Last Flowers

I’m going to start with the bold proclamation that Ano Hana is the best anime this season by the length of a street. While I wasn’t as impressed as others with the opening episode, largely because it begged to be compared with anime that I just considered to be better, like Cross Game and Bokura ga Ita, and these were comparisons that Ano Hana was never going to win, I did recognize it had potential. Since then, it’s executed the most critical element of any drama superbly: characterization. (Above image found on zerochan. Minor spoilers up to ep 7 of Hanasaku Iroha and ep 5 of Ano Hana.)

I’d be the first to admit that comparing Ano Hana with Cross Game and, even moreso, Bokura ga Ita, is a shallow exercise. In Cross Game, Wakaba’s death (not a spoiler, because it happened in the first ep) anchored the characters in the past, but her dream was revealed very early in the piece and was never the subject of a mystery. The rest of the series was about the team achieving that dream, through hard work, dedication and team ethos… Wakaba’s role in the story was to add weight and meaning to it all. Menma’s dream in Ano Hana is a much more central focus. It gives the characters both a driver and a dilemma, in large part because no one, not even Menma, knows what it is. The fact that the characters have drifted closer together because of Menma’s materialization (after initially drifting apart when she died) is an indirect consequence.

The love rectangle between Anaru, Jinta, Menma and Yukiatsu is really interesting, but it goes without saying it wouldn’t work if we didn’t care about the characters. It’s probably one of the most guilty and heavy love rectangles I think I can remember in anime for a while. Jinta and Yukiatsu are both convinced at some level that they’re responsible for Menma’s death, and it’s hard to know how much of that is truth or how much is just self-pity through guilt while the circumstances of Menma’s death are still unclear. The fact that Jinta also lost his mother shortly after Menma’s death compounds the whole situation, and it’s not a huge surprise that he’s come to cope with it by shutting himself in… not helped when his first attempt to return to normal life was thwarted by Anaru’s vacuous “friends”, no matter how much either of them say that wasn’t the case.

An awful situation.

Speaking of Anaru (who’s very neat and organized… sorry, couldn’t help myself), I’m fascinated by the way peer pressure makes her such a conflicted person. It’s a very teenage thing, and evidently it’s something built into her very personality, because even in the days of the Super Peace Busters, she copied Menma. I’m sure she knew Jinta liked Menma and while it hasn’t been explicitly said, one suspects it was mutual. So while I’ve no doubt Anaru was friendly with Menma, she was also mired in this one-way competitive rivalry with her. She too, probably holds feelings of guilt about Menma’s death… even though no reasonable person would hold her responsible in any way for what happened to Menma, it’s still something that holds her back and a factor that prevents all these characters from moving on in life. It’s fascinating because nothing’s clean. Everything’s messy. They’ve managed to make the sense of guilt all these characters hold about Menma’s death both understandable, but also unnecessary, which makes the whole thing even messier.

Ano Hana is more mystery orientated than most other anime dramas about moving on from a past death. As well as the question of Menma’s dream, one topic that has received intense speculation is that of her very existence… is she a delusion or a ghost? I’ve posted in several places why I prefer her to be a delusion from a thematic viewpoint, but, with the most recent episode, the weight of evidence has tipped the balance firmly in favour of “ghost”. My only comment at this point is that, it looks grim, but my side ain’t licked yet. Jinta isn’t the most reliable narrator, so it’s not outside the realms of possibility that he saw Yukiatsu give Menma the hairpin. And who’s to say Menma really visited her home or saw Anaru and Tsuruko’s catfight, and was merely added to these scenes by the scriptwriters for dramatic effect? Perhaps I’m clutching at straws. Ultimately, it might not even matter, which would be the best case scenario. The director-writer combination of Nagai Tatsuyuki and Okada Mari, who also worked together on Toradora (I’m firmly convinced that he’s underrated, and she’s an enigma), have done a very good job so far, and really, they’d probably have a better idea about what’s thematically elegant and what’s not, seeing as it’s their own script. So, for now, I think I’ll hold off any further judgement and comment on this issue until after the series ends.

Fast becoming one of my all-time favourite performances from Noto Mamiko.

One of the other fifty shows that Okada is working on this season is Hanasaku Iroha, which seems to be compared with Ano Hana at every turn. Sure, there are similarities between the two series, but they’re more quirky than substantial. Both shows have Okada on board as the script writer. Both shows are anime originals. Both shows feature the Japanese word for “flower” in their title. Both shows have (speaking of “underrated”) Tomatsu Haruka in prominent roles. Both shows were hyped up at the beginning of the season. However, their respective tones have diverged dramatically, with HanaIro having become rather flippant. The fact that they’re both anime originals is worth a second thought, because more anime originals is something I’ve forever pined for. If we’re witnessing them coming into vogue, particularly after all the birthing pains created by Anime no Chikara last year and Fractale this year, then that’s reason for cheer.

It’s interesting how quickly the reactions to HanaIro have turned flaccid (ironically as the fanservice got ramped up) when it started to become clear that it wasn’t going to be ultra-serious, subtle or dramatic in the same way Ano Hana is. My thought is that we all need to take a step back and breath for a second, because when one scales back expectations to match what we’ve observed in the last four or so episodes, it’s not that bad a show. At the very least, it’s entertaining, even if it is shallow. While it seems to lack focus at the moment, it has two cours to develop its characters and conflicts, something Ano Hana doesn’t have. Whatever the case, I see ep 7 as a positive development. Sure it lacks the subtlety of Ano Hana (I mean, the idea of peeping survival gamers is silly on many levels), but the fact that we’ve seen the focus drift onto Tomoe, even if it’s just for an episode, bodes well for it eventually addressing one of its biggest weaknesses so far: the flat side characters. Then again, perhaps that’s exactly what it’s been trying to do for the last four episodes. In which case, Okada Mari’s legendary inconsistency has struck again…

22 Responses to “Last Flowers”

  1. Okada’s stardom is undeserved. She did work on a couple of hit series, but what little I saw of her opus, I’d say it’s more of a fluke when she produces good stuff. The best pointer she needs right now is to hold back on melodramatic parts as she tends to just go over the top with those. So I’m cautious with AnoHana, especially after Fractale. AnoHana’s first episode was so good, but the rest were just average, mostly because the characters have thus far been too predictable. What left a good impression nonetheless was the execution of each scene, so none of them felt unnecessary. Can we give some credit to Nagai Tatsuyuki here?

  2. Ano Hana: Wouldn’t say it’s my favorite show so far, but it’s up there. The drama has been built pretty well; I can really feel the weight of Menma’s death on the shoulders of everyone, and the theme of friends drifting apart is one that resonates with me (and, I assume, with many other folks watching the show).

    Hanasaku Iroha: I actually wasn’t that into the first few episodes — I’ve been enjoying more as it’s become more loose (not in that way, pervs) and goofy. The latest episode is my favorite so far. The premise is utterly ridiculous, but the show has fun with it, and there are a lot of genuine laughs. Some of the cornier, sappier stuff in the show makes me roll my eyes, but there’s enough humor there for me to bear it.

  3. Menma can both be a delusion and a ghost. The real ghostly Menma exists but Jinta is the one doing all the physical work. Calling it now

  4. Like SK, I don’t really see any reason to compare the two shows anymore. What Hanasaku Iroha did in the first two episodes with the drama of our heroine, is gone. But, as I said in the show’s discussion thread on the forums, it was inevitable that, as things got better for Ohana, the show would also lighten up in tone and visuals. I mean, it’s hard to be angst ridden when there’s less angst. This isn’t to say that the drama can’t ramp back up again. We’ve already had seeds planted that could lead to some major events later. That may end up being the issue… the show will rely on events that trigger these planted seeds to grow into huge problems. In other words, it’ll have to rely on some contrivances. Generally, I’m against those, but not when they’re tied back to something we’ve already seen. TVTropes refers to this as the Chekov’s Something, and with most shows we get one or two of these. By my count, HanaIro has about six.

    AnoHana’s first episode bugged me to no end, for reasons I stated in the forum and wont repeat here. It was a clumsy as fuck first episode, throwing way too much in there. Not to mention, as E-Minor griped, the flat out unnecessary fanservice scene with Menma on Jin-tan’s lap. However, since then, the episodes have been executed beautifully. They’re logical and methodical. I haven’t seen any wasted time or motion yet. This is some fine directing.

    I’m also the biggest supporter of the “Menma is a Hallucination” camp. So far, I have seen NOTHING that definitely proves she’s a real ghost. Even the most recent episode’s events can be explained rather easily. The funny thing is, the explanation of these events requires that there be stuff going on we didn’t see. So it does make it interesting that they’re deliberately showing us stuff that would seemingly contradict the hallucination theory (IE, Menma doing anything on her own, separate from Jin-tan). Then again, there is such a thing as a red herring…

  5. Menma is ghostlier than ghostlightning at this point, but that doesn’t stop everyone involved from having related delusions.

    The Yukiatsu rehabilitation project and love dodecahedron is the next gear for this melodrama machine.

  6. @cyth
    Well, credit for Nagai is certainly not undeserved. It’s hard to know how much of Ano Hana can be credited to Okada and how much to Nagai. I’ve often worked on the theory that good directors tend to make good anime, but other than Okada, I don’t know enough about scriptwriters to know if that principle also applies to them, and Okada is a pretty good case study for why it probably doesn’t. Maybe she’s someone who, despite her talent and work ethic, just needs a good director hanging over her shoulder to restrain her… or something.

    @Shinmaru
    Arguably HanaIro is a better comedy than it is a drama, but I think that’s why so many people complain about it… the only way to enjoy it is not to take it too seriously. That’s not the type of series people were expecting after the first two eps.

    @Anon
    Menma could be anything at this stage. Maybe there are two Menmas, and the one that doesn’t interact with Jinta is a ghost. Who knows? I guess that’s why it’s so fun to speculate.

    @TIF
    Which Chekov’s guns have you seen? The first one I can think of is that Tohru will develop feelings for Ohana, which is going to get on Minko’s bacon. Also, Ohana’s mother will probably pop up in some form later in the series. And maybe that boy who likes Ohana as well. What were the other ones?

    @ghostlightning
    I’m looking forward to seeing what role Tsuruko plays in the love polygon (if one at all). I have my suspicions about her and Yukiatsu, but little to base that on, and she seems to be very concerned about Menma (drawing pictures of her, etc) for reasons that haven’t been explored. She’s a very interesting and enigmatic character… but they all are, really. That’s why the show’s so good.

  7. Ano Hana is definitely one of the best shows of this season, only second to Steins;Gate in my opinion (A matter of opinion I suppose). But I must clarify that the reason I think I and others have grown to dislike the direction of Hanasaku isn’t simply because they chose to go a more lighthearted, comedic route for episodes 3-7, but because the story feels extremely disjointed.

    Really, its first two episodes presented the story as some sort of well grounded, coming of age journey for our main character Ohana. There were many often charming and funny scenes in the first episodes, that were executed with a deft of touch. Nothing about episodes 3 and 7 seems well grounded in comparison and hence why there are many claims of Hanasaku feeling like two different shows.

    Hanasaku Iroha honestly has an identity crisis, and its the reason I see it paling in comparison to the much more tightly written AnoHana. Did Okada simply screw up in Hanasaku? I actually view it as more of a directorial problem. Angel Beats had much of the same issues, where it jumped from zany, to dramatic every other episode and that had a different writer. PA works has definitely lost its way since True Tears.

  8. A show being two cour doesn’t excuse it from slow character development. Two-cour shows shouldn’t have “more time” to develop character; if a two cour show ends up with the same amount of character development as a one cour show, then it is, comparatively, a failure. No matter the number of episodes, be it 13, 26 or 52, character development should be equally focused and tight. Think about Bokura ga Ita. 26 episodes, at times playful and at times deadly serious— that’s the true mark of a great show.

    The problem with Hanasaku Iroha isn’t simply that it isn’t super-serious. The problem is that it currently occupies a strange middle ground— it’s not serious enough to be a meticulous, examined drama, nor is it whimsical enough to be a light-hearted comedy. A show can be playful and serious at the same time, but not in the way that Hanasaku Iroha currently is— instead of achieving the desired balancing effect, the show’s strange mood swings makes its ultimate direction ambiguous.

  9. Which Chekov’s guns have you seen? The first one I can think of is that Tohru will develop feelings for Ohana, which is going to get on Minko’s bacon. Also, Ohana’s mother will probably pop up in some form later in the series. And maybe that boy who likes Ohana as well. What were the other ones?

    Tohru-Ohana and Minko I count as one, since that’s all related.

    Ohana’s mom, yep. Probably to take her away. Which will start draaaaamaaaaa. I’m guessing that’ll be left for one of the last arcs (if any).

    Koichi should be another one. Hopefully NOT in concert with mom (this would be incredibly lazy).

    I don’t think we’re done with Ohana vs. Grandmother. Though we, the audience are, Ohana isn’t.

    Likewise, I don’t think we’re done with the whole “Inn is declining” bit. Grandmother played it off with a hand wave, but it really bugs her son, so I think there’s more truth in that then Grandmother is willing to admit. There’s also the competition with the other more fancy inn.

    Minko’s culinary exploits are also not done with. She became a chef against her parents wishes. May also come a time when a decision has to be made on whether to keep her as a chef or if there’s even going to be a place for her at the inn. Could also lead to the old chef retiring.

    Some of these could potentially tie in together, but I’ve also the feeling I’m missing one.

  10. I raised this issue in the Ano Hana (or is it the Hanasaku Iroha thread?), that people just shouldn’t compare the two shows together. Apart from the same staff member working for both shows, to compare the two of them is just to compare apples and oranges: one’s more slice-of-life while the other is clearly drama. The only reason the two are being contrasted is that both are the forerunners of the show.

    I just don’t like the idea that HanaIro would end up being under-appreciated simply because it’s not as good as Ano Hana in terms of entertainment. Rather than asking “Is Hanasaku a good show?”, people would instead be asking “Is HanaIro on par or better than Ano Hana?”. This results in HanaIro being in Ano Hana’s shadow unjustifiably.

    As far as HanaIro goes, I just think the show doesn’t realize how effective the flashback in episode 2 was. I want to see more of such scenes, but I doubt it will judging from its development.

    As for Ano Hana, I just try to stay away from the “Menma = ghost or delusion”. This is one aspect that I know I’m not enjoying that much from the show, so it’s the least of my concerns.

  11. I’d actually take the alternative viewpoint of Okada. Her volatility doesn’t come from an unpolished talent that needs a good director to guide her. Instead, she’s unable to break past the scope of the director’s vision or execution. If the director is good, her work earns a solid basis, and she can supplement whatever the director wants nicely because she has a clear direction. If she’s paired with a poor director, she doesn’t know how to work beyond the limitations of the director’s poor guidance, and as such she falters. I find this a lot more consistent with a most observations: the fact that her work with the well respected directors are usually not the director’s worse works, the lack of brilliance in her bad works that one would at least expect to see from time to time if she were unpolished talent, and her different approaches to adapting varying qualities of sources. However, all this is at best speculation, as we don’t really know what happens behind studio doors. For all we know, she just writes whatever and the good directors simply have good enough quality control to axe whatever sounds bad.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to compare Ano Hana to Hanasaku Iroha on an objective level of quality. There are things that Hanasaku Iroha has done poorly (Hello character development) that we can claim Ano Hana avoids. Still, as many have said, Hanasaku Iroha’s turn to lighter fare is not a knock against it. Besides, the dramatic plot structure of both is fundamentally different. While Ano Hana is catalyst based drama where the initial event causes everything that succeeds it to hurtle at rapid speeds, Hanasaku Iroha is a coming of age that pieces drama and character through experiences that span weeks to months. What is a legitimate concern is its failure to transition smoothly into this lighter mood, as well as its inability to make us care enough about this new tone. That is certainly what everyone dislikes about it on some level.

    I don’t quite want to touch the ghost/hallucination argument until we learn for sure at the end of the series, in which case I’ll probably launch into a long rant about how ghosts cheapen stories, with a guest appearance by Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. I will say that I’m currently on the Menma ghost side right now, even if I don’t like sitting on this part of the fence.

    And more Mamiko Noto roles are always welcome. If she retains the versatility she exhibits here, all the better, although I wouldn’t mind her soft spoken roles again. :3

  12. @Reckoner
    Even True Tears was, in my opinion, an inconsistent anime. So, PA Works’ questionable track record extends back rather far. The comparison with Angel Beats is worth talking about, because I thought, despite Angel Beats’ serious issues, the good stuff was executed well enough to redeem the show, and ensure it wasn’t completely terrible. Others seem to disagree, but the hindsight view seemed to show Angel Beats in its best light. I’m hoping the same will be true of HanaIro (well, let’s face it, we’re all hoping HanaIro will be a lot better than Angel Beats), which is why I’m willing to give it a stay of execution for now.

    @Akira
    Well, if a comparison with Bokura ga Ita (first ep, anyway) humbles Ano Hana then it slaughters the crap out of HanaIro. Any criticism about HanaIro lacking tightness is definitely on the mark, and I won’t disagree with that. But I just don’t think that particular benchmark is useful, or fair for judging HanaIro, because it’s probably not one it will ever live up to… as unfortunate as that is.

    @AC
    It’s interesting that HanaIro has been afflicted with this constant comparison to Ano Hana. In part it’s a consequence of coincidence (they just happened to be airing at the same time and happened to be coming-of-age dramas with “Hana” in their titles), but I guess it could be argued that it’s also a consequence of HanaIro’s hot start. I do think, ultimately, people will give it a fair shake. It’s just that us critics will be very finely attuned to what it does poorly when we can point to Ano Hana to see how slightly different approaches to storytelling/characterization can be done well.

    @Elineas
    Without knowing the details about just what she does, I’m wondering if Okada is a “fill in the gaps” type writer, in that the director brings her in later on in the project merely to spruce up the dialogue and fix up the fine details, well and truly after the direction of the plot and character development has been determined and decided by other people. After all, she does get a lot of adaptations. Let’s be honest, it’d be a lot easier to write a good script for something like Wandering Son, given that the source material itself is so good. Nonetheless, being a “fill in the gaps” type writer is far from ideal from a creativity standpoint. It’s a very quick way to ensure that the final result is filled with compromise.

    Also, Hanazawa Kana >>>> Mamiko Noto. Softly spoken or otherwise. Look into your heart, you know it to be true. 😛

  13. To be honest sometimes I can’t help to compare Ano Hana and Hanasaku Iroha simply because they’re my top two favourites this season. However, I can’t fully contrast them simply because both offer different kinds of entertainment.

    Ano Hana is certainly one of the best shows out there. As a matter of fact, for me it has the best first episode despite the fact it can’t contend with Hanasaku Iroha’s animation. However, I can’t fully say that it’s the finest this season because Hanasaku Iroha keeps on surprising me in a very random. Also, with Hana Iro, I feel more loose each time I watch it–I’m liking its “go with the flow” vibe. But nevertheless, Ano Hana still holds the top spot for me because of its solid and well-planned storyline. Plus, I truly appreciate its sense of direction.

  14. Ano Hana, Hana Iro, doesn’t matter which one’s better. We win with both shows.

    Hana Iro has some episodes to “waste”, and I mean, to have character-centric episodes that range from serious to WTF. I expect the drama picking up along the second half.

    Ano Hana has no time to waste, hence every episode, thus far, have been really good.

  15. Great. Another “arrogant” blog to avoid. Thanks, jackasses.

  16. Great! Another “arrogant” asshole to feel the wrath of my banhammer! Thanks for the workout!

  17. I think (re: your statement that you aren’t sure why someone called you “arrogant” in response to this) some people feel threatened by opinions that are backed up by reasons. You definitely talk about your reasoning here.

  18. FEAR NOT FAIR MORITHEIL! THE CHAFF HAS BEEN SEPARATED FROM THE WHEAT!

  19. Fuck this site. I have more respect for MAL, you Nazi fucks.

  20. Faggot-ass niggas

  21. Who wants to be around a bunch of snarky assholes who are obviously ashamed to be fans anyway?

    I have more respect for MAL. (Not)

  22. I was busy fucking the shit out of your wife.

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