The Case of Hana & Alice Review — Girls Will Be Girls

Let’s follow up yesterday’s rage-fest with a short review on a film about little girls I can actually tolerate, shall we?

The animated prequel to the 2004 Japanese film, Hana and Alice, never got much buzz around the anime community to the point that I’m surprised it ever got subbed at all. And even then, the subs flew past my attention given how it came out around the ending weeks of the last summer season and I spent nearly four months ignorant of its existence. I checked my MAL friends’ stats and neither of them have seen it either (well one guy did, but you don’t know him). Since I enjoy dabbling in the obscure from time to time, especially given this film’s pedigree, I figured I’d give this thing some attention, so Noragami Aragoto can wait another week to get reviewed.

So The Case of Hana & Alice reunites the director and the two actresses who play our leads, now diving into the rotoscoped animation field in order to tell the story of how our title characters first met each other in middle school and grew into bitchy high school students that nearly split apart over a guy thanks to, well, a guy funnily enough. Investment in the first film isn’t necessary, as I barely remember anything about it apart from the fact that Alice likes to do ballet and I could still easily follow what was going on. Now I haven’t seen much of Shunji Iwai’s stuff, but if his Hana & Alice films are anything to go by, he loves to focus on everyday life quite a bit. Whilst that’s not always a bad thing, the good everyday life stories use the mundane setting as a template for all sorts of complex issues whilst the bad ones wallow in nostalgia like a crappy fanmade sequel. What side does The Case of Hana & Alice lay on? Well let’s look at the plot, shall we?

The film starts with Alice moving into a new neighborhood thanks to her mother’s divorce and having to adjust to a few things that are standard for transferring schools such as getting a new uniform and having to deal with the City Council for a student ID. Although that stuff is only mentioned briefly, as the real conflict comes from how Alice’s class treats her like an outsider thanks to sitting at a desk that belonged to a former student who was said to have died in her very chair, as well as having four wives to boot. Sick of having to deal with everyone’s bullshit, Alice confronts her assaulters and discovers that they were just cashing in on a rumor in order to act like big men around the new kids because teens are stupid like that. During her interrogation, Alice realizes that the guy who died lived in her current house before she moved in and in an attempt to dispel the “ghost” rumors, asks next-door neighbor and local shut-in Hana to help her find out if the guy is still alive. Although reluctant to help, Hana eventually concedes and the two go on a modern-day Whisper of the Heart-esque adventure across the city in order to discover the truth whilst forming the friendship that would make up the basis for their first movie along the way.

The Case of Hana & Alice is best summed up as a movie version of those light-hearted slice of life stories that anime fans who wallow in nostalgia tend to bust a nut over, except rotoscoped. But the movie is no Aku no Hana in terms of tone, because whilst it portrays the struggles of a teenage girl more realistically than most slice-of-life stories, said portrayal is hampered by a lack of forward momentum along with the fact that it’s very safe execution-wise. Alice and Hana don’t even meet, let alone go on that “whimsical” adventure I referenced in my summary, until the halfway point, so you have to put up with Alice going through every day struggles for no other reason than she’s a Japanese girl trying to fit in and do ballet as a motivation for wanting to watch her. Some of the scenes in the first half are cute, such as Alice punching a bully when he threw a chicken bone at her and him crying like a baby whilst doing so, but they don’t add up to anything resembling an actual story with actually engaging drama, especially considering Alice is too capable a character to let teasing get her down forever.

Things get more interesting when Hana shows up because of her shut-in nature, along with the reveal of the reason for why she’s a shut-in in the first place and how it ties in with everything that transpired previously, but it never results in anything as grand as Whisper of the Heart’s ultimate message regarding the right way to follow your dreams. In fact, the only time the film truly stands out is when it uses its rotoscoped nature for some dynamic movement like when Alice runs up some stairs or when she and Hana dance in the moonlight (you’ll understand once you see it). Ultimately, this movie just wants to be a light-hearted origin story for its main duo, keeping things accessible to a general audience whilst not really giving them any more substance than the Peanuts movie. If you’re into that sort of thing, I’d recommend The Case of Hana & Alice for one watch because as I’ve said before, whilst the film is ultimately good-natured and never really delves into the hilarious ribbing you’d see in a Western sitcom, its non-saccharine approach to what teenage girls go through along with the number of moderately funny jokes did a fair enough job in terms of entertaining me at points, so you should enjoy the movie more than I did.

All in all, not a bad attempt in terms of a live-action director switching to animation for the first time. It’s just a shame that unless his other movies are wildly different from the Hana & Alice stuff, he hasn’t picked up much storytelling ambition in the decade between films. But then again, we can’t all be Martin Scorsese now can we?

Also, I think this ending theme is cute in all its broken Engrish.

Minor Quips

  • Man, even I know that anaphylactic shock is caused by bee stings.
  • Feel free to recommend some Iwai films that actually go deep into its subject material.
  • No guarantees that next week’s Monday anime review will be on Noragami Aragoto by the way.

3 responses to “The Case of Hana & Alice Review — Girls Will Be Girls

  1. Shunji Iwai is interesting – but he is probably not for everyone. ‘All About Lily Chou-Chou’ is probably the film which goes deepest into its subject material.

  2. If the movie has even a slightly faster pace and a touch more intrigue than Whisper of the Heart I feel I should check it out. To this Day Whisper of the Heart is still one of the slowest movies I’ve seen, but damn if it doesn’t look good.

    Also, FYI, bee stings only cause anaphylaxis if you are allergic to bees.