Serious Analysis: Ano Hana
AnoHana, short for Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day) is probably the best anime to come out this season. Even then, I wouldn’t just preclude it to being great within its medium. Ano Hana is an enjoyable series that stands at about the same level as other great works of television, like Mad Men or Life on Mars.
For those who haven’t seen it, AnoHana is about the death of a very young girl, Menma, whose death causes her friends to separate. When she comes back as a spirit ten years later, they’re forced to come together again for her sake and to retrieve their own self-worth. AnoHana is a slice-of-life story about recovering confidence and faith in one’s self, while exploring the impact of trauma on children.
This does not happen very often in anime, but it seems that the writer, Mari Okada has hit another home run. Okada until recently was known for writing entertaining series, but had very few works that had serious depth. This ended when she adapted Hourou Musuko AKA Wandering Son for the small screen, producing a critically acclaimed story about children with gender issues. She carries this expertise into Ano Hana and creates a world not often seen in anime or slice of life stories.
There’s a lot to say about this series and some of the deeper implications of its themes, but I’m going to limit myself to just talking about three characters. Why just three characters? Well, it’s the characters that make the series one of a kind. AnoHana does what many higher concept anime forget to do, and that’s make their characters feel genuine. They never fall into the anime trap of established stereotypes or roles. There are no tsunderes or yanderes or the like. There are human beings. And so, with only three characters, I can prove that AnoHana differentiates from the rest.
Jinta Yadomi, is the ex-leader of his band of friends who is now a recluse. He doesn’t go to school and has turned his back on most company. Yet, back when he was six, he formed the Super Peace Busters, a group dedicated to keeping peace in their town. As kids they copied their favourite anime and manga, becoming super heroes in their own neighborhood. Already we have a sense of nostalgia and a way to attach ourselves to the character. He used to be Tai from Digimon Adventure, or Mikey from the Goonies, but after the death of Menma and of his mother, he has simply given up on himself.
There are two easy way outs with this character. He could be actively self-loathing, leading to cutting and random acts of violence, essentially a generic emo kid. Or, he could be a complete Otaku, a geek, someone who obsesses over anime and has shelves of dolls with big boobs. These are easy stereotypes but neither of them have any real depth. The path the writer took was one that stays true to the original idea but gives Jinta complex underpinnings. He still pines for the same kind of adventure he once had as a child and has difficulty letting go of them. He has a deep sense of loyalty for his old group, even the ones that have abandoned him and, in some cases, hate him. He remains in many ways, the child who led the Super Buster Club. He’s just that he’s lost all his self-confidence, and for a kid that used to be the head of the pack, that’s crushing.
Next, there’s Atsumu “Yukiatsu” Matsuyuki, who is actually one of the most interesting characters in the lot. As a child, he was the quiet member of the Peace Busters. He was a little more serious than everyone else, and maybe a little more cowardly. He was basically the kid you ignored in that action gang. He’s the Joe to Tai. And yet, in the present day, he’s on top. He’s going to a good high school, has good grades and has an ego. He’s the opposite of what Jinta became, outgoing and confident. Yet, he has some grave flaws. He blames himself for Menma’s death, and his guilt forces him to make an effigy in her name. He also has a inferiority complex with Jinta. Despite having succeeded him in every way, he still feels the need to compete with him. When Jinta is the only one who can see Menma’s ghost, Yukiatsu feels that he has lost.
Lastly, let’s talk about Menma. Menma is the least developed character in the series, though she still manages to show considerable depth. At first glance, it appears she is the cute moe mascot character. She is diminutive, pushy, and unaware of her surroundings. All of these traits indicate that she is probably there to just be cute, or worse, a Mary Sue, who will cure everyone of their problems. Luckily, she is neither of these things. Menma is a physical representation of the characters inability to move on, and is a reason for them to recreate the environment the Peace Busters had as kids. Her ghost is older, because it shows how badly her friends want the past to carry with them, though her behaviour is the same as a six year old to show what they have lost. Her lack of develop adds to the overarching themes, and show how stuck the other characters are. Since she is a reflection over Jinta and pals desire to reclaim the past, she can’t change until they learn to move on. In final moments of the series, she does become a more fleshed out character, but of course that means she can no longer stay. Once they have moved on, Menma must die.
What stops her from being a Mary Sue is that she actually doesn’t get involved with the other Peace Busters beyond Jinta. They want to work together because of her, but she doesn’t push them in a given direction. The beauty of her character is how it offers her friends freedom, so that whatever choice they make is truly their own.
This is what so many television programs are lacking, human characters. No matter how good the concept or premise, if the series isn’t driven by character interaction, it will feel shallow. Despite AnoHana having a simple premise and rather bland environment, it manages to capture adolescent life and the effects of trauma all within 11 episodes. Compare that to some of the 6 season shows back in the States. Eleven episodes with fantastic character development, that’s all a series needs to be one of the best.
So, what do you think? Watch the series and tell me if you liked it or disliked it? Am I gushing nonsensically again? Tell me in the comments section below.