Five years after her death, Menma shows up as a ghost in Jintan’s life. He and the four remaining people in their childhood friend group have gone their own ways in life, but must come together to grant Menma’s final wish and get her to heaven. Anohana explores the rifts that are created and widened by the death of a loved one.
This review is about the twelve episode show “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day” and the movie “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day – The Movie”
Jinta “Jintan” Yadomi has lost himself. The once outgoing “leader” of our group is now a lonely gamer boy who skips school and curses couples who awkwardly talk about the girl’s breast size on the side of the street. Yes… this actually happens in the show. It only makes sense that someone with a life as dull as this would be haunted by the ghost of their friend, Menma. He is a torn character. It is clear that he missed Menma dearly, but he also rejects every opportunity to appreciate her. He dismisses her as a pain while working tirelessly to find out what her final wish was. There is a long time in the show where I was not sure about Jintan. Why was he so dismissive? Why was he so down on himself? It all felt like a big pity act. Over time we start to see some of his old characteristics come out and you start to find out why the rest of the crew liked him so much.
Meiko “Menma” Honma is our dead group member. Despite her looking as old as the rest of the group, not a lot seems to have changed. Perhaps the purgatory that she was trapped in between her death and the show causes no mental growth? We learn in the movie that Menma is not from Japan, which should have been obvious because of the snow white hair, and has really struggled to transition to her new home. Do we learn that in the show? No, it was hardly touched. I’ll talk about how weird that was in the pacing. So not aging a day has made Menma energetic, loud, and prone to emotional swings. One moment she is yelling and cheering, the next she is crying at the effort her friends are putting in for her. The movie made me realize that Menma is certainly underdeveloped, but when I was watching the show, I didn’t mind it. She comes across a projection of herself that is created by Jintan and I can understand why she would be pretty basic for that reason. Plus she is a ghost only one person can see, it’s not like she had lots of opportunities to show her depth.
Naruko “Anaru” Anjo is a girl lost in the sea of society. The breakup of her childhood group seems to have left her desperate to fit in anywhere in life. She often carries changes of clothes, changes how she speaks, and acts differently based on who she is with. The most heartbreaking part is that she knows this. She knows that people view her as fake because she feels fake, you might even say she is fake. Menma showing up is the perfect reason to join her original group and slowly decide to accept who she is with some help from her, just plain awful, relationship with Tsuruko. Anaru was one of my favorite characters because of this development. It can be really hard to accept who you are when there are so many forces outside of yourself that want you to be something different. The moment that she finally rejects the other sides of herself and commits to the person she wants to be is a subtle and beautiful moment. Careful watchers will pay close attention to how she dresses herself because she often uses that to express who she is at the moment.
Atsumu “Yukiatsu” Matsuyuki has been known to cross-dress on occasion. Our college bound boy is top in his class, popular with all the ladies, and still somehow has an inferiority complex. It would be easy to think, “This guy is blind! His life is made!” Yet, it certainly never feels like he has it all. He seems to be going through the motions, unable to make use of all the blessings that he has because he is unable to move on from Menma. He feels like a toy, broken when a child got hurt and was never picked up again. His feelings of rage and resentment build as his feelings are ignored, in favor of others in the group. Yet, the immaturity comes into play though him aiming his anger at his friends, specifically Jintan. Like Anaru, he knows this about himself. He knows that he is wrong. He knows that he is out of line, he just wants to be cared about again by his friends. So while I can sympathize with him, if you need a hug he really should just ask for one.
Chiriko “Tsuruko” Tsurumi kind of sucks. She is stuck up, dismissive, obsessive, and really disingenuous. The group felt the need to get everyone back together in order to grant Menma her wish, but really…I think they could have left Tsuruko out. She is designed to be hated… I hope, because I certainly couldn’t see her as my friend. She comes across a lost puppy that follows Yukiatsu, barking at any girls who get too close and waiting for any table scraps of love that he might throw her way. If, somehow, she did not hold herself so highly, she would be a completely pitiful character. She and Anaru seem to have this disdain for each other for no reason other than they see themselves in each other. They both feel unloved, destined to be Menma’s understudy, and cannot stand to see the desperation that they feel in another.
Tetsudo “Poppo” Hisakawa is the most worldly character out of the entire group. I challenge you to be sad when this character is on the screen. This man is so genuine and happy that it seems like he got fat by taking a big gulp of the world. He dropped out of high school in order to travel the world when he felt like he had no place in his hometown. Poppo converted the crew’s old hangout, a utility shed, into a fully functioning house that he lives in while in town. He is the first to jump on the wild idea that Jintan can see Menma and is relentless in trying to fulfill her wish. What is interesting about Poppo is the contrast between his travels and who he is. He has been all over the world, but there is a creeping sense that he is lost in the world. I don’t mean the Kayne West song, I mean being without a map. The saying goes, “Not all who wander are lost,” but it certainly seems that Poppo is looking for something he has not found yet.
If the characters were placed on a deserted island, they would likely not be the most interesting characters. Anohana does a great job at building all of the tension and emotions between the characters in the aftermath of their friend’s death. It then spends the entire show untangling these emotions until we have a clear picture of how all these characters connect to each other. This is the high level character interaction that I really enjoy. If the characters had been given a little bit more individuality, this would have been an easy perfect score for the characters, but there just wasn’t enough developed for most of them for that.
For some reason, I really want to let you all know I cried at this show. I don’t cry at every anime, obviously, but when I do I just feel the overwhelming need to let everyone know. Why? Who knows? Maybe crying feels good. Maybe we all need a good sob every once in a while. Well, if you have been putting on a brave face the past year and a half, this show is not for you. The characters are torn, hurt, and broken. The pain that they had been hiding, avoiding, running away from, or hiding is out in the open and they have to rebuild the trust between them if they want to deal with it. What really hits home about Anohana is not that the characters are hurting, but they are forced to accept that they are not the only one. The guilt that they feel is shared by others. The regret that they feel is not owned by them. There is no pity for them because the pain is not theirs, it is shared between all the people that Menma had an impact on. So when they finally start to realize that the burden is something they share, they have the chance to become much closer. This is where I bawled. And despite what my dogs think, their tongues are not soothing enough to combat the pain of the final episode.
Personal guilt runs rampant in Anohana. Everyone, in some way, thinks that they are the reason that Menma died. A large part of unraveling the feeling of each character was understanding how they saw their role in the events of that day and what guilt that they carry about it. Some of them hold guilt for no reason, some of them for what they did, and some of them for what they did not do. At times, this guilt can feel trivial, but the impact of the guilt is evident all around the show. The group broke up largely because of this guilt. The members chose their paths in life largely as a response to this guilt. It feels fair to say that without this personal guilt that the show would not be nearly as emotional as it is and would be worse off without it.
A more subtle idea I found myself returning to over and over while writing this review was that everything felt stuck in time. So while I might feel like no time passes when I step inside the doors of my work, it does not compare to how these characters have been locked into their mental state for five years. Everyone else thinks that everyone else has moved on, but in actuality, no one has moved at all. I was really struck by Menma’s mother when she commented that all of the group had kept growing up but Menma was stuck in time. I leaned over to our husky, Kota, and said, “Well yes, but also no.” (She had no opinion on the matter.) But that observation of mine was pretty basic. People spend the most time with themselves. They don’t see themselves changing, but they see other’s trying and often feel stuck. This really calls back to guilt that spread like a virus after our patient zero died. Everyone was going to feel stuck because they all left each other. There was no support for them to move on together or deal with their feelings.
The show has ended. The credits have rolled. I have yelled at my dogs to stop fighting and I am gathering my thoughts in the living room. I was all set to mark this as a good old four out of four. That is, until I turned on the movie. Half of the movie is the same stuff that we saw in the show, scene for scene (a big no no for me). The other half, which amounts to about thirty minutes, actually should have just been mixed into the rest of the show or completely left out of production. The issue is that the show paced itself perfectly fine. It did a great job at building up the emotion, connecting us to the characters, and explaining character history. Then the movie comes in and says…. Haha you know what we forgot? We forgot to explain why some of these scenes mattered. To which I thought…wait…those scenes mattered?!?! And you forgot to tell me?!!?! I was perfectly content not knowing what the movie told me, but once you know it, you can’t go back. Choosing to leave the movie scenes out of the show seems really weird in hindsight, but the poor construction of the movie compared to the show is even more weird. End of the line, you can enjoy the emotion of the story with just the show. There are one or two scenes that really should have been included in the show but were not, you won’t die sad not seeing them. In fact, I recommend not watching the movie.
Maybe you have seen the funny posts of single frames in anime that just look really weird. Of course everyone in the comments is laughing at the animators and asking how something so simple could be missed. I never jump on the train of bashing on the animators because I really think they put their best into it, but I just felt like so many shows topped Anohana. Too many times I found myself looking at a character wondering why their heads or bodies looked weird. The character designs were pretty basic, although I liked Anaru and how Tsuruko reminds me of Ikuno from Darling in the Franxx. But they didn’t really drive any interest. The backgrounds felt pretty basic and devoid of interest for a show that centered around the same settings. I feel like this could be easily solved with some interesting angles or details. Yet, the most redeeming factor was the crying. I am always so impressed with shows that can really hit the nail on the head when it comes to expressing sadness on the characters’ faces because I cannot imagine a world where I am able to draw that. The tears felt very natural as well, so while there was a fair amount of animation that I was pretty “meh” on, the emotional scenes carried some major weight.
Perhaps I am wildly misinformed about Hawaii, but I felt like this anime should have taken place there. How the characters dressed, the music, and the atmosphere in general really screamed out Hawaii to me, but we are once again in Japan. And a really boring version of Japan at that. We spend almost all of our time at three different houses and their childhood hideout. The visual elements and the personal connection to most places were pretty lackluster. Except, by lackluster, I mean forgettable or irrelevant and pretty much every way. The most personal element that we got from any setting was Anaru’s closet and her meticulous sorting system. But think about it, a closet was the most personal element of the show. Given that I have more personality on my bedroom floor than most of the houses in this show, I think that they could have done better.
Anohana has one of the longest soundtracks I have ever seen for a twelve episode show. There was a full two disc release with forty songs that came out with the show, only to be followed up with another twenty-nine tracks for the movie. Anohana knew what tone they were looking for. They drove up to their barber and said, “I need Japanese island theme, but make it depressing.” Boy, did they get it. Lots of quiet and calm piano, guitars, bird ambiance, and other island sounds. The vocals on Dear Love are good enough that I might add it to a playlist but the soundtrack feels a bit single toned. I appreciate sticking to a theme but maybe in sixty-five tracks we can show a little bit of variation.
On top of that, the music didn’t feel that present in the show outside the opener and closer (both of which were great by the way). I found myself wondering, “Where was this played? Did I hear this?” You would think that given the soundtrack covers half of the entire show, that I would remember at least one song other than the opener and closer, but I didn’t. I think there is a pretty easy explanation for this: The show pulled me in quite a bit. It’s not crazy that between watching, reading, and my dad’s pitbull snoring on my lap, that the music was not my primary…or secondary focus. So for this reason, I’ll default to my take on listening to the full soundtrack, which was fun but needed some more variety.
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||5||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||5||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||4||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||3||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||2||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||1||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||2||3|
Anohana is a difficult story about the web of emotions that come with the death of someone close to you and how that web untangles when people start to deal with those feelings. Its characters’ ability to express their emotions and ideas pulls a pretty incomplete pace behind it, in a world not nearly as interesting as the people inside of it. If you are looking for a strong dose of depression to accompany your exploration of grief, this show is for you.