I’ve just finished watching Ano Hana: The Flower We Saw That Day, and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.
Ano Hana is a drama anime starring some characters who are really hard to like – in fact, I can’t say I really felt much for any of them until about the seventh episode. Well, except for our resident ghost – she’s adorable, and hilarious. The show follows the lives of Anaru, Jintan, Poppo, Tsuruko, and Yukiatsu; 5 childhood friends who have drifted apart over the years following the death of Menma, the sixth of their group. Suddenly one August, a mature version of Menma appears to Jintan, and begins following him around. He assumes she’s merely a representation of his misery – a “Summer Beast” as he calls it. She insists that she’s here because of a wish she made that was never fulfilled in life yet she cannot remember.
Each of the five main characters(excluding Menma, of course) feels responsible over Menma’s death yet none of them have been able to at all come to terms with it. They have each responded in a completely different way, and at this point they are so estranged they barely even know each other. Jintan, for example, who was the ‘leader’ of their little circle of friends as children, has become more and more of a shut-in, cutting himself off from the world – even dropping out of school. Poppo, the clown of the group, also dropped out of school – but for him it was so that he could try to seek change by working and travelling the world.
Menma, while she technically is a character, is used more to move the story forward than actually as a star player. And, rightfully, she is the character who has the least transition. Over the course of the story each character shows remarkable development… and it’s most clearly shown when you compare them to the perpetually 7 year old Menma. With her relatively static personality, she is a perfect measure to gauge the development and maturity of the personalities of the other characters. And, because of her ‘existence'(if you choose to call it that), you’re presented with a fascinating character driven story featuring a variety of characters who each has their own life to deal with – to reconcile with the reality of what is happening at that moment.
I think my favourite character in the series was the serene Tsuruko. While she didn’t have the most openly traumatic reaction to what happened, her quiet demeanor concealed tremendous pain – not only over Menma, but also over herself. And, since she had the most mature personality of the five remaining friends, she was able to, despite her pain and shyness, help move the other characters towards conclusions that might never have come about without her. While Jintan and Yukiatsu were probably intended to be the real stars of the show, Tsuruko shines as the most intricate character in the group in my eyes.
Overall I really felt the voicework and sound design to be quite well-done. The opening and closing songs really convey the feel of the show quite well, and the characters’ voices – at least in the Japanese version – all fit quite well. None of the voices were particularly annoying, none of the music was out-of-place, and everything just felt right about it. Which is incredibly important – even more so than it would be in a live action show or a video game, because in this they don’t have much else to use to convey these things since emotion is very hard to animate well without going way over the top.
The series spans 11 episodes, which in some ways feels far too long, yet in other ways feels just right. You see, for a number of episodes, very little substance is seen. I’m fairly certain I would have put this show down after episode 1 or 2 if not for Menma herself. Her cheerful demeanor, her humour, and just her overall personality help to make even the early episodes interesting. And then, when you get into the later episodes, as the characters begin to develop and the story – both in the present and the back story of the day it all went wrong – things start to get really fascinating. So, without those ’empty’ episodes, it would have been hard to appreciate the course the show took – or the destination it ended up reaching. And the final episode is so moving and utterly heart-wrenching that tears are unavoidable. Prepare yourself – at least with kleenex, maybe a cute stuffed animal or a shoulder to lean on – you will not go unmoved.
I think the best way I can describe this anime is strange, unnerving, and emotional. Between the decision to have nearly every character be unlikable, the kind-of awkward story, the strange reactions the characters had to the tragic incident, and the overall conclusion, it can be hard to really get into it… but if you manage to pay the time to get past the first few episodes and get to the meat of the show, it will definitely be worth your time.