Yoshifumi Nitta is a mid-level yakuza with a nice apartment and enough money to indulge his hobbies of chasing women and collecting expensive pottery. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot going on in his life. That changes abruptly when a metal spheroid teleports into his living room and deposits a psychokinetic preteen named Hina. Hina forces Nitta to let her stay with him by threatening his vases with her mental abilities, and their relationship gets off to a rocky start.
But when Hina ends up along for the ride on a mission and takes out dozens of a rival gang’s thugs single-handedly, Nitta decides she may not be as big of a pain as he thought. They develop a mutually beneficial pseudo-father/daughter relationship, with Nitta using Hina’s powers to climb the ranks of his gang, and Hina sponging off Nitta’s increasingly luxurious lifestyle.
Hinamatsuri is a comedy manga written and drawn by Masao Ohtake. A critically acclaimed anime adaptation aired in spring 2018, and the manga was published in English a few months later.
For a manga with a premise as surreal and ripe for slapstick as this one, Hinamatsuri actually has a bone dry sense of humor. Hina’s arrival in the first few pages is very Looney Tunes, but the rest of the book’s comedy is mostly built around Nitta internally screaming while Hina acts strangely and misses social cues. Hina’s powers come into play much less frequently than I would have guessed based on a plot summary, and I appreciate the effort that went into defying expectations like that.
I don’t think the comedy really hits its stride until about the third chapter, though. After the slapstick set piece of Hina’s arrival, the first chapter jumps from half-baked punchline to half-baked punchline, never giving any of the jokes time to build or breathe. It feels disjointed, almost like a four-panel gag manga where every page is its own self-contained mini-episode, but with the layout of a regular manga. The second chapter hits a better rhythm, but in my opinion, its jokes just aren’t that funny. It’s not until the 3rd chapter that Hina’s deadpan reactions to everything, and Nitta’s stressed, sweating reactions to Hina, take center stage.
It’s a good thing that most characters react in such a deadpan way, and keep all their screaming internal, because I’m not sure the art is up to the task of handling outrageous faces. Ohtake occasionally hits the mark with a wild reaction, but throughout this first volume, the character art is very stiff. There’s not much in the way of distinctive body language for any of the characters. Proportions are sometimes way off. Hina seems to arbitrarily grow and shrink. Sometimes characters’ faces appear too small for their heads. As a result, the dry humor lands much more consistently than the slapstick because it doesn’t rely as heavily on the visuals.
The Release Quality
There’s a stiffness to the way the translation reads, too. Most of the characters speak in similar ways, without much to give them distinct personalities. There’s very little slang, and conversations sometimes flow awkwardly. Maybe this slang-free sameness is an accurate recreation of the original Japanese text, but even then, some lines feel particularly robotic. I would prefer a more adaptive translation if it meant every line read like something a native English speaker would actually say.
There are also some bizarre typesetting choices. Every once in a while the font changes. It typically happens when there’s some kind of flashback, or when one character thinks about what another said previously. When this happens, the text repeats the words used exactly as they appeared before. But sometimes it appears in situations where it’s not clear if there’s a flashback happening or not, or if a character is remembering something that wasn’t already shown. If this was done to clarify when flashbacks are happening, it failed. It just makes things more confusing.
The way signs, writing on chalkboards, and similar things are translated is also frustrating. Many other manga squeeze English text onto the sign in a way that looks fairly natural, use translator’s notes between the panels, or erase the Japanese text completely and replace it with English text. All of those are more elegant choices than what they decided on here, which was to just overlay text across the image, often obscuring the original text and other parts of the art. Frankly, it looks terrible.
Despite some subpar elements of this release, it is still laugh-out-loud funny at times. Its highs are very high, which makes its lows all the more frustrating. What I found myself thinking the most while reading was that I wished I had been able to read the source material before watching the anime. Even though the best chapter in this volume is one that didn’t get animated, the book as a whole still felt like a letdown in light of how much motion and voice acting elevate the material. I’d still recommend the manga, but more as a companion piece to the anime than as a standalone thing.