Home > Episode Reviews, Hana-Saku Iroha > Hana-Saku Iroha Episode 16 – Blinded by the Light

Hana-Saku Iroha Episode 16 – Blinded by the Light

Enishi, Ohana’s uncle and heir presumptive to the inn, has never come off well. He’s a weak-willed character who never seems to rise above the level of a designated loser, perpetually in thrall to charismatic women like Kawajiri. Some recent episodes have taken steps to fill out the reasons for this (his continued exclusion from the family circle and the overwhelming fears he has of the inn dying out on his watch), but they served to explain, rather than to justify.

This episode both works to redeem Enishi, and simultaneously make him more pitiful. Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, Kawajiri seems to finally have found a bankable marketing method, and Enishi steps up to a leadership role that he has never quite been able to fill before. And yet, despite reaching the highest point of his career, he’s still miserable. The show isn’t done with him yet.

The episode begins by reminding the audience about how much pressure the region is under from the new "mega-inn" that is busily stealing away everyone's customer base

The writers seem to understand that the concept of Kawajiri having a good idea will be hard to accept, so they ease us into it by keeping her off screen for a while. Basically, a reasonably large-budget film needs a hot springs inn for their set, and Kawajiri’s connections led them to Kissuisou. If the film is successful, it will lead to an extraordinary marketing bonanza, something everyone in the village seems to understand.

In what seems like a sign of both approval and respect, Sui approves the project and places her son in charge of all aspects of it. Suddenly he finds himself negotiating with film staff, talking with movie stars, and showered with adulation from the inn’s staff for such a wonderful opportunity. For the first time, everyone is taking him seriously, and treating him with respect.

Enishi even shows generosity in letting the inn staff participating, insisting that Jiroumaru be allowed a voice in the writing process and giving the staff a chance to audition for roles

Enishi steps up his game as well. When a collection of other inn heads start pressuring him to have their inns included in the project too, he politely but firmly rejects their offer, keeping Kissuisou as the sole beneficiary of any free advertising the movie will provide. (The heads all leave impressed that the young manager has learned how to stand up for himself.)

And yet, it’s not enough. As Enishi admits to Kawajiri in a private moment, he’s still without confidence in himself, and stuck in his older sister’s shadow. Despite the fact that Satsuki has a horrible temperament for a service industry, Enishi still believes that she’s be a better inn manager than he is—and he believes everyone else (including his own mother) believes it too.

Meanwhile Minko, in another wonderful bit of characterization, argues that the only role she'd want to play in a film is that of a chef—because, it's implied, that's the only thing she ever wants to be. It's a reminder of how dedicated Minko is to her profession, and a hint of the sacrifices she's made to pursue it

All this comes out most clearly in one of Enishi’s childhood experiences, of the type that burns into your brain and never leaves you. Enishi recalls one point in his youth swimming in the pool, crying out for his mom to pay attention to him, to no avail. Suddenly, his then teenage sister emerges from the water in a moment of perfect beauty, naturally commanding the attention his shouted pleas could not attract.

Enishi’s entire life could be encapsulated by that scene, with his beautiful and talented sister upstaging him at every moment. He bears considerable resentment at her for that, and yet still remains obsessed with her, to the point where his attraction to Kawajiri (who has given little indication of loving him back) derives from her resemblance to Satsuki, in personality as much as in looks. Perhaps the fact that Kawajiri deprives him of affection is itself a turn on for him.

The most moving part of the memory isn't Satsuki's dramatic appearance, but Enishi's pleas to a mother who can't or won't hear them. I'm left wondering how early Enishi felt abandoned by his parents

Enishi has a real sister complex, not in the sense of the standard anime hackjob form of someone creepily attracted to his (or, since this is anime, her) sister, but in the sense that a real person might have when faced with a far more talented sibling and a lack of personal self-confidence and emotional reinforcement. Satsuki is the one he admires and resents and strives to imitate, but regardless, everything is about her. Enishi can’t imagine a world where everything isn’t about her. And that makes his current success all the more bewildering to him.

That success may not hold out for long. The episode ends with a rather ominous phone call, signalling some crisis about to hit the film crew. Traditionally, each and every crisis the inn has faced has been resolved by Ohana—with one exception, I suppose—and this is the one time where I don’t want to see that happen. Ohana, in many ways, combines all the best attributes of her mother and grandmother (mixed in with her youthful inexperience and adolescent emotional confusion). It would be very hard for her to take the lead without further emasculating Enishi.

The worst case scenario, given that Kissuisou is contributing financially to the project, is that this is all some form of con. But if it is a con, it's a very complicated and expensive one; I can't imagine the take would be particularly large

Perhaps that’s just his fate: to be the one to fail so that Ohana can be the one to succeed. But I don’t quite want to believe that’s what this show intends to do. This episode shows a degree of empathy around Enishi and his plight that was mostly absent from his previous misadventures, and I want to think that’s deliberate. The narrative arc of this plot would feel … incomplete without Enishi stepping up to the challenge.

Regardless, this episode represents a major change of pace from anything we’ve had before, even the Yuina-centric arc of the last two episodes. But whereas Yuina’s struggles didn’t feel hefty enough to justify two episodes, Enishi’s are severe, well-developed, and integrally linked to the success of Kissuisou. To be blunt, (and contrary to even Enishi’s belief), those struggles are far more interesting to watch than teenage girls cavorting in swimsuits.

Kawajiri and Enishi seem to have "a moment" together as the former comes to understand a little more about what makes the latter tick. Perhaps their relationship will develop into something healthier, too

You can watch the episode here.

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