AnoHana was one of those series that has been hovering on my recommendations list for a while. I've had just about everybody tell me that it was one of the most heart wrenching series they had ever watched and that I would definitely like it. In the end, I was really torn about the result.
Story: The premise for the story is quite mature. It's about five teenagers who were once friends when they were little but drifted apart after the death of a sixth member of their childhood group named Menma. One member of the group, Jinta, has been seeing her ghost/ a visual hallucination of her. This premise honestly hit me pretty hard and made me cry more times than I would like to admit. I can't even deny that I enjoyed the show. However, it did bring up some inconsistencies with the grieving process of most of these characters. We are faced with a comparatively large cast of characters who have almost a complete inability to move on from an event that happened a very long time ago. In fact, their lives now are still pretty focused around this event that happened all that time ago. For some of the characters I found this a bit more realistic than others. I will explain more about this in the characters section of this review. Also, I felt the ending abandoned a lot of opportunities for actual character development in favor of melodrama. I won't give any spoilers but for a show that had me sobbing most of the way through, the last episode left me completely dry.
Animation: I would give the animation a solid C+. I thought the backgrounds were lovely most of the time and I really found myself paying a lot of attention to the settings, particularly the base in which they played. It was very interesting to look at this building from when they were kids and compare it to what had changed about it when they grew up. The character animation was a little bizarre to me though. Their movements were pretty smooth but I wasn't particularly in love with the style in which the characters were drawn. It almost didn't feel like they belonged with these stunning backgrounds. Furthermore, the proportions for these characters were often a bit off in the heads. I mean to say there were so many points where I felt like a section of their heads had been flattened or cut off and it distracted me a lot.
Sound: I enjoyed the opening and closing themes. They were very sweet and hopeful sounding so they really matched the aura of the show. The voice actors could have been better. I liked Yukiatsu's voice actor. I thought he did an excellent job and I could really hear the emotion in his voice. Most of the others were just alright in my opinion. I didn't get horribly attached to these voices. To give a comparison, I remember saying after watching Hyouka "I really hope they never do an English dub of this because there is no way they could get these voices right like the Japanese cast." I definitely don't have the same attachment to the voice actors in this one.
Characters: First of all, I would like to address an overarching problem I had with all the characters. As adults, a majority of us have been looking for love our entire lives. It is a difficult feeling to truly grasp as far as the "one true love" concept goes. I don't think I genuinely had the ability to understand that at age 6-8. I hardly think I have the ability to truly understand it now. But yet all the characters in this show managed to fall in love at that age and stay in love with the exact same person for all these years. I won't go into specifics on this because, again, no spoilers. However, the fact that a majority of these childhood friendships boil down primarily to being in love with someone is highly unlikely and a bit too mature to really happen to such a large portion of the cast at once. I really felt like the creators just couldn't think of a better reason to hang onto a childhood friend.
As usual I am going to talk about the characters one at a time. I think Jinta, the main character, could have been a much more complete character than he was. He is obviously suffering from the presence of death in his life but I felt like a big part of his character was a bit vague. Why is he the only one who can see Menma? That question isn't really answered. There were other inconsistencies I had about this character but for the sake of keeping this spoiler free I can't address them.
Menma was an interesting concept for a character but the creators were pushing her too hard. I felt like she was being shoved in my face as the character I should like. She's cute, she's quirky, she cares about others. But she just came off as irritating most of the time. Also, the creators didn't really give her any flaws thus I couldn't see her as an actual person. I think part of the reason why this happened is because a lot of people feel very uncomfortable with speaking ill of the dead. Thus I don't think the creators really worked to give her any bad qualities. Like I said, she didn't come across as being a real person to me. Just a sweet and, at times, irritating ideal of a person.
Anjou had a great start to her character. She was a jerk in the beginning but I felt like she had changed in a realistic way since her childhood. I liked seeing how torn she was between her teenage life and the past connections that she had to her old friends. Unfortunately, she too fell pretty flat by the end. She got pretty one sighted to the point that I felt like she was just ranting about the same thing over and over.
Yukiatsu was probably the best developed character in the show. Unfortunately, I can't talk about this character very much because of spoilers (for those of you who have seen it, you know what I mean.) I could actually understand his grieving process and why he held on to Menma for so long. He was the only character puzzle whose pieces all fell into place for me. Even then I felt like certain incidents involving him could have been addressed more thoroughly. In the end, I honestly felt like his story could have been a series all to itself. A series with a pretty unlikeable character but his story could have lasted that long to get all the details in that I wanted.
Poppo and Tsuruko unfortunately suffer from a great lack of character development. All of the other characters got great portions of the show dedicated to their problems and back stories. I wish these two had gotten that. I wanted to know more about Poppo. He seemed like the only character that had actually had a life after Menma's death. He also seemed like he had adjusted pretty well to the rest of his life. However, his motivations were just screamed out in the last episode which ruined it for me. Tsuruko's motivations are also pretty one dimensional. I liked her character but she wasn't really well explained by the end.
As far as the characters go, I think that they all started out as very interesting people but were ruined in the last couple of episodes when the creators decided to pick one central issue for them to harp on about.
I wish I could give this show a rave review. If I could judge it only by the first eight episodes I would give this show a 9. But this anime felt a bit like a plant cut off from sunlight in the way it just stopped growing by the end.