Sometimes, we all need some comfort TV. A show that s not going to challenge you or inspire you to set new goals for yourself, but just makes you feel good. Hidamari Sketch is that kind of visual comfort food: the piping hot chicken noodle soup of anime. It may not be ambitious or groundbreaking, but boy does it make you feel better after a rough day.
The show is an all-girl slice-of-life comedy that takes place in an art school or more specifically, a dorm called Hidamari Apartments located right across from the school. The focus on art, especially drawing, means the show has a lot in common with other art-themed anime like Sketchbook; full colors and especially GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class (which, just like HS, was adapted from a four-panel manga.) However, while art fiends will obviously get that much more out of the show, HS is a bit more of a general slice-of-life show than some of its rivals; those who enjoy geeking out over exactly what kind of drawing pencil to buy may enjoy GA more. Of course, we recommend watching both — why take chances?
Slice of life shows succeed or fail based on their characters, and HS has some great ones. Each of the main girls is well-defined, with their own strengths and personality quirks. The ostensible main character is Yuno, a tiny girl who never leaves the house without her trademark X hairclips, who loves drawing but feels insecure about her place in the prestigious art program at Yamabuki High. She's accompanied by Miyako, a wacky and energetic girl who demonstrates a lot of raw artistic talent whenever she's not busy stuffing her face with all the food in sight, and then there are the upperclassmen: the matronly Hiro, and the mysterious writer Sae. Our favorite is Hiro, who serves as a surrogate mother to the other girls in the dorm by cooking for them and seems by far the most mature until she thinks she's starting to gain weight and decides to take extreme measures.
Then, all bets are off: Hidamari hath no fury like Hiro on an all-gelatin diet.
Outside of the main girls, there are plenty of other memorable characters: a narcissistic and melodramatic teacher, the laid-back, chain-smoking landlady, and Sae's vivacious little sister. However, we don't get to know that many of the other students at Yamabuki High too well: often, all the other students besides our heroines are represented as blue and pink stick figures, labeled boy and girl, respectively. However, instead of seeming lazy it feels like the show is simply focusing on what's important, which works for us.
There is a little bit of erotic subtext in the show, with frequent hints that Hiro and the somewhat masculine Sae are a couple; however, it's all done in such a way that you can interpret it any way you want. We tend to think Hiro and Sae are just close friends, but if you want to think of them as a couple, that option is available.
The humor in slice of life shows tends to be a bit hit or miss, and HS is no exception. However, what the show has over a lot of other series in this genre is the artistic flair of director Akiyuki Shinbo, famous for more avant-garde works like Bakemonogatari and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. His style, utilizing unusual camera angles, frequent symbols and on-screen text, breathes life in what might otherwise be pedestrian sequences. Yuno, in particular, is often represented on screen by her X hairclips, and the other girls each acquire their own symbols over time. Of course, plenty of the situations the girls manage to get themselves into are just plain funny without any directorial wizardry.
While the show mostly stays grounded in the drama of everyday life buying groceries, keeping up with homework, and accidentally flushing your keys down the toilet (oh, Yuno), there are some surreal elements. How Yoshinoya, a teacher who's even less mature than her students who's typically found hiding in the nurse's office, remains employed is something of a mystery, as is the fact that Miyako can eat like she does and not weigh 500 pounds. In a cute touch, the roof of Hidamari Apartments is inhabited by an insect-like fantasy creature voiced by the original manga artist, Ume Aoki. What is she doing there? Come to think of it, do we really need to know?
As of this writing, three seasons of Hidamari Sketch have been produced and the fourth one, Hidamari Sketch X Honeycomb, is currently airing. Later seasons introduce new girls to the apartments, but don't worry, we're still on Team Hiro, now and forever. Subtitled DVD sets of the first three seasons of the show are currently available from Sentai Filmworks. In addition, Ume Aoki s original manga is released under the title Sunshine Sketch by Yen Press.
Reviewed by Karen Gellender, December 2012
Below: Scenes from Hidamari Sketch.