It pisses me off to no end that HanaIro can annoy me, irritate me, bore me and throw its laziness and stupidity at me for two months, then turn right around and make me love it again – just ‘cause it wants to. To paraphrase Wandering Dreamer – I’m not sure if the show is tsundere for me, or I am for it.
I could spend a lot of time (I already have) agonizing over the wasted opportunities, the chances this show has squandered over the course of 23 episodes. A show that’s so beautiful to look at (and few are so beautiful as this one) and is capable of such subtle and moving character drama is a rare thing to be treasured. It’s an elusive and rarely seen threatened species – and yet, most of HanaIro’s run has been wasted on silliness, driven by distraction. I could easily rhapsodize about how much better this would have been as a one-cour series, with all the enforced discipline that implies. But I won’t – I want to talk about why this was such a great episode and why it worked so powerfully, not why it should have come two months ago.
As is usually the case when I blog this show, I don’t know who the episode writer was – but I’ll certainly be surprised if it wasn’t Mari Okada (Edit: surprisingly it was Nishimura Junji, whose eps have not been among my favorites). That hasn’t been a guarantor of success by any means, but her absence has pretty much guaranteed the episode won’t be the classic this one was. I was immediately transported back to the feelings of episodes 11-12, when Ohana went to Tokyo and the series achieved it’s greatest dramatic heights. The focus this time was squarely where it always needed to be when the chips were down – on Ohana confronting the challenge of growing up, and on the continuing saga of her relationship with Kou. Clearly, then, Satsuki is a character whose presence is needed to really make this drama fly, and she’s a character I’ve completely come full circle on since the series began. She – like Minchi – will call BS, and there’s been a ton of BS in this show. But unlike Minchi Satsuki has a sense of always being in control, and she uses her sharp tongue like a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer. She’s smart, she’s morally ambiguous, she’s damn funny and she’s also intricately involved in all of the most important conflicts driving the plot.
It was interesting to see her used as a device to drive the Ohana-Kou storyline forward at long, long last – but it totally worked. There were certainly shades of Mrs. Robinson in her meeting with Kou (as there were with Tohru, for that matter) who seemed to have a blush on during their entire meeting, and some fine comedic moments as well – such as her telling Kou that they weren’t about to watch porn together. But really, it was a way to show that Kou hasn’t moved past Ohana at all, and for Kou to find out that she hadn’t moved past him either. Satsuki and Kou are alike in that both love Ohana and both have been absent from her life, and would like to get back into it. If there were any question of Kou’s devotion, the coffee should have answered them – rather than having “the same tastes as an old man” as Satsuki put it, Kou simply didn’t want to forget the taste of the crappy fast-food coffee he’d drunk the last time he saw Ohana.
Not coincidentally, as Kou was drinking coffee Ohana was also drinking what she’d had that night – tea and Coke. Ganbare, Ohana – don’t lose to Coke! The fact that she was drinking it with “Takako Oba-san” was made bearable by the fact that she doing on board a train to Tokyo, there to meet with the two most important missing pieces in her life to answer the two great questions of her life. That Takako was on her way to get back the money she’d lost to the crooked producer (and blamed Enishi for losing) was incidental, a plot contrivance – but that’s fine, because it contrived to help a plot that needed it desperately. For what it was worth this was both her apology to Enishi for not doing a better job helping Kissuiso financially and to let Okami-sama know that she wasn’t giving up keeping the inn open and taking it over.
This is what I always thought HanaIro was – a story about Ohana facing the difficult challenges of growing up and about her relationship with Kou. Kissuiso was a great escape for her, but ultimately, Ohana has to face reality and make choices. What about her mother – is it OK simply to live apart from her one surviving parent? If she and Kou love each other (and it’s pretty clear they still do) are they willing and able to overcome the challenges that fate has thrust in their path? Ohana is only too happy to butt in on other people’s lives and problems but has largely avoided confronting her own, but with her Grandmother’s choice to close Kissuiso and the fact that one of her unanswered questions is literally confronting her across a pedestrian bridge in Tokyo, zero hour has come. Hard decisions are going to have to be made.
I’ve said all along that I’d be satisfied if the Ohana/Kou storyline received closure, even if the closure isn’t exactly what I want – and that’s still true. I was worried for a while, but it looks as if that at least will happen. Now that we’re here, though, as I suppose I always knew I would I find myself sincerely hoping that Ohana and Kou end up together. The fact is, they clearly love each other and at their age, that should be enough to give it a go. Their respective flaws are obvious. Kou is too nice, too deferential, too unwilling to impose himself on Ohana’s life and pressure her at the risk that he might be doing so unwanted – yet he loves her dearly and worries constantly about her happiness. Ohana is a mess, lacking in self-confidence and overcompensating wildly, and terrified of commitment. Yet she loves Kou and always has, and never despite the pains of distance has he left her deepest and most meaningful thoughts. I’m pulling for them, despite the fact that it still seems like a longshot to me.
But at this point I’m happy just to care again – it’s been a long time – and yet, a big part of me is trying to resist giving in. I’ve been burned too many times, and I know Okada is more than capable of ripping my heart out and stomping on it with an ending as silly and infuriating as so much of the meat of this series was. It would have been much easier to move on, to sever any emotional ties to this show and be free of it. Yet here I sit, hoping not to be hurt again. Please, Okada-san – give me another omurice ep next week so I can be free of your curse once and for all!