Sunday, March 22, 2015

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day

Title: Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
Writer: Mari Okada
Director: Tatsuyuki Nagai
Episodes: 11

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.

Crunchyroll | Hulu | Amazon

I'm trying to keep this post spoiler free, but no promises. Skip to the bottom for a quick summary of my review.

Do you ever have that late night craving to watch anime, but you don't want to watch something you've already seen, and you really aren't feeling the anime in your to-watch queue? When I have nights like this I inevitably end up browsing Crunchyroll or Youtube until I find something to sate my craving. This was the mood I was in when I first stumbled across Anohana.

I started the first episode and for the first five minutes I didn't expect to continue the series. (I try to give anime at least two episodes before calling it if I'm not feeling it.) When Menma shows up as this loud energetic girl I thought "here we go another sister with a brother complex" (then I thought "oh, she's a annoyingly cutesy neighbor, not his sister" which wasn't much of an improvement) and was already slating this as a did not finish series. Then the Moment happened;[View Spoiler]

[the moment when the audience is let in on the fact that she's his dead friend and he's convinced that he's finally losing it.]

I mentally stopped shelving the series and found myself completely engrossed. With each passing second, minute, and hour I became more and more absorbed in this series. The emotion in this series is raw and beautiful. It basically follows a group of friends and how they deal with the death of their childhood friend. [View Spoiler]

[There's a bit of a paranormal element to the series, but throughout most of it the audience is convinced that Menma is really just a symptom of the main character Jintan's grief of not just losing Menma, but losing the rest of his friends.]

What makes the series so compelling is the realistic way in which the characters deal with their grief as well as the way in which these childhood friends begin to reconnect with each other. While not everyone can relate to the death of a loved one, there isn't a single person who can't relate to growing apart from a friend, possibly to the extent of hating someone who was once a treasured friend. Watching the group's friendship reawaken over the reemergence of Menma, even if most of them are convinced Jinta's just stuck in the past, was something I connected to on a personal level. The hurt feelings, misunderstandings, awkward moments, self-hate, and unrequited love that the characters experience throughout the series added another level of realism to this slice of life.

There isn't a character in this series I didn't like or care about. They were all hurting for the same reason and a host of different reasons related to the situation. Watching each character work out their feelings and realize they need each other had my emotions in constant free fall. I think I pretty much cried my way through the last two episodes. I related to Jinta's determination, Naruko's insecurity, Atsumu's surliness, Chiriko's acceptance, Poppo's escapism, and Menma's endless capacity to love.

My favorite relationship in the series is probably between Atsumu and Chiriko. They're the only two of the childhood group (named the Super Peace Busters) who remained friends as high school students. Atsumu's simmering grief over Menma and the way in which Chiriko supports him in her quiet, yet forceful way, shows a level of tenderness that's hard not to sympathize with. When Chiriko sets the stage for Atsumu to not only reveal his grief, but also to confront his resentment towards Jinta I couldn't help, but think that's true friendship.

I also loved how the audience gets to know the characters not just as teens, but as their past selves through flashbacks. We're given glimpses into these children's lives primarily on the last day of Menma's life. Through this we get a better idea of how they were effected by tragedy. [View Spoiler]

[One of the more powerful scenes in the series is when Menma reveals herself to the group through her journal and they're finally convinced she's not just a figment of a deranged mind. In this scene we see a past memory superimposed over current day and it was just perfect.]

My only issue with the series, and it's a minor one, is the hint of fan service in some of the drawings, particularly of Naruko. While this is a subtle thing, I still found the suggestive poses annoying. One of my biggest pet peeves is unnecessary fan service in animes where it doesn't really make any sort of sense to have it. Anohana is one of those animes.

The ending of this anime, and I'm not going to spoil it because it's one of the most beautiful endings to an anime I've ever watched, is amazing in it's perfection. Make sure to have a tissue handy as only a monster would be incapable of shedding tears while watching it. My previous statement might be a bit harsh, but seriously if you watched this series and didn't have any sort of pang or feels you might be dead inside. (Not sure that last statement was more or less harsh than the previous. I need to work on my diplomacy skills.)

Final Thoughts

This is an instant favorite! Not only is the story realistic it's highly engaging. The characters have a level of depth, often missing in a series, that makes it impossible not to experience their emotions as your own. There's a good chance you'll experience some ugly crying while watching it, so keep a tissue nearby. I recommend this to people who liked Bokura ga ita (We Were There) or Sunadokei (Sand Chronicles). All three are highly emotional series that deal with grief in real life situations.

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