Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hinagiku Katsura

Almost a year ago, I plowed through both seasons of Hayate no Gotoku! and loved pretty much every minute of it (even the filler, which kept its referential edge razor-sharp). With some time on my hands, I decided to catch up on the ongoing manga and, much to my surprise, I’m finding that the source material completely eclipses the anime adaptation.

Anyway, revisiting the bizarre world of the battle butler in-debt and his interactions with the students at the illustrious Hakuou Academy, which apparently acts as the training ground for admittance into Gintama U, has been nothing short of a treat. In particular, it’s fully rekindled my interest in the lusciously pink-haired student council president of Hakuou, Hinagiku Kastura.

I seem to have abruptly catapulted headfirst onto the Hinagiku-bandwagon because I’ve been converted, practically overnight, into a staunch devotee of Hinagiku-ism. Heck, I’ve even eschewed Senjougahara in favor of Hinagiku fascination and judging by the results of the series’ popularity polls, it’s already gone into style.

So just what is it about this portrait-of-perfection, pink-haired bombshell that’s so damn fascinating? Like any other character worth his/her weight, she embodies a lot of anime character tropes without being defined by them. She’s a badass adorable tsundere (though pleasantly more dere than tsun) with a fiery competitive streak, but her personality is burnished by traits that are identifiably Hinagiku as opposed to being reduced to nothing more than, say, Shana with a wooden katana.

It also helps that she’s a very developed character (just not horizontally-speaking, much to her dismay) who manages to strike that elusive balance between novel and conventional. As Hayate no Gotoku! is built on toying with every anime stereotype in existence, Hina certainly received her fair share of earmarks from the anime-trope lottery, thus comfortably anchoring her to the cornerstones of the medium. But it’s the remarkable way that she adaptively cycles through her varied arsenal that truly makes her a flushed diamond in the rough.

For example, instead of strictly adhering to the Deadpan Snarker blueprint, Hina is only deadpan when the situation demands (usually anything involving Yukiji, Risa/Izumi/Miki, or yet another silly Hayate foul-up). And unlike a pure-tsundere like Shana, whose only reaction to everything seems to be scoffing incredulously and unleashing a flurry of blows, Hina only lets her lethal sword arm slip when she’s been backed into a corner, like when she and Hayate were trapped in the school’s clock tower on that one unforgettable evening. Likewise, while Shana seems to go dere at the slightest provocation, Hina’s emotions are kept carefully under lock-and-key, just like any self-conscious high-school girl.

I hope you see where I’m going with this. Hinagiku elegantly dispenses with the hyperbole and/or rote of all of our lovable anime character tropes, essentially taking said tropes and rarifying them into something more believable. She’s as realistic as can be while still exuding that distinctive fragrance of anime fantasy.

Yes, she puts up a Mary Sue-ish fa├žade as the incomparable paragon of a student council president, but she’s inwardly overflowing with teenage insecurities, making her adorably sympathetic.

It also helps that Hina is incredibly adept at wringing every ounce of fun out of the tropes she’s been dealt. When she’s sweet, she’s like a pristine box of expensive chocolates and when she’s angry, you do not want to be within reach of that wooden katana. She can strut that alluring Tall Pink-Haired and Bishoujo front with astonishing confidence by constantly swooping in to save the day with an unconcerned smile, but also grudgingly performs perfectly as the poster-girl for parody.

Revolutionary Girl Hinagiku

Hinagiku life is complete. OTZ OTZ OTZ

And since she’s beyond the reach of prosaic exaggeration, her authentic reactions to the neverending exasperations surrounding her are unfailingly hilarious because, as we all know, it’s funny because it’s true. She’s an Unfunny who has accepted her fate and has even gone so far as to embrace it, if unenthusiastically.

But it’s more than just Hina’s reactions that are authentic, because when the series finds itself hurtling down serious street, her inner-monologuing and reasoning behind every action she makes is honest and elaborate. For example, whenever she’s faced with the question of how to cope with her feelings for Hayate, expect development to skyrocket as muddled thoughts slowly disentangle and form layers of complexity stacked upon an increasingly fascinating foundation. Any emotional climax involving Hina is automatically a highlight of the series such as when she and Hayate share a breathtaking view of the city at night from the clock tower.

Or when she finally breaks the news that she loves Hayate to Ayumu in a Ferris Wheel carriage overlooking the school. Or when she goes on a date with Hayate and drops her emotional barrier as a train zooms by with auspicious timing, completely masking the confession.

Or this scene, where Hayate confesses his love for Athena, the bastard.
*Insert Rage Face here*

It should come as no surprise that Hinagiku was the prototype-protagonist for Hayate no Gotoku! given the exhaustive care put into molding her character. Her infectious, relatable charm could jockey the series all the way to the finish line. I suppose it’s ironic that she’s deathly afraid of heights seeing as she sits on a pedestal that’s broken clear through the stratosphere.

Move over Amu Hinamori, because another “cool and spicy” dynamo has taken over as the divine leader in the pink-haired powerhouse district. Come to think of it, maybe I just have a thing for wooden katanas.

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