Review: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai

“…it looks like we could do so much more when we were kids.” ~ Poppo

Ano Hi Mita no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai, otherwise known as Ano Hana, is an emotional tale full of friendship, romance, and, in a lot of ways, redemption. It revolves around a close group of childhood friends known as the “Super Peace Busters” who inevitably drift apart following the accidental death of one of their members. The group itself is made up of six members, each with an affectionate nickname, including: the hikkikomori Jinta Yadomi (“Jintan”), the rebel girl Naruko Anjou (“Anaru”), the arrogant playboy Atsumu Matsuyuki (“Yukiatsu”), the collected Chiriko Tsurumi (“Tsuruko”), the happy-go-lucky Tetsudo Hisakawa (“Poppo”) and the playful Meiko Honma (“Menma”) who died in the accident that one summer’s day.

Each character’s distinct personality and the interactions that each has with another create a nice balanced dynamic, much like a good group of friends should. Of course, these characters weren’t always the way they are in the present day, and over the course of the series you’ll see how Menma’s death altered each character’s future personality. All the character performances are great, but it’s undeniable that Ai Kayano‘s performance as the eternal child Menma steals the show. While the character’s effervescent voice can be hit-or-miss, it’s a definite testament to the flexibility of a talented and underrated seiyuu.

Tears will be shed, and some will probably be yours.

The narrative jumps between the day of Menma’s accident and the present day (ten years after), slowly unraveling the events of that day and revealing why things ended up the way they did. It begins one summer’s day with a once deceased Menma suddenly appearing before Jintan, who is convinced that the apparition is merely a product of heat-induced stress. Much to his surprise, she seems to have aged as if she had never died (though her personality hasn’t changed at all). Menma asks Jintan to fulfill a wish for her, but there are two problems: 1. She doesn’t remember what her wish is and 2. he is the only one who can see her.

Jintan eventually enlists the help of the remaining four members of the “Super Peace Busters,” who are understandably less than thrilled at the fact their high school dropout of a former friend has so suddenly and callously brought up Menma’s name after 10 years. However, not everything is how it first seems, as the narrative itself contains several common elements of a mystery like suppressed truths and hidden motives. Ano Hana makes you ask questions and does a pretty fantastic job of answering all of them at a reasonable pace that is guaranteed to keep you watching.

I love small town settings like this.

With Ano Hana being a completely original work, A-1 Pictures had a lot of freedom with the animation, and they do not disappoint. Character designs are nice (they actually change clothes!) and there are plenty of details in each facial expression, which is essential for an emotional work like this. Something about the animation that struck me was the cinematic feel of it all. The shot types are varied, from beautiful shots of scenery to extreme close-ups of part of someone’s face, and the camera actually moves around, making things feel a lot more alive and organic.

The score truly captures the nature of the entire series and is generally playful, nostalgic, and even heartrending. From soft piano passages to gentle guitar plucks, the music helps connect the events and the characters from both the past and present. The ending song, “Secret Base,” is performed by the three lead female characters and typically plays over part of the last scene of each episode, adding a certain child-like feeling. This allows time to not only reflect on the episode, but our similar experiences as well. The opening song, “Aoi Shiori,” is one of my favorite songs of all time and perfectly fits the feel of the entire series: wistful at times, but ultimately hopeful.

The series will have you pondering what was, what is, and what could have been…

One of Ano Hana’s shortcomings is that some of its melodrama can feel forced at times. However, the series definitely does a great job of utilizing comedic breaks to prevent the series from becoming overbearingly maudlin. Its main strength, I feel, is its ability to give layers of depth to each character in such a short amount of time (only 11 episodes). The preconception that you have for a character is often turned upon its head. It’s a unique type of character development where their traits already exist; it just takes some trigger to pull back the layers that mask them. That catalyst happens to be Menma’s reappearance, and the layers being the years that have passed since her death. It plays upon the idea of the importance of a single person’s life and how profound of an impact she can have on everyone in her life.

It’s time to initiate the Survival Strategy. (Mawaru Penguidrum crossover)

I don’t know if I can recommend Ano Hana enough. It’s more than an anime; it’s an emotional experience everyone can relate to. We all have friends, grow up, and experience loss. It’s how we cope with these experiences that make us who we are, though. In Ano Hana, the dead feel alive, the alive feel dead, and it takes the reappearance of an old friend to remind the “Super Peace Busters” that friendship does not die so easily.

The full title translates to “We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower that We Saw that Day.” What could the “flower” in the title refer to? Could it be Menma? Or perhaps it’s the idea of innocence or nostalgia. Maybe it’s referring to guilt and forgiveness.

I guess you’ll just have to watch and draw your own conclusion!

Also, be on the lookout for the summer 2013 movie, which is apparently a retelling of the story.

B.W.

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