Sep 12, 2011Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shi... (Anime) add
11 of 11 episodes seen
The first episode was solid, introducing Jintan, our moody, teenage protagonist; his father, who says “kawaii!” more often the worst fangirl-stereotype; and Menma, a ghost or something who used to be Jintan's childhood friend and has returned to our world to get her wish granted. Apparently no one except Jintan can see her, but does have a physical presence. Not the most original story ever, but it sounds good enough and just a few minutes in I'm already impressed by the art and animation. Menma acts like a child and it really wears on Jintan (and me), he suggests that she’s a manifestation of the summer heat. But of course it can’t be helped and Jintan asks her about her wish, and it turns out that Menma doesn't remember what it is! So that’s going to be the plot of the whole show, finding out Menma’s wish and then granting it. Sounds like we’re going to have one of those clichéd, cheesy, overdone and somehow still so moving endings that anime often does well.
We're then introduced to Jintan’s former friends: Anaru, a red-headed girl with a harsh personality, and Tsuruko and Yukiatsu, two serious-seeming former friends of Jintan’s who seem to have an equally harsh attitude towards him. We also discover he’s recently become a hikikomori. Maybe he's somehow responsible for Menma's death? Maybe everyone else in the town knows it, it would explain why everyone seems to hate him, and why he doesn’t want to leave his house. I’m already imagining a glorious climax where Jintan changes his hikikomori ways, is accepted by the town, confronts his own feelings of guilt, and to top it all off, gets a very nice romantic ending that makes the awful childhood friend cliché work.
If only. We get a flashback to the cast’s elementary school days. They’re in a clubhouse, and one of them asks Jintan if he likes Menma, and Jintan responds like any grade school boy would. This makes Menma oh so very sad and she runs out of the clubhouse. Jintan feels bad and decides to apologize, but Menma dies in an accident before he’s able to. Back in the present Menma has left Jintan’s house to visit her parents and Jintan decides to look for her and apologize. While looking for her he goes to the clubhouse and finds the last of his five old friends, Poppo. He doesn’t seem to dislike Jintan at all, and come to think of it, isn’t Anaru an obvious tsundere? It was starting to sound a lot less interesting, and then the ED played and any doubt I had about this show evaporated. The ED theme itself is excellent and the way it always begins at exactly the right time is a wonderful touch, it really heightens the mood.
The second episode seemed very good. It started on a bad note, with Poppo instantly believing that Jintan has seen the ghost of his dead friend, and has another pretty soon, when Poppo suggests that Menma’s wish to catch a rare “Nokemon.” Poppo, Jintan, and Menma went to a video store to buy an old Nokemon game and it turns out Anaru works there! She was at least somewhat skeptical of Jintan’s crazy story, but she showed her deredere side and the four of them go to Anaru’s house to play video games. Menma was very impressed by Anaru’s room, which is full of video games and manga, just like when they were kids. It’s hard to make something like playing Pokémon be interesting on the screen, but this episode succeeded at it. The sense of nostalgia for their carefree childhood was expressed very well, and the annoying requirement to trade with another cartridge to get certain “Nokemon” is used to make the same trite, childish, and unforgettable point about the importance of friendship that children’s shows made. It was like I was watching Pokémon again for the first time, with the same sense of wonder I had as a child. I’d got a similar feeling about my other favorite childhood show, Sailor Moon, from watching the last episode of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica not so long before this, and that took an entire twelve episodes to set up! Removing all doubts once again, and wondering if it would even been possible for this show to top itself, I eagerly awaited the third episode.
The third episode was okay. Jintan tries and fails to return to school (I thought this was a very nice touch – it was a good way to show Jintan’s mental state without beating the audience over the head with it as many anime do). Menma tries to make the muffins that Jintan’s mother had made in their childhoods – they don’t turn out well. The studious girl, Tsurumi, starts to show up more regularly in this episode, and she joins in Jintan, Anaru, Poppo, and…Menma…in their Menma Search Party. A major doubt I’d been having gets addressed here – we get a real sense of Anaru and Tsurumi’s uncertainty about whether Menma is actually there. This episode also treats us to our first plot twist – suddenly, there’s another Menma that Yukiatsu can see!
It ended up being as dumb as it sounded. In the fourth episode we find out Yukiatsu was actually running around in the forest in Menma’s white one piece, when the Menma Search Party finds him he instantly regains his composure and points out how absurd the whole situation is. He abuses Jintan very personally at accuses him of making up Menma’s ghost to try to get back the friends he doesn’t deserve – ouch. This isn’t the moment I would have chosen to have Jintan prove Menma’s existence to everyone…and then he doesn’t. Huh? What was the point of this? And come to think of it, why hasn’t Jintan proved that Menma is there already? We know she can lift things if she made muffins, and showing everyone a levitating bowl would at least prove that something supernatural was going on…and if the rest of them aren’t sure she exists, why are they following along? Why would they be looking for Menma when Jintan has already said they wouldn’t be able to see her? We also find that Yukiatsu has a broom with a wig and a dress on it that he treats like Menma (and his feelings are definitely romantic). I found a high school student still being in love with his friend from elementary intensely weird – not too weird for anime, but definitely out of place in a more “serious” drama. Turns out I could not have been wrong, and we end up seeing a lot more of this.
The fifth episode is where things really start to go downhill. It is filled with tears, one bout of crying after another from multiple characters (and it’s going to get a lot worse, episodes eight, ten, and especially eleven go way too far in this area.) We meet Anaru’s catty friends – I’m struck by the fact that she still seems pretty well-adjusted by the standards of this show – and get another flashback – this time showing us a love quadrangle between second-graders. As if it’s not unrealistic enough for our entirely pre-pubescent cast to have these kinds of romantic emotions, they all feel the same way now as they did back then. It’s the worst kind of writing – taking something that’s already kind of cliché and making it worse. This isn’t just a cute moment, either, it’s central to the rest of the story. There was also a really terrible almost-rape scene involving Anaru and some guy (the event will never be mentioned again, of course, as the whole thing was just a transparent plot device) at a love hotel where she gets saved by Yukiatsu. I guess it was supposed to make Yukiatsu and Anaru more sympathetic – but then I already didn’t hate Yukiatsu, because no matter how much of a jerk he can come off as, at least he’s sensible enough not to believe his shut-in friend’s ghost story without any evidence.
Jintan goes back to school for a few hours in the sixth episode – but now there are rumors about Anaru and her experience with the love hotel. Jintan feels like he has to defend her and does. At the time this seemed unlike him but later we find out that he had a “leader’s” personality as a child and his current personality comes back very quickly whenever he’s confronted with a major problem– this was actually very good characterization and showed a solid understanding of the mentality of most hikikomori, something the previous episode was definitely lacking in. In the second half of the episode Jintan, Anaru, and Poppo visit Menma’s house – her m other seems oddly willing to let them go through all of Menma’s things and we don’t get any idea at this point that she’s not as over her daughter’s death as any mother could be.
In seventh episode we come back to the main plot thread. Menma’s wish is to send a message to God in a rocket asking for Jintan’s sick mother to get better. Seems kind of pointless, seeing as Jintan’s mother is already dead, I hope this isn’t another obviously wrong wish! In any case Jintan and Poppo start to work to get the money to buy a rocket and Jintan asks his father to look into how to get a permit. Why any of them besides Jintan are willing to do this when there’s absolutely no evidence that Menma is actually there I just don’t understand. He works so hard to make the money that Anaru started to worry about his health, and at this point she confesses her love to him. There didn’t come out of nowhere, there was foreshadowing here, most of which I didn’t get into, but that doesn’t mean this was handled well. Anaru talks about how she felt inferior to Menma in elementary school because Jintan liked Menma more than her, which makes sense, but why is it she still feels that way now? She can’t actually think of Menma as romantic competition ten years later, can she? But then again, this is Ano Hana, where elementary school crushes are serious business, forever. Jintan’s work ends up being in vain because Menma’s parents have told the man who makes the rockets not to waste time on high school students. Huh?
In the eighth episode we find out that Menma’s mother resents the main cast for being alive when her daughter couldn’t be, and thinks they’re all just messing around at her expense. No problems here, in fact it’s pretty good and not over the top, even without allowing for this genre, but why wasn’t she like this in the first place? Yukiatsu accuses Jintan of making up a story to help him push his negative feelings onto everyone else. I’ve got to say, it would have been completely convinced by this if I hadn’t known Menma was really there, maybe Jintan ought to have had Menma lift something to prove that she was. It’s pretty obvious and would have saved him a lot of grief! But he doesn’t. He keeps working to get money for the rockets anyway and goes to beg Menma’s father for permission to use one – he says yes, making the whole thing with Menma’s mother pointless except as a way to add even more melodrama and gets Menma’s mother’s character out there. It’s not awful writing, but it came across as a transparent plot device. A bit later, Anaru, Yukiatsu, and Tsurumi finally ask for proof that Menma actually exists and an for explanation for all the silent phone calls they’ve started getting, and then get it when she drops her diary on the floor with a new message in it. FINALLY. In the last four episodes a huge amount of time was spent focusing on the character’s doubts about Menma – every single second of that served no purpose; every opportunity to advance the story that time should have given the writers was sacrificed for the sake of meaningless drama.
There are some “slice-of-life” style nostalgia moments in the ninth episode that were pleasant enough, not quite matching episode two, but still good. More importantly for me, Poppo finally, after the fact, notices how dumb it is that Menma never tried to prove her existence in the first place despite how easy it would have been. “Jintan must be a real idiot,” he says, but there’s no good reason to think he’s dumb enough not to have figured this out, and even if he was, why didn’t anyone else think of it? Yukiatsu and Tsurumi are at the top of the class and didn’t, Anaru is nowhere near as dumb as she acts, and Poppo is no idiot himself. Arguably it is true that something like this (as in the diary) was necessary to prove it was Menma and not some other entity, but that’s not what I’m saying. Prior to the diary falling, everyone except Jintan has doubts that there is anything there at all, and those doubts, which would seem very well-founded to the characters, could have been dispelled in an instant. And after confirming that there is some invisible entity hanging around Jintan, and that it can lift things, someone – including Jintan himself – should have thought of having it try to write. The writer tries to cover this up by making it so that Menma can only write in the secret base – no real reason this should be so, it just is – but that still means nothing. She can lift things and make bread outside of the secret base, it would have been completely trivial to make her presence known from day one. Arguably this was necessary for the plot to play out as it did, but when something as lazy as this is necessary to keep the story going we should come to realize that the story has a major problem. There are some better answers that get suggested: Yukiatsu suggests that it’s because Jintan wants to keep Menma all to himself, which would make sense if he hadn’t spent the last eight episodes trying to convince everyone that she really did exist. I’ve heard it suggested by fans that Jintan didn’t try to prove it to anyone else because he had his doubts about Menma’s existence that he didn’t want to see confirmed – this falls apart, too, as we saw in the first episode Anaru noticed Menma’s weight, and in the eighth that she can call people on the phone, so he should already have known that other people can, at some level, tell that Menma is there.
In the tenth episode Poppo finally gets some development – this late in the game it serves no real purpose and it’s not worth mentioning except as another example of wasted potential. The girls tell each other about how they’ve both held on to their elementary school crushes who have yet to get over their elementary school crush – in Tsuriko’s case it makes sense, since she at least spends time with Yukiatsu (who is suddenly willing to consider it!), in Anaru’s case it’s almost as crazy as it is in Yukiatsu’s. They all pressure Jintan to admit that he was in love with Menma, and he does – Anaru seems pretty unhappy about it. Anyway they fire the rocket, Jintan tries to stop it, deciding he really doesn’t want Menma to leave, but the rocket goes up and…
Menma is still there. The rocket wasn’t her wish. Everything about the rocket was a waste of time, too. Why would they do that in an eleven episode anime? It’s already as short as a TV anime could have been, did they really have to fill that much time? It actually turns out that Menma’s wish was for Jintan to cry about his mother’s death. Seemed odd that we haven’t really heard anything about that, but I like the idea very much, it could be made to fit in with a theme of accepting what happens and has happened and moving beyond that emotionally combined with a more universal story about growing up – not that we can get any of that. Every bit of character development we’ve be able to see underneath all the melodrama is thrown away for the sake of an all-crying episode. Menma goes on, and before she leaves she writes individual farewell notes for each of her friends. I thought they were touching and made for a really good final scene – and this made me sadder than the show itself ever did, that writers who were capable of moments like this one, the Nokemon scene, and every scene with Menma’s mother except the first wasted what talents they did have on this mess of a story.
Now for the good parts! There are more, in fact apart from the story and characters it was well above-average. I already mentioned the ED, but it needs to be mentioned again, it was so good that it was able to add emotion even to a lot of the silly melodrama in the later episodes. The OP and BGM are also above average, though they can't hold a candle to the ED. Tomatsu Haruka’s performance as Anaru was very good, and Kayano Ai’s as Menma matched her character perfectly. The art and character designs aren’t anything that hasn’t been done before, but both are done well, in particular Ano Hana has excellent background art and the foreground animation blends in with it quite well. Scenes that take place in unlit places like forests are never drawn too dark for the viewers to see in, that kind of thing always bugs me and I’m glad they didn’t do it here. Though the plot as a whole was a mess, there were some excellent scenes; in addition to the ones I already mentioned the rocket-launching scene in episode ten would have been very good if I could have brought myself to care about the characters, and Jintan’s character, when he’s allowed to show it, is much better developed than most protagonists. While in my opinion this specific childhood tragedy has had a pretty unrealistically big effect on the teenaged characters (minus the romance I would have been able to suspend disbelief, though) the concept of childhood tragedy binding all our characters to the past is smart and refreshing.
Whatever you do, don’t just listen to me. Go watch Ano Hana. It’s only eleven episodes, and before the story collapses on itself it’s pretty entertaining. Going by my anime list, where I gave this show 4 out of 10, 99.2% of you will like this show more than I did, and even I would tell anyone who likes dramas even a little that this is worth trying out. If you do end up liking this anime (and even if you don’t!), consider Clannad and Clannad: After Story, which also have very good art and music, cute characters, romance, and plenty of drama, but avoid many of Ano Hana’s failings. read more