Hinamatsuri

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This manga is the most hilarious manga.

Hinamatsuri (ヒナまつり, lit. Hina Festival, also a pun on “Hinamatsuri“) is a comedy series by Ohtake Masao (大武政夫). This is hands down my favorite comedy manga, but it’s also straight up my second favorite manga of all time. It’s a very close second, too — it used to be first until I read Taiyou no Ie. Truthfully, the only reason Taiyou no Ie has a leg up over it with me is since on top of being a very, very excellent manga, I regard Taiyou no Ie with importance in regards to my life. It’s special class, basically. Even then, in all honesty between the two I’d say Hinamatsuri is the better title in terms of overall quality. Hinamatsuri is basically like…almost perfect in terms of comedy? At least in my opinion. I can’t name a chapter that didn’t make me laugh. In fact, I have confirmed after rereading that if Hinamatsuri isn’t trying to make me cry or feel bad (which it will accomplish), every single chapter will elicit belly laughs from me. Rereading it all at once for review was dangerous, because I ended up really hurting from my stomach after a while. The series employs black comedy and absurdist humor to incredible effect. Ohtake Masao-sensei is brilliant.

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Summing up the start of Hinamatsuri is easy. Nitta Yoshifumi is a yakuza (member of the Japanese mafia) that’s up and coming. He’s not the bloodthirsty sort of criminal, but the kind who mainly deals in money lending and office work. One day while smugly admiring his collection of clay pots, having just purchased another one, a strange metal cocoon teleports into the air above him and drops onto his head.

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Nitta decides that this is bullshit and goes to bed. The cocoon is still there in the morning, though.

The person in the cocoon beckons Nitta to hit a switch on their container to release them. He does so grudgingly, and they’re freed. It turns out to be a little girl, naked for some reason, named Hina. She is the titular “Hina” of Hinamatsuri and her entrance into Nitta’s life causes some trouble.

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Hina is an esper: a psychic child with telekinetic powers. Her powers are quite incredible, too, to a scary degree.

Not wanting her to cause trouble out in Japan, Nitta reasons the best course of action is to just keep her around in his home. This isn’t the standard “single parent raising a child” scenario, though. Nitta does not like Hina. Hina is in fact something he mostly considers to be a blight in his life. If he wasn’t concerned about what she’d do with her powers out on the streets, he would kick her out and have nothing to do with her. Not only does he have no interest in being a parent, being the parent of this child seems like it would be a particularly garbage task. After all, Hina is a very selfish, very lazy, gluttonous girl who’s unintelligent and resorts to violence should she not get her way.

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At least at first. She stops using violence eventually and does learn some things.

While dreading his situation of paying for and taking care of this brat, suddenly he receives a call from work saying his syndicate’s Oyabun (“father”, the head of his yakuza organization) has been attacked and now the whole family is gathering. Hina forces Nitta to bring her along, which pisses off the Kashira (“big brother”, the second in command) who considers Nitta to be taking things too lightly. As punishment, the Kashira gives him an impossible task: go to the rival syndicate that assaulted Oyabun and take revenge by himself. This is basically a suicide or “flee from the yakuza and go into hiding” mission. While agonizing in his car over which of these two hells might be less painful, Hina pops up with a suggestion.

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Hina, despite her awful behavior, has grown fond of Nitta by this point. It is hinted here (and many other places) that Hina’s life prior to meeting Nitta was nothing short of horrible. It seems she was a slave, weapon, and tool to be used in war — from where (or possibly when) we never quite discover. Because living with Nitta has been so fun, Hina decides to do him a solid. She’ll wander into the rival yakuza’s base, wreck it, and bring in their head as revenge. She accomplishes this easilyvery easily. Naturally, Nitta takes the credit for this, because Hina most certainly couldn’t, and his reputation in the clan increases.

As a reward, Nitta says he’ll listen to one of Hina’s requests. She requests to go to school.

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And so the story begins. Don’t worry about the neck brace.

From here on, the manga proceeds in ways you probably wouldn’t expect. With a premise like “psychic girl is adopted by a yakuza and helps him advance through the ranks with her power”, you’d imagine that’s how the whole series will go, but it really doesn’t — like, at all. Actually, in regards to advancement through the use of her power, Nitta only does this once more (in chapter 2) out of total convenience. He needs someone to clear some land for development and Hina needs to use her powers otherwise those powers will explode from being bottled up. After he admits that her power is useful for these kinds of things, Hina momentarily despairs from detecting the same motivations from Nitta that she felt from her old superiors. To reassure her, Nitta treats her to an expensive meal and explains that those who work hard are well-rewarded for their hard work. He never calls on her power for his job again in the rest of the series, and would much prefer she (and by extension, he) continue living as ordinary a life as possible.

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Honestly, the sci-fi elements of this series rarely come into play (usually you just see Hina lazily using her power at home just to keep from exploding again, if anything). So, what the hell is this series mostly about, then? I guess I’d say it’s about irresponsible scumbags, idiots, good people, painful scenarios, embarrassment, wacky hijinks, character interaction, and character development. Regarding its strengths, I really thought about this and I must say there is no one overwhelmingly good aspect of Hinamatsuri, instead it excels in several aspects: humor, characters, and emotion (mainly bad emotions). There is a continuity to the series, separating it from being classed solidly as a “gag manga” (kinds of manga I don’t tend to care for, as they’re a little too obvious for my taste), and making it mostly a slice of life comedy instead. Most of the manga is “situations + characters”, though I guess I can’t call it a “sitcom” because that refers to something else entirely. We observe a mostly foolish cast with a handful of competent sorts among them and laugh at the absurdities and misfortunes in their lives, usually brought about by their own hands. Hinamatsuri is cynical as hell, and will make you laugh at some really dark things along with the silly things. If you’re going to read this, I hope you’re able to laugh at and along with suffering. Polish your schadenfreude skill.

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While the series begins mostly concerned with the yakuza, since Nitta is the protagonist, it doesn’t take very long before it branches out beyond that. Even the “protagonist” role ends up being shopped out to several other characters for entire chapters along the way (and since this is a monthly series, these chapters are long). The characters with the most focus are of course Nitta and Hina, but following that is a classmate name Mishima Hitomi and a girl named Anzu. Let’s start with Hitomi.

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what

This makes sense, surprisingly.

Hitomi’s story is one that inspires awe. She starts off in the series as a normal, if above average (grade-wise) middle school girl who kind of ends up being Hina’s friend from taking care of her in class (because Hina mainly goes to school to eat and sleep). For reasons, she ends up coming along with Hina into a bar Nitta frequents, but she’s left behind there without even the owner of the establishment. A drunken salaryman wanders into the bar, and because of her kind nature, she winds up following his request to mix him a drink. We learn that anything Hitomi does, she does quickly and efficiently. She picks up bartending with ease, eventually drawing a small crowd for the novelty of having such a young-looking (secretly actually young) bartender serving excellent drinks. When the real bartender returns, she decides Hitomi is good for business and gets her to actually work part time at the bar.

But things kind of get out of hand from hereon. The bar she works at is a favorite of Nitta’s yes? Well, that means it’s a yakuza bar. Or rather, it’s a bar that accepts all comers. As a wondrous figure of the bar that is helpful, highly responsible, great at mixing drinks, and gentle, Hitomi ends up earning a lot of respect from a lot of different people.

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I’d say you can imagine where things go from here, but I’m not sure you actually can. Suffice it to say, Hitomi chapters are some of the best chapters in the series. This amazing and unfortunate girl has quite a life. She begins the series as a somewhat shy young girl with a good head on her shoulders; by the latest chapters she’s…different.

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Then we have Anzu. Anzu is an esper girl like Hina sent to Japan to dispose of her. She’s, in a word, innocent. While they both come from the same place, Anzu’s way of thinking and general attitude makes it seem like that couldn’t be further from the truth. She initially comes across as bad news: indiscriminately using her power, being very boisterous and violent, and not understanding basic concepts (like Hina). After Nitta dissolves the situation to keep the peace we learn two things: one, Hina is seriously strong, as she is leaps, bounds, and flights beyond Anzu in terms of ability — and Anzu is responsible for single-handedly defeating an entire biker gang; two, Anzu is honest, cute, and responsible.

After Hina beats her in a match of brute strength with their powers, Anzu decides to return to whatever organization keeps these kids with the false news that Hina has been killed. Unfortunately, the device she needs in order to do that ends up being broken. She is stuck in Japan, and ends up being homeless.

And that’s about where I’ll end it with describing her situation, because you’re better off reading it yourself. Anzu doesn’t tend to have funny chapters; instead she has sweet and heartfelt ones. It is an Anzu chapter that actually brought me to tears in Hinamatsuri, and her good nature shines brightly through this manga’s pages. Anzu learns many tough and touching life lessons that make it clear Ohtake-sensei can easily write a tearful story if he wants to (and he has, before, though most of his manga are comedies). See for yourself why many call her the best character in the series.

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There are actually a lot of characters in this series, many of which develop and change over time (and one of which I would have counted along with Hitomi and Anzu, but they come into the series much later), but of course the main stays are Nitta and Hina.

Many readers of this series don’t care for Hina, but I am not among them. While Hina definitely has a bad personality, I 1) can’t blame her completely for it and 2) enjoy her bad personality, and how it relates to other characters. Hina is undoubtedly the strongest esper from whatever organization she came from, and thus the most useful. I can gather that among the kids of her organization, she was the one treated the most like a tool (under some rather serious and scary threats, at that). She’s got a lot of depression and sadness when it comes to her old life, and when she comes in contact with Nitta many of her dreams and desires can finally be realized. This doesn’t make her blameless for her frankly awful behavior, but I think it explains a lot of it (though it doesn’t explain her laziness/foolishness). Nitta is very accommodating for all his bluster, so he ends up garnering a lot of affection from Hina whether he wants it or not.

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Don’t worry about the handcuffs.

Over time, Hina comes to see and love Nitta as a father and I’ve really always seen that as very sweet. Nitta is the first adult to care about her, although it’s only a little bit at first, and that’s enough to make her love him (along with his spoiling and his excellent cooking skills). Whenever Hina glows at Nitta acknowledging her as his daughter, or at the prospect of “family”, I go “awww…” because dang it, it’s really cute! It’s especially cute because most of the time Hina just wears a dull expression and doesn’t react much.

All that said, this is also where a lot of the painful, suffering comedy comes from in the series, which hurts a lot (in a good way). After all, like I’ve said Nitta really doesn’t give much of a shit about Hina. It takes him a loooong time to seriously call her his daughter.

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I’d give a solid paragraph to describing Nitta, but beyond what I’ve already said about him there is little more. He’s a yakuza who’s pretty scummy but good at heart. He’s good at his job but keeps rising up in the ranks largely due to the incompetence of his underlings, peers, and even superiors. Despite being rich off of his successes, I imagine it must hurt a lot to be Nitta anyway. Seriously, in a lot of way his life sucks. He’s a tsukkomi in a world of awful, self-serving boke.

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And at this point, there’s nothing more I can say without heading into the spoiler zone. I avoided actually discussing most of the events that actually transpire in the series because discussing them is basically like giving away jokes, many of which only make sense given a lot of setup. I hope my description of the kind of humor on display is enough to entice you. By the way, after a long time the series suddenly changes in a very dramatic way and with little warning. Usually, that’s bad, and I’ll admit I was pretty bewildered by the shift. That said, I can confidently say I still like it now as much as I always have. To be honest I remembered this series as “hilarious series that almost killed me with every chapter”, and on rereading for review I found that it was even better than I recalled, including the shift. The shift is actually very interesting particularly because of the ways characters are different now. Hina’s changes in particular are subtle but great. At the least, I think everyone still reading it agrees the manga is still funny as hell.

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I wonder if I made it obvious what really makes this series amazing: it is consistently good. I have a lot of favorite comedies but none have ever hit so frequently and so hard as Hinamatsuri. Even when it’s not trying to be funny, it’s still good. It’s very good, and that should not be. This series has been running since 2010 and really? Really? It hasn’t had a single bad chapter? Well, yes. That’s insane and should be impossible, but Ohtake-sensei did it. Bravo.

I think the only thing I can criticize with Hinamatsuri is the art, and I don’t consider it a negative anyway. Ohtake certainly has a unique art style, and it’s perfect for comedic scenes (and quite good for sad/miserable ones), but yeah, it’s overall not very good. It’s fine and more than gets the job done, and it gets a lot better over time, but if art’s what you need to enjoy something…I suggest you stop being like that and read this series (and others that have less than stellar art) anyway. You’d be missing out.

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You may import this series from Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan. This series is rather well regarded, so I was actually surprised to see no official English release even after all this time. Fine by me, though. It goes without saying that Hinamatsuri has my high recommendation, and I really think you should read it. See, one last point: this series doesn’t really do the same things over and over, and coupled with the fact that characters change over time there is no real “formula”/the comedy doesn’t get old. That’s probably what led to the consistent quality. You can read this series over and over and laugh every time. Goodness, it is precious.

Thank you for reading my review, here’s my favorite volume cover:

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See you next week!

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6 thoughts on “Hinamatsuri

  1. Since I started archive trawling your blog, your calling Hinamatsuri’s art not very good is the first time I’ve at all disagreed with you. Thanks for reminding me about this excellent series; I need to get back and reread it!

    • Really? Hmm…

      I think it gets a lot better but the first many chapters aren’t great. Then again I’m not really hung up about art. It has to be egregious coupled with the manga being terrible for me to get upset with it.

      As for Hinamatsuri itself, I’ve been meaning to return to the series and perhaps write something about the, eh, “part 2” of it, and my thoughts on it since it’s a weird but interesting aspect.

      • gantifandor says:

        So anything about part 2? It was weird at first but I don’t think it made much of a difference beyond cosmetics, still great.

        Also anime. 2018 seems like the year of miracles for this site

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