It's probably not to everyone's taste, but I just loved the first episode of Hitohira
ひとひら. This is the first show in what will become a flood of new shows beginning Sunday, as the spring anime season really gets under way.
It's always dangerous to make comparisons, but in its gentleness, sensitivity and warm atmosphere, Hitohira reminded me of Asatte no Houkou. There was also something of Maria-sama ga Miteru about it, and not just in the conservative school uniforms.
The basic story is about an insecure high-school freshman whose voice completely goes away when she is nervous, but who becomes a member of a drama club. I see hints of a school-level Glass Mask. I'll summarize the story in pop-up captions you can see by passing your mouse over the pictures, and continue my comments between the rows of pics. (click pictures to enlarge)
This show is made by the same staff that made PetoPeto-san, and their delicacy of feeling shows. They treat another insecure young lead with great sympathy. The voice-acting is generally wonderful. Kawasumi Ayako as the impassive but friendly senior Nono is totally captivating. And Kimoto Orie as the protagonist Mugi drips out her hesitant syllables in a way that draws you right in.
Mugi's friend Kayo is played by Miyagawa Miho, who played the very popular character Sahara in PetoPeto-san. She does a good job as the close friend who sometimes seems a bit impatient with Mugi and is always trying to push her to be more assertive.
The tenderest moments in the piece are between Nono and Mugi. The understated feelings really work. The silences and hesitations in these scenes are great directorial work, in my opinion. Of course, Kawasumi Ayako makes it all easier by being completely godly here. The series director is Nishimori Akira, who did PetoPeto-san, and he directed and storyboarded the first episode, too.
The blonde freshman Chitose, who loves watching plays, is well voiced by newcomer Yabusaki Emi, who had a couple of bit parts in PetoPeto-san. Narita Ken's voice stands out as the drama research club member Takashi. In recent roles, he played Kazuya in Kyoushirou to Towa no Sora, and Jeremiah in Code Geass.
Mugi's friend Kai, a rambunctious boy, is played by Kishio Daisuke, who was Samatarou in Kamisama Kazoku and the elegant Yunoki in Corda D'Oro.
The music in the show works extremely well to reinforce the emotion without making it melodramatic. The OP and ED are marvelous, to my ear. I just love the very skillful and musical voices of Asami Yuuko (OP) and Mizuhashi Mai (ED).
Left above is the face-touching scene from the manga. To my eye, the animation director, Motohashi Hideyuki, and the character designers, Yamanaka Junko and Sudo Masatomo, have done a great job preserving the feeling of the manga in a clean, colorful anime look. At right is the entire page from the manga, which is by Kirihara Izumi.
On the left are the seiyuus for the three main freshman girls -- (l-r) Miyagawa Miho (Kayo), Kimoto Orie (Mugi), Yabusaki Emi (Chitose) -- just before going on stage for a live event at the Tokyo International Anime Fair on Sunday. At right is Kimoto Orie at the Fair, beside a poster of Mugi. Looks pleased as Punch, doesn't she? This is her second starring role. She was Cure Bloom in Pretty Cure Splash Star. She says she went on Saturday just to see the Fair, but ended up signing autographs by her poster. Both pictures are from Kimoto Orie's blog.
This first episode got the show off to a great start, for me. But that was true of PetoPeto-san, too. While I did like that show, the plot seemed to wander off in the second half of the series. Hopefully the fact that this is based on a manga will help it stay on the rails. The lead writer is Sasano Megumi, who did the same job on PetoPeto-san. The manga is published in Comic High, which is a seinen magazine (mainly aimed at young men).
A show that is a combination of PetoPeto-san, Marimite, and Glass Mask? You could do a lot worse than that.