Naru Sekiya is a meek middle school girl who has no interests besides an obsession with fairy tales and practicing iaido. One day while walking past a shrine at night, she hears rhythmic clacking coming from the shrine grounds. Curious, Naru follows the sounds and finds what she thinks is a fairy dancing on the shrine's torii. The fairy in question is in reality a girl from New Jersey named Hana N. Fountainstand who transfers to Naru's school. And much like how Naru is obsessed with fairy tales, Hana is obsessed with yosakoi, a style of Japanese dance that incorporates small handheld clappers called naruko. Hana tries to form a yosakoi club at the school, and in doing so pulls Naru into the world of yosakoi. Does HaNaYaMaTa dance gracefully, or does it have two left feet?
Often in anime, when a character is said to be passionate about something, I never feel like they are as passionate as they are said to be. Making it more of an implied passion. In HaNaYaMaTa I can safely say that Hana truly is passionate about yosakoi. Early on in the series when the club visits a minor yosakoi festival we see Hana frozen in stunned amazement as she watched the parade of dancers go by. That one scene erased any lingering doubts I had about Hana's love of yosakoi.
In an interesting twist, the opening to HaNaYaMaTa actually plays a surprisingly big part in the series. Specifically the song used in the opening is the song they set their dance routine to, and over the course of the series we get to see it slowly evolve from a computerized instrumental version into the version of the song heard in the opening.
Plain and simply, HaNaYaMaTa is an absolutely gorgeous series to look at. Madhouse brought out the big guns for this series, and it shows. Stunning sunsets, beautiful moonlit scenes, and gracefully flowing dance numbers are just some of the visual treats in store for anyone who watches.
HaNaYaMaTa actually has a story. Unlike most other series in the cute girls doing cute things sub-genre that lay down some kind of basic premise and then just follow the day to day adventures of its predominantly female cast, HaNaYaMaTa is a continuous narrative that follows the girls as they prepare for the Hanairo yosakoi festival in the near future.
I'll be honest, most of the girls in the club suck at dancing yosakoi at first. Naru, especially, sucks something awful. But that's ok, as they all get better at it the more and more they practice their choreography. Yosakoi features some rather complex routines, so no one is going to master it from the start. It was nice seeing club struggle at first, only to improve over time.
Generally speaking, most yosakoi teams follow a theme of some kind. For the girls of HaNaYaMaTa, their theme is flowers. Specifically each girl is themed around a flower that matches their personalities to a T. For example, Machi, who is also the student council president, is themed around sunflowers because she is upright and high reaching, but burns with devotion.
There are a few moments in HaNaYaMaTa that are quite emotional. I'm usually not one to let emotional moments in anime affect me, but damn it, I got misty-eyed a few times watching this. I'll admit to it. I dare you to watch this and not have your heartstrings tugged on at least once.
It is kind of sad that this is something that needs to be praised, but HaNaYaMaTa has almost no instances of sexualized fanservice. There are a few moments, mind you, but they are few and far apart, and are extremely tame compared to other anime. This is especially refreshing given its genre, which can often be filled with titillating fanservice.
All five members of the club don't exactly start off as characters you want to care for. Naru's near constant whining at first is annoying, Hana is too hyper and pushy, Yaya's initial jealousy is irritating, Tami's reluctance to think for herself is frustrating, and Machi is just a giant stick in the mud. Thankfully they all improve by leaps and bounds, but at first each of the girls will probably get on your nerves.
For the majority of the show, Machi isn't part of the club. It is a given inevitability that she does join, as evident by both the opening and all of the marketing material featuring her in the club. But eventually it becomes a frustrating question of "when" as the episodes go on and on and she still isn't in the club. She finally joins in the last third of the series, and while they handle it the best they can given the few episodes left, it still feels a tad bit forced. If she joined even just one or two episodes earlier, it probably would have flowed better.
At first I didn't know what to think of HaNaYaMaTa. It was Madhouse doing a cute girls doing cute things show. I am glad I took the chance with this series, though. It is one of my five favorite shows of the season, hell it is one of my favorites of the year period. To me this series sets the gold standard for what a cute girls doing cute things show should be. Anything less is just lacking. If you want a cute, enjoyable, and surprisingly emotional series, it will be difficult to do better than HaNaYaMaTa.
HaNaYaMaTa can be watched on the Crunchyroll streaming service. HaNaYaMaTa is based on a manga by Sou Hamayumiba currently running in Houbunsha's Manga Time Kirara Forward magazine.