Anime Reviews: AnoHana
Even though slice-of-life high school anime are now the subject of ridicule, AnoHana proves that there's still fire in this old and dying genre.
Title: AnoHana a.k.a. AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day a.k.a. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai a.k.a. We Still Don't Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day
Production: A-1 Pictures
Series Length: 11 episodes
Air Dates: 4/15/2011 to 6/24/2011
Age Rating: 7+ (mild language, brief suggestive content)
Summary: Jinta Yadomi, or Jintan, lives out his teenage days skipping school, barely showing his face to the outside world. Ever since one fateful day 10 years ago, he has distanced himself from his friends and family. On that day, one member of his group of friends, Meiko "Menma" Honma, was killed in a tragic accident, causing the others to drift apart and/or refuse to associate with each other. All of this changes, however, when the spirit of Menma (who has aged just as if she were still alive) appears to Jintan, asking him to grant her wish. Because she cannot remember what her wish even was, and no one else can seem to see her, Jintan must perform two impossible feats: Convince his long-lost friends to come together once more, and fulfill the wish of a person they cannot see.
The Good: The very premise; gorgeous visuals; touching character-driven story
The Bad: The ending is a bit too sappy
The Ugly: Sony Music Japan is a bloody tyrant who deprives us all of watching the incredible opening animation
Oh God, another slice-of-life anime about high school kids. Really, Japan? Haven't you had enough of this genre yet? ...No? Urgh, alright. It can't possibly be worse than effing Lucky Star--wait, what? AnoHana is actually good? And not just good, but great?! That's right, kids, we got us here a diamond in the pig slop of high school anime. If 2011 had been any other year in anime history (except 1998), I could easily call AnoHana the best anime of that year, but as it turned out, 2011 also gave us Madoka Magica, Steins;Gate, Bunny Drop, and Tiger & Bunny, which are all also very strong series. Five great shows in a single year is just ludicrous anymore.
Alright, so why am I blowing this series' horn so proudly? Well, aside from causing me to ask suggestive questions, I believe the premise itself is part of the reason I and many others respond so strongly and positively towards AnoHana. A group of tightly-knit friends, torn apart by the hands of fate, overcoming all boundaries and limits to be brought back together by their childhood memories...man, I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking about it. We seriously need more fiction that adopts this kind of storyline, because I must have more. (And no, Stephen King's IT doesn't count. Because it sucks.)
Now then, with that out of my system, let's talk about the series proper. To begin with, AnoHana is a very, very good-looking series. Funny how that's more common now than it used to be. But anyway, the character designs are simple and attractive, if a little on the 'moe' side. Colors are also bright and vibrant, particularly in the backgrounds, where the skies can be as blue and beautiful as the real thing and more mundane locations like Jintan's room are still given an exquisite amount of life and detail. I'm talking anal-retentive Kyoto Animation levels of background detail here. This would all be fine on its own, but they also make it a point to make the animation smooth and nuanced, as well. AnoHana is delicious eye candy.
Unsurprisingly, it's also ear candy. To discuss it briefly, the voice acting is perfect for these characters. There was never a single moment where I didn't buy any of the performances. I haven't heard anything about an English adaptation yet, but I'm sure that, when it finally comes out, it will be given Grade-A treatment. Oh, and the opening theme is downright awe-inspiring, especially in conjunction with the animation accompanying it. Wish I could show you, but Sony Music Japan is The Devil and won't let me.
But hey, that's not what's important. The characters and the story are, of course! The premise can only hold our attention so long, but good character development can keep us enthralled as long as it can be sustained. Luckily for us, it keeps its momentum all the way through! Our heroes start off pretty much at their worst--Jintan is an apathetic recluse, Yukiatsu and Tsuruko are deplorable snobs, Anaru is shallow and snippy, and Poppo is really the only genuinely nice one--but they aren't bad characters from a storytelling standpoint. We're supposed to be put off by these people, wondering how they could have possibly ever been friends. And lo and behold, we eventually see why, both in flashbacks and in the present. Every aspect of these characters are slowly unraveled, giving us the whole picture we so longed for, and the results are beautiful.
It also helps that the story enacted by these characters is not only touching, but surprisingly poignant. Of course, it's hardly a spoiler to say that the group is eventually brought back together, but they've aged so much since their last meeting that there are conflicts and serious barriers that divide them. And throughout the story, we are reminded that both people and circumstances change, seemingly never to be any reconciliation. The past is simple and happy, but the present is anything but. Life is unpredictable, cruel, and beautiful. And AnoHana, in particular, encapsulates all of that and so much more. As the story unfolds to its conclusion, it's heart-wrenching and bittersweet, and it's everything you could ever ask for out of a story...
And then they screwed it up.
Instead of just leaving a perfectly good ending go without incident, they take it one step too far, and what was once tear-jerking perfection turns into awful melodramatic crap in the final few minutes. I can understand what they were going for; I can understand that they were trying to soften the blow of the previous events while being heartwarming and hopeful, but it completely ruins everything that came before it. I can't even give any specifics, because we're going into heinous spoiler territory, but I was so let down by the last few minutes of this series.
But that does not, in any way, mean that this is a bad series. Au contraire, it's one of the stronger titles in the Almighty 2011 Pantheon, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any anime fan. It looks great, it sounds great, and its premise drives a heartfelt story that is sure to make even the most cynical among us shed a tear at least once. It's not quite at CLANNAD ~After Story~ levels of twin-waterfall tears, but I'll be darned if it didn't get close at times.
Final Score: 9 out of 10. While the ending is botched at the last minute by some unneeded melodrama, AnoHana is a heart-rending and beautiful story that should satisfy the cathartic needs of any anime fan looking for a powerful drama.