If you haven’t had your fill or sad anime, you’re in luck because neither have I! Today I review the story of a sweet little girl and the group of friends who try to appease her restless spirit.
Title: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day)
Original airing: April 15, 2011 to June 24, 2011
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Duration: 22 mins per episode
Genres: Drama, Slice of Life, Supernatural
Where I watched: Crunchyroll (English Subtitles)
Brief Synopsis and First Impressions:
Jinta Yadomi and his group of childhood friends have become estranged after a tragic accident split them apart. Now in their high school years, a sudden surprise forces each of them to confront their guilt over what happened that day and come to terms with the ghosts of their past.
There exists an English expression: “chasing the hair of the dog,” whose origins come from a method of treating rabies from a dog bite by placing the dog’s hair on the wound. These days it’s commonly used to describe the act of consuming more alcohol to treat the symptoms of a hangover. Both methods have dubious medical credibility, but very often an otaku will use the same logic by attempting to treat a troubling anime experience with even more anime (I’m going somewhere with this, I promise).
Three months (and as many series) after completing Your lie in April, I was still feeling its effects. Make no mistake, YLIA wasn’t a bad experience for me at all. I expect memories of that anime will always stick with me, but my issue was in getting over what I personally felt at its conclusion. The shows I watched since then had left me with varying levels of satisfaction, but as far as resolving my feelings, they were more of a distraction than a cure. My only recourse seemed to be to chase a sad story with another one. Following a chance click on a “you might also like” suggestion, I found what I was looking for. Enter Anohana.
With the promise of a tragic event and characters confronting their feelings surrounding it, I knew this would be a sad series. What made it somewhat easier to approach was that the heartbreaking incident is revealed very early in the series. The series would thus be more about how the characters cope with said tragedy rather than use it as a twist to shock viewers later on. My hope was that watching the characters resolve their emotions would help me vicariously relieve my own exaggerated emotional state. Ultimately acting as much more than just a ‘chaser,’ this series exceeded my expectations in many ways.
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day is a heart-wrenching story about a group of childhood friends (Jinta, Menma, Atsumu, Naruko, Chiriko, and Poppo) who have drifted apart following a tragic accident. Five years later, one of these friends (Menma) sudden appears in Jinta’s home. This is initially played off as nothing out of the ordinary, leading the viewer to think that she is Jinta’s younger sister/neighbor/friend, but the truth of the matter is quickly understood (and easily caught if one pays attention to the opening). The tragic event five years ago was Menma’s death, and the being that harasses Jinta now is her returned spirit. While neither Menma nor Jinta know exactly why she has returned, the two surmise that it is related to a wish that Menma needs granted (in order to get into heaven). The problem…? Memna has no clue what the wish could be.
With the help of their old friends, this series follows the group’s attempts to determine and fulfill Menma’s wish. This proves to be difficult when Jinta learns he is the only one who can see or hear Menma, which calls his sanity into question. Additionally, the childhood friends have changed much over the years, leading to confrontations and clashes in personalities. As old wounds surrounding Menma’s death are opened, these formerly close friends are challenged to put aside their personal issues and band together once more to grant Menma’s wish.
I was surprised that such a short series (11 episodes) would have me going head-to-head with my emotions in a three round, winner take all match. This has everything to do with how complex, genuine, and relatable the characters are. The backstory explains that the group of friends, in their younger days, form a club known as the Super Peace Busters, with Jintan taking the role of unofficial leader. Who, as a child, hasn’t been a part of some sort of club made up of a ragtag team of rambunctious friends? I dare anyone to challenge that I am not, in fact, currently ruling a very elite club as we speak (comprised of my wife and cat, Mozart)! Individual experiences may vary, but the whole idea of bonding as children, changing over time, and sometimes drifting apart in the process is something most everyone has faced growing up.
If the struggle to rekindle friendships wasn’t difficult enough, there is still the fact that this series centers around the impact of a lost life. No two people cope with loss in the exact same way. Some hide their pain and try to let time soothe it away; some may try to quickly move past it so that their lives aren’t held back by the event; some are so shaken that they make drastic changes in their life in order to mentally distance themselves from what took place, and some are so filled by sorrow that they simply can’t let go. This series explores the different coping mechanisms that the characters use and the problems that arise with each one.
Although I expressed how emotionally taxing this series is (my wife still can’t discuss it without tearing up), Anohana isn’t completely devoid of scenes that invoke smiles or laughter. Menma is adorable as a character, and just watching her can provide a heartwarming feeling. Her childlike mentality and behavior help take the edge of the tragic subject material as she is just so cheerful. There is a good balance of heartache, drama, and humor that certainly helps in a series like this so that the viewer doesn’t have a completely depressing experience while trying to understand the nature of the characters and the gravity of their situation.
This series hits many crucial points that are important to a good drama series (smooth flowing plot line, complex characters, and nice mix of emotions), but there are some minor nuisances that distract a little from the overall story. Because they are relatively insignificant (so I don’t need to detail them in great length), I decided to list below some of what I observed:
- In the first episode, Jintan doesn’t seem overly surprised when Menma suddenly appears beside him while he is gaming. If anything, he seems rather annoyed by the interruption. At this point viewers don’t know how long Menma has been appearing to Jintan, but given that the first few episodes shows them discussing why she has returned, it’s safe to assume this was the first time it had taken place.
- The question of whether Menma is “real” or not is dragged out a little long as it should have been easier for Jintan to prove it. While the series does attempt an explanation, the logic behind it is inconsistent and it seems like the mystery is used to create drama within the group rather than any story related phenomenon.
- Very little effort is made to understand Menma’s family and their reaction to her loss. The series does touch upon Menma’s mother, as she still struggles to accept her daughter’s passing, but not much more than that. Their story is, however, a different one than what her friends go through. While it is unfortunate that they are relegated to side characters, it may have helped with the overall cohesion by not focusing on their grief as it wouldn’t mesh with the shared experiences the friends had.
- Some of the character’s emotions (like Yukiatsu suddenly expressing interest in Anaru) seem misplaced. There is seemingly no rhyme or reason given for these sporadic emotions, which is rather disappointing since so much thought was put into crafting individual, layered personalities for each character.
Before I dive in to the characters, I didn’t realize how common it was for kids to make nicknames out of an amalgamation of their first and second names (a la Kazuto Kirigaya’s ‘Kirito’ from Sword Art Online). Meiko Honma becomes ‘Menma’, Naruko Anjou becomes ‘Anaru’ and so on. It’s just an amusing quirk that I haven’t really noticed before watching this series (Which would I be? Otakend or Weetaku? I don’t like either one).
The characters in this series are depicted as realistic, flawed individuals; whose motives and actions are well fleshed out. Most of the issues they face are either directly or indirectly related to Menma’s presence in their lives and the impact of her tragic death. Viewers can relate to the struggle of appearing “normal,” in a society that is known to be judgmental (such as high school). Likewise, these characters present a distorted image of themselves while masking deeper, complex, and often dark emotions. This anime not only delivers on the complexity of individual personalities, but details how life events can shape and change a person.
Meiko Honma, known as Menma, is a cheerful and seemingly positive girl; she also happens to be a ghost. Because she died at such a young age, her behavior comes off as somewhat childish and innocent. Unspoiled by the struggles that accompany adolescence, her main worry is for her friends to learn to get along with one another again. She is described by Jintan as being selfless because she is always thinking of others but rarely considers her own feelings. Her own enthusiasm in helping fulfill her wish is used for humor in that she gets excited whenever the group tries something, while at the same time having no idea if that’s what her wish was, but this mirrors her selfless desire to see her friends happy over anything else.
Of the remaining characters Jinta Yadomi, referred to as Jintan, is arguably the only character who openly displays signs of grief the most. After losing both Menma and his mother at a young age, who can blame him? Jintan becomes a recluse, refusing
to go to school or have any sort of social life. He fills this massive void in his life with video games and TV, never directly addressing his grief as he attempts to simply hide away his feelings. Menma’s reappearance in his life seems to have a positive effect on Jintan, as he is forced to face his former friends (and society) once more to help Menma grant her wish. All the while, he struggles to find the right way to make up for something he said to her on the last day he saw her alive.
Naruko Anjou, also known as Anaru, is a confused, impressionable young teen. She struggles with her own identity, split between fitting in with the popular crowd and worrying over her former friends. As the one character who seems to have kept in touch with Jintan at all, she mirrors this at a subconcious level. Reflective of the transitional period that teenagers go through, viewers learn that Anaru has much of the same insecurities and emotions that plagued her as a child. At one point in the series, she begins pulling out manga and video games that she has tucked away in her closet. This appears to be symbolic of how much of her true self that she hidden from her current set of friends, and how much she secretly cherishes the person she used to be.
Tetsudou Hisakwa, Poppo to his friends, is an absolutely fun-loving guy. He has a laid back personality and an unwavering love for his former friends. Growing up, Poppo admires Jintan and humbly admits that he felt grateful to be included in the group of friends. When it comes to Jintan’s claims that Menma has returned (given that Jintan is the only one who can see/communicate with her), Poppo instantly believes him. Despite being a relatively happy and carefree guy, viewers learn that Poppo has been deeply affected by Menma’s death and harbors a regret the others don’t know about.
Chiriko Tsurumi, also referred to as Tsuruko, is seemingly indifferent to Menma’s return at first. Consumed by her studies, Tsuruko is portrayed as intelligent, but critical of others, leading her to initially believe Jintan is living in fantasy. She is Yukiatsu’s companion of sorts (they attend the same elite school) and is constantly studying to surpass him academically. There are glimpses through the series that Tsuruko harbors a secret ‘obsession’ for Menma, which viewers slowly learn the reasons behind as the series progresses.
On the surface, Atsumu Matsuyuki, aka Yukiatsu, is handsome, athletic, and highly itelligent. Viewers soon realize, though, that Yukiatsu is arguably one of the most flawed characters in this series. Beneath the guise of a perfect student, Yukiatsu is resentful, manipulative, and judgmental. His bitterness surrounding the events that led to Menma’s death has left Yukiatsu a tormented young man. Appearing furthest removed from the group due to his elite school status and dismissive attitude, his refusal to address his scars leads to some aggressive confrontations with the others when they involve him again. Yukiatsu’s behavior borders on the extreme at times, but it is a brilliant way to show the lengths he is willing to go to just to feel closer to Menma.
It is no surprise, given this is an A-1 Production anime, that Anohana is well animated, but it is very simple for the most part. Despite the supernatural tag on this series, the world and characters are realistically drawn, with very little in the way of special effects. The backgrounds are nicely detailed, ranging from a hillside forest to the city streets. The characters are rather simple in their designs, but their personality shines through from even a cursory glance at their appearance.
Hand drawn elements are slightly enhanced by CGI, sometimes to create realistic light and shadows. The effects are subtle here, but are very well done. As many of the scenes take place in the the secret base that the children used for their club, the lighting is presented in a natural and subdued way. These effects are further highlighted as the series shows scenes throughout the day, from morning to afternoon to night, that present their own challenges with the way light and direction work.
Given the bittersweet subject matter of this anime, the character’s emotions are constantly fluctuating throughout the series. The animators are brilliant at realistically portraying the emotional state of the characters using only slight changes in facial features. Without even verbally communicating their feelings, viewers can easily detect when the characters shift emotions (eg: anger to sadness). Click the images below for some examples.
Sound direction by way of Jin Aketagawa (Toradora, Aldonoah.Zero, many others), and features work by several artists. Anohana has many soft melodic songs that carry a melancholic tone, while featuring some more upbeat or whimsical themes for more lighthearted moments. It is similar in this sense to Your lie in April, but differs in the fact that many of the themes feature an acoustic guitar. The soft strumming helps create an atmosphere of idyllic summer days, while piano and other strings deliver the more flowing tones.
BGMS like Last Train Home, Going Crazy Over You, and Dear are used to accent the sadder moments in this anime, and some variations have vocal accompaniment for particularly impactful scenes. For someone without a lot of background in music theory, it’s hard for me to describe what makes these pieces so touching, so maybe it’s better to listen for yourself.
Voice acting didn’t strike me as anything spectacular, but wasn’t bad in the slightest. Most of the actors have extensive resumes and Saori Hayami (Tsuruko) delivers quite a different performance from her roles in Sword Art Online and Myriad Colors Phantom World (Sachi and Reina, respectively). This was one of the earliest roles for Ai Kayano (Menma) who went on to voice a large number of young girl characters. I watched this series with English subs and frankly, I’m not sure if it would work as well with a dub. There is something about Menma’s exuberance and way of speaking that sounds cute in Japanese but might not translate well in another language.
There are many anime fans that don’t like emotionally driven, heartache inducing series, but I think what makes Anohana particularly great is that it doesn’t shy away from exploring the emotions that arise from dealing with grief (sadness, anger, denial, acceptance). This show, and many others like it, are sometimes criticized for being melodramatic and rightly so. For example, Anohana is strewn with poignant moments meant to invoke a heart-rending reaction from both characters and viewers alike. This results in scenes where characters will start to cry, essentially reminding viewers it is okay for them to do so as well. Of course, given the tragic circumstances surrounding this series, it is to be expected that emotionally laden scenes will pop up, but there are times where the onset of these reactions happen so suddenly that they almost feel forced. These abrupt, heavily emotional, outbursts upset the otherwise gentle pace of the show.
What makes such things less distracting for me, however, is to think about how the characters themselves would be feeling. The events of the story were traumatic for them, and given that teens are prone to heightened emotional states, it shouldn’t be expected that the characters hold back. As I said before, the show spends a lot of time exploring how the various characters react to grief. As with all people, the grieving process is different. So viewers see that while the characters don’t deal with it the same way, by the end of the series they do all deal with it. Contrasting how each character is affected by tragedy and how they confront their feelings toward it proved to make this a memorable series for me.
The charm of this particular series has a lot to do with Menma’s character herself, and had the series not included her, it wouldn’t have been nearly as strong. Both her personality as the most cheerful of the group and her actual manifestation as a ghost play a part in this. Viewers might not be as emotionally invested if another character like Jintan had died instead. The tragedy of Menma’s passing was that she was the most full of life as a child. Furthermore, she is the catalyst for all the changes the characters go through, and serves a dual role in keeping the viewer invested in the show and the characters invested in each other. The characters’ development might have been more meaningful if they healed on their own without Menma’s spiritual nudging, but it wouldn’t have been as engaging.
Summary and Recommendations
Anohana is a fascinating look at how a close group of friends can be pulled apart by a single tragedy and how their various struggles with grief have affected their lives. The story is consistently paced and doesn’t veer far from the main theme, making all of the 11 short episodes meaningful.
The characters in this series are remarkably layered and complex, each with a personality as unique as their method of dealing with pain. They confront many difficult emotions (peer pressure, jealousy, grief, love, etc…), of which viewers will be able to resonate with at least one. Menma’s personality is universally lovable, bringing solace to a rather somber series. This sense of comfort through Menma’s presence is something the viewer can find in common with the only other character who can see her.
Animation and sound are top notch, while being simplistic at the same time. The depiction of each character shows off their personality, both in their younger and present forms. The music is beautifully done, with memorable opening and ending themes. They are both deceptively cheery when you first hear them, but don’t be surprised if they make you nostalgic or melancholy by the end.
Watch if you:
Like layered realistic characters
Enjoy slower paced, compact stories
Have dealt or are dealing with grief
Don’t watch if you:
Are annoyed by a lot of crying
Can’t handle sadness
Charming and heartbreaking at the same time, the few issues that Anohana does have didn’t make me love watching it any less. I give it a full 5/5 Menmas.
Dealing with loss is a difficult thing for most people to handle, and I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that most would prefer to experience it from the other side of a screen rather than in real life. There is almost always a sense of regret over things that were left unsaid or feelings that weren’t expressed. I can’t tell anyone how to resolve their own personal feelings of sorrow, but maybe seeing how others do so can help.
Part of what made this series so touching was that the characters, Jintan in particular, were given a second chance to do all the things they regretted not being able to share with Menma in the past. Nothing could erase the regret that these characters felt, toward her or each other, but her return even as a ghost allowed them to relieve some of that longing and ultimately say goodbye on their own terms.
As grim and depressing as it may sound, tomorrow is never certain for anyone. Regret is a terrible thing to carry through life, and few things stick out in ones memory more than the last words they said to another or the last experience they shared. If this series were to impart one lesson, it would be to never miss the opportunity to let others know you how feel.
As for my introduction at the beginning of this post, I felt quite satisfied after this series was over. More than replacing the memories of one sad story with another, I gained an appreciation for the beauty of both. If Your lie in April showed me what heartache can feel like, Anohana showed me how people can move on. Still, I think I’ve had my fill of sad shows for a while, and now I’m ready for something a little more fun.