Anohana: The flower we saw that day

So I’m doing another anime review. At this point, I’m surprised I actually have the time to do any kind of post. Seriously. Just be happy I’m not ignoring this blog for like three weeks and then suddenly gushing over it like I’ve done before. I will probably talk about a new book in the next post. Till then, enjoy.

 

Anohana
From left to right (grown up): Poppo, Menma, Jintan, Anaru, Yukiatsu and Tsuruko

 

 

Anohana is one those anime that you come across once in a lifetime. It may not be as riveting and exciting as some action packed thrillers but Anohana belongs to a rare breed of anime that punches your gut out with tearjerking sequences that leaves you gasping for breath.

In its 11-episode run, Anohana tells the story of Jintan who one day starts to see the spirit of his now dead, childhood friend Menma. Upon learning that she’s here because she has an unfulfilled wish and that this wish needs to be fulfilled in the presence of all their childhood friends, Jintan starts trying to reunite the old group of friends: Anaru, Yukiatsu, Tsuruko and Poppo.
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A review I read of Anohana criticized it for being completely ordinary, not in terms of plot but in terms of production. Specifically, that the anime could just as easily have been produced as a live-action drama (it eventually was) due to the realistic angles, animation sequences and such. Furthermore, even though the plot does have a slight element of the supernatural in it, it too is rather tame compared to over the top plots of anime like One Piece, Baccano, Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood etc.

 

I completely disagree. Some of the best anime I’ve seen have not only ordinary plot lines but yes, they could also just as easily (if not more) be produced as live action dramas: Sakamichi no apollon, Hyouka, Oregairu, Toradora and Usagi Drop to name a few. And let’s add Anohana to that prestigious list.

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From the expository paragraph I did earlier, you may think Anohana sounds like a pretty cheerful anime. On the contrary, rounding up childhood friends proves a much more agonizing task and Jintan ends up tearing open a lot of old wounds in said friends. The five friends have all grown apart because of Menma’s passing and they have changed incontrovertibly. Poppo has run away literally from the grief and is now a world-hopping hippie.. Anaru has ingratiated herself with an ‘it-girl’ group in order to hide her loneliness. Jintan himself is now a reclusive shut-in. Tsuruko is an apathetic and indifferent genius while Yukiatsu is fighting with himself, confused between wanting to get over Menma and not wanting to let her go.

It’s an almost frightening look into grief and mourning. All the characters have built up mile-high walls around them and only Menma’s childish innocence can break through. But we also get a glimpse of Menma’s mother who while appearing to be doing ok, actually turns out to be nursing a deep hatred for the friends. She is jealous that the five friends get to live, grow and age while Menma is trapped in a perpetual childhood.

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Interspersed with these looks into grief and mourning are flashbacks of the group of friends, shown at various times to be playing in their secret hideaway. These scenes are juxtaposed with their current high-school lives and it brings to the viewers not just a deeper sense of sadness but the huge realization that people change over time. For an anime to be able to accomplish this, within 11 episodes no less, is huge in my humble opinion.

Anohana follows a good flow. Menma’s appearance and Jintan’s efforts to round up the friends and then grant Menma’s last wish flows through the anime in a steady pace. There aren’t any subplots or distractions here. In any other anime, it would probably take away from the anime but here, it’s a strength because any meandering would have lessened Anohana’s impact.

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Building up gradually from the start, Anohana comes to a climax during the 11th episode and the latter part of the 10th episode. If there’s anything wrong with the entire show, it’s the presentation of the climax. Whereas the previous episodes kind of leaked out the tearjerking scenes with soft and quiet reveals, the last two episodes have the characters literally shouting out their feelings at each other. While this itself can be explained by the fact that the friends have only precious few moments before Menma disappears forever, the other thing that happens in the end is almost unforgivable. The characters move past their grief almost immediately after this final, ultimate confrontation. For an anime that was so realistic in its depiction of grief and mourning, this final decision to have a magical, quick bandaid-type fix to the problem is a horrible decision. Nonetheless, the final scenes are still strong and are definitely the hardest hitting scenes in the entire anime.

I first watched Anohana in 2014. Two years ago. Only now can I actually review it. I started to so many times but each felt like taking a hatchet to my own childhood past. Because that’s what Anohana is. A look into your own past and childhood days.

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