I largely passed up on watching new anime in 2011, spending most of my time watching older series and Western television. One show that I was continually bugged about was AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day. It was a big hit in 2011, and NIS licensed it to much fanfare. May as well watch it, and see what all the hubbub was about.
The show is about a scuttled friendship in the wake of the death of a friend. Our protagonist is haunted by this girl's ghost years down the line, and now has to unravel the mystery behind how to get her to heaven, and just how this group's friendship faltered all those years ago.
AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day
Production Company: A-1 Pictures
Licensor: NIS America
We begin this series with the lonely high school dropout Jinta, who is in the unfortunate position of being haunted by his dead friend, Menma. She died when they were children, but this ghostly version of his friend has grown up with him in the physical sense -- emotionally, she's just as optimistic and kindhearted as when she was alive. It must be great to have your friend back, but at what cost to your sanity? This is Jinta's problem. He can't just chat up a ghost that incessantly follows him and expect people to not think he's crazy.
Thus, Jinta has only one thing he can do: Figure out what unresolved issue is keeping Menma stuck on Earth, and solve it. This is the central plot that drives AnoHana, making the show as much of a mystery title as it is a romance and a human drama one.
Jinta was not always a NEET. Back in the times before Menma's death, he was the charismatic leader of his group of friends, affectionately titled "Super Peace Busters." That group of friends splintered in the wake of Menma's death, with each person reacting in their own way to the death itself and the events that happened that day. In order to send Menma to heaven, Jinta needs to enter the larger world and find out what Menma's wish was. That means interacting with all those former Peace Busters that he's long-since avoided.
Asking "what went wrong" with a friendship is never an easy thing, especially when everyone somehow feels responsible for the death of a friend. The show takes a long, hard look at everyone's relationships -- the romances, the jealousies -- and lays them all on the table. Some scenes in AnoHana can be gut-wrenching. Everyone put a dam on their emotions, but with Jinta poking around about the past, the memories quickly break the floodgates and threaten to drown the characters.
AnoHana grants each character enough screen time to delve into their issues in a complete manner. At 11 episodes in length, AnoHana manages to balance the in-depth nature of character development with the over-arching plot. At times, the show does slow down and focuses on certain characters for too long -- Yukiatsu's obsession with Menma, for example -- but it is not a major detriment. There are other items I would have preferred to developed more, such as Jinta and Anaru's relationship, but leave that one to the fan fiction and doujin community.
Coming from A-1 Pictures, the people who brought us Kannagi, Big Windup!, and Space Brothers, it's hard to complain about the show's visual prowess. Extremely competent animation guides us through the majority of the show, and a handful of key moments take the leap into something spectacular. I wish for more moments like that -- and it was certainly doable, considering the show dealt with the extraordinary, but that isn't the forte of director Tatsuyuki Nagai. He focuses on character drama, pulling from his experience directing Toradora! and Idolmaster: Xenoglossia. Once again, he does a masterful job with AnoHana. There are still several scenes that stick in my mind, weeks after watching the series. That's a testament to a great show.
There is very little to detract from AnoHana. Upon watching the first episode, I was worried the show would be nothing short of depressing, leaving me an emotional wreck for the entire time I watched the show. Some moments brought me down, but it was one sequence in an up-and-down wave of feelings that moved me throughout the series. AnoHana is not a show that will necessarily make a lot of money and be labeled a "commercial success." The show is a flag in the ground for artistic and worthwhile anime. In time, AnoHana will be considered one of the hallmarks of a series with great merit to it, and standard viewing for anyone wishing to discuss shows for something more than their big explosions or busty females.
9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.
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