Ano Hana, an Anthology of Comments

It’s been almost three years since I first tried this exercise, in which I re-examine my week-to-week forum posts about a given anime in hindsight, and look at how my opinion has changed over the course of the series. The last time I did this was for Special A, in part because my impression after episode one stayed effectively constant. Ano Hana is very different because my thoughts on the show fluctuated significantly more, right up until the end. The posts I’m looking at today were originally posted in the Ano Hana discussion thread on The Nihon Review Forum. And yes, so there are no false pretenses, I am phoning this in. (Above image found on Safebooru. Major spoilers for the tagged series within.)

Here’s my comment on episode 1:

That was OK, but the first episode didn’t exactly bowl me over. Having a down-to-earth premise and revealing a dead character in the first ep reminded me of both Bokura ga Ita and Cross Game, and I couldn’t help but compare this with those two series. They both had brilliant first episodes. So far, the characters are just too despondent to care about. That said, those are two of my favourite all time anime, so it’s a harsh comparison. This has plenty of time to build up its characters and make something of its premise. I just wouldn’t say that was an A-grade first episode. In the larger scheme of things, though, first episodes don’t matter that much.

This was a sentiment I also repeated for the “Spring 2011 First Thoughts” article. Looking back on it now, I also had a similar reaction to Red Garden, an anime I rate highly. Its first episode immediately threw the audience into the middle of all its characters’ personal dramas without giving us a reason to care about them. My own viewpoint tends to be that drama is pointless without the character groundwork first, which is what the likes of Bokura ga Ita, Cross Game and Koi Kaze did well, and why they could get away with throwing around dramatic punches even after they were only fifteen minutes old (and even then, Cross Game almost, almost stuffed it up). So, Ano Hana was, after one episode, an anime with potential but also with execution issues, in my eyes. Maybe my opinion hasn’t changed much after all.

The other interesting thing is to look at the opinions of others in the thread after one episode, in light of what they think now. ImperialX (who writes for Blickwinkel) couldn’t hide his excitement, but eleven weeks later was one of the more disappointed posters in the thread. Kylaran wrote that he thought the execution and symbolism was better than Madoka Magica. I’m not sure if he’s still willing to stand by that… I guess we’ll all get the chance to find out his stance on the anime in a week or so. Forum regulars Fumoffu!! and DrIdiot both said that Menma was annoying. Personally, I never had a huge issue with Menma, but ultimately, she was more a plot device than a character.

Ep 2

It’s being rather slow and deliberate with how it’s building up to things, which I generally see as a good sign, since that means it has the big picture in mind. They’re setting up a very interesting relationship web here. It’s no wonder they all drifted apart. Look at all that unresolved tension.

Let’s just look at it from the “who likes who” angle. Anaru (*immature chortle*) likes Jinta, and both looked up to and envied Menma. Jinta liked Menma but was too immature to admit it, and most likely, Menma liked him back. Matsuyuki liked Menma, and has kept her dress to this date (what a creep), and I have a sneaking suspicion that Tsurumi likes Matsuyuki. Then there’s Tetsudo who sits on the periphery of this love pentagon (smart place to sit, honestly).

What I only just realized is that the director, Nagai Tatsuyuki, is same guy who did Toradora, Railgun, Idolm@ster Xenoglossia and Honey and Clover II and is a guy who I’m a big fan of, and think is really underrated. Keen to see where this is going, but it’s not there yet, and I’m not going to rank it among modern classics like Cross Game and Bokura ga Ita until it does something and deserves it.

I rate Nagai as a director, even if the quality of his works are often disputed. I tend to enjoy pretty much everything he makes. The “big picture” comment is interesting, given that at the end of the show, most of the complaints were about the fact that the vast majority of the unresolved tension I brought up after this episode still remained right up until ep 11, so the attempts to tie things up came off as rushed and forced. At this stage, I, at least, was still thinking about the director, but as the season rolled on, the big talking point regarding the production side of things ended up being about the writer, Okada Mari.

Ep 3

Ano Hana’s just shot to the top of my list of most anticipated show for the season. Excellent episode. We’re starting to learn more about the characters, and the revelation that Jinta’s also lost his mother, as well as Menma, goes a long way to explain why he’s so messed up. Yet, it looks like he might not be the most messed up character after all.

One of the questions that hasn’t really been addressed thoroughly in this discussion since ep 1 is that of whether Menma is a ghost, or Jinta’s hallucination. My opinion is that it makes more sense for her to be the latter. I’m not really prepared to buy into the little interactions Menma has outside of Jinta’s sphere of influence because Jinta isn’t the most reliable of narrators. Who’s to say Menma really went to her home, or saw Anaru and Tsuruko have a spat? These could merely be events that Jinta supposed Menma saw (and/or the writers adding her into those scenes for dramatic effect). Similarly, the muffins might have been all Jinta.

The big reason why I prefer Menma to be a hallucination is because it means that the characters will have to deal with their issues by themselves, rather than being pushed into it by a supernatural apparition. I think it somewhat cheapens the very real problems these characters are facing if the only way they overcome them is because they happened to be visited by a ghost.

Suddenly… unbound optimism. The question of whether Menma was a ghost or a hallucination was the other major talking point of the season, and I put things on the line by stating a definite preference for one over the other, despite trying to temper it later on. The collective posters in the thread were able to figure out that Yukiatsu was the fake-Menma, mostly thanks to this image posted by HikaruNoShadow, which highlights an interesting aspect of watching and discussing anime as a collective on the internet. These days, it’s very hard for anime creators to foreshadow hints subtle enough that they won’t go unnoticed by at least one person with a keen eye and access to an anime forum. Someone, somewhere, will probably speculate the next step in the plot. It’s just another little challenge for anime makers trying to write something that’s genuinely surprising. Onto episode 4.

I’m guessing Okada is in her 40s, which seems to be the average age for most anime directors and writers. The number and diversity of scripts she’s written is just mindblowing. The inconsistency of them as well is equally strange. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say she’s anime’s biggest enigma. No one seems to know anything about her.

Ep 4

Hallucination or not, what we do know is that Jinta’s Menma is a much more genuine and true to life version than Yukiatsu’s “bastardization”. So, when we see Menma’s reaction to seeing Yukiatsu, and all the implicit weirdness of him crossdressing (not weird) as a dead girl he knew (very weird), it really hits home.

Great episode. They’ve opened up a serious can of worms here, I can’t wait to see how they deal with it.

So now the issue of Okada finally comes up. The way in which is was first brought up in the thread was rather strange as one of the posters wondered if the whole Pokemon influence was based on life experience. Who knows? As far as I can tell, no one knows anyone about her outside of which anime she’s been involved in. It’s interesting, because she’s been around for a number of years now and done a woodpile of series, but it’s only been in the last six months or so that I’ve noticed people talking about her, and starting to recognize her, some praising her for the good stuff she’s written, others admonishing her for her inconsistency. Hell, I wasn’t even aware she was involved in True Tears until Ascaloth brought it up in his Ano Hana review.

I had to defend my “cross-dressing isn’t weird” comment as well. It’s a complicated issue, and not one Ano Hana really bothered to explore deeply past “Yukiatsu dresses up as a deal girl, isn’t he screwed up and trapped in the past”. Yukiatsu never had what I’d consider gender-identity issues, so it’s almost moot to talk about them in the context of Ano Hana. But it’s here where I appeal to my inner PC thug, and say that society should be grown up enough now to accept transgender individuals. The line between sexes isn’t finely clear cut, and it should be an individual’s right to express their gender how they please.

I didn’t post any comments on episodes 5 or 6, partly because it was around the time I posted my “Last Flowers” article and didn’t see the need to expound my thoughts elsewhere. The show was pretty much in a state of flux at that point as well, entrenched in the middle of its second act, with lots of little developments, but no drastic, sweeping changes. Episode 7:

It’s interesting, at this point, that Tsuruko and Yukiatsu have kinda slipped to the back of the stage. Jinta, Anaru and Poppo are pretty much the main actors at the moment, and because of that we’re seeing the most growth in them. Tsuruko in particular remains to be an enigma. She’s interesting because of it, but what do we really know about her? The fact that she was the only one who remembered that it was Menma who initiated the meeting that day, and that she didn’t want Jinta to be there, seems to be the key to figuring out Menma’s dream. There has to be a reason why she just doesn’t tell everyone.

I’m not sure what I think of Tsuruko now that the curtain’s fallen, but the question of why Menma called them out that day turned out to be fairly pivotal to the entire story. I really liked the way they resolved this part of the story, even if it relied on a predictable dose of sentimentality, but the execution of the reveal let it down. I’m not sure how it could have been done better, but the fact that it played out in the final episode alongside all the other character problems coming to a head and demanding a resolution kinda cramped things up, and left it feeling less significant than it probably deserved.

Ep 8

Must resist… all temptation… to comment on the Menma ghost/delusion issue being resolved. Ah damn, I can’t hold out.

OK, I didn’t like it. And I didn’t like it for the exact reasons why I thought I wouldn’t like it, so the whole thing is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy and therefore not the most fair-handed of criticisms. All the guilt and tension had come to a head, and rather than deal with their issues one by one, it required Menma acting as a supernatural cheerleader to resolve the immediate conflict. Sure, they’re still going to deal with these issues, but the fact that it required Menma to get them going in the right direction really mutes the potential for sweeping, and momentous character development. Of course they’re going to listen to her every word. She’s a goddamn ghost.

Tsuruko’s holding the cards close to her chest as far as the reason for why Menma called them out that day goes. I’m wondering at this point if Menma’s revelation almost goes so far as to make Tsuruko redundant to the story. We don’t need Tsuruko anymore to reveal why Menma called them out. Menma can do that herself now.

I admit, the show lost me at this point, and needed to work to get me back. There were so many issues created not only by the reveal itself, but the fact that the reveal came so late. Other than Menma being a ghost, the larger issue is that she was a Mary Sue that everyone loved and/or respected or envied her. So, of course they were going to listen to her. At this point, the only thing that prevented Menma from disappearing is that she, herself, couldn’t remember her wish. In the end, it didn’t really have a great deal with the fact that the other characters didn’t get along.

Ep 9

I took issue with the fact that the rest of the gang waved away all the misunderstanding caused by the fact that Menma and Jinta wouldn’t reveal that she was a ghost until now by saying they were both dumb, but of course they weren’t going to come out and say “it was bad writing”. That was a pretty cringe-worthy moment. It’s like Okada suddenly realized how stupid the whole idea of Jinta wanting the gang to “believe in Menma” rather than just getting her to show them proof for the first eight episodes was, and wanted to cover up for it, but the attempt to compensate for it was so token and just made the problem so much more obvious.

With that said, the rest of the episode was pretty good. The thing that surprised me about it was how quickly it ended. It’s always a good sign that something has your attention when it feels like it’s over in an instant. Jinta admitting that he doesn’t want Menma to disappear was an important plot point. And, what might possibly be the most surprising and bizarre of love triangles, between Anaru, Yukiatsu and Tsuroko has developed. Unfortunately we had to have another moment where they reinforced that Anaru is a virgin, but I’ll let it pass.

The other major issue with Menma being a ghost is summed up by that first paragraph. It’s just shonky writing. It is worth revisiting the constant affirmations of Anaru’s virginity because it is (and, unfortunately, probably will be for ages) an important issue in otaku culture. I know this is one of the aspects of Ano Hana that particularly annoyed A Day Without Me of GAR GAR Stegosaurus. Personally, I saw it as wimpy attempt to make sure they weren’t alienating sections of the otaku audience that value that sort of garbage. Say it once, if it’s important to her character (it wasn’t). But to repeat it four or five times as they did…

Ep 10

The great irony in the discussion of this episode is that, despite the fact that it was fairly predictable that Menma wasn’t going anywhere, the best chance this show had of resolving all its lingering conflicts is if Menma did disappear at the end of this ep.

Who knows, maybe in the next ep something will happen that will very neatly resolve everyone’s issues. It’ll have to be pretty magnificent and elegant, though. Silver bullets don’t tend to work in real life, so they don’t make for believable plot devices. In the context of what ImperialX has said, maybe an ending where everyone’s still guilty and wrapped in self-pity is the most fitting. I mean, that’s how they’ve been for the past ten episodes. Maybe they’re building towards Ano Hana II: We Finally Remembered the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day.

Well, according to Moshiburner from UTW Fansubs, the name of the flowers are Forget-me-nots. The biggest issue most posters in the thread had at this point was that there was one episode left, and everything still needed to be resolved. We know now that there won’t be a second season, but rumours of a sequel actually grew legs in the week leading up to the finale, much to my surprise.

Ep 11

I thought the good-bye scene itself was pretty good, even if they did drag it out a bit. There were lots of little issues with it though. Did the last line before the final ED credits really need to be Jinta narrating “Menma was smiling” when we could all see it for ourselves? Was “I like how level-headed you are” really the best compliment Menma could think of for Anaru?

It’s disappointing, because the potential of what this could have been still shone through all the cracks. I have to admit, I needed to stifle a few laughs during the crying scene. That entire scene missed the mark on so many levels.

Still a good anime overall, but no where near as great as it could have been.

With a general tone of disappointment ringing through the thread, I decided to state the alternative viewpoint (as I often like to do) and point out that, while it failed to reach its potential (whatever that means) there were still some good aspects in the final episode. It’s just that none of them cropped up during the first half of the episode.

Ultimately, a superior Nagai-Okada melodrama.

At this point I think it’s worthwhile comparing Ano Hana with Toradora! as both anime shared the same writer-director team. Toradora! was, to me, as Code Geass was to Shadowmage… not the best series I’ve seen, but the show I was prepared to get out of bed at 4AM for, and the show that I couldn’t stand waiting for week-to-week. So, maybe it’s no surprise that I preferred Toradora!, even if I don’t think it’s a great anime. I do, however, think it’s an anime with great moments, and I have no qualms saying that the best bits of Toradora! are way better than the best bits of Ano Hana. The characters of Toradora! are much more well rounded as well, and part of that might be due to the fact that it didn’t feel it needed to be serious all of the time. Perhaps this is why Hanasaku Iroha, which is now starting to turn a corner, has become so absorbing of late… the earlier episodes, which weren’t so interesting, helped develop the not-so-serious side of the characters, making them more sympathetic when things do become solemn. Because of that, at this point I’d definitely say Hanasaku Iroha has the potential to be Okada’s best series about flowers.

8 Responses to “Ano Hana, an Anthology of Comments”

  1. My comparison ended up like this:
    – AnoHana was about healing from traumatic experiences, Toradora was about learning what love is.
    – Toradora focused more on dishonesty, AnoHana selfishness.
    – Toradora had too much time, AnoHana too little.
    – Both tried cramming in too much for their own good.
    – Both abused drama almost to the point of ruining their best scenes.
    – Toradora had more (but incredibly weak) attempts at comedy.
    – AnoHana didn’t seem to use visual and audio gags or slapstick much.
    – AnoHana relied more on symbolic imagery.
    – AnoHana let us see the ugliness it’s characters from a closer perspective, Toradora rarely left Ryuuji’s perspective.

    The results, for me, were that it was easier to like Toradora’s cast, they had more time to be developed, we could sugarcoat their motivations because we didn’t really know them for a long time, and the cheesy comedy moments made it easier to take the drama less seriously and buy into it, even if they were excessive.

    AnoHana, on the other hand, was more consistent and up-front with it’s drama. You knew the characters were all traumatized in some way, so the drama so the drama could be forced a little without it losing you entirely. You basically knew what to expect: tears over a topic that tears should be shed for.

    Both were ultimately good melodramas with great characterization, a very solid core premise and execution, and simply embellished too much to be “realistic”.. they were aiming for drama to make a happy ending tenable.

  2. which highlights an interesting aspect of watching and discussing anime as a collective on the internet. These days, it’s very hard for anime creators to foreshadow hints subtle enough that they won’t go unnoticed by at least one person with a keen eye and access to an anime forum. Someone, somewhere, will probably speculate the next step in the plot. It’s just another little challenge for anime makers trying to write something that’s genuinely surprising.

    Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 flashback.

    I suppose these days, it’s more about how well it’s hinted at and to impress the viewers by showing that there is some actual planning and attention to details in your show.

    Provided the twist doesn’t end up becoming irksome.

    the earlier episodes, which weren’t so interesting, helped develop the not-so-serious side of the characters, making them more sympathetic when things do become solemn.

    That was/is the position I had always taken and argued was in favor for the show, when many were complaining about the ”filler” and ”weaker” early episodes. To help set up the cast for future plot lines and make them more endearing to us.

    at this point I’d definitely say Hanasaku Iroha has the potential to be Okada’s best series about flowers.

    That depends, since the two shows are very different with different end results and goals. AnoHana is a pure drama, while Hanasaku Iroha is a Slice-of-Life coming of sage tale, so I’m not sure there is much actual comparison to be done between the two, since they are fundamentally nothing alike.

    If I were to say which one I prefer to watch all over again between AnoHana and Hanasaku, then I’d have to go with Hanasaku at this point, since Anohana is something that is best not thought about much, other wise it losses a lot of it’s magic on the viewer. But since it’s incomplete, I don’t know if that will change in the future.

  3. While a lot of fair points have been raised, the main criticism a lot of people spurt out that I simply have to disagree with is that Ano Hana leaves everything unresolved.

    Ano Hana’s main focus was never about the romantics struggles within the group. Yukiatsu getting together with Tsuruko and Jintan with Anaru in the end would have done almost nothing for the narrative. That was never the main point of Ano Hana and that is blindly assuming Okada and the director ever wanted the romance to be integral to the narrative.

    Ano Hana was always about the group learning to move on from the death of their good friend, getting over the guilt. Moreover, it was also about old friends learning to move on from past wounds, and their own selfishness. The romance was a tool used to show how their selfishness really did plague and strain their relationships. Getting together would almost be counter productive to the narrative, as it doesn’t really show how the characters get past that selfishness (Oh, they just had their selfish wish fulfilled and didn’t grow as a character!).

    The whole series built up to episode 12, where each character realized what they’ve been doing wrong this whole time, and how they have been hurt by it. Sure it could have used a little less melodrama, I won’t deny that, but they definitely learned to accept their faults, and moved past Memma’s death as they bade her farewell.

    Without the strain of placing their own selfish emotions above others, the tension in the group significantly subsides and they are able to rebuild the super peace busters to wha tit once was, Memma or no Memma. You don’t need Jintan to tell Anaru I love you, or I don’t love you to get here. That isn’t necessary at all, and that’s just people interjecting their own desires for plot direction contrary to the writer/director’s wishes (Which were outlined from the very start mind you).

  4. @Hogart
    Yep, I’d say that’s a fair comparison. Usually I’m fairly responsive to ultra-serious shows, which might be why I was so smitten by the earlier episodes of Ano Hana, but the execution needs to be particularly good to make an ultra-serious show work perfectly. As opposed to my younger days, I can understand now why writers like to use snippets of humour in dramatic stories… they tend to make the characters feel more human.

    @Arabesque

    Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 flashback.

    Oh boy. Fun memories. 😛

    Hanasaku Iroha seems to have grown the beard in the last few episodes, much like Gosick did in its second cour. Maybe there is merit to the theory that when Okada writes a two cour show, they tend to be better in the second half than they are in the first.

    @Reckoner
    Yeah, the shipping element of Ano Hana is so incidental, it’s barely worth discussing. As you say, it definitely wasn’t the point of the show. I definitely don’t think Ano Hana left things unresolved, so those criticisms strike me as rather shortsighted. I do think that, when it went to resolve itself, it left too much to the last episode, so it came off as rushed and forced. I’m starting to think that had it disentangled the “Super Peace Busters should get along” element and Menma’s wish into separate episodes, it would have worked a lot better.

  5. @Reckoner,

    There was an Episode 12 of Ano Hana? Have you been using the Phone Microwave (name subject to change) recently?

    😀

  6. Whaddya mean? The extra episode is the one where Menma is revealed to be Jintan’s illusion the whole time.

  7. @Ascaloth and Mushyrulez

    Actually, ep 12 is the one where they reveal that Menma was alive the entire time, and everyone was just trolling Jinta.

  8. […] An Anthology of Comments […]

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