Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
A tight knit group of friends drift apart after a tragic event causes the death of one of their number. Many years later, an extraordinary event causes their lives to cross once again.
Anohana is the kind of show that the animé community at large claims that it wants to see. Listen to the grapevine, glance over the often nonsensical but occasionally interesting comments on anonymous animé websites, and you will see a desire for 'original' productions that are not adaptations of manga, games or light novels, etc. This is a fair enough desire, in my opinion. Adaptations are far, far more common in animé than in most media popular media (movies are perhaps the closest) and it would be more ideal if we get to see more shows created specifically for animé and the style of its medium. Another thing about Anohana that is worth noting is that, like its synchronic companion Hanusaku Iroha, the show is an awful lot less... animé-ish than what I'm used to seeing each season from the majority of shows. It's true we have cute girls and so forth but there seems to be a distinct shift towards 'realism' in a way that I find particularly interesting. When I say realism, I do not mean a move away from fantasy or fantastic elements (Anohana has a fantastic element or two) but a move towards a more live-action style of presentation and a more real-life attitude towards its themes and characters. Character designs are 'less' idolised (or about as idolised as real actors and actresses) and environments are more relatable, less caricatured, than is the norm. The character interactions are less stylised too, relying on less overt reactions to convey meaning than the use of visual cues like volcanic nosebleeds or heightened responses like tsundere punches and the like. I am not saying this is new, of course; in fact, it is one of the oldest uses for animé (look back to the sports animé of the 80s and 90s particularly) but it is a certainly a move away from the extreme moe stylisation of the majority of animé today.
This does give me mixed feelings, though. Part of what is interesting about animé is that it is different from the entertainment offered by live-action productions and I cannot help but feel a little disappointed when I come across shows that could easily have been done as live-action shows almost shot for shot. Animation, for me, is at its best when it is expressing something special and different from real life footage. Anohana does not do that. Anohana is done in such a way that it could have been a J-drama (or could still become one) with almost no changes at all. Luckily, (no matter how 'less than ideal' this is for me) it certainly does not take away the fact that this is a very good show.
In terms of peripheries, the show delivers. The character designs are varied and pretty and the music is spot on for what is an emotional show. The animation has no readily noticeable flaws and the detail shown in the interactions between characters is one of the key qualities of the show's overall experience. The basic premise for the show is also a great starting point. The concept of close friends who have drifted apart is an affecting one and one I am sure most people can relate to without much difficulty. The breakdown of relationships, with all the regret and ill feeling that goes with it, is well portrayed and explored over such a short number of episodes. In terms of plotting, Anohana is a show that uses its runtime astonishingly well for the most part (exceptions will be discussed later) - the pacing is excellent and its emotional highs arrive without reservation or a hint of deviance. I never once got the sense that the show was wandering, the makers always seeming to have the plot and its steady progression well in hand.
In the end, with a show that centres on metaphorical burnt bridges, it was always going to be the characters and their relationships that would make or break this show. Jintan, the lead, is a character that it would be easy to hate; he is gloomy, static and prone to self-pitying sulks. The rest of the living friends aren't much better: Anaru is a weak-willed tsundere, Tsuruko is bitchy and snarky, Yukiatsu is hateful and creepy and Poppo tries so hard to be fun and carefree it is almost painful to watch (yet he is still the most likeable). But you said this show was good, I hear you say? It is, it is - that is the beauty of character development. Despite being quite negative characters, each one has at least something positive and emphatic that makes them worthwhile; the sheer volume of well-portrayed unrequited love amongst the cast and the individual ways that each character approaches those feelings and the feelings they have over Menma's death are varied, interesting and relatable. The frustrating aspects of each character never go far enough to be repulsive (not even Yukiatsu, though he certainly pushes it) and in the end I found myself backing each of them despite their more annoying aspects. Where the characterisation does go wrong is in the character of Menma. In a story populated by flawed but interesting characters, she stands out like a cardboard cut-out at a waxworks - coming across completely flat. It's understandable considering her position as a less developed (and less warped) character but even if she were to exist as little more than a plot device (she is more than that but her development over the series is definitely the most limited) then at least they could have made her a little less annoying. Just a little bit. She is certainly not a failure as a character, she is a core part of Jintan's growth, but I have met people who abandoned this series because of the volume of screen time she enjoys, especially at the beginning of the show.
Overall, though, this series achieves what it set out to do. The strong characterisation and solid story pacing allows for those big drama moments to hit hard and it rounds itself off as an enjoyable, beautiful spectacle throughout and especially at the end. If you are looking for a subtle, affecting show then this is not it but it is a well written, beautiful and often moving show and well worth a look for those looking for a little less 'animé' in their animé.
It is a very good show but it does not push enough boundaries to warrant a fifth star when I consider its slight missteps. Take away a star if Menma really bothers you or you have no tolerance for self-pity from your protagonists but add one if you really crave something away from the overly stylised mould. — Aiden Foote
Recommended Audience: Anybody who is a teenager or older should be perfectly fine with this. This is a series that deals with serious topics like trauma, death and such like which may not be appropriate for young children.
Version(s) Viewed: digital source
Review Status: Full (11/11)
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day © 2011 ANOHANA PROJECT
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