WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD :)
I have wiped my eyes of the tears that have been lingering there since the start of the final episode of Ano Hana, debatably one of the most emotionally driven, down to Earth, and genuinely sad anime I’ve ever encountered. Sitting down to watch this anime is not a temporary respite from school or work or boredom, it’s a commitment from school or work or boredom. While it is not long at all, clocking in at eleven episodes, it is absolutely one of the few anime I’ve ever been able to sit all the way through and not get bored. It doesn’t take shortcuts, it doesn’t elongate the plot to make it any less emotionally impactful. No, the emotions running through this anime punch you in the face and they don’t let up until the final credits roll and leave you on the floor in pain. When I was recommended this series, I was told it was like Toradora meets Angel Beats, two of my absolute favorite anime. This is an apt description, though neither had the emotions that Ano Hana did. These are the emotions that create one of the most compelling anime dramas of all time.
Before I delve into the story of Ano Hana I’m going to go off on a tangent concerning why I as a male junior in high school enjoy romances and dramas. The thing is, I don’t enjoy them in any other form than anime. I like romance in my book series, but I don’t like it as the focal point. What the Japanese do right with their drama and romance television programs that Americans don’t is something that you would think is utter bullcrap if you have not been exposed to American and Japanese programming. A good drama anime has the ability to leave you in tears. A good drama anime contains likeable, realistic characters and sometimes very real romances. The problem with American television is that while Japan has Ano Hana, a testament to the emotions of humans, a testament to the power of a single person over a group of people, a testament to the power of emotion in animation; we have Sixteen and Pregnant. That’s an American teenage drama. Or Secret Life of the American Teenager. Cookie cutter characters, barely more than a piece of cardboard, fake romances that are in no way cute and in no way convey emotions to the person watching, and the drama is usually nothing more than a guy having sex with a girl other than the girlfriend or something along those lines. How many people are able to relate to that and find it in anyway dramatic? Meanwhile, Ano Hana, despite having a story that I can’t personally relate to, makes me feel like I have gone through such a story. When I follow these characters through their revelations, when I watch Menma die, I’m right there with them. When Ashley (or whatever the hell her name is) from Sixteen and Pregnant has her baby, I just feel like punching her parents and telling her she’s a slut.
What I’m getting at is that it’s sad that anime replicates real life more than live action with real people. Now, back on subject:
Ano Hana follows Jinta, an average teenage guy. He doesn’t go to school, he doesn’t work, he’s just kind of a bum who enjoys video games, sleeping, and eating. But during a hot summer a girl named Menma comes to him as a ghost. Menma died when he was a young child. They were part of the Peace Busters, a group of six kids of the same age who did normal kids’ stuff. But after Jinta is forced to admit his feeling toward Menma in their clubhouse, he calls her ugly and runs away. She follows him and winds up slipping and dying in a river below. Years later, Jinta wants to grant her wish and send her to heaven, though slowly decides he doesn’t want to because he truly has feelings for her and doesn’t want her to go. Compounding the issue of granting her wish are the four other members of the Peace Busters, each of which has emotional scarring from the Menma incident. Tensions are high, loves are admitted, and in the middle of it all is the ghost of Menma who doesn’t remember what her wish was and can only be seen and speak to Jinta.
It’s a fantastic set up and is definitely reminiscent of Angel Beats, though I think I enjoyed this set up better. The idea of Menma only being able to communicate with Jinta makes emotions even larger and adds great tension. Trying to make her wish come true is both cute and heartwarming. And the romances that develop (or have already developed) are so compelling, so heartrending, so human that you feel that you are for sure watching real people. The writing is just fantastic. I can’t complain about the dialogue because it was so heartfelt. When an anime makes me choke up, and even thinking about the ending makes me cry afterwards, you know that the writing was amazing. Sure there were a few jokes here and there to lighten the mood that felt a little out of place, but it was human.
The animation was good. I was in no way totally impressed by it, but the characters looked good most of the time (sometimes they looked…off) and the environments looked especially good. I do like to point out that the character’s faces portrayed emotion nearly pitch perfectly. The blushes, the twitches of the lips, the tears. They all helped convey the emotion of the dialogue even further.
As far as sound is concerned, I found myself listening to the opening song every time. I never skipped it. The opening was just fantastic, the vocals were great, the lyrics were just as heartfelt as the show’s dialogue. The voice actors were superb and really conveyed the emotion perfectly. The ending song was again heartfelt and fit the show perfectly.
The characters were all fantastic. Atsumu may have been a little over-the-top, but I felt for him nonetheless. Menma was fun, though sad, and Jinta was definitely a good main character. He was strong, he had resolve, and he wasn’t exactly cookie-cutter. He acted as a human. The other characters did as well. Naruko was, to me, one of the most emotionally riveting characters and while she could come across as somewhat annoying at points, her eventual revelations are truly heartfelt. And that’s just the thing that makes this anime so good. The characters are all three dimensional, all have pasts, all have ambitions, and all have weight they are carrying that they eventually throw off in the most tear jerking way.
The final episode gets flak for the fact it is just tears and tears and is not subtle. But I felt that this was what made it so human. The tears were flowing like a river and it could be a little much for some, but I felt it was a perfect ending and I could understand why they were crying and yelling. They were finally getting emotions off their chest that they had carried on their shoulders for years and the pay-off for watching the series is getting to see them release that and finally be happy once again, finally be able to move on with their lives.
Ano Hana isn’t without its faults though. Menma being able to manipulate objects should have been readily apparent from the start, but she was a bit of a ditz so I guess I can sort of let that slide. And the other one I had was what the hell is a WcDonalds? I mean, I know what it’s supposed to be, but how do you pronounce the Wc? That’s strange.
Overall, I loved Ano Hana. It had great writing, great music, great characters, and was one of the most emotionally riveting anime I have ever seen.
And for that, it gets a 9/10.