I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the direction HanaIro has gone in the last couple of episodes. While this one was a small improvement from last week’s debacle, I can’t call is a successful episode because, quite simply, I just don’t think it worked.
I give the staff full credit for getting the show back on theme, at least. I think, unlike #7, they were at least trying to accomplish something worthwhile in this episode. And they didn’t troll the audience with that appearance by Kou-chan in last week’s preview – he really was on the way to the Inn to see Ohana.
Alas, there were some deep flaws here that largely brought the whole production off the rails. For starters, Takako – the management consultant – is an absolute disaster. Every time she appears on screen everything screeches to a stop. She’s a grating, irritating mess – and she feels like a character from a different series. Nothing about Takako works – the random Engrish, the attitude, even the character design – massive fail. And why does everyone listen to her, over and over, when her advice is always awful?
That leads into the other problem with the episode specifically and the show generally, which is lazy plotting. Characters are manipulated to serve the needs of the plot, and random events happen coincidentally to serve as dramatic shortcuts. Neither of those things should ever happen in a strong character series – especially the former. I can forgive the overly convenient timing of certain events this week, such as Grandma’s falling ill and Kou arriving into town unannounced at the very same moment.
But that’s just the start of it. Mysteriously, the inn suddenly gets 7 reservations for 20 guests – on the very day that Nako and Tohru just happen to conveniently be off work. Ren – a calm and stern veteran – mysteriously becomes a vegetable when Takako puts a little pressure on him, forcing Ohana to ride off to town to find him. And there’s no logical reason – other than contrivance for plot purposes – for Ohana to leave the inn when it’s desperately short-staffed when she could have sent the largely useless Jiro, or even put Beanman in a cab.
All this seems to set up a predictable turn of events next week, in which Tohru gives Ohana a ride back to the inn on his motorcycle. Kou will witness this and misunderstand, and it will set up a jealous wave with he and Minchi. The Ohana/Tohru development will likely be a bluff, but still create a love-quadrangle and strain Ohana’s relationship with Kou and Minchi. I could be wrong, of course, but that’s sure how it looks right now.
The thing is, there’s still a kernel of quality at the heart of this show that keeps it going. I still care what happens to the characters – especially Ohana and Kou. Quite a bit, in fact. But rather than things developing organically they seem to be pushed along on a wave of contrived events and convenient personality changes among the characters. It’s too early to say the show can’t recover – we’ve already seen how great it can be. But while it’s proved it can generate great individual eps it hasn’t proved that it can sustain a running plot and deliver realistic character development. How this whole business with Kou and Tohru is handled is going to go a long way in determining if this series can right the ship, I suspect. And I still care enough to really, really hope it can.