Hinako Note: Inconsistent, Indecisive, In the Trash [Review]

At first, this show seemed to be a spin-off show of GochiUsa, a show following a group of girls working in a coffee shop – and admittedly is the reason it was in my Queue. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was its own show entirely and focused on a theatre setting. Although I may be biased as “cute girls in theatre” is possibly my favourite combination of words, this show definitely doesn’t get a free pass as a result.


Hinako Note

A GIRL FROM THE COUNTRY MOVES TO TOKYO TO JOIN A THEATRE CLUB

SLICE OF LIFE, COMEDY | ANIMATED BY PASSIONE | DIR: TAKAHASHI, TAKEO

HN - Obligatory Beach

The Premise of the Show

Hinako grew up in the country and could never seem to talk with other people without freezing up entirely. Getting flustered at the mere thought of interaction, she confided in animals for socialisation and soon began to attract them naturally. Noticing this talent, nearby farmers and friends of the family “employed” her as a scarecrow, keeping the wild animals away from the fields. Now old enough to attend high school, she dreams of joining the theatre club – performing on stage to break free of her nervous shackles. Only to find, the school’s theatre club was shut down last year…

Visually Experimental in its first few episodes

So one of the reasons this show stood out to me was through a Preview that appeared on my social media. From its key visual, this show seemed pretty bland and epitomised the generic slice of life filler. However, Hinako Note provided some (albeit few and far between) moments where the visual direction enhanced the comedic nature of the show. Sudden and drastic palette changes with a deviation from its generally boring soundtrack really comes out of nowhere – heavily juxtaposing the show’s fluffy aesthetic. 

In its first episode, the character of Kuina is introduced, an employee at the used bookstore our main character lives. This cat-like bookworm loves her books so much that she literally eats them page by page. Obviously, this kind of character trait is hardly regular for what most audiences perceived to be a generic Slice of Life. Supporting this character enlightenment, the show displays a variety of irregular colour choices (muting the background to distance itself from reality). Although this is only seen effectively in the show’s first episode, these moments were memorable enough to keep me going to the end of the series. 

An ambitious amount of settings and situations

Having moved from the country, Hinako lives with three other students at the high school. Their building is split into two sections, a used bookstore manned by Kuina and a coffee shop manned by Mayuki with their bedrooms residing on an upper floor. Working is mandatory to pay rent – although studies come first so they only have weekend shifts. Admittedly, some of this personal complaint is down to my perception of what this show would focus on. The show itself is called Hinako Note in reference to the journal she uses to write down all of the memorable moments in her new Tokyo life. Nowhere in the title is there reference to the Theatre troupe or their ambition of reviving the club.

That being said, Hinako Note’s refusal to keep its eyes on one goal proved taxing in my personal response. There is no clear focus to the show which is possibly the source of its overall lukewarm reception. Viewers want to have a general idea of what they should expect and the quality of each episode. When I’m watching a show as it airs, I mark down a rough score out of ten immediately after watching an episode. For a show I consider to be consistent like My Hero Acadamia, the scores range from 7-9 without deviation. Hinako Note had scores as low as 5 with highs of 8, it honestly astounds me how inconsistent this show can be.

HN - Extended Chibi Scene
One of the more visually memorable moments of the first half

Honestly, one of the best ways I would recommend this show is through short five minute clips you can find on a video hosting site like YouTube. There is such a low benefit to watching this show as a series that you could get an almost identical experience through segmented clips.

Narratively, this show is all over the place

Despite the premise being so precise and pinned down to a tee, as each episode played on, this show became more and more distant from what was initially set up. It is perfectly fine for a show to deviate from its starting point, it often shows progress in either the world of the characters within it. However, when an entire episode is dedicated to forming a Theatre Troupe, and then the troupe is effectively disbanded with the next episode’s reveal of a theatre club revival, then your story has issues.

Nothing in this show feels planned out, everything seems to come and go as it pleases and leaves the spectator to pick up the pieces and enter a lottery of what could possibly be coming next. Character tropes fall in and out on a whim and the cast even mock the amount of elements the show is trying to pull off. One moment they are planning for their school club, the next they’re opening the café for customers, then they close up shop to get some snacks. It’s as if the show is attempting to mimic the hectic lifestyle these characters lead without actually providing any substance in between. A large portion of this issue is down to the construction of where our main characters live.

Constantly varied character designs and visual styles

I know this is another point on the visuals of this show but there is so little to discuss in terms of its narrative and sound design. So you may have noticed throughout this article that the proportions of the characters seem to flip flop between an expected Anime Style and a Chibi Style. Throughout this series, the staff alternate between the two for a variety of effects – most prominently for epitomising an emotion. Although this bothered me at first, after the first few episodes I had warmed to the effect.

From a studio standpoint, (I would guess that) these chibi designs are much easier to animate and present more active movements. The constant transition between these designs can be jarring at points but they are often used in conjunction to provide a fluent scene. Even though you would expect these chibi designs to be used infrequently for comedic effect, I would actually estimate a close to 50-50 split between the two. I find it interesting how they managed to pull off such a drastic change without making it irritating for the viewer, it became one of the most memorable aspects of this show for me.

HN - Chibi Transition
Mayuki begins running as a chibi character before cutting to her full art

In addition to that, the two are often used in more motionless formats in an attempt to ground this otherwise hectic show. Hinako Note is a show of “what ifs”, where the incredibly imaginative characters will present scenarios that simply wouldn’t fit into the current situation. Most frequently presented in discussions between Kuina and Mayuki, their distant personalities often construct bizarre conversations without physically clashing. Mayuki’s fashion and tsundere personality often result in a background presenting the thoughts in her head before cutting the the chibi variant reacting. These dual designs provided an interesting piece of variety in the show’s otherwise generic display.

Conclusion

Despite the harsh title and extensive criticism of this show’s visual design, this show was not horrible. Watching this show did get a few laughs out of me and did create a handful of memorable moments. I guess you could say that I wanted Hinako Note to be a different show and that my thoughts are skewed but I truly believe that more focus in its initial Theatre premise would have enhanced the viewing experience. Perhaps too much focus went into those *interesting* endcards which distracted the writers from their first ideas. As far as Slice of Life filler goes, this one was pretty decent, but certainly not a show I would recommend for anything other than light viewing when you have no other plans.

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