It sits firmly in the "high-school moe slice-of-life" genre, complete with the usual four-girl-ensemble slotted into the standard character archetypes.
Our lot is the third row down, from left to right: Miyako, Sae, Yuno, Hiro (look up the words you don't know)And, in common with all shows of this sort, it mostly consists of our main characters going to school (one that specialises in the arts, in this case), living every day life, and being fairly cute about it. Unlike Azumanga Daioh it's very much "slice-of-life" rather than "comedy", though, and unlike K-On! or Lucky Star it's not super obnoxious about the cuteness. Something that really sets it apart is that the main characters not only go to school, but also live together, in a small apartment block across the road from their school, the Hidamari Apartments. This may sound inconsequential, but it actually changes the dynamic alot. Most episodes take place on a single day, and at least half of most of them is spent on the time after school, with the girls simply relaxing and chatting together at home. It also means that episodes not on a school day don't have to be the standard beach episode (actually, there isn't one at all so far, though there is a pool episode), sometimes it'll just be about all of them spending the day at home (though maybe with a specific activity), other times they'll make an excursion of some sort (for example, in one episode Yuno and Miyako go to do location drawing at a shrine on top of a hill). On the whole, it just means we relate to the characters in a different way to how we normally do with these series: it changes the "space" in which it takes place. It's really pure slice-of-life.
Another series where the "space" was specifically important is Pani Poni Dash!, so maybe I'll talk about that some time, too (it was also by the same studio and director, which is interesting).
Despite the often barely-there animation, Hidamari Sketch also has lots of really nice visual turns. The director (Akiyuki Shinbo) and studio (Shaft) seem to love playing weird games with colour, graphics, icons, text, editing, cinematography... actually almost everything BUT the actual animation (though this may partly be due to the fact that they somehow have no money and even less time for most of their projects). I'm still in the process of catching up with their other shows, but Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Bakemonogatari look particularly interesting.
This latest episode of Hidamari actually seemed to have even less animation budget than usual, as the drawings were considerably ropier than most of the second season (which itself was a vast improvement over the first). It was still nice, though. Enough of words, here's some pictures!
Isn't this autumnal green delicious? Green is a colour I feel is often handled poorly for some reason, even in shows with otherwise good colour design (e.g. Manabi Straight). This image is actually taken almost straight from the equivalent panel in the manga the anime adapts, but it's carefully selected in that regard, and fits right in with the feel of the rest of the show. Also, note the halftone-pattern. This was also inspired by the manga, but is used alot in the anime as a sort of visual trademark, and often to very nice effect.
It's kind of an anime/manga cliché to illustrate embarassment or fear with vertical blue lines coming down over a character's eyes. Here it's taken to such an extreme that it becomes a sort of parody, a gag in itself.
Orthographic camera (that is, no perspective). This is used a fair bit. Sometimes it's a bit weird to look at and chances are alot of people just won't like it, but I like it just as another visual trademark.
Some moments will be accented with these tightly drawn, super stylishly inked close-ups. I love these. Lovely colours, too. Also, make a note of the fourth one for "identifying a character by a close-up of their hair". There's a few other instances of this throughout the series (usually involving Yuno's magical floating X-shaped hairclips).
A few semi-random images just to show some of the different types of colour schemes employed. Usually the colours are pretty muted, but it'll also switch to very bold or warm palettes, monochrome, pastel shades (see some of the close-ups above) or what have you. This episode mostly uses a sort of autumnal pallette, but tending more towards dulled browns and yellows than oranges or reds, since it doesn't actually take place in autumn (February 10th).
A couple of interesting shot choices for you. The first reminds me of this amazing sequence in another episode where one shot from behind a bookcase is used repeatedly over the course of a scene, but each time the books are arranged differently to obscure different characters, reflecting the progression of the conversation. Nobody's got up to re-arrange them or anything, they're just moved by the laws of cinematography, or something. It's so bold! It drives me absolutely crazy because it's the sort of thing I can never think of!
Of course, this is all just from one episode. Alot of the things I've shown here are employed repeatedly, but there's a bunch more of those "visual trademarks" that I either haven't picked out or that weren't used here, and there's also plenty of unique, one time things that I could talk about from almost any episode. And I haven't even mentioned the anachronic ordering yet!
Are there any modern western cartoons that are this inventive and playful? If somebody combined this sort of stuff with cartoony designs, better drawing and real animation I'd just about have a fit.
As well as these two specials, a third season's going to be airing early next year (February, I think). The first two seasons adapted manga material covering Yuno and Miyako's first year at high school and the Hidamari Apartments (as well as adding some new content, which, far from being filler, actually really added to the show as a whole). From the next year two new girls move in, Nazuna and Nori, bringing the main cast to six.
Reading their character descriptions on Wikipedia I was initially worried that Nazuna would be just a more exaggerated version of Yuno, and Nori a less exaggerated version of Miyako. I checked out a couple of more recent scanlated manga chapters featuring them, and while they didn't necessarily assuage those specific worries it was some of the best material I've seen so far, so I've no fears. I'd love to see some tighter drawing (god knows they should have the money for it by now, considering Bakemonogatari actually managed to beat K-On's DVD and BluRay sales somehow), but to be honest if Shinbo just keeps doing what he's been doing I'll be happy enough.
Expect more on this series in future.