Friday, June 15, 2007

Hitohira 12 (end)

Hitohira is another hidden gem of a series. It attracted little attention, but produced solid episode after solid episode, with strong characters and meaningful development. It was not over-dramatic, but hit some dramatic high notes along the way: Mugi’s performance, Mugi’s despair. And it often seemed to go in unexpected directions that were closer to real life messiness than the neat magic that is typical of anime.

The comic appears in a magazine that is mainly for young men, but it has given us the subtlety and emphasis on human relations of comics for girls or young women. The categories are continuing to break down.

Hitohira shows what a good twelve-episode series can do. It concentrated on one person’s development over one year, and was able to develop meaningful secondary characters and their relationships along the way. It was perhaps less emotionally compelling than the shows I like best (Bokura ga Ita, for instance) but it had a magic of its own.

The team that made Petopeto-san demonstrated that it can make a different type of show with the same delicate emotional touch and good animation, and in twelve episodes can tighten up the story so that it does not wander away from its main line.

The voice-acting worked very well. Kawasumi Ayako as Nono was outstanding, as was Yukino Satsuki as Mirei. And Kimoto Orie made a strong impression in the main role of Mugi, with a strangely weak voice that had to change into a strangely strong voice at a moment's notice. I thought that Yabusaki Emi as Chitose made an impression, too. And Miyagawa Miho as Kayo was as strong here as she was as Sahara in PetoPeto-san. She deserves a starring role sometime soon.

A summary of episode 12 begins here:

Mugi’s voiceover says that she was able to speak out to Kayo because the others were there, so now she is okay alone and can wish Kayo well. Next we see Nono coming up the school stairwell and out the door onto the roof, where she sees Mugi and says: You're an actress, you have to express yourself more forthrightly.

Mugi is in the hallway of the school and says that she has been there a year and it should be full of memories, but it just seems shabby and empty without the students. Soon the fragrance of cherry-blossoms will be here again. It will soon be time for graduation. What can I do for Nono?

Chitose is in Kai and Mugi’s classroom. Kai says she shouldn’t just barge into other people’s classrooms. But what if my confession is rejected? says Chitose. I might not be able to come to school. What will be, will be, says, Kai. I guess I’ll come, she says, but I won’t see him. By the way, where’s Mugi? Kai doesn’t know. But aren’t you her support now? says Chitose. No, no, he stammers, it’s none of your business. Go back to your own classroom.

Mugi is talking on the phone with Kayo, who is already overseas. Mugi says Nono and Katsuragi have gotten into college, but she doesn’t know about Risaki yet. She says that the drama club is having a party for the graduating seniors, and has invited all the members of the Drama Study Group. So it’s okay between the two clubs now? asks Kayo. I guess so, answers Mugi.

At the party the next day, the new Drama Club president is speaking with Mirei, who has gotten into the college of her choice. Nono gets up and apologizes for splitting the Drama Club, due to her own selfishness. Everyone is shocked. The new vice-president and president say how great the performance of Primavera could have been with both Nono and Mirei acting. Mirei says they did a great job anyway. Nono says that since they forgive her, she can go on without regrets.

Katsuragi is moved, perhaps to tears, and says he’s going to the toilet. Chitose seizes her opportunity and follows him out of the room. Mugi wishes her well.

People wonder if Risaki got in to a college yet. Kai says not to call her since she hasn’t been accepted to any school yet. The drama club members are embarrassed that they organized this party without telling her, and don’t want it to get out. Mirei adds: She'd kill us.

Outside the boys’ washroom, Chitose stammers out that she really loves Katsuragi. He apologizes, and says he loves Nono. Chitose says she knew that, and knew she couldn’t defeat Nono, but unrequited love is hard. She asks Katsuragi to do his quick-speaking trick, and says she can then go back to being the normal Chitose. He does, performing for her alone.

Risaki bursts into the party and demands to know why they didn't tell her. Kai asks if she got in anywhere, but she hasn’t yet. What’s wrong with that? she says belligerently. Then Chitose and Katsuragi arrive. Chitose is all smiles and greets Risaki exuberantly and offers her a drink. Katsuragi goes over and congratulates the newly responsible members of the Drama Club. Mugi can’t tell if Chitose was accepted by Katsuragi or rejected.

Walking out of the school behind Risaki and Mirei, Nono comments what a good person Risaki is, so bright and cheerful. Katsuragi says to her that there is someone he loves. Nono replies something I didn’t catch and Katsuragi replies: so I’ve learned, over the past year. And they depart. [EDIT: an anonymous commenter suggests Nono said "You have weird taste," and that seems right to me, having looked it up.]

Mugi, Kai and Chitose leave the Drama Club room and lock up. Kai asks Chitose how she is. She says she’s okay, that she might cry when she gets home, but she’s happy to have said how she felt, and now she can watch the graduation ceremony more easily. Alone in the art room, Kai says to himself: I can’t lose to her. I think he means not confess to Mugi, as Chitose did to Katsuragi.

Mugi is out in the evening by the bridge, with pretty cherry petals occasionally sparkling around her. She thinks of Nono and Mirei, who have memories and regrets, but have to graduate and go on, and are able to leave their regrets behind them. She wonders what she can do for the seniors. She is determined to do something, however small, and not turn back into thet Asai Mugi who can do nothing. The next day, she leaves a pink note for Nono in Nono’s locker.

On graduation day, it is snowing. Risaki says how nice it is to come to school without having class. Nono is surprised to find the note. In their classroom, Kai sees that Mugi is nervous, but she says it’s nothing., They go into the ceremony. As she sees Nono getting her diploma, she silently apologizes to her, saying she didn’t express herself well.

Mirei is in the storeroom looking at the dress, which is the one she altered for Nono. Nono surprises her by coming in, saying that a meddlesome junior told her where she’d be. Nono says she wanted to act on stage with Mirei, and apologizes to Mirei. Mirei says she doesn’t regret altering the dress. Nono notices Mirei’s hand on her shoulder.

Nono and Mugi are on the roof in the snow. Nono hands her back her letter and says she should be more forthright if she wants the leading role, that she shouldn’t keep making people worry about her. Mugi says she is determined not be the same old her. She says that the first time she saw the costume she was deeply moved, but that she came to realize it embodied Mirei and Nono’s feelings for each other. She gained a dream of her own. She brandishes the sign from over the door of the Drama Study Group and says she gained a beautiful dream from Nono. She remembers Nono telling her that on stage she can become a different self, and that she can move people. Mugi says the her that could do nothing found a dream that she can keep working at, a petal (hitohira) dream. She has something she wants to give to Nono.

Nono responds, and they are surrounded in a swirl of beautiful petals. We see them in the theater, with Nono showing Mugi her performance as Primavera. Then we see them dancing together in a swirl of petals/snowflakes. Mugi says she finally realized that if she just wished, the great world would accept her. It’s just that Nono and Kayo and the others were a step ahead of her. Nono says it was good that she (Nono or Mugi?) came to this school and found acting, and that she will wait for her on the other side of the bridge. Mugi congratulates Nono on her graduation.

As Nono and Risaki and the others are leaving, sent off by the Drama Club members, Mugi on the roof shouts down in her big voice: Thank you, Nono. Kai comes over to cover her from the snow with his umbrella, and she thanks him.

Next, we are a few weeks ahead (or perhaps even a year), in full cherry-blossom season, after the beginning of a new school year. Kai is in the art room, doing what he does best: drawing. He looks down at Mugi, who is outside. A new student comes up and calls Mugi "sempai" (senior, in the sense of older than him), and invites her over to where the group will be picnicking among the cherry-blossoms. Mugi responds in a big, natural voice and runs over to join him and Chitose. The end.