I’ve been trying to consider why we, the audience, find Hinamatsuri to be absolutely gut-busting hilarious despite how terrible the actual scenarios are.
With the spring anime season at a close and the summer season starting up, it’s important to wrap things up in order to spring into the summer.
Thankfully, Hinamatsuri pulled off comedy far better than I ever could, even if it was extremely uncomfortable sometimes.
For those unacquainted with Hinamatsuri, the anime follows Nitta, a member of the Yakuza, as he suddenly finds himself taking care of a random girl named Hina. Hina has psychic powers (of course) and ends up living with Nitta. The show chronicles the daily life of these two, as well as a number of other secondary characters that have connections with the main duo.
Running for 12 episodes, Hinamatsuri was recommended by a whopping 11 of the AniTAY staff, tying it with Megalobox and Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku. It has consistently placed in the top 5 each week during AnimeNewsNetwork’s weekly rankings (of those series being reviewed) and is, in my opinion, one of the best series that came out of the spring.
The animation was generally quite sharp, with fantastic facial expressions given by the characters and fluid motion throughout the series. The environments looked fully realized, nothing ever looked flat but rather colorful and lived in. The music also worked, though there weren’t any stand out hits, the cheerful pop opening sets up the viewer for a pleasant experience while the slightly more somber end theme was like a quiet goodbye until the next week.
However, as a comedy Hinamatsuri’s livelihood depended on its jokes and timing, and they almost always landed with a flourish. This is helped by the aforementioned facial expressions. Just take a look at Hitomi here.
Ah, the sheer terror of youth. Wonderfully hilarious.
All snark aside (seriously, Hitomi has the best “what the **** is happening” faces), Hinamatsuri was also able to balance its comedy with some real downer of scenarios.
Suffice to say, there will be mild spoilers, so if you’re not into that, best to walk away now.
I am talking about, of course, Anzu’s homelessness, Hitomi’s work, and Mao’s isolation. While each of them have narrative arcs that are rifle with hilarious moments, their situations are anything but.
Anzu is introduced early in the series, having been dispatched by the organization to fetch Hina and bring her back. When Anzu is defeated by Hina (through sheer power...), she’s brought back to Nitta’s apartment to get cleaned up. The two say goodbye and Anzu tries to use the red ball to get a pod home.
Except it doesn’t work. Anzu gets left homeless.
The rest of her arc follows her as she steals food, gets welcomed into a homeless community by her fellow vagrants, scrounges for cans and other recyclables to make money, and eventually adopted into a family. It’s a solid end to her character arc...except it occurs over the span of a few episodes. We watch a little girl be a homeless vagrant for a few episodes and we laugh at some of the scenarios she gets into. I know that others have pointed it out already, but Anzu’s scenario is just a disaster. And the fact that we laugh at it is kind of uncomfortable.
Sure, we can state that Hinamatsuri is an anime, it’s fictional, no one is getting hurt, it’s a piece of entertainment, so on and so forth, and this is all absolutely true (the same arguments are often used for other, less accepted aspects of anime/manga...you know the ones) but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a little girl who’s “forced” to become homeless and has to fend for herself, scavenging hours a day for very little money.
Hitomi is also in a crazy situation where she gets wrapped up into working at a bar, and then various jobs (including an office) that culminates with her getting her own apartment and her mother accepting that Hitomi has been making great connections in the workforce. Japan has a serious issue with office workers overworking themselves to death, yet here’s Hitomi doing the same thing, at a far younger age.
Mao is put in a Cast Away scenario, complete with her own Wilsons, for an episode, before she decides to build a raft to get off the island. She’s isolated, lonely and resorts to talking to two coconut heads in order to have any sort of socialization. Like the other two, Mao has a moment where she breaks down and cries at her situation.
Over the course of the season, I’ve been trying to consider why we, the audience, find Hinamatsuri to be absolutely gut-busting hilarious despite how terrible the actual scenarios are.
An article by Psychology Today (which, to be fair, is quite pop psychology but it’s easily digestible by the general public) writes that humor in tragedy is tied to “how closely the tragedy hits home, and how severe it is.” (1)
The article goes on to argue that severe tragedies that occur to ourselves tends to get funnier over time, while minor incidents get less funny over time (1). More importantly, when the tragedy occurs to other people, if we know the victim, minor incidents are funny while major ones are not. However, if we do not know the victim, the reverse is true: minor incidents are plain while major incidents are quite humorous (1).
Putting aside how disturbing it is that we find severe tragedies funny if they occur to people we don’t know, we can apply this to Hinamatsuri very aptly by acknowledging that, while we do know who these characters are, their fictional nature may effectively be the same as being strangers in our minds. They do not actually exist, so there are no actual consequences that may befall them. As a result, any incidents that occur to them may, by how our brains work, be hilarious to the audience.
There are questions I have about the actual scenarios though; would we still find it hilarious if we were previously in the same situations as Anzu, Hitomi, or Mao? That is, would the show be just as hilarious if the viewer used to be homeless, overworked, or deserted on an island? According to the Psychology Today article, given enough time since said scenario, the answer is yes.
People are weird...
Sure, I’ll admit that I can laugh at my own previous life predicaments and tragedies because its been years since they occurred, but for me, if I saw a show (whether anime or live action) that featured a similar scenario, I’d most likely be quite shaken to the core.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t be far fetched to state that our use of humor is also what enables us to move past tragedies and get on with life. Wallowing in despair doesn’t do much good for anyone after all.
There are other factors to consider with Hinamatsuri of course. A lot of its success is in its presentation and comedic timing. Hinamatsuri has a great color palette and solid animation that lend its serious moments a sheer sense of absurdity that leans hard into comedy. Nothing is ever presented as overly serious or too sad a moment (except Anzu accepting that she’s being adopted) so the audience never has its heart strings pulled - having comedic music play along also helps set this cheerful, non-serious mood.
Look at Hitomi’s expression above - the mouth agape, her tongue paralyzed in her mouth, eyes aghast at what is happening before her. A 13 year old working in a bar is a serious infraction (seriously teach, you know she’s the bartender...) and her classmates finding this out would normally be a very bad moment...but the shading and Hitomi’s expression is just too strange to take seriously.
The timing is also hugely important. Hinamatsuri gives enough space and timing for its punch lines to breath and settle before continuing the dialogue along. This is akin to letting a laugh settle down before making it erupt into raucous sounds again. For one reason or another, the second laughter is stronger than the first, at least in my experience (which is admittedly weird).
I may never quite understand what makes Hinamatsuri so damn funny despite its serious subject matters and scenarios, but that’s ok, I can still laugh at it all.
How did Hinamatsuri rank for you? Did you find the scenarios just as hilarious as everyone else? What’s your take on all of this? And we can all agree that Anzu is best girl right? I would adopt her right away.
More for thought: Marco Oliveros wrote a fantastic article on the homeless situation in Japan and its relation to Hinamatsuri, I highly encourage a read. Check it out here.
1) Greengross, Gil. “When do tragedies become funny?” Psychology Today, www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/humor-sapiens/201209/when-do-tragedies-become-funny. Accessed July 2, 2018.