchen knife, distraught by the girl’s sharp observation. After some more time has passed, we get to the final part of this joke’s arc. Renji comes to work with bangs, feeling hip and ready shine. His hopes for impressing the coworkers are quickly squashed Tomoe, who mistakenly thinks he just forgot to do his hair this morning, so she fixes it back to a normal crew cut.

Renji’s gags rely on a sense of weak but adorable empathy. We’re sad, but not too sad for Mr. Ren, because at the end of the day his problem is just silly. And he handles it like an adult, with momentary somberness before moving on and getting back to work. It’s cute, and what he’s going through is actually quite relate-able.

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What Tomoe is going through is actually quite similar too. Ren feels disconnected from the youth through style. Tomoe feels disconnected through age. What sets them apart is the annoying way she reacts. Instead of keeping her cool, she blows everything out of proportion and gets cartoonishly angry. Not only that, just one of her outbursts take longer than the entire three part gag I had described with Renji. The humor that comes from Tomoe tries to be bombastic but ends up feeling lazy and uninspired, plus they’re all too abundant. Ren on the other hand has his cute moments very rarely, and when he does they’re low-key and effective.

But maybe it’s just a matter of preference. Comedy is subjective, after all. So what do you think about these two sides? What kind of personalities/humor do you like and/or relate to more? I definitely lean toward the calmer and more reserved characters, and prefer a little subtlety in my comedy. I’d love to hear what you think about it though (preferably in the comments below), and I promise this’ll be the last time I write about Hanasaku Iroha…at least for this year.

Thanks for reading!

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