One of the things that I find makes many Japanese films and series so thoroughly engaging is the ability to reflect the dedication that the Japanese people possess at a fundamental cultural level for whatever it is they endeavor to do. Be it pursuing a rare collectible or fighting the forces of evil, Japanese characters are often more uniquely single-minded in their pursuits than characters in media from other nations. Given this often intense emotional connection to their interests and even careers, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a series such as Hanasaku Iroha could draw us in so completely to a world most of us likely have no reason to care about. And yet here I am, counting myself surprised that I have thus far thoroughly loved a series about the maintenance of an inn.
The series follows the precocious Ohana, daughter of an impulsive, neglectful mother who runs away with her boyfriend to avoid the debt collectors on his tail. As a result, Ohana is subsequently sent to live with her grandmother, the proprietor of Kissuiso, a traditional hot springs inn. Since Ohana’s grandmother has long-since disowned Ohana’s mother, she takes Ohana in not as family, but as an employee. Although ostensibly forced into the work, Ohana devotes herself to the inn and quickly forms intense bonds with the other employees.
Given the aforementioned propensity of Japanese characters to invest themselves entirely in an endeavor, the relationships between the employees of Kissuiso are so strong that the group dynamic there is more closely aligned with what we in the States might consider family than merely a staff. This severely complicates the interactions between the Kissuiso staff, who have become a family in their own right, and their actual families or others outside that circle. In this, a significant thread in the series revolves around Ohana’s growing confusion about her feelings toward long-time friend turned potential boyfriend Koichi, who finds it ever increasingly more difficult to contend with Kissuiso for her affections. As a result of the characters’ deep emotional investments in everything they do, it’s easy to invest ourselves as viewers in what might otherwise be the banal operations of Kissuiso. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, it’s impossible not to become deeply invested! I, for one, gleefully marathoned the bulk of NIS America’s Premium Edition release of Hanasaku Volume 1 in but a single day. In spite of any misgivings I may have had in approaching the series, I find I cannot recommend it enough!
NIS’s Premium Edition collects the first thirteen of the series’ twenty-six episodes in both Blu-ray and DVD. And this release is absolutely on par with everything NIS has put out before it terms of content and presentation. The set comes packaged in a 8”x11”x1” (WxHxD) hardboard case, with beautiful artwork on the front and back, and the title displayed on two of the three spines, allowing for a multitude of display possibilities. The case houses the two Blu-rays and two DVDs in two, double-disc slimline cases, and it also contains a collectible hardcover artbook. The artbook features a six-page character gallery, ten pages devoted to the settings of Hanasuka, nine pages of sketches and concept art, two pages of character illustrations, and two fascinating interviews each with art director Kazuki Higashiji and character designer Mel Kishida.