Hatena Illusion – the Magic of Priorities

Published by Jacob - Your Friendly Overlord on

What does it mean to say something is impossible? What does that word mean to you? To most, they take it as a fact, something that cannot be changed, despite anyone’s effort. For some things, yes, that is true. Some things may very well be impossible. If I told you I could fly, you would never believe me unless I jump off my roof then and there.

 

However, humans can fly. We may require the help of some machinery, but what was once widely considered impossible is now a normal part of many of our lives. Those who travel around the world for work are now doing something our ancestors couldn’t begin to fathom. Going to space once seemed impossible as well; even the concept of space itself was, yet now, we send humans up to the vacuum above for extended periods of time, leaving behind the only home we’ve ever known.

 

When you consider feats like these, impossible may not be so impossible after all. In striving for what’s impossible, we manage to create more, learn more, and grow as the creatures we are. Not accepting that something is impossible but instead attempting to prove that it, in fact, is possible, we can open up new worlds and inspire a whole new generation to do the same. Witnessing this progress is simply awe-inspiring.

 

There’s something fantastical, exciting even, about seeing the impossible become possible. This feeling is something that humans figured out very early on in our history. Of course, I’m talking about magic. When we think of magic, our minds immediately go to a grand stage, full crowds waiting excitedly, and a magician ready to show that same crowd the impossible.

 

We think of all sorts of magic. Something as simple as making a card disappear into thin air or pulling a rabbit and other animals out of a hat, to grand spectacles like sawing someone in half, floating in the air, or making an entire person vanish just to bring them back as quickly as they left. These are all seemingly impossible feats, but it is the magician’s job to show us that these are possible – with enough practice, that is.

 

I think this innate feeling in us of wanting to do the impossible has kept magic alive for all these hundreds of years. Ancient civilizations were doing versions of the cup and ball trick. Magic was performed for small crowds in the middle ages. Even if an assistant stole some of the audience’s belongings as they were distracted, they were still amazed. It’s not like they needed that coin purse anyway.

 

And it is because of this magic that I am here today to discuss an anime all about it. What I’m doing right now would have also blown our ancestors away when you think about it. What do you think they would have thought was more impossible, that animation exists and I’m writing about it, or that there’s actually people interested in it? Nevermind, they’d probably just marvel at the invention of toilet paper.

 

Though we’ve taken that for granted recently, we’re used to it. That’s boring to us, ancestors! We’ve got better inventions to appreciate! So, grab your locks, wands, top hats, and buckle your bunnies in tight because today, we’re jumping into the magical world of Hatena Illusion. You may even learn some magic. You never know.

 

Want to see some? Wait! I promise it will be worth it. Just work with me. First, pick a card – well – in your imagination. Now close your eyes, stroll down a bit, and open them again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m safely down here. Tada! The card served no purpose. I never said I was very good, did I?

 

 

“Leave the illusions to the illusionists.”

 

As I always say!

 

Let the Show Begin! 

Hatena Illusion is a romantic comedy light novel series written by Tomohiro Matsu in 2014. Four volumes were produced, and the series would have continued but was left unfinished with the unfortunate death of its creator in 2016.  Though with the help of Storyworks, more light novels were released.

 

In 2018 the series got a manga, and finally, two years later, an anime. Children’s Playground Entertainment adapted it. Certainly not the most well-known of studios, however they did make Citrus – depending on who you ask, that may be a good thing.

 

Finally, it was directed by Shin Matsuo, who had worked as episode and animation director for a few series, including Soul Eater and Tokyo Ghoul. Still, Hatena Illusion was his first job directing an entire anime. So we have a fairly inexperienced director and a studio with only a few anime under its belt. Will that actually matter? Only time will tell.

 

Experience doesn’t always equate to quality. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind.

 

A New Magician in Town

Artifacts are magical items that hold a great deal of power within them. They can take the shape of many different forms, such as books or pieces of clothing. Just like their appearance, the powers they have can differ greatly. But one thing they all share in common is that in the wrong hands, they could mean danger for not only their owners but all those around them.

 

Thus, the existence of artifacts isn’t public knowledge, only a select few know of them, and even less posses them. Years ago, many artifacts were stolen and scattered around the world, falling into the hands of many unworthy buyers. To combat this, the family closest to the artifacts – the Hoshisato family of magicians – spearheaded by Maeve, the beautiful master thief, begins to search the world to reclaim what was stolen all that time ago.

 

Kana “Hatena” Hoshisato, daughter of the master thief herself, wants nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of her mother. Using her own artifact, “Muff-Kun” – a magical muffler capable of doing all manner of things to help in her thieving – she strives to bring happiness to the world, one artifact at a time. Still, she’s a novice and knows she can’t do it alone, try as she might.

 

It is around this time Makoto Shiranui – an aspiring magician and childhood friend of Hatena – comes to her mansion to study under her father Mamoru that he’s admired since he first laid his eyes on a magic show as a young boy. As the story progresses, Makoto learns of artifacts and how deeply they’re tied into the Hoshisato family’s history.

 

Resolved to become a great magician, Makoto stays with the family, despite all the absurdities that ensue. However, he does it for more than magic. He does it to keep a promise to Hatena that they made when they were young. A magician and a thief? What could they possibly have in common? Though they butt heads, they both agree on one issue – that the only thing it’s ok to steal from someone is their sadness. And so the girl who steals sadness and the boy who replaces it with happiness become partners in magic and in crime.

This is a story that has quite a bit of potential. It manages to blend two things that don’t go together whatsoever in a way that I find believable. The idea of a magician working with a thief sounds absurd, and that’s because it is, yet it makes sense. Both Makoto and Hatena have vastly different approaches, yet they ultimately want the same thing: making people happy. Hatena by stealing artifacts being misused – thus, sadness – and Makoto wanting to plant smiles on the faces of all who see his magic.

 

I also never thought of a master thief and a magician being similar to each other, but after Hatena Illusion, it’s like I can’t unsee it. They both generally wear flashy outfits, are all about being stylish, and making a lasting impression. Much of what they do involve showmanship. They like to play things up for those who see their work. Whether that work is stealing from an art gallery or pulling a piece of candy from a little kid’s pocket, they both value the same things.

 

Having these two very different professions in the same story opens up the plot for a world of possibilities. You could do so many things with this concept of a magician and master thief working together. You could have them travel the world together under the veil of being magicians and use that to hunt for artifacts after hours. Nobody will question these oddly dressed people. They’re magicians; it’s what they do.

 

This sounds like a great idea for a plot to me. Not only does it have a ton of possibilities, but it also wouldn’t be hard to show the viewers both the magic and thief side of things. Half the episode could be dedicated to a magic show and the setup, then the second half could be the dirty work. This format could open up many interesting scenarios.

 

And this is where Hatena Illusion’s story starts to fall apart.

 

The plot that I just told you actually does happen in Hatena Illusion; the problem is we never see it. What I described to you is not what Hatena and Makoto do throughout the series, bar a bit in the final arc. This is what Maeve and Mamoru, Hatena’a parents, do off-camera. They travel the world doing magic shows and collect artifacts along the way. Do we ever see it? Nope. Mamoru just pops in now and then to tell Hatena he’ll be back later. Why we don’t see more of this, I’ll never know.

 

So what exactly do Hatena and Makoto do then? The whole goal is for them to be like Mamoru and Maeve, right? Do they travel around stealing artifacts and doing magic shows? Nope. I wouldn’t expect any of this on the same scale from Makoto and Hatena, as they’re both just novices, but we see very little magic or thievery throughout the series at all. Really. It’s kind of astonishing how little we see.

 

The series is largely about the lives of the Hoshisato mansion residents, and that’s it. Rather than the story being about any of the things I mentioned above, it’s instead about normal, mundane family drama most of the time. The actual heist portions only take up a few minutes at the end of each story arc, and that’s it. Think Persona 5, but instead of an epic dungeon for three hours, you pop into a hallway, push a button, and leave to yell at your little sister to go back to school.

 

That is not a joke. There is an entire three-episode arc dedicated to why Hatena’s little sister – Yumemi – won’t go back to school. And most of the episodes go the same way. Hatena gets mad, something gets resolved, then you see the next episode and realize nothing got resolved, which continues until a couple of minutes of a heist at the end of the final episode.

 

It’s not that this is bad, per se. This is actually a lovely story arc with lots of heartwarming family bonding; the problem is I don’t want to see that. I didn’t choose to watch this because I wanted melodrama. I chose it to see magic. To see what I was told I would see.

 

This brings to light my biggest disappointment with Hatena Illusion. The story is a huge waste of potential. The story doesn’t feel like it’s about magic, thievery, or even the artifacts, really. It feels like you’re watching a bunch of middle schoolers’ family drama as they talk about all the things they want to do instead of actually doing it.

 

Hatena, for as much as she talks about being a master thief, I hate to tell her she better get out there and do it some more. She’ll get out of practice. Makoto, though not as much, is also guilty of this. We see him do magic fairly regularly, at least little tricks, but nothing of any significance. There’s a really good part of the story where Mamoru sends his master – Gregory – to the Hoshisato residence to train Makoto. Gregory’s apprentice won’t accept Makoto unless he can pull off a trick that can’t be replicated.

 

This is an exciting development because Makoto is completely outclassed. He begins to doubt his skills. It’s such a good chance to show us some magic and to give Makoto some real development. Instead, do you know what we get? Makoto juggling swords on a ball for a few episodes as Hatena trains with Muff-Kun next to him. How does it turn out? Makoto and Hatena perform some half-assed trick at the end of an episode that we never see them practice.

 

Missed opportunity!

 

It’s times like this that really make clear Hatena Illusion’s biggest problem, its priorities. It isn’t that what the show does is bad; it’s often not. It aims to be a funny comedy with a somewhat magical plot, and it accomplishes that just fine. The humor is one of Hatena Illusion’s strongest points. I laughed out loud several times as I watched.

 

Whether it’s from Mamoru’s desperate attempts to get his daughters’ attention or his…eccentricities, we’ll call it, Makoto’s occasional ridiculous magic such as making a flower come out of the barrel of a gun that is pointed at his face (yes that happens) for defense, or just the amazing butler with the most butleriest name ever, Jeeves, there’s a lot to love. It has a lot of charm in its comedy. It knows how to crack a good joke. And none of this is the problem. This comedy would work fine in another plot. 

 

However, this comedy is thrown into a plot that you’ve seen a hundred times over. It’s thrown into a story, not about magicians and thieves, but one about family drama. There’s a problem when an anime where the below image is your marketing strategy. The two characters on it spend at least three times their minimal 12 episode screentime in school than they ever do in those flashy outfits that likely drew your eyes in the first place.

When we see images like this, we start to expect something. We expect a plot full of magic. When your first story arc is focused on magical things, it reinforces that thought. So when you shift gears immediately after and give us family melodrama for the rest of the series, even if it’s decent, our expectations will be crushed.

 

Because you chose to make this more mundane character-driven story your main priority, many of the people who wanted to watch this won’t be happy with what they get, when if it were not under the disguise of some magical, stylish, thieving plot, plenty would have been. If you would just take out all of the magic and master thief business, you would have a pretty solid Rom-Com with some cute story arcs.

 

If the entire series had the pacing and focus of the first three episodes, you would have a fantastic anime; you really would. It’s magical, has its priorities straight, made me laugh, made me go “awww” a lot. It has a bit of everything. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got. We instead got a story where much of it involves the characters saying they will do something while dealing with their personal problems, and very little time spent with them actually doing any of the things they’re talking about.

 

We get a plot centered around the characters in this magical family, rather than the stuff that makes this family so magical in the first place. And when that’s where your priorities lie, you better have characters that can back up that decision.

 

The Ladies and Gentlemen

Now you would think when much of the story is dedicated to your characters; it would have a very well-developed cast. This isn’t entirely true, unfortunately. Hatena Illusion, overall, has a fairly small number of characters.  Much of the anime involves the Hoshisato sisters and Makoto.

 

Makoto is very much an observer in the story most of the time. He’s more passive. Only the first story arc is really centered around him, but even that’s more about Hatena. He’s a kind, quiet guy, who despite cracking a good joke from time to time, is kind of bland. His best moments involve his use of magic in various situations, but as I said, they are few and far between. Still, he’s ultimately likable, as he’s a good guy and treats the people around him with respect.

 

His role-model type relationship with Yumemi is frankly adorable, and he comes off as a genuinely nice person. This is a very endearing trait in a character for me. I also really value the way he is with his relationship with Hatena. As is expected from someone so young, he gets a little flustered, yet he deals with things in a much better way than most main characters would in his situation.

 

Many MCs in Rom-Coms like this bend like wet noodles under any attention or show of it; he, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to be a little more direct and pay a compliment here and there without blowing up with embarrassment. Yet, he still manages to be shy at the same time, making him an endearing mix. He’s not the best MC I’ve ever seen, but Makoto is far from the worst in the genre. If only he got treated the same way in return.

 

Hatena does not possess the same level of calmness as Makoto, and I’m sure many would argue she lacks his endearing personality as well. Hatena is a tsundere, but hear me out for a second; she’s a bit of a weird one. I can’t tell if she’s either a well-developed character or just a bad tsundere.

 

What I mean is she clearly is a tsundere. She gets angry and frustrated for seemingly pointless reasons at Makoto; that’s a grade-A tsundere right there if I’ve ever seen one. But what is odd is that she isn’t like that forever. To my surprise, as the series progresses, she begins to be nicer, and in some cases, even receptive to Makoto. She doesn’t punch him in the throat at the mere mention of a compliment and doesn’t kick him out to sea when he covers her with a jacket. That isn’t a tsundere.

 

This helps her character overall. People have various opinions on the tsundere archetype, but I think most people agree that it very easily becomes annoying when overdone. Hatena didn’t ever feel like that to me. She has her moments but doesn’t feel confined to being a tsundere. That would make her a well-written character. The odd part is when she randomly acts like a  tsundere again when I thought she was passed that.

 

This makes her feel less like a well-written character and more like everyone forgot she was a tsundere and needed to throw a moment or two in there. But the fact remains that she gets at least some development. Development that is pretty fairly spread throughout the whole series, rather than just a single arc. However, one of the most interesting dynamics in the entire series occurs in the second story arc focused on Yumemi.

 

Whereas Hatena is loud, a little obnoxious, very headstrong, and driven by her emotions, Yumemi is much calmer and able to think with her head rather than her heart. She’s much more like her mother, not only in temperament but also in looks. She has the shining blonde hair of her mother, while Hatena has her father’s black hair. Hatena, who wants nothing more than to be like her mother in every way, holds repressed jealously over this. This is an uglier side to her and a very real feeling that could develop between siblings.

 It isn’t until later, with I’d say some slight help from Makoto, that she realizes she doesn’t have to look like her mother to be special. As much as I ragged on this arc earlier, I think it houses the best character development we get in the series, and it shows what the anime is capable of. However, there are ways to include this plotline in a more interesting and on topic story than “get mad at little sister, run to her school for information, repeat.”

 

Again, it goes back to priorities. They prioritize the characters, and it generally works out, but they leave the story in the dust as a result.

 

There are, of course, other characters outside of the main cast—development of them vary.

 

You have Ema, a maid employed by the Hoshisato’s. She’s alright. There is a story arc devoted to her, but it’s kind of disguised in another arc and takes two episodes to say pretty much, “I have a troubled past.” You have Jeeves. He’s a butler. That’s kind of his thing. There’s also Makoto’s classmates who are basically nameless. I can’t remember their names, at least. Hatena also has Kokomi, her best friend. She’s around some and has a name I can remember.

 

After looking it up.

 

The biggest disappointment when it comes to the characters is Mr. and Ms. Hoshisato themselves, Mamoru and Maeve. It is almost criminal how little these two are in the series. I know that parents can never be in anime for some reason, but this is one of the most obvious examples I’ve ever seen. The entirety of the series, including the final arc, is just everyone wondering when Maeve will get home. She’s just out running errands the whole time. We really get nothing more than that.

 

She’s arguably the most important character in the story as much of the events happen, in some way, because of her, yet we have no real idea what she’s off doing. We just hear little snippets. “oh, she’s busy.” “Oh, she’s going to be longer than expected,” Mamoru tells us all of these things the several times he pops into the mansion before leaving for some magic show a second later. Yet, we’re given no real information on what she’s doing or what’s taking so long to do it.

 

We know it has something to do with Maeve’s mother, but that’s it. We know very little about that whole side of the family in general, aside from the fact they hold power of some kind over the Hoshisatos. This is where Hatena Illusion fails. You could solve all of these problems by taking the time every episode or two to check in on Maeve and her antics. You could see more of her, learn more about her family and the artifacts that are so important, and break up the mundane story. It’s the perfect crime, but instead, we’re just left to fill in the blanks ourselves.

 

The Optical Illusions

While I do think Hatena Illusion failed to bring me what I expected going into it, the presentation is what drew me to the anime in the first place. Seeing Hatena and Makoto all dressed up reminded me of my time in Persona 5 with the phantom thieves. And that was before I even knew of the plot, mind you.  This anime managed to remind me of some of the best art in any videogame ever made. That’s a big deal. But does it live up to that?

 

The answer is no. Very few things will ever touch Persona 5 in terms of art. That’s not a fair comparison. It would be like comparing my doodles to a Piccasso. However, Hatena Illusion isn’t bad. At times, that is. There are a few portions, especially the first episode, where the art looks fantastic.

The art is colorful and extremely fluid. There are also a few unnecessary stylistic choices that add to it a lot, such as Hatena pouring milk in her coffee and seeing her reflection slowly light up with it.

Choices like these aren’t required, but it shows that the studio cares a bit about the thing they are making and want it to look good. To be honest, some of the art is a lot more than I would expect from a studio with so few series under their belt. It shows a lot of promise. As you might expect, there’s a “but” after that. Hatena Illusion’s art is not consistent.

 

It suffers from the same thing many anime seem to suffer from. “The first episode curse.” There is a blatant, obvious drop in quality after episode one. It’s not as fluid, much of the art involves characters just standing still or a lot of still frames, and it just doesn’t look nearly as good. This is usually because a studio comes into it fired up, ready to create a masterpiece, and then realizes it’s impossible to keep the same level of quality for the whole series, and a phenomenon like this is the result.

 

As I watched this anime, it actually taught me something that I will do for every anime in the future because I think it really helps me see things for what they are. I watched about half the series subbed and half dubbed. Since it was in my native language during the dubbed episodes, I could focus less on what was being discussed and pay more attention to the art. It was during these episodes that I really took notice of the dips in quality.

 

There’s also one big part I noticed where Hatena isn’t wearing the outfit she’s supposed to. She walks into the mansion dressed in one thing, the next scene is wearing something else, and then finally goes back to the other. This was likely just bad editing, the middle scene was likely made later on, and they just shoved it somewhat awkwardly into the anime. I only noticed something like this once, but it is possible I missed more. I rarely see something that major slip into a fully produced anime.

 

Ignoring quality for a second and shifting to imagination instead, I really like the fight scenes.  Muff-Kun is neat, being able to take many different shapes and all that, but I’m talking more about Makoto. How do you think a magician fights? With magic, of course. I love seeing Makoto use various tricks in combat. I mentioned the gun trick earlier, which is wonderful, but there’s another part where he just straight up throws a cloth over someone, removes it, and steals the artifact they were holding at the same time. Of course, some doves come out as well.

Every time he yells “ladies and gentlemen,” you know something’s about to go down. It’s really inventive, and I like it a lot. I just wish there was more. That’s really the story with Hatena Illusion, isn’t it?

 

Still, for its highs and lows, the art in Hatena Illusion remains…alright. At its worse, you get some bad frames or super awkward-looking running, and at its best, you get art that can easily compete with some of the best series made in the past few years. It’s full of high highs and low lows, but most of all, it doesn’t live up to its potential. And that’s a real shame.

 

The Effects

The music for much of the series follows the same trend of being alright. Though, unlike the art, it is far more consistent. Generally, I need to actively focus on the music when I watch something because it’s usually in the background. With Hatena Illusion, I didn’t really need to do that. The music usually pops out at you and fits the scene well, whether that’s a calming piece that sounds like it would play in a ballroom while the Hoshisatos are eating dinner or a more in your face, jazzy track fit for a magic show during a fight scene.

 

If I could say one negative point, when you have music that pops out at you during fight scenes and has a very noticeable coda, you make it glaringly obvious how short the fight scenes actually are.  The music starts up, and you’re like, “oh, yeah, I can get used to this,” and then it’s over.

 

Also very consistent in the series is the voice acting. It’s quite good. All the VA’s do a wonderful job delivering all their lines, and for a comedy series, that’s very important. I laughed several times at some of the quick awkward noises Suzuki Aina manages to get out of Hatena. She also sings the ending theme, which is quite a good track as well. Yoshisugu Matsuoka, known for doing many roles (Sora from No Game no Life being the big one, and Sorata from Sakura-sou – the anime I usually consider my first), does a fantastic job bringing out Makoto’s showmanship and his charm. I’ve found myself randomly copying his “ladies and gentlemen” at different points. It’s iconic. This quality extends through the whole cast.

 

Thankfully, that quality is present in the dub as well. Despite a lot of the cast not having many main character roles before, they all do wonderfully. The humor is still very much delivered by the English cast with as much passion as the Japanese VAs. For both Makoto (Comona Lewin) and Hatena (Skyler McIntosh), I honestly prefer the English VAs and watched mostly the dub. Very few characters have over the top voices, and all around is a good experience I’d recommend. But don’t worry, sub purists, you always have the option of not watching it. Dubs are just a good option to have.

 

Wallah!

Like everything, the show must come to an end. I know, I know, you’re so sad, so am I. For as much as I feel like Hatena Illusion was a waste of potential, it did some things right. In fact, I would say that most everything it set out to do it accomplished. But those things aren’t what you would have expected. I came into Hatena Illusion after seeing the art and expected a series full of magic, thievery, and all the craziness that follows. I didn’t get that.

 

However, Hatena Illusion was still a fun time. With some decent comedy (both subbed and dubbed) and a plot full of surprisingly sweet moments, the series does a pretty good job at being a proper Rom-Com that I’m sure many will enjoy. Still, I have trouble looking at the series without thinking of all the potential it has. What we got certainly wasn’t bad, but we could have gotten something exceptional. Maybe Hatena Illusion is still for you. Tell me if you disagree. Disagreements make the world go round, after all.

 

As always, this was just my opinion, and it isn’t any more or less valid than yours.

 

If you have a problem with that, Makoto will never teach you magic; I’ll make sure of it. Doesn’t sound that bad? Next time someone pulls a gun on you, you’ll be sorry.

 

I highly recommend you don’t listen to this magicless moron, watch the anime yourself, and form your own opinions. If you form enough of them, it’s supposed to help increase your magic. David Blaine? Really into opinions that guy. Houdini? Oh, he had a lot. That’s the part they don’t tell you in books.

 

 

Thank you very much for reading

 

 

What are your opinions of Hatena Illusion, if you’ve watched it? Or what are your opinions on magic in general? I think we all know there are tricks to it, thus “magic tricks,” but I’ve always found those who are good at it incredibly impressive. It takes quite the talent, in any case.


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