A lot of comedy manga are based on formulas. Here is a premise. Here are jokes that arise from that premise. Basic sitcom stuff. The manga Hinamatsuri takes these fundamentals and grows them to reach a much higher form of comedic storytelling. Before the TV anime’s April debut, consider how Hinamatsuri takes advantage of the time skip in comedy.
First the Fundamentals of Comedic Storytelling
It should first and foremost be stated that humor is subjective. Though this doesn’t mean that there are not techniques used to craft jokes. Just because the jokes do not land for everyone doesn’t make them not jokes. This can make it hard to discuss comedy. If we disregard everything as subjective, the ability to have a conversation is lost, so let’s talk about some fundamentals.
In gag manga like Azumanga Daioh, much of the humor is derived from the conversations the characters have and extreme versions of everyday life. Meanwhile, in the serialised harem manga Nisekoi, it often had chapters where the humor was created by an event, often putting the protagonist and one of the heroines in a situation where they naturally bounced off each other to create humorous dialogue. Nisekoi is a traditional sitcom-like premise, but in many ways, they are forced to stunt the development of their characters to ensure that the jokes can continue as they always have. This is where Hinamatsuri comes in.
Hinamatsuri is about yakuza and psychics… kinda?
Hinamatsuri is a manga by Masao Ohtake that follows the life of the yakuza Nitta, who ends up having to take care of Hina, a girl with physic powers. As the series goes on its cast expands to include other yakuza, psychics and Hina’s classmates. The comedy arises from interactions between these characters, and absurdist situations that the characters end up in. The manga spends a lot of time establishing who the characters are and how they act through the humor. Ohtake-sensei’s artwork and sense of comedic timing really shine in gags that don’t require any dialogue at all. Overall, Hinamatsuri is a very funny comedy manga that manages to have some emotional moments.
Hinamatsuri has a very solid understanding of the comedy fundamentals. It’s characters all bounce off each other well, and Ohtake-sensei’s skills make it a breezy and fun read. It’s no surprise that Hinamatsuri will be getting an anime this year. These fundamentals aren’t all there are to Hinamatsuri though, there’s so much more.
Hinamatsuri and Mastering the Timeskip
The time skip is a staple of battle shonen manga for better or worse, oft-decried as a lazy way to progress a story or character arc. In comedy series, they are fairly rare, as many don’t require the passage of time, and those that do, like K-On! opt to do it the natural way instead of losing huge chunks of time. This makes Hinamatsuri something of an anomaly. Hinamatsuri didn’t need a time skip. It could have chugged along and kept churning out material from the same status quo as always and it probably would’ve been quite good. That wouldn’t be very interesting though. Characters need to grow, and with that growth comes more evolved comedy. Many great comedies run out of steam by maintaining the status quo, such as the TV series Community. So the characters in Hinamatsuri grow by three years, and this changes everything.
While the manga speeds through time, the characters did not stop growing. Hina changes, although not hugely through adolescence, and the relationships between characters change. They are not static, so when the reader returns to them, they are different but not unrecognizable. This is utilized in both changing the types of jokes that can be told, as the mood is different, and the various emotional stories that the manga can tell. There are three major places where these subtle changes are most apparent, so I’ll show them one by one.
Nitta and Hina, Family
Nitta and Hina are family, a rather odd family, but a family nonetheless. This takes a long time to develop. At the beginning Nitta hated Hina, and their relationship takes a long time to build up. This is used as a vehicle for comedy, with humor coming from their unusual relationship. They do become close as the manga goes on though. This, in the end, leads to an extremely satisfying payoff. Hina comes from an environment where adults took advantage of her for her power, which lead to a distrust of adults. Her relationship with Nitta grows because he is not like that.
Hina comes from a life where she was taken advantage of, but her relationship with Nitta give her times where she actually wants to help others. Beyond this, their familial relationship later allows for jokes to arise out of Nitta’s goofy househusband skills. Nitta is in the yakuza, but as the story goes on, more focus is put on his enjoyment of pottery, cleaning and making cute bento for Hina. Once the time skip happens, Nitta’s naturally fallen into his place as a single dad, and while for the most part, he’s the same as ever, plenty of comedy arises from it.
This slow evolution of Nitta’s character traits has come from the time skip. Once the time skip happens all the characters are brought to the natural conclusion of where their growth was going, rejuvenating the comedy. This also applies to Hina as well as Nitta. As Hina has become a teenager, her personality shifted slightly, and relationships change. Her relationships with the other espers are framed like casual talks from old friends, who just talk sometimes.
The slow but steady maturation of their relationship leads to satisfying plot beats and a change in the comedy. By having Nitta firmly accept his role as a caretaker, jokes can come from the dichotomy of his status and his actions. This is not exclusive to Nitta’s relationship with Hina. In the post time skip Anzu chapters, Nitta’s fatherly instincts towards her are emphasized for the sake of humor. Pre-time skip, Hinamatsuri could not have an entire hilarious chapter dedicated to Nitta being a parent, who thinks their child is perfect, blowing up in his face. The amount of time that has passed makes these jokes seem natural.
Anzu, Character Development and Emotional Payoff
The emotional payoff is heavily reliant on the passage of time. The graduation of the girls in K-On! would not be as satisfying if it was episode 2 (of the anime) rather than episode 39. The ending of Naruto would not be as powerful at the end of volume 3 as it is with volume 72. Ends need to be earned, characters have to grow over time to make their journey satisfying. Nowhere is this more apparent in Hinamatsuri than chapter 62.
Even before the time skip, Anzu was an character in an ever-fluctuating situation. Starting as a homeless person, then being taken in by a couple who runs a ramen shop. With the time-skip, Anzu’s situation changes once again, leaving home and starting a ramen stand, following in the footsteps of her adoptive father to prove herself. Aznu greatly matures as a character as the series goes on, she feels real, a child who has become an adult a little early.
In chapter 62, the homeless men who lived with Anzu return for a meal at her stand. The trio share a heartfelt meal and remember their past together, this reunion means something to them, they’re almost family. This same reunion could have had some impact without the time skip, but because it’s been three years since they’ve last seen each other, and Anzu’s grown so much in that time, it’s not just a reunion, it’s a testament to Anzu’s growth as a person, her humble growth to adulthood. I could recommend Hinamatsuri solely on the fact that this payoff exists, but there’s plenty more.
Hitomi and Absurdist Growth
The final major character to talk about is Hitomi. Hitomi starts the series as a normal high school girl who has a hard time saying no. As a result of this she ends up taking up various jobs, such as a bartender and office worker. Post time skip, this reaches the natural conclusion of her living a dual life as a high schooler and a CEO. The humor of Hitomi’s chapter changes the least post time skip but adds the humor of her being in a position of power. She also doesn’t change physically at all. This is mostly for the gag, as she very obviously appears to be a child but has managed to reach the top of the business world, but I believe it also serves a subtle dual purpose.
Hitomi, more so than other characters, stagnated. She changed over the course of the series but accepts her absurd position. The way she changes is interesting to observe, as it’s an examination of how someone would actually grow up in an absurdist comedy situation like Hitomi’s. Hitomi is a warped character, whose chapters have lots of visual ironies and it’s fascinating to look at from this angle. Hitomi becomes her own father’s boss, and by the latest chapters, she talks like any of the adults in the series. This is subtle, but a hilarious utilisation of the strain that the three years from the time-skip had on her.
The Maturation of Comedy
Hinamatsuri is not the only comedy to tackle these elements. Even so, it’s success at it is certainly worth the look. It so perfectly creates something greater out of an already great manga. Comedy manga are often accused of focusing on flat, un-developing characters. While that critique is both misguided and generally wrong, Hinamatsuri provides a perfect counterpoint to that argument. As the characters grow, so does the storytelling and the jokes. Hinamatsuri proves the sheer height of perfection that a comedy series can strive to accomplish.
There is no reward without risk, and Ohtake-sensei shook things up and got the best that he could from it.