Dealing with the death of a friend or loved one isn’t easy, no matter how old you are, and everyone comes to terms with their loss in different ways. Adults can drink themselves into a stupor in an effort to dull the pain, take off on a journey of self-discovery, bury themselves in their work, or find some other coping mechanism. Unfortunately the same isn’t true for children, and all too often they are unable to truly deal with the emotional turmoil that occurs. Now it may seem a bit odd to talk about death, grief, and learning to deal with the loss of someone close, but essentially that’s what Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day), is all about. This is an Anohana review.
The story opens with Yadomi Jinta, a seemingly grumpy teenager who is playing a game in his room on a hot summer’s day whilst his childhood friend Honma Meiko (Menma), pesters him repeatedly. Having had enough of the game, Jinta decides to make lunch, but only for himself and his father which annoys Menma no end as she also wants to eat the ramen he has made.
It all seems like a fairly normal, everyday scene that one might see in anime, but not everything is as it seems …
On the surface AnoHana looks like a fairly straightforward tale of teenagers learning to deal with a past trauma and maturing in the process, and for the most part that’s a fairly accurate perception. The plot is well constructed and takes a measured, almost methodical approach to events which is reflected in the often placid tone of the narrative. Unfortunately this leads to a degree of predictability as certain events in the storyline are clearly foreshadowed, and while the series promotes a degree of empathy for the characters and their situation, there may be occasions where viewers want the story to get to the point.
One surprising aspect is the manner in which flashbacks are used to punctuate specific occurrences or emotions, whilst adding historical context to the relationship between Jinta, Menma, and the rest of the “Super Peace Busters”. These sojourns into memory act as a nice counterpoint to the current state of relations between the characters, and highlight just how much has changed for each of them over the last ten years.
This contrast is also reflected in the visuals, and while there is a marked difference in the appearance of almost all of the Super Peace Busters, it’s actually the subtle contextual setting that makes the change much more pronounced. The key thing to remember is that people often romanticise personal history and memories, especially if one has undergone some kind of trauma, and AnoHana plays on this by sharpening the focus and darkening the tones on the present day, which contrasts with the soft focus flashbacks that are often filled with “light”.
The design itself is well handled, but while efforts have been made to really highlight the changes ten years can make to a child’s physical growth, it’s the character animation that stands out. A-1 Pictures have tried to visualize the movement differences between a child and an adolescent, and while there are a few niggles here and there, the overall effect promotes the sense that the characters are no longer the children they once were.
Because AnoHana is a character driven piece there is a heavy emphasis placed on the dialogue, and while the majority of the script is actually pretty intuitive, the manner of speech during the flashback scenes can sometimes seem a bit odd. Thankfully the series has some very talented seiyuu on hand, and it’s interesting to note that some of the roles feature two different voice actors – one for the present day and one for the past.
Each role is given due care and attention, so it’s unfortunate that even with so much talent on hand, there are a few issues from time to time as the seiyuu handling the child roles are all adults. Now while this may be standard practice in the industry, studios like Ghibli have proven time and again that children are much more capable of playing the younger roles than the majority of adults, and while the relatively minor flaws in the dialogue do stand out, one has to wonder how different the series could have been if child actors had been used.
AnoHana features a number of slow pieces of background music performed on piano or guitar that reflect the measured plot and add a slightly bittersweet air to the storyline. The opening theme, Aoi Shiori by Galileo Galilei, features a sequence that shows the characters in their past and present forms and hints at the the reason for their emotional difficulties. The ending sequence features a montage of the three girls of the Super Peace Busters, Menma, Anjou Naruko (Anaru), and Tsurumi Chiriko (Tsuruko), and is set to Secret Base ~Kimi ga Kureta Mono~ (10 years after Version), which is a cover of the 2001 single by Zone and is performed by Kayano Ai, Tomatsu Haruka and Hayami Saori, the seiyuu who play the roles of Menma, Anaru and Tsuruko.
Now given the nature of the series and the near constant focus on the characters, certain viewers may assume that AnoHana should feature almost continuous development, so it may come as a surprise to some people that the show takes more of a “stop-start” approach. Because of the attempt to apply a degree of realism to the characters and the emphasis on depicting them as plausible, any attempts at continuous development would seem overly contrived.
Balancing that though, is some rather strong characterisation. One of the key things to remember about each person in the story is that they have experienced a specific defining moment in their lives, and that allows the characters to be depicted as individuals from the start. The strength of the characterisation is even more palpable if one compares the present versions of the Super Peace Busters with their past selves from the flashbacks. That said, there are occasions where the story has difficulty finding a resolution to a given situation so it can sometimes seem as though events are being dragged on in a effort to develop the characters.
AnoHana is a surprisingly simple, yet slightly over sentimental, look at the coping mechanisms of children and adolescents when coming to terms with a past trauma, and in that respect it’s one of the more surprising titles of the last few years. The series errs more on the side of soap opera than outright drama from time to time, but like many of the other relatively minor flaws, this can be forgiven in light of the fact that the subject matter is well managed and delivered. In truth, the closest neighbour to AnoHana would probably be Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 as that also highlights the difficulty children have in dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one.
I would say that I definitely enjoyed watching Anohana despite the sombre story it presented. In that sense, it was the way the show drew me in and made me sympathise with its characters, as someone who has experienced similar loss in childhood, so I was personally able to relate to the characters very well. It had some genuinely entertaining moments throughout the course of the show, and even though AnoHana isn’t a story without flaws, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, the reverse is true as while the series does take a slightly romanticised look at the characters and events, the constant element of realism that runs through the narrative sets this anime apart from many others. However that exaggeration that the show presents is a great way to show the actual impact and magnitude of loss, and people who relate can understand that although the feelings may not be as potent as displayed in Anohana, it feels as if they weigh you down and destroy you. I could go on and on about how accurate this show is (nevermind the exaggeration) in terms of showing those feelings and amplifying them to a degree where it’s easy to see how they would have a lasting impact on somebody.
If nothing else, AnoHana is a great example of how good a completely original anime can be.