Similar to how Jintan, the main character of Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai., is haunted by the ghost of his childhood friend Menma, I found myself haunted by this anime. This review will explore how Anohana achieved that.
(I will refer to Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. by its abbreviated title: Anohana)
Anohana reunites the Toradora! team consisting of director Tatsuyuki Nagai, writer Mari Okada and character designer Masayoshi Tanaka. Okada (Hanasaku Iroha, Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine), who is known for character-driven plots and strong female characters, delivers a well paced story with surprising twists and believeable characters. More importantly though, she handles very sensitive and serious topics with the thoughtfulness and insightfulness needed while avoiding heavily relying on stereotypes or downplaying the pain and anger one feels when losing someone. Not just the main characters of Anohana, but also most of the side characters are multifaceted, tragic and likeable. Each and every one has his/her own, distinct share of pain and each and every one deals with loss in their own way, be it through denial or reclusiveness.
Okada’s written depiction of Anohana’s complex and distinctive characters is complemented by Tanaka’s character designs, which can convey a whole spectrum of emotions in just one still frame.
Tanaka’s style is clearly visible in all character designs, but the characters all still get their own faces. The faces are all highly expressive and Tanaka steers clear of over-the-top faical expressions during the more serious and heartbreaking scenes. His designs emphasise that Anohana’s characters are individuals who went through the same tragedy and are now trying to cope with it.
Nagai’s direction and the beaituful animation are the cherry on top of this bittersweet sundae. His use of camera pans, positioning of characters, the whole way Nagai directs has me really intrigued as to what a live-action or feature-length film directed by him would look like. If Anohana is any indication, then I’m more than just a little excited for the team’s anime film The Anthem of the Heart.
The whole production team works off each other to create a beautiful and melacholy story of love and loss. A story where you root for the characters to find happiness, where you smile at every fleeting moment of joy and where your heart breaks when tragedy strikes.
As mentioned above, Anohana handles its topics with utmost care and delicacy. It doesn’t use overblown tropes or exaggerated facial expressions to evoke emotions, and it never abuses the themes of love, loss and death.
Anohana is very character-driven and slow. It shows us the darkness one faces when confronted with loss, but its message is one of understanding and hope. In the end, even though it is an anime about death and loss, Anohana manages to be life-affirming.
I know OPs and EDs don’t say much about a series, but this is not about how well the OP is animated (which it is) or how good the song is (which it is) on their own - this is about how perfectly the OP embodies the bitter-sweetness of Anohana as a whole through its animation and song. Whether it’s Jintan often appearing in front of a blank white background symbolising the emptiness he feels ever since Menma’s untimely death or the main characters being haunted by ghostly apparitions of their younger selfs, the OP manages to give viewers an idea of what to expect without spoiling anything.
Galileo Galilei’s “Aoi Shiori”, the song used in the OP, shares the themes of love and loss with Anohana and suits the anime perfectly. With the lead singer’s vocals often sounding like he’s on the brink of cracking up, the song evokes the pain and helplessness someone feels when losing a loved one all the while the song still managing to sound optimistic.
Be warned: You may think Anohana will only gently play at your heartstrings, but this is not the case. It will make you weep.
Now, I personally don’t hold this against the series, but it should be mentioned nonetheless because some viewers might be mislead by the first few episodes with their colourful and vivid visuals and quirky characters. The viewers might find themselves unprepared for what is to come next. I can imagine how some viewers might initially expect Anohana to be a fun and light-hearted show just to be put off by it when it turns out to be quite a reflective drama. This does not mean that the show is dark, however. There are moments of happiness to be found in Anohana and it has a very positive message which it manages to bring across to the viewers through its great storytelling and likeable cast of characters.
Furthermore, the whole series is paced very well and features tons of foreshadowing, so it’s not like the more surprising and sometimes even shocking turns in the plot happen out of nowhere. Every plot twists feels natural to the series and never seems like a cheap trick to shock viewers or to get them to keep watching. Still, be prepared for a mature drama. This is not a kiddie show.
Anohana is one of those anime that stay with the viewer long after the last episode ends, leaving a melancholy smile on your face and tears in your eyes. It immerses you into its world and plot and makes you care deeply for its characters. It’s an anime that even non-anime fans can fully enjoy and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to friends who normally don’t watch anime. If you haven’t seen Anohana yet, do yourself a favour and go watch this beautfully animated and beautfully written melacholy gem right now.