Hiiro no Kakera

Hiiro no Kakera is a troublesome series to write about, it is very much a Curate’s Egg, with one of the good parts being an astonishingly well realised lead character. I’ll try not to spoil this too much, but there will be some spoilers coming.

The Setup

Ah yes, the miko who has inherited great power for the purpose of keeping something else sealed in the ground. For good measure this time it is the end of the world.

Whilst we’re at it better give the miko a set of guardians to protect her, a Five Man Band will do nicely. Oh, and let’s toss in conspiracies in the background, some parental abandonment, and an aloof grandmother who knows what’s going on but isn’t really telling.

Oh dear, and at this stage I invite readers to post series that have used this set up before. I’ll start with Fushigi Yuigi just to get it out of the way.

The set up for Hiiro no Kakera feels tired, derivative, and is possibly the most obvious holdover from the Otome Game on which it was based.

The Curb Stomps and the Ass Pull

Throughout the first season the heroine Tamaki Kasuga and her protectors are facing much stronger opponents. Suffice it to say they get curb stomped on a regular basis, right up until a final episode draw that is almost (but not quite) an Ass Pull.

Overall this is an OK end of season, but I really hope that the second season delivers a much stronger, and more internally consistent, series ending.

The Pretty

But enough of the bad, I want to talk about the good stuff for a bit.

First up this is an exceptionally pretty show to look at. It is one of the few anime to be tightly tied to autumn [1], and this seasonal aesthetic is a surprisingly effective choice. The reds and oranges of the palette are vivid, and really ground the anime in the season.

The overtones of the end of summer, of decay leading into winter, fit the storyline well.

The opening credit song is lovely, and also shows Autumn in all its fading glory.

The Heroine

Whilst the set up, and many of the supporting characters, are tired and familiar the heroine is not. Tamaki is the breath of fresh air that kept me watching this show, and will keep me watching the second season.

A female lead character that is a miko with strong male guardians has been done many times before, and risks depressingly traditional gender roles.

Having the female lead dumped into that princess/priestess role with little to no warning risks a character that questions “why me?”, and this can lead to whining that rapidly annoys the viewer.

Tamaki is cleverly scripted to avoid both traps.

There is a saying I picked up from the author Eric Flint that “ignorance can be fixed, stupid is forever” [2], and it appears to be a saying that Tamaki lives by. It doesn’t take her long to accept her role as the Tamayori Princess, but Tamaki won’t accept not knowing what that means.

If finding that out requires endless hours of research in the family library, then Tamaki will do the work on her own initiative and without a word of complaint. On this level Tamaki outstrips her guardians who research grudgingly if at all.

This is a neat piece of scripting that, along with some spoilers that I don’t want to mention, gives Tamaki a considerable degree of agency despite being the protected princess throughout.

I do wonder if this aspect of Tamaki’s character was originally a game play element. i.e. in game research to solve problems manifesting as part of Tamaki’s character in the anime. If so, I hope I see more characters like this in future.

It also turns out that, again for reasons that I won’t mention, Tamaki’s guardians are bound to their roles just as much as Tamaki is bound to hers, and this is the second area where Tamaki shines as a heroine.

Tamaki is quite prepared to accept her destiny as the Tamayori Princess, but is consistently angered by the fact that her guardians didn’t get a choice.

After a while that “why me?” gets plaintive and annoying.

Tamaki’s annoyance on behalf of her guardians never did in the first season, and helped bind the characters together as a team. This is a nice twist on the usual trope, and one that I appreciated.

The Summary

Hiiro no Kakera could have been utterly average: not bad or objectionable, but not really worth much effort to watch. However it is lifted well above average by the artwork and an exceptional heroine in the form of Tamaki.

I think this is worth watching at least once, but I’ll reserve my final verdict until I’ve seen the second season.

I’ll wrap up with the first end credits sequence with more of that glorious Autumn imagery that Hiiro no Kakera is so richly endowed with:

[1] For that matter it is rare for an entire anime to be tied so tightly to any season.

[2] From memory this was in the excellent short story The Thief and the Roller Derby Queen, and it is in one of Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthologies.