Anohana has ended up as a superbly sparkling success, as it is both commercially soaring, and critically acclaimed.
And yet, as good as Anohana was, I have to admit a slight degree of surprise over this. Which is why I spent some time puzzling over just what made Anohana become received so well by domestic (i.e. Japanese) and foreign audiences alike. In this blog, I will share what I’ve come up with, while also reviewing this anime in general.
Anohana does have some obvious strengths, I think.
First and foremost, it effectively utilizes its eleven episode format, which instantly gives it an edge over many other heavily hyped one cour anime shows. There’s no filler episodes here. No day at the beach, or trip to the hot springs. There’s no superficial fluff that’s unrelated to the plot of the anime.
Anohana has firm, almost relentless, plot cohesion from start to finish. The drama is laid on thick, and rarely lets up. When it does let up, it’s for moments of blessed comic relief, or lighthearted smiles and coolly cheerful camaraderie.
This anime also has a straightforward, yet somewhat unusual, premise, and never loses sight of it for more than a third of an episode at most. This steely focus does help to create a sort of momentum, where anxious anticipation always builds up from one Thursday to the next to the next. Anohana has done well following in the footsteps of Puella Magi Madoka Magica here.
Nonetheless, this alone can’t account for everything. C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control, an anime that aired right alongside Anohana on the Noitamina block during Spring 2011, was nowhere near as well-received as Anohana was. Yet, C had its cliffhangers, and its drama, and its tight plot cohesion. Why, then, did Anohana succeed so spectacularly in comparison to its sister show?
The first thought that came to my mind may strike many as odd, but I think it is a core reason. Yukiatsu added a lot to Anohana.
Manma, as he’s affectionately known by fans and detractors alike, is a character that contributed much cheerfully comedic controversy to an anime that had been lacking it until his white dress, and wonderfully white wig, graced the screen.
I think he also heralded just how psychologically intriguing, and truly ambitious, Anohana would turn out to be.
Yukitatsu filled an unquestionably essential role in Anohana, in my view. His presence was frequently antagonistic, and the cause of chaotically cacophonous conflict. Yet he was not an outright villain, lacking any sympathetic traits whatsoever. Indeed, the great irony of Yukiatsu is that he seemed like the perfect young man, going to a good school, getting good grades, carrying himself with strength and style, and being rather popular with female classmates. Yet, in spite of all of that, he was a deeply disturbed individual at his core, with dark secrets literally hidden in his closet. He is a young man not only unable to move past the lost of a girl he had an infatuation over, but even unable to let go of a raging jealousy that he felt for the boy who seemed closer to that girl than he did.
Yukiatsu ensures that this anime’s plot never gets too simple, or too predictable, for its own good. Of all the core cast members, he’s the one who I remained the least certain of. He’s the one who left me wondering just what would he do next.
But while Yukiatsu is a good character, he’s not necessarily an easy one for viewers to emotionally invest in. So where do we turn to here?
While Menma is not a terribly interesting character in her own right, I think she works as the character that the plot centers around. She is an archetypal moe girl, flawlessly nice, and exquisitely endearing, even when displaying anger or frustration in a comedic fashion. Is it any wonder that RP has chosen her to be the virtual mascot of this blog site?
People who I have conversed at length over Anohana with, know that I have been a bit critical of Menma. I do find her to be somewhat one-dimensional. But then, sometimes a lone dimension is very effective if you’re simply trying to reach the apex of something grand and magnificent. Superman has been called one-dimensional, but it’s precisely that lone dimension that makes him such an admirably awesome hero, at least to me.
Menma, upon deeper reflection, is much the same way. Her depth, both literal and physical, is often ethereal, but like much that is ethereal, it causes Menma to shine with a an effervescent sheen.
In a vacuum, though, this characterization for Menma might have been a weakness. But within the context of Anohana, and particularly in contrast with Yukiatsu, I think that Menma’s selfless and loyal nature makes it easier for viewers to understand why Jinta cares so passionately for her.
A common criticism made of the Super Peace Busters, and once which I myself would have to agree with, is that they are far from the friends that they should be. They are a group of “friends” torn asunder by internal jealousies, egotistical whims, and self-centered aims. And yet, that is precisely why it makes sense that they are all drawn, to varying degrees, to Menma. Because she, unlike most of the other five, cares deeply about the group as a whole, and hence believably operates as the heart of the Super Peace Busters.
But then, while there are times that the Super Peace Busters make me think of frenemies more than friends, I would also hold that three of them at least, have good realistic chemistry as a trio of pals.
Jinta, Anaru, and Poppo, do come across nicely throughout the anime, and especially in its first half. You get a sense that these three sincerely care about one another, at least to some degree. Poppo, in particular, is helped by being the only Super Peace Busters member not tied into romantic conflicts within this anime.
By now, we’ve covered almost all of the core cast. The final member, Tsuruko, is easily the most subtle of all six members, and hence she adds the final compliment to a marvelously well-rounded central cast.
And I think that this may be the core reason why Anohana has been so loudly lovingly lauded. Each of the characters, as set apart entities, are not necessarily that interesting, but as a whole, they feel greater than the sum of their parts. Their personalities come together realistically, in ways that create both enjoyable moments of friendship, and interesting moments of conflict. In this vein, I think that Anohana does very well in capturing teenage life in a way that few anime shows do. Teenage life often has understated romantic conflicts within various groups of friends, and the clashing of egos. Teenagers naturally crave attention, particularly from one another. This is why I appreciate how high school life is not idealized in Anohana, as it is in many other anime shows involving a primarily teenaged cast. High school can be a competitively clamorous congregation of passionately punchy personalities. It is often not for the faint of heart.
But I think that this character-based strength is brought to fully fertile fruition by one final important factor.
And that factor, actually, is visuals.
The visuals, although not as gorgeous as some other anime shows, help in two key ways.
First, there is colorful distinctiveness.
The Super Peace Busters have an impressive internal array of differences between them, at a visual level. Each one hence stands out, even while being within the wider group. I think that, ultimately, this is Anohana’s main edge (at least commercially) over the less successful, but still very high quality, Hourou Musuko. With Anohana, the core cast is diverse in shape, size, and stature. Hair colors range from orange to white to vaguely purple to more standard colors. Typical clothes color is equally varied.
So while the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the individuals still are each given chances to stand out and take center stage.
And that segues nicely into the other key way that visuals help in this anime…
Anohana is elaborately emotionally expressive.
Raw emotions are conveyed with realistic character movements, but hammy facial expressions, and sensational seiyu work. This causes everything to crackle with a certain electricity, almost like a flamboyant pro wrestling production.
It also enables this anime to have its cake and eat it too, as far as slapstick comedy is concerned. The anime has little silly slapstick comedy, but extreme expressiveness (especially on the part of Anaru) helps to keep things vibrant, if not amusing.
Ironically for an anime where so much centers around a ghost, this anime always comes across as being buoyantly alive.
When you add up all of these strengths together, and reinforce them with a superb supporting cast (Jinta’s dad, Menma’s parents and brother, etc…), Anohana’s degree of success becomes much easier to understand. It certainly helps that the ending of the anime is a largely smart one that avoids the sort of pitfalls that plague so many anime endings.
However, the anime is not without its flaws. I would say that its drama is occasionally too thick, particularly in the early going, and this has for some viewers (including myself) a desensitizing effect. A good example of this is how some grow very numb to all the crying that goes on within the show. Melodrama abounds, and its not always for the best.
I also think that emotionally detached critical analysis may not be kind to this anime, as the actions and decisions of some characters may seem highly questionable, and hard to swallow, when viewed from a more sober perspective.
Nonetheless, Anohana does carry itself with a certain class and sophistication. It broaches topics that most other anime shows choose not to address seriously. Perhaps most importantly, it is a slice of life which does not ignore the impact of death.
In the end, my personal enjoyment of Anohana wavered considerably through out its airing. I have to admit that it did not make me smile much, but it provoked much thought.
On a technical merits level, its high quality is just about undeniable.
On the whole, I will give it 8/10, due to how I did not take as much simple pleasure away from it as I did, say, Saki.
Yet, Anohana is a type of anime that we do not see enough of, and it developed everything at least well, if not fantastically.
It deserves great accolades and accomplishment, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to see a serious anime drama that attempts to do more than merely amuse.
That concludes this review. Any and all comments are welcomed.