Thoughts on Hana to Alice: Satsujin Jiken

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In all honesty, looking at the cover of this anime film would give one the impression that it would be about the misadventures of two teenage girls caught up in whatever shenanigans they end up making out of a few misunderstandings. One would be right—almost. This is one of those cases where looks can be a little deceiving, as going into it, I figured it would be animated normally and the plot would pick up posthaste. I was wrong, and anyone who assumed this would also be wrong.

Immediately apparent by the very first frame of movement from the characters, one is given the grace of an animation technique known as “rotoscoping.” This is when animators try to draw, frame-by-frame, the exact movements of a live-action picture. It typically makes the animation (more or less) smoother and more uniquely human-like. This is not the first case of this, as anyone who has seen the anime adaptation of Aku no Hana will know exactly what this animation technique looks and feels like. Does it fit here? Debatable. Does it look good? Nope.

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It’s not to the point where every movement is horridly uncoordinated, but a lot of the actions, especially slower ones, look as though a video player is buffering every .2 seconds. It would be easy to criticize a typically-animated anime piece to be lazy with its movement of characters, however with the limited movement they have, at least it looks primarily acceptable. Here, one really has to get used to the jerky movements and abrupt stops of the characters in order to focus on what’s even happening. Characters aren’t exactly ugly, but they have a certain simplicity to their faces that make them almost look too similar. The film combats this by using the typical practice of putting make-up on characters or changing their hairstyles, though this can only go so far to distinguish people. Not many characters inhabit the plot of Hana to Alice, so it’s not that major of an issue regardless.

What positives could come of this technique? Comedy. There are instances where the characters’ faces or movements become so erratic that it almost feels like the animators are playing with the line of reality and fiction. This goes double with the absurd effort Tetsuko’s (Alice) classmates put forth into creating the mythos of the supposed “murder myth.” Even subtle actions, like the swatting of a hat or playful tickling, come across as humorous with the quickness of doing so combined with the atmosphere or a specific scene. There is more being animated here than in typical anime fashion, so there’s a higher emphasis on the humanity of these characters, which definitely adds to whatever charm the faces of the characters may have.

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The other aspect of the film that’s misleading is the combination of Hana and Alice, as while they’re aware of each other’s existence from near the beginning, they don’t actually interact with each other until halfway through the film. Not only that, but the amount of time the two spend with one another is relatively short compared to other films of the variety. Talking over the phone hardly counts. It makes the inevitable sharing scene between the two, usually an emotionally respondent and personal ploy, feel anticlimactic. I feel the film would’ve suited better to build the relationship between these two had they met and faced the rumors together, rather than have Hana be a part of the mystery and remain sidelined until Alice needed to tag out of the spotlight. There’s a curious discussion that could take place about the importance of following through with the expectations placed upon the title of the film, which implies a togetherness between the two female leads, despite only about a third of the film featuring the two in the same scene.

Hana and Alice themselves are somewhat of a mixed bag likability-wise. Alice has a nice spunk to her that somewhat borders the line of “Strong, independent woman who don’t need no man,” while also having a penchant for doing things on a whim, dependent on her interest. However, my issue with her personally is that I feel she changes too much throughout the film. In the beginning, she has the traits mentioned, but also a mental wit and attitude that makes her appealing. She’s even regarded as smart by one of her classmates. The moment she’s depended on by Hana, she seems to lose this sensibility in the face of enacting a plan to deceive adults, which sets off a chain reaction of other things. One could excuse this as nervousness, as while she can deal with snotty brats her age, adults are a different beast altogether, but why go through the effort of showing her as a smart and capable kid only to make her be a brainless hap for the purpose of creating further plot? And she rolls with this up until the end of the film. Perhaps I’m looking too into this, though I would think the blatancy of the set-up of these two characters would be enough to warrant some further analysis. Hana, well, she’s cold and calculating, though shows heart through her dedication to solving the mystery of the “murder.” That’s about it.

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Other characters inhabit the realm within Hana to Alice, but a huge majority of them drop off the face of the planet the moment Hana and Alice meet. The first half of the film features a number of different characters that clue in about the mystery of the murder, along with creating some of the wacky charm that the film exudes. Most are children, though Alice has a few scenes with both her mother and father (who are divorcing; this is somewhat important), all of whom give off enough to emphasize they’re more than just their titles. To be perfectly blunt, the film had a nice beginning, and despite the fidgety rotoscoping, I was perfectly content with the way the film was progressing, though somewhat confused as to why Hana was never a part of it. Most of the enjoyment of the film comes from the wackiness of the child characters and seeing the bigger-than-life interpretation of the murder plot.

Once Hana enters the picture, much of the appeal of the film went with it. Not without a few humorous scenes between Alice and some adult characters, for the most part, the second-half felt rather dull. Again, I really think Hana should’ve been a part of a lot of these scenes, but the film is stubbornly complacent with making Alice go through everything basically alone. Once the plan has been “ruined,” there are a number of scenes that take place one after another that seemingly have no purpose but to show Alice careening around the real world at her whimsically absent pace. At the same time, it makes the plot itself feel aimless, resulting in boredom from the audience. The only thing I could conceive would be watching what one action would lead to in a sort of awkward transition of the trouble Alice runs into with just a simple mistake. Would this be more effective if one actually cared about the character? Absolutely. Would this be more effective if one actually cared about the character who pushed for the entire plan? Absolutely. As it stands, the only thing this effects at large is the intrigue of the mystery, which, in the end, isn’t really much of a mystery as it is fantastical hypotheses. This could also be entirely the point, but I digress.

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Hana to Alice has some quirky charm to it throughout, though more heavily spread in the first half. The characters have some spunk to them and the mystery is played with in a naively appealing light, making the ordinary events feel like an epic. The biggest issue is that it doesn’t do so consistently, which, combined with some questionable animation techniques and the lack of audience empathy, makes for a memorably meandering hour and a half. There is a ray of sunshine in the end, however, as I would recommend the film to anyone interested, as the animation alone needs to be seen to be believed. Also, the parts that play with the fabrication of reality are enacted so seriously that it almost comes off as a parody, one which holds all the charm of, say, Monty Python. If only it did so for the entire length.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

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