Anohana Episode 8 – The Indispensible Link
For those who suspected that Menma’s mother would serve as a major plot impediment, it looks now like she won’t. The fireworks project of last episode is more or less completely disregarded this time around, with its narrative usefulness at an end. It served its purpose of exploring the themes of responsibility and the limits of adulthood, and got Jinta working. So now the show is ready to move on.
The narrative of Anohana continues to be multi-layered, with several themes vying for the viewer’s attention at any given moment, and all getting equal time. This makes the show fascinating for the audience but, as I’ve said before, frustrating for a reviewer, who has to pick and choose some theme to focus on while knowing equally important aspects are getting left out.
This episode, for example, focuses on the dual themes of parenting and survivor’s guilt (both of which have been touched on before), and intertwines them to the point where it’s hard to see where one ends and the other begins. It’s a particular skill of the show that this sort of presentation is the norm rather than the exception.
Trying to get a different opinion, the group heads to the Homna residence, hoping that Menma’s mother will talk her husband into allowing the fireworks sale. Of course, Irene was responsible for blocking it in the first place, and it doesn’t take very long for her to let her inner demons out. Rather than being the one best adjusted to Menma’s death (as was my impression from the first episode), she’s in fact the worst affected, to the point where she can barely interact with her still-living family.
From her perspective, her breakdown is normal, so the sight of the old gang coming together is intolerable. For all Jinta and the rest claim to be acting for Menma’s sake, to her they are just carrying on with old times, having their fun even though Menma is gone. Because they aren’t trapped in the past like she is, she assumes they can’t really have loved Menma; how else could they be happy even though she’s dead?
This is, of course, nonsense: All of them are unhappy and trapped in the past—and they are this way not through honoring Menma’s memory, but through wallowing in their own feelings of guilt. Their guilt is only magnified by seeing how broken Irene is, and realizing that the group coming back together is a part of that.
With that sobering revelation and the rocket plan on hiatus, the group comes in danger of falling apart again. Aside from Poppo, no one is really willing to believe that Menma’s ghost is hanging around Jinta (even Poppo might be forcing himself), and Jinta’s attempts to force the issue only angers Matsuyuki, and eventually Anjou. She finally opens her heart to Jinta this episode, but unwisely makes him choose between her and Memna, so of course she loses.
Jinta comes to realize this episode that since he can see Menma, he’s able to be saved by her (coming out of his shell and working in the real world)—but everyone else is in equal need of salvation, and he can’t do anything about it. All he can do is fulfill his own responsibility to Menma.
Menma, seeing this dynamic in a new light this episode, comes to a realization herself. She’s tired of being a bystander, tired of having Jinta ignored and belittled. But to end that, she needs to be a bit more active in how she communicates with the rest of the group.
The show has been open since the premiere that Menma is a ghost, and not a figment of Jinta’s imagination; we’ve also seen plenty of evidence that Menma can affect the physical world. Now, she’s finally willing to use that to her advantage, calling each of her friends—who can’t hear her, but who know someone is calling from an empty house—to get them to meet again, and showing them a new entry in her diary.
Why Menma chose to do this now is clear: She understands that unless she communicates more directly, her wishes won’t be heard. Why she didn’t choose to do this earlier is a bit less clear, but while I think in some ways the show would have been more interesting if Menma was just a figment of Jinta’s imagination, that was never the way Anohana was going to play it. Perhaps Menma just needed to realize her own responsibilities for seeing her wish fulfilled.
People turned off by the supernatural elements probably stopped watching some time ago, and although I would have preferred to see the characters overcome their grief without ghostly aid, that was clearly not going to happen. The entire point of the show is how lost everyone is without Menma; it’s only natural that Menma will need to return to set things right.
Having said all that, that does lessen the impact of the story of a whole. While supernatural events of this sort are common even in the most moving and effective anime melodramas (I’m thinking of the works of Key Studio in particular), Anohana looked like it was on the way to accomplishing something even greater than that. But as much as this show has and will continue to convey real truths about the human condition, the nature of loss, and the transition to adulthood, it’s now lost a certain element of realism that it could have, at least tenuously, claimed before. Real-life mourners aren’t normally comforted by their lost loved ones.
I could just as easily phrase it the other way, though: As much as this episode used supernatural means to overcome a natural problem, it still is communicating real truths about the human condition. And how many shows, from any country and in any medium, can honestly claim to have achieved that? Wherever Anohana goes with future episodes, I’m confident this will still be the case.
You can watch this episode here.