Hanasaku Iroha, one of the new shows of the current season, is unusually divisive in an equally unusual way. Whereas most shows will divide people according to whether they love or hate it as a whole, Hanasaku Iroha has its fans disagreeing as to which specific episodes are the good ones and which are the wastes of time. I think the reason that this is happening is not just because different fans have different tastes and preferences, but because Hanasaku Iroha is a generically (as in genre) transitional show with a contradictory feel to its purpose and the purpose given to it by fans.
The basic premise of the show is that a teenage girl, Ohana, has to move in with her grandmother, who runs an inn. Ohana, leaving behind a boy and the rest of her old hometown, has to adjust to working at the inn and figuring out how to get along with all the personalities at the inn. It’s a big change in her life, but she enjoys it day by day. In other words, Hanasaku Iroha has both elements of a coming-of-age story and slice of life, and this is where the conflict lies, as the two are mutually incompatible in certain ways (though I think they can work well together, and Hanasaku Iroha is one such example).
Coming-of-age stories are primarily about the transition from childhood to adulthood. They are about growth. Gurren-Lagann is absolutely full of this. Slice of life stories on the other hand are about the every-day. Even if time moves forwards, the characters do not have to. The girls of Hidamari Sketch don’t ever have to change. Those are very different values, and Hanasaku Iroha has some of both, so I think it’s easy to see why someone can look at episode 1, which has a good deal of the coming-of-age element, and find it to be one of the weaker episodes of the series, and then look at episode 3, which was more every-day hijinks, and regard that as one of the better. On the flip side, it’s just as easy to see why someone would argue the opposite, and say that episode 1 is particularly strong. Overall, it results in a very character-based show where the story moves ahead primarily through subdued character development, and it is something that might not be terribly apparent because of how Hanasaku Iroha sits at the cross-section of two disparate genres.
I believe Hanasaku Iroha to be part of a larger transitional trend in anime, even if other shows aren’t quite doing the same thing as Hanasaku Iroha. Many anime since, let’s say, Evangelion for a convenient starting point, have been about expressing a certain sense of melancholic loneliness which manifests itself into several forms, from oft-mentioned topics such as hikikomori, to simply depression. If not, they have been about soothing those feelings, being a remedy for unease and internal strife, and I think the interaction between these two routes can even roughly approximate the development of moe over the past decade and a half. Both have been very good for anime and its viewers I think, but now we’re starting to see shows not just address those negative feelings but try to encourage people to find solutions for them, or at least try to show people moving forward and growing. Ano Hana, which is also running this season, shows a group of kids trying to mend their friendship and personal problems after drifting apart. Madoka Magica, for all of its gloom, leaves hope on the table. Fractale takes a look at a society of isolation. Even K-On!, which follows the “time passing with no real change” formula almost to a tee has the younger character Azusa feeling the impact of the four main girls upon her life, particularly their corrupting (but unconsciously welcome) influence upon her work ethic.
For Hanasaku Iroha, the divisiveness that springs forth from the contradiction between coming-of-age and slice-of-life is how this period of change manifests itself.