An 11 episode series airing in Spring 2011, the Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day anime follows a group of friends as they come to terms with the death of a friend, Meiko ‘Menma’ Honma, and her spirit coming to pester the character Jinta Yadomi. When Menma dies in an accident when the group of friends are in sixth grade, the show flashes six years into the future.
She asks Yadomi for a wish to be granted and explains she won’t be able to pass into the afterlife until it is fulfilled. He reaches out to the rest of the group and asks for help in fulfilling the wish since Menma cannot remember what it is that needs to be fulfilled. Although there is initial tension and doubt, as the friends come to think he is hallucinating, Menma reveals herself to the entire group and they begin to process and figure out what to do.
The existential themes and subtext of afterlife and the impermanence of everything offers a meaningful examination of what we value, how we mourn, how we love and how we remember together.
In the task of helping the spirit of Menma, the group realizes they are the key to resolving this problem. However, hidden feelings, internal conflicts, and lingering feelings of bitterness from Menma’s parents cause difficulties in not only helping Menma move on, but each other as well. Feelings resurface and they are left with the traumatic questioning and uncertainty from six years prior.
A couple years later in 2013 the film ‘A Letter to Menma’ was released and takes place one year after the series and documents many memory bits of the joys and trauma the characters went through. There are flashbacks, many to the events in the anime series, some new or expanding on what was previously shown.
The Journey and Beauty of Loss the Characters Experience
At the surface this anime is about Menma, and a ghost trying to pass peacefully to the next lifetime. However, it is an indirect examination of the process of grief and the sometimes volatile path of healing for the friends she left behind.
Their lives still are unified around her traumatic departure from their lives as they continue to attempt to cope with her death. Jintan has become more and more antisocial to the point of not going to school. Poppo ended up traveling and dropping out of school.
Anaru blindly tried to fit in at school by following the popular crowd. And Tsuruko has put all her time and energy into being a companion to Yukiatsu, the final member of the group.
But it is Yukiatsu’s character who seems the most normal or handles it best, that falls and is hit with emotion the hardest. He is reminded of his unresolved childhood love for Menma and his seething jealousy of Jintan. All five living friends have gone their separate ways in order to cope with Menma’s death.
Menma’s family’s present state is also riddled with pain and the residue of unresolved grief and turmoil. Her mother has spun out secretly hating Menma’s friends that get to grow up but not her daughter.
Her father pretends as if nothing happened and that he never even has a daughter to begin with. Her younger brother barely remembers her but has to deal with the neglect of his parents that cannot move past their dead daughter.
Her ghostly return causes a violent breakdown of everyone’s emotional walls and makes for a truly heartrending drama. It is not a happy story but it is not singularly a depressing story. It highlights how the death of a child derailed the lives of those around her, but at the same time it also points to that although there are depressing revelations and heartbreaking moments, the experience of loss can teach us something.
Anohana is not a light story. It is a serious examination of how the death of a young child can really real the lives of those around her. But this isn’t to say there are not wholesome or happy moments or that it isn’t an uplifting or hopefully story. Throughout the series we are handed many depressing revelations, heartbreak, drama and the concept of loss. But beyond these themes the root is a story of love, what it means to let go and finding truth and purpose.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Anohana is the type of anime that the community generally craves and wants to see. Something away from the over saturation of adaptations of manga, games and light novels, ‘original’ productions have leverage to make a lasting impact. The show is much less anime-ish than most typical shows whose themes and characters waver in a more imaginative complex. Whereas Anohana brings a distinct shift of realism, which is very refreshing. Fantasy and imaginative elements are still at play, of course, but there is a more so live action presentation and treatment of their characters and their emotions. The look of characters as well as the various environments has a much richer plausibility to them, making it more relatable and grounding. Interactions between characters have a more imbued authenticity and quietness with a removal of the typical over the top reactions and visuals of character responses and dialogues, a clear pivot from extreme stylisation which sets it apart.
This can come across and land with people in polarizing ways. The main appeal and draw to anime is that it is a different kind of entertainment than what we’d typically experience with live-action productions. It can come across disappointing or underwhelming when it seems it could’ve been done as a live action practically scene by scene, leaving us perhaps craving for something different than real life footage. Anohana doesn’t do this and could quite frankly be argued to have been simply a J-drama;however, this doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a very captivating show. As for the design and aesthetics of the show, it completely delivers. All of the characters are unique and the music is perfectly attuned to the emotionality of the show. Character development and interaction is one of the strongest qualities and over such a short amount of episodes is impressive. Although the characters can come across negatively they all have their positive elements and the well portrayed individual ways each character moves through their feelings is interesting and relatable.
It is a show that delivers along many levels despite certain character annoyances or clearly lacking certain standard anime qualities. It certainly stands a part as a show that makes you think, reflect, feel and understand. It is not a light watch and I think that it is impactful beyond the simple act of watching. I think although it can face certain valid complaints over the lack of fantastical anime formatting, it shines through in conveying the deeper root of human suffering and the alchemy of pain and suffering into love and joy.
The Unifying Power and Universal Experience of Death
This anime is a pivot from more lighthearted and playful anime shows. It boldly digs into the harder and more vulnerable emotions of the human experience. It is one of the saddest animes, but also has an immense uplifting essence to the narrative.
Perhaps a bit dark or heavy, this show does not deviate from the solem, tragic and bleak realities we are faced with in our journeys through life. It audaciously and boldly presents us with a cast of ill fitting characters that don’t properly know how to move through their worlds because of a certain amount of grief and weight they continue to hold. At times utterly heartbreaking and sad, this show has a moral compass and lesson that has the potential to touch viewers in a way that they did not anticipate. By showcasing such dark parts of the human experience, the vulnerability the show’s characters move through can offer us all a bit of guidance and support to perhaps understand our suffering on a deeper level and through a new lens of compassion. It is a different kind of show completely, but it is admirable to see the way in which they have utilized this platform to tell a new kind of story that perhaps can reach people in a real and vulnerable way.
The series is successful in its characterisation and pacing for such heighted drama impact moments. It is well balanced as an enjoyable, thoughtful and beautiful exploration of relationships.
The story is heart-wrenchingly real and raw, with something for most viewers to empathize and relate to. Loss is a universal condition that sometimes we don’t have the proper way to feel, understand or let go of. This show is a beautiful story of love, of loss, of letting go and what it means to truly do the right thing. It gives us truth and understanding and an element of insight into the way we all move in our worlds within the spheres of love and loss.