Long ago, young Meiko Honma tragically died and her tight-knit group of friends, shaken by the event, drifted apart. Now, ten years later, Meiko has re-appeared as a ghost that only Jinta, the former leader of the gang and an avid shut-in, can see. All she desires is for Jinta to fulfill her final wish so that she can move on to the afterlife, but with no memory of what it was, it’s up to the teenager to gather his former friends and discover what will allow his beloved friend to rest in peace. With so many feelings left unsaid, can this group work out their strife and help the ghost of the girl they once adored?
StoryDisclaimer: this review may contain a spoiler for the first episode. Few shows this year will elicit such tender, bittersweet feelings as AnoHana. Anime rarely focus on the grieving process, and the series’ sensitive execution of the subject makes it a treasure among 2011’s offerings. The plot sees a group of youths trying to come to terms with the death of their friend, Menma, while her ghost hangs around encouraging them to heal. Although they have physically grown up since the incident, in many other important ways their lives have remained frozen in time. Mostly, the show navigates this tough subject masterfully and creates a beautiful, moving drama that fulfils an age-old human desire to believe that those who die don’t leave us behind without closure. AnoHana doesn’t quite escape cliche. It bring us glaringly contrived scenes like two characters tripping over each other and landing in a romantic pose. However, these blend into the background in light of its compelling strengths. In a harmonious mingling of comedy and grief, this show convinced me that laughter and death sit as naturally beside each other as spring and winter: one makes the other bearable. Moreover, the show knows how to create a dramatic highlight. These heady emotional climaxes come thanks to a witty and unexpected script that builds and builds tension, and then releases like fireworks. Well, mostly. Director Tatsuyuki Nagai would have topped his wonderful 2008 project, Toradora, except that here he doesn’t trust his audience to recognise a sad moment. Whereas Toradora maintains a masterful balance of drama punctuated by peaks of melodrama, AnoHana’s characters burst into thick, gelatinous tears every time the topic turns tragic as though trying to cue us to do the same. Worse, the ending explodes into a tidal wave of tears that sent me scurrying under my duvet in utter embarrassment. Just when the story calls for the characters to struggle to suppress their swelling angst and the voice actors to accent their lines with faint cracks and trembling, we get instead a biblical volley of shrieks and howls and gnashing of teeth. From the penultimate episode the show ceases to expertly stoke our emotions and instead begins to tactlessly manipulate them.AnimationAnoHana generally achieves an animation standard on par with many of its peers, although it manages to add one or two interesting distinguishing touches. We notice an effort to capture the tone of the story in the visuals - scenes prefer the dusk, dawn, and evening, meaning melancholy shadows creep in many a nook. The direction sometimes calls for an effect too. When Menma falls off a fence, key protagonist Jintan leaps in dreamlike slow motion to catch her while the camera swoops towards him in an exaggerated manner. They’re little touches, no more, but their combined effect gives the show a palpable atmosphere it might otherwise not have.SoundThis is a wise soundtrack that knows its presence is required to accentuate and not dominate. Melodic, mellow, and utterly fitting, it works with the mood of the show when it is needed and stays completely out of the way when it is not.CharactersAnoHana never allows its leads to wallow and instead sends them bumping along a dynamic grieving process marked by poignant rediscovery. The result is a piecemeal deconstruction of their final moments with Menma and how uniquely it affected them. Considering the brief running time, AnoHana manages a heroic amount of characterisation. Erstwhile geek Anaru’s relationship with her new vapid friends, for instance, becomes a fascinating glimpse into her pushover personality and brings an added gratification when she rediscovers the joys of gaming with Jintan. Yukiatsu, an arrogant overachiever brimming with undisguised resentment, proves a peculiar success as the hidden contrasts of his personality come to light. And whenever two characters interact, the resulting drama sparkles. My favourite scene involves Jintan defending Anaru in class as everyone begins spreading rumours that she’s been spotted at a love hotel. Jintan is a borderline hikikomori sapped of the easy confidence he had as a child because of Menma’s death. When he stands up in class to speak, a wave of silence spreads through the class. But the words that spill from him are unexpected, hilarious, and utterly revealing about his depth of feeling for Anaru. I love those distilled moments when the characters reveal themselves through dialogue. Perhaps unavoidably, the ghost Menma turns out to be the least human. Her performance relies too much on moe tropes to fit neatly with her more complex, living friends. Her main contribution is to be dead and cute, functioning in effect as Jintan’s mascot. She only has two emotional states - crushingly sad and unnaturally perky - when what I really expect from a ghost is less emotion. The script requires her to weep beautifully at least once every episode, which contradicts the show’s evident message that it is those who are left behind, and not the dead, who suffer most. By the nth time, her tears cease to be a point of pathos and more a predictable habit. And while the other characters emulate reality, she remains a cartoon.OverallAnoHana begins by appealing to our emotions, and ends by pandering to our sentiment. It packs enough poignancy and charming humour to leave us warmly aglow inside only to stumble at the finish line in an unfortunate eruption of hysterics. But damn it, a good drama is a good drama, and AnoHana, if not the best this year, is certainly one of the most affecting.
Story: For a host of reasons, I should have liked AnoHana. After all, the series has glimpses of interesting drama and romance, paralleled by a tragic story of loss, grieving, and unhealed wounds. Follow my reviews on here long enough, and you’ll see these genres are almost slam-dunks for a “good” evaluation from me, even if they have a lot of flaws. Oddly, though, AnoHana decided to open with a weird scene – namely, it starts with an overbearing and loud Menma rubbing her rear end all over an adolescent boy’s crotch in some weird attempt at innocent ecchi humor. For trying to tackle thematically heavy topics, this was a strange and unsuccessful hook, opening the show to me on a sour note. More, I quickly started to hate Menma’s character within about the first five minutes, as she’s so obnoxiously loud and her dialogue involves a lot of repetition to the point of annoyance. While a series like Golden Time starts you out raw with some characters and uses this as an opportunity for growth, however, AnoHana fails to clear even its first hurdle, leaving you with a cast of characters who feel very much the same from start to finish. Menma, along with her five left-behind companions, are as static in the final episode as they are in the first – admittedly, her dialogue gets a bit subdued by the end, but that’s about it. The base problem with AnoHana is that it relies entirely on melodrama to try to advance its story. Its central premise attempts to explore the concept of emotions being trapped at someone’s death and creating wounds that often heal imperfectly with time; yet, this seems to be in the form of a complicated five-way love-triangle free-for-all among prepubescent ten year olds. Indeed, it even tries to play on the concept of “the boys think the girls are icky” to motivate much of its drama, which makes little sense given how grievously Menma’s death apparently has affected the group. The premise could have been handled far more maturely, starting with a high-school tragedy as the cast leads into young adulthood (in the vein of Kimi ga Nozomu Eien); as it was told, however, it’s just not believable. Come its final episodes, the conclusion was predictable and expected, and the only loose end that’s attempted to be tied up is that of Poppo – the only one in the group of six kids not involved in the romantic subplots. To put the icing on the cake, when his motivations for dealing with Menma were revealed, I found them the most compelling out of all the other characters. His story seemed to have the most human and empathic undercurrent to the grander plot, and was thrown in as a 60 second side-plot in an attempt to give his character some sort of closure. All in all, AnoHana’s story is just awkward. It struggles to be both comedic and dramatic at the same time, and places Menma on a strange pedestal around which all the other characters must orbit. Realistically, human beings deal with loss and grieving in highly complex ways, and at times the show displays that it understands this. Yet, the melodrama forces forward a bulldozing simplicity into the story that seems to sweep away all this higher potential. Ultimately, despite wanting something more, I was left unsatisfied and unimpressed. Animation: In the brief time spent compiling this review, many of AnoHana’s finer points all seem to have vanished. The animators went out of their way to try do the weird display of some-girls-having-makeup-while-others-do-not, which created a lot of awkward visuals where the characters on screen did not tend to blend well together. There are also several high-quality frames that were animated beautifully, such as the suspension bridge which acts a focal point for much of the drama, but these are reused heavily. Though not bad in and of itself, the rest of the show often seems very plain in comparison – especially when it comes to secondary characters. While not bad per se, it just feels off at times and a bit tacky. Sound: The musical score in AnoHana is functional. Nothing really stood out or impressed me in any particular manner, though the dramatic scenes had some decent pieces playing in them. Still, like the rest of the show, it felt like the score was a half-miss for all but the last episode. Perhaps it was the written juxtaposition of comedy and drama that made it hard for the composer to pin down a style, but the series never really developed a good musical feel to synchronize its intended emotional development from start to finish. Voice acting was also a mixed bag. Menma’s seiyuu grated on me early and often, largely because her child-like dialogue just did not fit well with themes attempting to be discussed. In general, it felt like the talent was solid but the writing was poor, which held back a lot of the potential. The exchange in the final episode between Anjou and Tsurumi was a great example of how good the actors could perform if given the right scenes, but in general the voicework seemed general and average. Characters: The core of the story focuses on six childhood friends who lose one of their group, a young girl named Menma, to a tragic accident that causes the group to all go their separate ways. The ways each character handles the loss causes many to start to dislike one another, and particularly impacts the extroverted “leader” of the gang, Jinta, to spiral into a wave of depression that leaves him an awkward shut-in as he advances into his teenage years. When Menma suddenly appears in front of him, he starts to try to grab the others and lay to rest everyone’s grief. The other characters all have their own issues with Menma’s death, expectedly, and not all have to do the girl herself. Jinta, for example, also struggles with the loss of his mother, and Anjou struggles to find legitimate friendships to replace those she has lost. Each individual conflict has the potential to be interesting and impactful, and sometimes the show does manage to tap into them very well and explore the characters in a thorough and human way. Anjou and Poppo, in particular, were quite well done. For the most part, though, most of the issues the cast faces seem very superficial and forced. Unfortunately, the particular subplot I would like to rail on the most would spoil several of the first few episodes, and the opening to the show is by far the series’ strongest run. At the crux of the problem, the series just fundamentally struggles to transition 10-year-olds into believable teenagers, and Menma’s tragic death fails to really have strong impact given how central of an active role she plays in the events that transpire. Overall: Disappointment, disappointment, disappointment. I wanted to like AnoHana, but its combination of poor writing and tacky melodrama just strip away what could have been an emotional and gripping story. The final episode will likely get a drop of water in your eyes, but for the themes involved and conflict between the characters being pushed, the show should have had no problem at least getting a couple tears. All in all, AnoHana ends up a very average show plagued with the conventional “unused potential” label, and while I would recommend to those who like drama and romance generally, all others should give this title a pass.
''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 longtime. 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 graspthis. 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. PS: 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.
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