Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai Episodes 1 and 2 – Youthful Promise
One of the smartest things Funimation ever did was work out a deal for automatic simulcast rights for any noitaminA show they might have an interest in. Thus, great shows like Tatami Galaxy, Shiki, House of Five Leaves, and Princess Jellyfish got immediate airtime in the US.
As of late, however, the execs at Funimation haven’t been as discerning in their choices. While in retrospect it was a mistake, I can sort of see prioritizing Fractale over Wandering Son, as the former had a director with a very high profile and the latter was on a niche topic bound to make viewers uneasy. (Wandering Son got picked up by Crunchyroll anyway, so no harm done.) This season, however, they picked up [C]—about which I’ll have more to say in a future review—and passed on Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai (“We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day”). Once again, it looks like they let the superior show lay fallow.
Anohana (the abbreviation of the show’s unwieldy name) is about six children who were the best of friends in elementary, until one of them died in a tragic accident. Several years later, the five remaining all drifted apart, but each is marked by that tragedy in a special way. However their outward appearance and behavior has matured, they’ve all lost some key spark that would make them healthy adjusted.
This is most obviously the case with Jinta Yadomi. Once he was an intelligent student and outgoing personality, the natural leader of the young group of friends, until Meiko Honma died. The two had an obvious crush on each other, yet “Jin-tan” had vigorously (and rudely) denied it shortly before “Menma’s” death. Fraught with guilt and left without purpose as the group falls apart, he becomes more withdrawn and eventually pulls out of school entirely, becoming a shut-in child who is the talk of the small community for his failure.
The others of the group have also changed as a result of the events, and not typically for the good. Naruko Anjou (once known as “Anaru”) has become a stereotypical teenage girl, obsessed with fashion, popularity, and hanging out with fashionable, popular girls. But she feels her own guilt over Menma’s death, for prompting the exchange that drove Jinta and Menma apart.
Atsumu Matsuyuki and Chiriko Tsurumi (“Yukiatsu” and “Tsuruko”) seem the least affected, both attending most prestigious high school in town and outward distant from their friends who didn’t keep up. Their natural pairing is marred by Matsuyuki’s hidden yet still ongoing feelings for Menma, which seems to approach the level of mental pathology.
All them, in their own way, are in a holding pattern, with Menma’s absence leaving too many issues unresolved and apparently unresolvable. Each has “outgrown” their child-selves, but they haven’t escaped them, no matter how hard they try to run away.
The only seeming solution to their problems is for Menma to come back to them, so of course that’s what she does. Jinta first assumes he’s dealing with a hallucination when a teenage Menma (who still acts like her grade school self) appears, particularly when it’s obvious that no one else can hear or see her. But she can still interact with the world around her, and she’s clearly identified as a ghost here to set things right, even if she doesn’t realize exactly how.
The ghost Menma encourages Jinta to fulfill a promise he made years ago, even thought neither of them can remember exactly what it was. Menma is sure that it involves getting the old gang back together, so Jinta slowly begins to interact with the world again to make that happen. It’s as he comes into contact with the old gang that he (and we) begin to learn how things have changed, and how much has to be done to set things right.
The first episode is mostly setting the framework, having Jinta meet with each his former friends in turn. The last is Tetsudou Hisakawa (“Poppo”), who opted out of high school to travel the world, doing odd jobs in between to pay for it. Poppo seems the most laid-back and least scarred of the group, but only at the cost of not really maturing. Of all of them he seems the least affected by the tragic ends of the past, but he’s also living in a way so as to evade adult responsibility.
My main worry for the show is that it will wind up endorsing this approach to life as the best option available—a retreat into childish enthusiasm for adventure at the expense of dealing with the world as it is. Poppo is seemingly the only one beside Menma doesn’t mind going by his old nickname, and immediately accepts Menma’s existence when Jinta explains it, simply because it fits better into his mental framework of believing anything that seems sufficiently cool. Making Poppo into the lodestone of right behavior would be a serious mistake for the show.
Likewise, the second episode shows Poppo, Jinta, and Anjou all finally reuniting … to play the show’s version of Pokemon. I’m hardly one to speak ill of playing games as a social event, but the impression so far has been that a return to childhood, rather than maturing into adult responsibilities and relationships, is the solution to past trauma and the struggles of adolescence.
My fears here might be completely unfounded; this show reunites the writer/director team that did Toradora, after all, and Toradora is ultimately about those with troubled pasts moving into adulthood as it is about a romance. More to the point, this is a team that can do subtle characterization and genuine emotional drama, when given the right source material to work from.
And whatever my fears, Anohana provides both of those in manner which I haven’t seen the like of since, well, the first episode of Hana-Saku Iroha. And with a far more serious backdrop for its characters and setting, Anohana is setting itself up to be the superior of the two. With only 11 episodes in total to work with, it will have no choice but to be the more focused one.