[Review] Hinako Note – episode 1

Hinako is poor at speaking, and lives in a rural part of Japan. She wants to improve her speech to be able to talk to people freely, so in high school, she transfers schools to Tokyo and plans to join a theater club. When she arrives, it turns out her boarding house is a secondhand bookstore, and a girl who eats books lives there.

Source: Anime News Network

This review is going to come off harsher than I mean for it to, so I apologize in advance for that. With the exception of one totally unnecessary bath tub shot (more on that later), Hinako Note is not bad. It isn’t much of anything, really, and I’m a bit bummed about that, especially given that the premise—a high school first-year with social anxiety moves to Tokyo, lives over a bookstore, and decides to improve her public speaking skills by forming a theatre troupe—is right up this bibliophile and former drama club president’s alley.

Maybe the series will focus on the theatre aspect more as it goes (the opening and ending suggest that will be the case) and maybe that will give it the hook it needs, but this first episode is pretty much just Hinako meeting her housemates and wandering around town with them. They haven’t even officially started their theatre troupe by the time the credits roll, as Hinako’s still mulling it over. If the pacing of this episode is any indication, she may not make up her mind until halfway through Episode 3.

The girls watch a duck

This is very much a cute-girls-doing-cute-things kind of premiere, low on plot and high on character interactions, which could be fun if the cast had a sharper dynamic or more rounded personalities. Right now, though, they’re pretty one-note—Hinako is shy and freezes up easily; Kuina likes to eat; Mayuki looks and acts like a little kid (so we’re told, though to me they all look and act like little kids)—and their interactions start to take on a repetitive sameness the longer the episode goes.

I mentioned in my Royal Tutor review that the first few minutes felt annoyingly calculated, like it was created using an algorithm of popular archetypes, before it switches gears and starts giving its characters more diverse traits (both humorous and humanizing). Hinako Note has the same vibe, except that it never actually switches gears. So the whole thing comes off as rather manufactured, as if the characters are shy and hungry and wear maid outfits not for any actual character- or story-driven reasons, but solely because those traits are considered “cute.”

Hinako worries about eating books

It does flirt with absurdism from time to time (Hinako’s scarecrow pose attracts actual birds and Kuina likes eating books), which is when it comes closest to achieving its screwball comedy potential, but it never fully commits, always pulling back into soft-focus sweetness. The result is a kind of boilerplate iyashikei (healing/soothing) cute-girl series: All the sharp edges have been sanded away, but all the potentially unique grooves have been, too. It’s sleepy, a little amusing, and blandly pleasant, but beyond the solid animation and direction there’s nothing that makes it pop.

…And then Hinako takes a bath with a couple of toys and the camera is just fascinated by a plastic spaceship floating into her cleavage. It successfully manages to both infantilize and sexualize her all at once, which is the moment I went from “ah well, this isn’t for me” to “oh, I actively dislike this show.”

Mayuri shows off her maid outfit

I tend to occupy a kind of middle-ground with cute-girl or moe series—it really depends on the execution—and Hinako Note left me mostly bored and a little exasperated. If you’re an avid fan of this subgenre, then you’ll probably be able to overlook that one moment of weird fanservice and enjoy the chibi hangout times. And who knows? The series could pick up steam once the girls actually start working on theatre stuff. But as it stands, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this one to any but the most dedicated cute-girl enthusiasts.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

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Dee is a nerd of all trades and a master of one. She has bachelor’s degrees in English and East Asian studies and an MFA in Creative Writing. To pay the bills, she works as a technical writer. To not pay the bills, she devours novels and comics, watches far too much anime, and cheers very loudly for the Kansas Jayhawks. You can hang out with her at The Josei Next Door, a friendly neighborhood anime blog for long-time fans and newbies alike, as well as on Tumblr and Twitter.

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