Having Masahiro Ando direct a slice-of-life drama series seems like a pretty odd choice, somewhat akin to putting Quentin Tarantino in charge of The Archers. But still, here we are with just this match-up for P.A. Works Hanasaku Iroha.
Without hesitation, we're introduced to sixteen year-old Ohana Matsumae, an opinionated and slightly precocious girl with a lust for drama... probably the perfect combination given her seemingly errant mother. Ohana seems to have resigned herself to a pretty ordinary though despite her desires for soap opera - at least this is what she thinks until her mother's boyfriend runs them into an impossible amount of debt, leading to the pair of them deciding to do a runner and pack Ohana off to their grandmother's hot springs in the country. If that isn't quite dramatic enough for our lead character, her best friend Ko also confesses to her before she leaves town.
Upon arriving at this hot springs, Ohana can't help but she's fallen on her feet as she gazes upon this spacious paradise, but again her delusions of grandeur are curtailed once she meets her grandmother who has little time for her daughter and thus even less time for Ohana. So it goes that Matsumae is immediately added to the hot spring's staff and expected to carry out the same hard work as everybody else, including a girl named Minko who seems to have taken an instant dislike to Ohana.
I probably shouldn't need to say this given that it's a P.A. Works show, but Hanasaku Iroha's opening episode looks gorgeous - great backdrops and scenery, top-notch character designs and some great animation doubtless helped along by Masahiro Ando's experience in making action anime - that choice of director is starting to make more sense already. This first instalment also opens up this series as more than just your usual light-hearted slice of life fare (although it does have a few decent comic moments), as we're already aware that Ohana's new life is going to be far from rosy (and downright cruel in places), while we haven't even started to explore any of the show's other characters. It's too early to say whether this sense of drama will manage to remain within the show's DNA for the entire series or whether we'll simply descend into something lighter and fluffier, but for now my hopes are high for this series - it isn't going to define its genre or be one of this season's classics I would wager, but if it can take some of what was great about True Tears and apply it to its own scenario then we could be on to a winner.