The first roles that I would’ve heard Hanazawa Kana in, had I been able to ‘hear‘ seiyuu at the time, were Kajiwara Sora in Sketchbook ~full color’S~ and Potemayo from the eponymous anime, both of which aired in late 2007. The irony there is that the former is a character who’s too shy to speak aloud—so all of her dialog is mental narration—and the latter is a 2-foot moeblob who can only say two syllables per breath and mostly makes noises. —Not exactly roles that tell you if an actress is going to be good, in spite of being leads.
I still didn’t pay attention to acting in mid-2008 when she played Midarezaki Yuuka in Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, which I’d initially dropped after 4 episodes. 2 years later, when I finished the series, it was the first role that I’d enjoyed Hanazawa in, having heard a lot more thanks to her rise in popularity over the course of 2009 and 2010.
I imagine that Hanazawa’s real “breakthrough” role was Zange-chan from Kannagi in late 2008, which I’ve never seen, but according to Hashihime’s cumulative Hanazawa post, it’s both different from her usual roles and somewhat less than great. It wasn’t until her popular role as Sengoku Nadeko in summer-2009’s Bakemonogatari, however, that she started showing up in *everything.*
I didn’t mind Hanazawa as Nadeko—it was cute, but not in a way that does anything for me. I tend not to care for the shy, quiet loli types, but like everyone else, I was spinning Ren’ai Circulation and enjoyed her “moe rap” more than her actual acting. The next season, she played another hugely popular role as Suou Pavlichenko in Darker Then Black Ryuusei no Gemini, which many have considered her emergent role as a serious actress that could do more than “moe.” It’s important to this post, however, that I’ve never seen Ryuusei no Gemini and can’t comment on that.
In winter 09 she also played Kobato in the eponymous anime, and I only made it through two episodes, finding her attempt at cuteness more irritating than adorable. That’s basically how the story would go over the course of the next year.
While I’d loved Hanazawa’s adorable performance in Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, which I finished in June, I got hit with her most painful role to date when I marathoned B Gata H Kei shortly thereafter. Playing the horribly annoying Miyano Mayu, Hanazawa chanelled all of the things that usually piss me off about Noto Mamiko (who was, incidentally, playing one of her coolest roles in the same show, as if the creators had said “hey, let’s have Hanazawa do the Noto role, and let Noto do her cool voice for once!”) She had a quiet-like-I’m-being-choked voice and was a shy, useless third-wheel character that brought the whole series down with her. The rage I felt towards Mayu started to edge Hanazawa onto my “seiyuu shit-list.”
A week later, I marathoned Angel Beats!, wherein she played Tachibana Kanade (AKA Tenshi), which is a conflicting role. On one hand, Kanade was my favorite character from the series in a rare case of robot-pettanko that I totally fall for (even moreso than Nagato Yuki). However, little of that could be attributed to Hanazawa’s performance, which was cute and nothing else. Being as she perfectly fed into the character type, most of her dialog was monotonous. Even when she did have emotional lines, it was… well, it’s a Key series. I enjoy this kind of stuff, but I can’t take it seriously enough to think of it as acting, ya’know? It’s melodrama.
My next Hanazawa experience strengthened the hate as she played Sonohara Anri, the least interesting character in Durarara. (I don’t know what it is, but her big-breasted characters all suck. She should only be allowed to play small-bodied girls.) Anri had the Noto-effect once again and was a boring, lame character whose downtrodden and depressing attitude and voice didn’t work with the fun and explosive energy that needed to happen in the show. Her character and performance are some of the biggest detriments to the series, and for that, she finally made my “shit-list.”
By this point, I gained a bite of cynicism with regards to Hanazawa, viewing her presence in any series as expected and boring, always knowing that she was going to play some cutesy character who only got her voice to please fanboys that wanted the most moe for their buck. I started rolling my eyes at roles like the small bit she had in To Aru Kagaku no Railgun doing the usual soft-moe thing.
I didn’t dislike Hanazawa at all in her role as Kuroi Mato in Black Rock Shooter, but it was such an obvious sort of performance that I couldn’t feel great about it either. BRS is an OVA that exists for otaku that love Hatsune Miku and Black Rock Shooter, and Kuroi Mato was everything I could’ve possibly expected from the lead character in such an OVA. It was a character type that I do love (tomboy girls), but had nothing to it that made it stand out. At the very least, it overshadowed what I’d probably consider my least-favorite performance from co-star Sawashiro Miyuki (thinking about it, the two of them really had a role-reversal from what they’re known for.)
It was last month when I watched Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin that Hanazawa finally managed to catch my attention again in what’s easily my favorite role from her to date: Naruse Kozue. Here was a character that went against all the things I hated about Hanazawa—she was funny, hyper, loud, and way too much fun. I realized how Hanazawa’s truly cute voice was a service to this character, as she could be silly and constantly get comically victimized but still be wholly moe. This, I think, isn’t a character that there’s enough of, and she was long and by far my favorite part of the series.
Finally, this season, Hanazawa has come full circle to not only being taken off of my seiyuu shit-list permanently, but to being on my favorites list from now on.
In Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai, she plays Gokou Ruri (AKA Kuroneko), which, thanks to a unique twist, is the perfect utilization of her standard voice. Like most of Hanazawa’s characters, she speaks softly and quietly, being somewhat reserved and shy, but what separates her from the rest is that she’s kind of a bitch. Kuroneko is argumentative, self-assured, and knows how to hold a grudge, all of which Hanazawa portrays well without betraying the reservedness of her character, and all garnished with a smooth layer of moe. It’s not exactly one of the best performances of the year, but it’s solidly flawless enough to look great on her portfolio.
Kurashita Tsukimi from Kuragehime is, however, one of the best performances of the year. Tsukimi is great because she forces Hanazawa to play both a shy and unconfident young woman as well as a spastic and fun jousei protagonist. What’s more, Tsukimi is a very “real” character. She isn’t merely an accumulation of tropes or the epitome of a single personality type, as Hanazawa’s roles tend to be. Kuragehime is a superbly written series, and it’s lead characters transcend expectations for anime writing. To say the least, Tsukimi is a much bigger role than anything Hanazawa has done (that I’ve seen), but she nails it at every single turn. Her panicked shrieks make me laugh, her monologues make me feel the character’s heart, and it’s worth playing out the “Ole~” joke to keep hearing her say it. Up to this point, Tsukimi is Hanazawa’s tour de force, and poised to take my vote for the best lead role of 2010.
After experiencing Kuragehime and writing half of this post, I became hungry for more Hanazawa and tracked her down in a couple more shows. I liked her as Amano Touko, the only good thing about the otherwise shitty Bungaku Shoujo movie, though the piss-poor writing didn’t leave her much room to impress. I also re-began Seikon no Qwaser and met her as Mitarai Fumika. At first, it seemed like “just another” shy loli role, but the character’s increase of confidence and fun dialog towards the middle of the series made the role much more enjoyable. I plan to keep a close lookout for all of her roles in the future.
Special Thanks: This post was made possible by the amazing seiyuu blog Hashihime. The cumulative Hanazawa post was as informative as it was helpful, and the seiyuu-centric season schedule was a big help in finding more of her roles. Hashihime is a great place to get started with seiyuu fandom, so I highly recommend checking it out if you want to get into that world.
Bonus: Bakemonogatari’s hidden Suwako Frog arc, replacing Nadeko Snake, with Hanazawa Kana as Cirno’s greatest rival!