''Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai'' (We Still Don't Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day) is a series that sets lofty goals for itself. It is, in essence,
a ghost story that aspires to be a poignant drama about (unrequited) love, loss, adolescence and self (re-)discovery. Heavy themes that require a delicate touch.
That last part is where things go wrong, but more on that later.
As the show begins, we see a boy sitting at home while his female friend is pestering him. The boy's father is remarkably unfazed by what is going on. Soon enough, we learn why. The girl, Meiko, died 10 years ago and is a ghost visible only to our protagonist, Jinta. She's come to him with a request: he has to help fulfill her last wish so she can part for the afterlife. Problem is that Jinta has grown up to be a recluse. Nonetheless, he gathers all his courage and ventures outside.
Earlier episodes show Jinta in his attempts to reconnect with his group of old friends to find out what Meiko's final wish could be. The Super Peace Busters (the name of the group) are a colorful bunch, and the series is at its best when it shows them getting back in touch. AnoHana nails that mix of awkwardness and nostalgia felt between people who haven't seen each other for a long
time. In particular when they're connected by tragedy. In this regard, the character interactions feel incredibly authentic.
And then Meiko comes into play.
Meiko, as portrayed by the series, is the most wonderful girl ever. She's incredibly sweet, loving, selfless, wonderful and innocent. Jinta is in love with her, even after all these years; as are the other boys from the Super Peace Busters. And the girls? Their emotional crises are all about how they could never match up to Meiko, even now that she's dead.
Keep this in mind: we're referring to a girl who died over 10 years ago, when all of them were around 5. I repeat: this happened 10 years ago. A lot can happen in so much time, especially for children growing up. The death of a friend, tragic as it is, will usually stop hurting quite as much. Life goes on, and day-to-day concerns have a way of catching up. AnoHana doesn't seem to grasp
this. Every single person who knew Meiko even the slightest bit is still devastated over her death because she was simply the most wonderful girl ever.
Or so we're told.
The Meiko we can see, however, is an annoying caricature. Her personality is that of ditzy, clingy, ''moe'' characters such as Yui Hirasawa (K-ON!). Her reactions mostly consist of either crying or being incredibly cheerful, and things she does on her own usually boil down to misguided attempts at cheering up Jinta with antics that we're supposed to consider cute. The makers even shoehorn in some fanservice of her. Raising the question of how seriously they really want us to take her.
Very seriously, it turns out.
The whole plot ends up revolving around Meiko and her wish. By the end it's difficult to remember any aspect about the other characters that doesn't trace back to Meiko in some way. Worse yet, the series spends a lot of its running time having characters doubt Jinta's claims that he can communicate with Meiko's ghost. This in spite of the fact that Meiko is a ghost who can interact with physical objects. That's right. Proving her existence would be incredibly easy and yet the series keeps contriving ways to wring melodrama out of other characters' disbelief. One could defend this by claiming that people in real life don't always go for the best solution and make stupid mistakes. Which is true. But the characters in question are portrayed as decently smart in spite of their issues so it feels strange that such an easy to solve problem is dragged out for so long. Worse yet, the actual narrative ends up pointing this out. Indeed, the series itself pokes fun at how long it took to solve its nonexistent problem. It would be cute if it wasn't so infuriating.
Sadly, the frustration only gets worse from there. As the series culminates in an ending that's composed and executed with such bombastic melodramatic sincerity I almost felt bad about laughing at it. The climax basically abandons any pretense of subtlety in favor of having characters shout their feelings at each other, only to neatly wrap up their issues with an instant-cure group therapy session. If only it were that easy in real life.
Real grief, of course, is a totally different beast. It's not something you get over after a miraculous event. Rather, it's a constant uphill battle as you struggle to pick up the pieces and try to fill the void that's appeared in your life. The way AnoHana presents a one-size-fits-all solution is hopelessly naïve, however well-meaning.
That last bit is a great way to sum up the series in a nutshell. Its superb presentation and handful of interesting parts are ultimately wasted on a series that decides to focus on all the wrong things. Pandering, sentimental and ultimately frustrating. ''Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai'' is a crushing disappointment.
The ideas I have formed about the themes explored in this series are based on my own imagination and second-hand accounts of people less fortunate than I. Should you disagree things I have written in this review then please do not hesitate to write me a message. I apologize for any offense I may have caused and wish to explicitly state that it is in no way intentional.