Hidamari Sketch is primarily known for both its relaxed nature and Ume Aoki’s distinctive style. The series started out as a 4-koma, featured in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat, aimed at the seinen demographic, and could arguably be considered emblematic of the format’s light comedic air. Yet, as I have waxed lyrical on before, not all 4-koma need amount to soothing fluff.
At a glance, the series might appear to be an example of an ensemble cast, especially if one first approaches the series via the anachronistically-ordered anime. Yet, as one soon realises, the series is essentially a coming of age story centred about the character Yuno, and so we follow our curiously-shaped-hair-clip-wearing heroine on her journey through her final three years of school.
For the first three volumes we become accustomed to the cast and, aside from a story about a visiting stray cat, all seems happy and carefree. In the fourth volume, however, a slight shadow is cast. A hint of things yet to come.
First we meet again with the third year Arisawa, to whom we shall return shortly. This is followed by the third years’ graduation, and the customary display of their individual projects throughout the school. It is during this one chapter that the impending departure of the second years, Sae and Hiro, is fully recognised by our diminutive leading lady.
In the following volumes we find further subtle hints towards Sae and Hiro’s imminent departure, both of whom are now third years. These illustrate both the melancholy that comes with the separation from good friends, but also a more optimistic outlook, in the sense that both Yuno and Miyako, her best friend and fellow second year, must now step up and perform the duties that will soon be thrust upon them. Yet I should like to highlight the extra chapter at the end of the sixth volume, in which we focus on Hiro’s worries. We are given insight on both Hiro’s concerns for the future, and the enduring strength of the relationship between the two third years. For Hiro is a reluctant traveller, taking the slow path towards the day on which she must eventually fledge.
Of course, Hidamari Sketch is not the only manga to deal with the emotions that, we are told, bubble to the surface at the end of one’s time at a particular school, or indeed, university. The K-On! franchise broaches this as well, with the four leads’ final concert at their school designed to evoke an emotional response. Kozue Aoba, the landlady and love interest both from Mahoraba, faces a similar worry. Those she has surrounded herself with, who are now effectively family, are set to leave the mansion they have called home for many years. Whilst Kozue does eventually send her charges off with a smile, it is still shown that she holds both worries for the future, and is in no way looking forward to the day they choose to leave.
Of course, these are not the only examples, any series that deals with a similar situation, of separation or loss, will likely broach similar ideas. Often too, these are some of the most affecting or poignant moments of a series. Perhaps denoting a turning point in the series itself; an indication that the end is nigh.
Yet, one wonders why this might be so affecting. Whether this is a uniquely Japanese affair, or that offerings from the Occident can be just as powerful.
Certainly, within this little corner of the internet, Japan has shown ample ability to tug at one’s heartstrings. One might presume this to have its roots in the concept of mono no aware, or rather, the pathos of things. Perhaps best evoked with the image of cherry blossoms; the Japanese Cherry Tree blooms in spring, with the blossoms dying only a couple of weeks later. These, as the internet will be only too happy to inform you, have assumed a number of different meanings. Yet perhaps the most enduring has its roots in Buddhism’s ideas of impermanence. The swiftness with which these, often beautiful, blossoms bloom and then fall are effectively a metaphor for life itself.
That the academic year in Japan starts and ends either side of the Easter holiday, naturally allows Japanese media to to capitalise on this. A number of perspectives arise. Of the promise of a new beginning. Of waving off old friends, and preparing to receive the new. Or of one’s own departure, bequeathing one’s role and reputation to those soon to walk the path just taken. Each replete with a shower of cherry blossoms in their wake.
Yet can it be said that Japan holds a monopoly over such a scenario?
Whilst the standard occidental academic year does not start during spring, nor may we lay claim to scenically cascading blossoms, one finds the sentiment behind departures and arrivals practically universal. Indeed, for the major events in one’s existence; that of life, death, and all the minor milestones in-between, one might suggest that similar emotions are evoked for each, regardless of one’s nationality. Though it is inevitable that there will be slight differences in the details, as derived by one’s culture, base emotional responses to these are unlikely to differ greatly. The emotional response towards the day when good friends make their own way in the world, and each with a different direction, to take an example, is likely to be similar no matter one’s background or nationality.
To continue onwards with the running example, I feel it a reasonable assumption that all those reading this, and indeed those likely to read, watch, or otherwise consume entertainment with the required level of complexity for such plots, will have experienced leaving, and watching others leave, an educational establishment of some description. This allows one to draw upon one’s own experiences in order to sympathise with the characters presented. One might also argue this to be more powerful a reason for its affecting nature than the aforementioned mono no aware. Thus, we arrive at two answers to our two questions. Shared experiences lend weight to such plots, and this is by no means limited to media that hail from a little island in the east of the Orient.
That sadness is felt at peoples’ passing need not suggest this wholly a bad thing. Disgustingly clichéd though it may sound, such sadness is proof that one has made good friends, and memories to cherish. Change, after all, is a good thing. The past may be viewed through rose-tinted glasses, or it may be left to obscurity within the annals of history, nor may we ever return to it. It is, however, terribly important. Made more so, perhaps, by its resolute irretrievability. As a butterfly, moth, or dragonfly sheds his skin one final time to reveal his resplendent adult form, we too, mature and move forward through change in our person and circumstances. One might even argue that our experiences and memories, shaped by our choices in life, define who we are.
Returning then, to Hidamari Sketch, must we assume and prepare for a great wave of sadness, of a crushing melancholy never before felt on this earth? The answer to this question is simply no; Hidamari Sketch might touch the occasional emotional nerve, but remains an optimistic series overall. Indeed, as Arisawa took her bow, we found more a passing of the baton than a ceremonious sendoff therein. A single high five and a smile suffice for a most charming and confident character. Whilst Sae and Hiro will doubtless command a greater emotional weight in their departure, it is my personal view that Yuno and Miyako will choose to step up to the challenge of both their third, and final, year and the responsibility towards their younger charges.
1. [^]Entitled ‘Congratulations on your Graduation!’ for those with the volume to hand.