Anohana Episode 11 – Too Many Tears
Since my start as an anime blogger on antiotaku, I’ve found several benefits to the role. Aside from simply finding an outlet for my writing, approaching a series from a more analytical perspective has led me to research shows in ways I wouldn’t normally do, and find insights about the reasons certain things in a series are the way they are. By having to look at most of the series coming out each season, I’ve found hidden gems in shows I would have dismissed if I had just reviewed the synopsis. And I find the takedowns I write whenever I have the dubious honor of reviewing a terrible show to be vindictively amusing.
But it does leave me with a problem: As I cover a series episode by episode, the natural tendency is to overanalyze everything, looking for potential flaws and holes in the narrative. By becoming more critical, I have trouble enjoying a show for what it is, and appreciating its value as entertainment. So I come to the end of Anohana, probably the best show of this season, and a part of me is still very disappointed by it. And maybe that’s my problem, not the show’s.
On paper, this episode does everything it needs to do. Facing Menma’s continued presence, the living members of the group hold a meeting where they come to blame themselves for her failure to move on. In something akin to a revival meeting, each of them starts to spill out their sins—how each wanted Menma gone for their own selfish reasons, how they had hidden resentments at their former friends, and how each felt a degree of personal guilt for Menma’s death. Like a dyke bursting, all their feelings and secrets pour out.
Finally, Jinta admits why he never tried to prove Menma’s existence: He liked the idea of having a Menma all to himself. Menma, by contrast, wanted to move on so that she could be reincarnated, as only then would she be able to interact with everyone. Menma alone was the one thinking about everyone else, rather than about her own desires.
Such outbursts, and the way a ridiculous comment turns their weeping into a gale of laughter, all ring with a certain degree of psychological truth. But there’s something about the tone and presentation that seems off to me. Even though it follows naturally from what happened before, the declarations here—and the continued weeping, panic, and emotional outbursts that happen throughout this episode—seem a bit too forced and over the top. Given my respect of the director and the voice actors in this production, I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into things, or it is genuinely a problem. (Maybe after just watching an episode of Deadman Wonderland, I was on the lookout for overacting.)
There’s also the narrative issue of the collective sob session being based on a false premise. Anjou starts it off by assuming that because their motives weren’t pure, Menma couldn’t move on. But according to Menma, that has nothing to do with anything. Her wish was a simpler one: Jinta’s mom once shared a wish to Menma that Jinta should cry again; that is, he should be willing to express his feelings and not keep his hurt bottled up. Everyone else’s pain and suffering, technically speaking, were extraneous.
Jinta thus returns to his home to find Menma fading. She’s accomplished her goal (so she says) and it’s time for her to go. But because of his bonding with the rest of the group, Jinta won’t accept this, insisting that she meet with everyone else once more too. He drags her back to the group, only for Menma to disappear from his sight (but not hearing) completely. Only after writing messages for everyone does she reappear, to everyone, just before moving on.
Why? I understand the “why” from the standpoint of narrative impact, greater emotional finale, and all that. I also like that Jinta has realized his responsibility to help everyone else in the group. But there’s no rhyme or reason as to “why” Menma would disappear only to reappear, within the world that has been revealed. It’s convenient for the tug-on-heartstrings moment it produces, but it doesn’t make sense save on a meta level.
So the finale of Anohana, while doing everything it needed to do, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Is it just my problem? Am I too busy looking at plot holes and narrative rationales to appreciate the drama? Am I too emotionally stunted to appreciate an episode-long cathartic rush? I don’t know. But I finished this episode feeling less enthusiastic about the series than I did when I started it. And for a show of this quality, that will always be disappointing.
Series Review: Despite spending most of this episode’s review complaining about the series, Anohana is still a great show. While it sports an overtly supernatural plot device, the problems and struggles of the cast are wholly natural, in all the meanings of the word. Unrequited love, the pain of losing a friend, the guilt of harsh words you can’t take back: All of these potent themes, and used to good effect here.
Another gift the show has had has been that of subtlety. The actions of the characters were allowed be suggestive and not in your face, a hallmark of director Tatsuyuki Nagai (also noticeable in his work on Toradora and the second season of Honey and Clover); the audience learns everything they needed to know without ever feeling handheld by the narrative. So individuals keep their secret shame close to the chest, until circumstances force a revelation.
Maybe my disappointment comes in comparison to those two works, which were wider ranging than this one. Both Toradora and Honey and Clover had more frequent comic asides (very well done ones, too), but both also had more themes in play than just the romantic ones. Toradora took a hard look at the effect of family life and parenting on the emotional capacity and maturity of children, and Honey and Clover spoke to wider issues of finding one’s place in the working world, and the different burdens of those with and without talent.
By contrast, the end of Anohana subsumes all its running sub-themes related to emotional isolation, hikikomori-ism, and the like to Menma, Menma, Menma for the finale. Even the perpetually thwarted romantic relationships all return to that. This means everything can be wrapped up tidily when the group receives from Menma what they needed to learn, but the mere fact everything resolves so quickly seems to cheapen their problems. That, as much as the excessive emoting that came along the way, makes me more standoffish to this series.
Of course, Toradora and Honey and Clover are two of the best shows I have ever seen, so any comparison to them will be unfair. But Anohana, I think, also had the potential to be one of the best shows I have ever seen. Instead, it’s just a very good show, one which you really should watch. But my take on it will always be haunted by the fact that it could have been more.
You can watch this episode here.