Home > Episode Reviews, Hana-Saku Iroha > Hana-Saku Iroha Episode 18 – Under the Suface

Hana-Saku Iroha Episode 18 – Under the Suface

There have been only a few characters in Hana-Saku Iroha who haven’t gotten due attention yet, and Nako is one of them. While her love for swimming and crippling shyness have been on constant display (although not quite in that order), we haven’t received a well-rounded picture of her, or figured out what really makes her tick. This episode provides at least the first part, but more or less fails at the second.

Nako, as it happens, is the eldest of four children in what is one of the few families in Japan bucking demographic trends. Older than her siblings by a wide margin, she serves almost as much as a parent as a big sister, demonstrating the patient protection of the former and the good-natured teasing of the later. She’s arguably more parental than her parents, and is the linchpin of her family.

Actually, Nako not only more of a parent than her parents, she’s a parent for her parents. How they raised her is a open question

All this flies in the face of Nako’s persona outside her home, where even her longtime neighbors intimidate her and she is easily cowed by Ohana. Of course, she’s much more familiar with her family, but she’s gotten familiar with Ohana, Minko, and I would hope her neighbors as well by this point—none of which translates into the easy confidence she has with her family.

We’re left, in short, with a depiction of Nako which is presented as a given, but never really explained or justified. Why is she unable to interact normally with others? The episode raises the issue of which of her personas is her “real” self, but doesn’t really resolve it, or provide a reason for the split. It’s just there. This isn’t what I hope for as a part of a character reveal, and compared with Enishi’s treatment over the past two episodes, the glaring lack of a plausible explanation is particularly jarring.

The show employs some mermaid metaphors pulled from Nako’s head to supplement her inner narrative, but while it changes the scenery a few times and offering chibi fishi versions of her coworkers, it doesn’t do much to stop the episode from being far more “tell” than “show”

Having set up the situation, Nako devotes this episode to trying to break out of her shell, first by imitating her peers in dress and mannerisms. This is good for some laughs, and is surprisingly effective at providing snapshots of characterization for Yuina, Ohana, and Minko (and revealing some of Nako’s thoughts about them). And, while prettying the shy girl up is a common trope, the show is smart enough to recognize that’s just not right for Nako.

Nako’s second attempt is much more abbreviated, as she just attempts act in the inn like she acts at home. This fails miserably on the first try, not because of her shyness getting in the way or because of any obvious mistake on her part, but simply because she is unlucky enough to pick an unreasonable patron as her practice target.

Ohana and Nako try on the same dress, only to realize that maybe Nako should have a dress a few sizes bigger. What’s cute on one is revealing on the other, just the sort of thing Nako would look down on Yuina for wearing. She buys it immediately

That’s actually one of the most frustrating things about the episode. In just one scene, Nako shows that she can “act normal” around people basically by willing herself to do so. That “true self” of hers that she wants to express around more than just her family? She can, and yet now she won’t. And as near as I can tell, she won’t simply because the show would like her to stay the way she is.

Part of that comes out from the particular stimulus that leads Nako to venture into self-improvement: She thinks her boss wants her to. It’s another of those stupid misunderstandings that Hana-Saku Iroha is far to inclined to pull out when it needs a plot conflict introduced and then resolved easily. But even when the manager affirms that Nako is a good waitress who brings great value to Kissuisou just as she is, why should that negate Nako’s desire to change? Isn’t this change something Nako wanted before the misunderstanding? And isn’t it something that, all things considered, it would be good for her to achieve?

Nako draws a very helpful annotated map for some of her guests, but only after failing to answer the customers directly when they asked. I would think being about to do more than fumble for words would be one part of making people feel at home, and I know Nako thinks it too

Enishi’s arc felt incomplete, but that incompleteness felt natural compared to what happens here. That he stays in an unhealthy relationship with Kawajiri is perfectly predictable on his end, even if it’s perhaps less so on hers. And, whatever else could be said about her arc, he certainly grows as a character throughout it.

Does Nako grow in a similar fashion here? Does she grow at all? It’s not clear that she does, metaphoric mermaid dreams aside. I suppose she grows in that she comes to accept her gifts as they are, but even that isn’t true. The gifts she shows with her family—first among them the ability to talk to people—would be great assets for her, and would have saved Ohana some trouble if Nako had used them in the second episode. Even if she is, as the manager asserts, a good waitress, she still could be a better one. And since her reason for becoming a waitress in the first place was to be able to grow, why should the fact that she’s become a good waitress negate that desire, and that need?

I did have to include one screenshot of the hilariously bad attempt of some boys to hit on Nako and company. That scene by itself almost makes the episode watching

Overall, I’m just not certain what this episode is trying to do. It does give us some laughs, lots of screentime for Nako, and yet another false conflict for a disposable plot. While I’m fine with the first two features, it seems like a wasted opportunity. There is the potential for serious character development lurking under the surface here. It just won’t come up for air.

You can watch the episode here.

Nako is thrilled to pieces at being praised by her boss. But how will that change her?

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