AnoHana 9

Yukiatsu and other doubters can no longer deny it: Menma is there, and only Jinta can see and hear her. She can write to them, but only on certain things (her diary, and the planks of the secret base, for instance.) This is initially a great relief for Jinta, and Menma has never been more cheerful. But when the plan to launch fireworks and send Menma to heaven are revived (thanks in part to Yukiatsu’s groveling), Jinta has to consider whether he actually wants her to leave.

The group is finally being open with each other about their feelings, but the people they want to hear them most…aren’t. Anaru likes Jintan, but he doesn’t notice her because of Menma. Yukiatsu likes Menma, but can’t see or hear her. Tsuruko likes Yukiatsu, but at the same time is disgusted by his Menma complex. Even Poppo hints that he had a crush on Menma. Apparently uninterested in Tsuruko, but now conceding he will never reach Menma, Yukiatsu reaches out to Anaru.

There are so many great, complex, weird relationships in AnoHana that I’m loath to pick favorites, but if I had to, I’d probably pick Yukiatsu and Anaru right now, the “kindred spirits” who are both tormented by unrequited love for people physically right next to them. They also seem to have evolved the most in the course of the series. As sweet as it is for Jintan to finally be acknowledging how much he loved Menma, never wanting her to go is moving backwards.

Right now he still has Anaru, a living, breathing friend who loves him. But if he continues to let the past (literally) haunt him, Anaru and everyone else may pass him by…again. At the same time, I wonder if Yukiatsu is offering Anaru a false choice by going out with him – will he ever be over Menma? Will she ever be over Jintan? Poppo’s hesitation to ask Menma anything serious is also intriguing, as well as Tsuruko discovering (or at least confirming) Yukiatsu’s manner with Anaru. Hard to believe it’s only been nine episodes. Rating: 4

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Everyone feels their share of guilt over Menma’s death, from the surviving Peace Busters to her mother. It seemed, in the beginning, that all her friends had gotten over her and moved on except Jinta. But one by one, we learn that everyone has unresolved guilt and pain within them; Jinta, being haunted by Menma, brought them back together and brought those emotions back to the surface. So the question now is, what to do with them?

Anjou is distressed by how hard Jinta is working, or punishing himself, for Menma’s sake. She also confesses to him that she was glad and relieved when he said he didn’t like Menma way back then at the secret base, and never got over her guilt for feeling that. She lays it all out for Jinta, but all he can do is walk away; no matter what anyone says, he can’t forget about someone who he can still see, hear, and touch. You can’t help but feel bad for Anjou either, though.

When everyone visits Menma’s mother, she accuses them of only wanting to have fun, and curses them for being allowed to grow up and live out their lives while Menma can’t. She’s haunted by her daughter’s memory, but not her person, so she has even fewer answers – and hence more despair – than anyone else. It outlines the “competition” (for lack of a better word) between Menma’s friends’ pain and that of the woman who gave birth to her. She may see exuberance and life in Menma’s grown friends, but she doesn’t know what we know about what they feel beneath their exteriors.

When Jinta goes to apologize to Anjou, everyone else is there, and a sort of invervention occurs, with only Poppo on his side. Just as Yukiatsu is about to slug him, Menma makes her presence known to everyone for the first time by writing in her diary and dropping it. This is a huge development, though it may not assuage the skeptics among Jinta’s friends. But it’s clear one thing Menma wishes above all is for everyone to be friends and not fight.

One other character I’ve neglected until now is the force of Jinta’s dad: this guy lost his beautiful wife, but he carries on, in a way Jinta hasn’t figured out how to do. He’s also the best kind of dad; one who isn’t as concerned with his son following the rules as much as following his heart and his own path in life. Rating: 4

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This was just a flat-out superb episode for Jintan and Anaru. Straight away this week, their romantic tension is escalated just a bit more, as Anaru proves to be quite the klutz. I’m aware that relationships don’t typically begin with awkward trips into someone’s personal space, but it works here, perhaps because we know these characters so well and they know each other so well. Anywho, the two of them and Poppo finally open Menma’s diary, which starts out prretty non-specific and innocuous.

But even seemingly dead-end declarations like “we had to go to the hopital today” open an entirely new set of memories for Jintan. All these years he and everyone else has been wrestling with their own memories; the diary is a window into memories from an entirely new perspective and tone. It also provides clues as to what Menma’s elusive “wish” might have been…if any. Finding their crude diagrams reminds them how big they used to dream before, you know, they became jaded sixteen year-olds. Alas, even acquiring toy fireworks requires a license, and paying someone to make a rocket for them will cost $2000. Denied!

Not to be stymied by financial obstacles, Jintan gets a job at the video store where Anaru works, and their interactions are simply fantastic. They get into such a comfort zone, they’re even able to call each other by their old nicknames again. Similarly, Yukiatsu and Tsuruko continue their subtle, aloof dance. Hey, maybe these crazy kids should forget about Menma, stop living in the past, and look at what they have right in front of them? Well, for one thing, because Jintan still sees her ghost.

So, what about Menma? Well, when she first learns about Jintan’s job from a third party, she’s angry, but then she learns why he, Anaru and Poppo are working: her wish to send a rocket to God. She realizes he’s not lying out of malice, but so that he can surprise her. Seeing him alive makes her feel alive. Whether it will help her move on to the beyond, we’ll have to see. Finally, Yukiatsu, who’s been so honest and open lately, is still keeping something from Jintan, namely that the day she died, Menma called everyone but Jintan to meet up at the secret base. What’s that about? Rating: 4

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Deep in thought about why Menma is haunting him to begin with, Jinta decides to attempt another return to school, as per one of her wishes-in-passing. He not only makes it through the gates, but into his classroom and to his desk, only to notice hardly anyone is talking about him, but rather the recent incident involving Anaru and the love hotel. Apparently, someone saw her walking around in a slinky outfit with an older man. (Though I don’t (or don’t want) to believe she was ratted out by her “it” girl “friends”.)

Just when he senses Anaru is about to lose it from all the murmurs, he stands up and sticks his neck out for her, with a passionate, heartfelt defense, the jist of which was: “She’s a great person who’d never have sex for money, so everyone shut the hell up.” While he let loose one too many personal details for Anaru’s taste, she is both grateful to him for the effort and greatly entertained by the embarrassing spectacle he lost. She’s also probably happy he’s back in class – if only briefly. Their relationship has come a long way.

When Poppo recommends they visit Menma’s house for clues, their mother is kind enough to let him, Jinta and Anaru pray by her shrine, enter her empty room, view her box of possessions, and even borrow her diary. After reporting this to Menma back home, Menma is upset by the prospect their visit made her mother remember and worry about her, causing her more grief. This could be the key to why Menma is still loitering around: she can’t stop putting others ahead of herself, even after death. Rating: 4

P.S.: In the beginning Jinta is watching Occult Academy! He has excellent taste. 

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It’s one thing if you’re haunted by your dead friend, it’s quite another if even she doesn’t know why she’s there, and can’t talk to any of her other friends, who used to be yours too. Yukiatsu, it turns out, doesn’t understand why Jinta can see him and he can’t. While Jinta called her ugly the last time he saw her alive, Yukiatsu confessed his love for her (or like, at least). But as more of the gang wishes they could see her, Menma’s inability to grasp her “wish” or talk to others makes her despair, as Poppo tries to communicate right in front of her.

Yukiatsu at least has a catharsis of sorts, as he confronts Jinta, in drag, and tells him what he didn’t know: he also blames himself for Menma’s demise. His obsession with Menma since her death took a different form, but was nonetheless a powerful force in his life, though it didn’t keep him from school. Tsuruko is glad this side of him is finally revealed, but less interested in helping him prop balance his self-esteem. If she wasn’t before, Tsuruko is the biggest enigma of the gang.

As for Anaru, she gets herself in a little trouble with her jailbait outfit and friends, and it’s only thanks to dumb luck and coincidence that save her from an unwanted liason with a buzzed salaryman. Yukiatsu gets her to confess that she can’t stop thinking about Jinta, though she isn’t sure whether this means she likes or loves him. What’s clear is that everyone seems to be held back by the past. Everyone save perhaps Poppo; though if he is unfulfilled of unhappy with his life, he hasn’t indicated it yet. Rating: 4

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Just as the rest of the group more or less comes around to Jintan’s side, searching for the ghost of Menma in the forest, Yukiatsu’s hostility only intensifies. “This isn’t the old days where you played the leader,” he tells Jintan, and he “never acknowledged him anyway.” Whether or not this is true, it’s clear that Jintan’s Menma complex disgusts him, and what Jintan has become disgusts him too. But he also seems to be disgusted with himself. On the surface, he appears to be a very upstanding, good-looking kid who studies hard. But there’s definitely something off about him. Disguising himself as Menma, for one thing, is unorthodox at best.

Before I muse more on that revelation, a word on the other Peace Buster members. Tsuruko is perhaps the most enigmatic member, as she has agreed to go along with the others, but still maintaining cool emotional distance from the proceedings. Anaru, meanwhile, is just as jealous as Menma as she was as a child. She upsets Jintan when she slips and he has to catch her from a potentially fatal fall – the same fall Menma apparently suffered. However he feels about Menma, Jintan cannot bear another loss, especially Anaru. Poppo kind of fades into the background after his initial role of reuniting the group; his loyalty to Jintan is all but absolute.

Back to Yukiatsu: why is he dressing up like Menma and wearing a wig? To deceive Jintan, or everyone? To toy with the guy he called a “whipped dog”? He tells Jintan he thinks he’s getting carried away, but what Yukiatsu is doing here is clearly getting carried away. It’s disrespectful to his former friends, and disrespectful to the memory of Menma. Also, I don’t see how he thought he wouldn’t eventually get caught in the act, so did he want to get caught? Does he want to punish Jintan, or himself? And what of Tsuruko, who’s remained closer to him than anyone else (even if that isn’t that close): she has a lot of knowing looks in this episode, but did she know Yukiatsu was capable of this? Rating: 3.5

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A step backwards and a few forward for Jinta week, as he can’t quite make it to school, but is at least out in the world, talking to people besides Menma. Most importantly, the entire crew is reunited thanks to a proactive Poppo, who organizes a barbeque with the theme of searching for Menma, the ghost of whom he saw while taking a piss. It’s inevitable that among these six friends, people will start picking favorites. But I’m having a hard time, as they’re all really complex and full of subtle emotions and mannerisms.

I will say I’m leaning towards Anaru as my early favorite. Her tiny smile when she spots Jinta in his school uniform is great, but she can’t quite fight off her “friends” whose taunting scares Jinta off. This frustrated me to no end, as did Jinta’s turning tail when he saw Anaru on the way to the barbeque. While that latter attempt fails, it exhibited that he’s still a little uncomfortable interacting with other people. His walk to school muttering to himself is another example.

But baudy Poppo, who won’t take no for an answer and has a nice backpacker zen vibe going on, isn’t the only architect of the reunion. It’s Menma. Either spotting her ghost or having her occupy their thoughts, she’s the key. I’m glad the group is back together again and can talk to each other casually, especially when there are only eight episodes left. The series is still moving at a good pace, and yet isn’t feeling rushed. Rating: 4

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Jintan actually made much quicker progress than I’d predicted this week, as he re-connects not only with the ebullient Poppo, but Anaru as well. It was a rough go at first, but when Tsuruko basically called her identity into question, it would seem she laid off Jintan a little, even inviting him and Poppo to her home to play, ahem…”Mokemon”. In the end, it would seem she hasn’t changed from who she was.

Tsuruko is harsh, but while she comes off like a bitch, I don’t think she meant to be intentonally malevolent. This seems more like disappointment that Anaru hasn’t moved on from being “easily led along”, stemming from her jealosy of Menma’s closeness to Jintan. It was clear that she still likes Jintan from last week, but its not easy for her to express it, especially now that she’s become one of the “it” girls. The transformation in her interactions with Jintan from start to finish is truly fun to watch.

I’m thinking more and more that everyone feels a certain amount of nostalgia regarding Menma, who apparently drowned (shoe in water). Yukiatsu even seems to have her dress (not sure how that happened, a very odd twist for Mr. Perfect). Since Jintan is the only one who can see and hear her, it’s all been his doing. Anaru’s hope that he’ll come to school indicates that Jintan is on his way to forgiving himself and living his life, while reuniting his old gang. But the two preppies should prove tough eggs to crack. Rating: 4

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai – First Impressions

With yet another gorgeous, well-made series with a immediately appealing cast, this is shaping up to be a great spring 2011 season. The only glaring flaw in AnoHana so far is that it has an obnoxiously long title…and everyone has an ordinary name and a nickname I need to remember. Everything else is solid.

“Jintan” used to be the “leader” of his group of six friends. Then one of them – “Menma”, a frail-looking girl with silver hair – died. With that hole in their collective hearts, they drifted apart. Now high school age, Jintan is a shut-in with social anxiety, and the only one who sees the “ghost” of Menma. He’s having trouble growing up, especially when she’s always whining and hanging off him.

The reason for his trauma is, he felt he wounded her deeply the last time he saw her, and never got the chance to apologize. She was also someone he was in love with, so her loss is something he hasn’t been able to recover from. His friends, while more mature on the surface, nevertheless still share his grief of losing Menma, in their own way.

These six characters are pretty diverse, and even though they’ve just been introduced, I’m already rooting for Jintan to re-unite the group. You want to hope their dormant friendships could weather the storm of – well, life – and all gain strength from the reunion. It doesn’t seem right that they’re apart and cool towards one another right now. And it certainly isn’t what Menma would have wanted. Rating: 4

Spring 2011 Season Preview

The Winter 2011 season was a welcome respite from Fall 2010, with only four shows we felt we needed to watch, plus three Fall carryovers. All seven of these shows end when the Spring 2011 season begins, so it will be a clean slate (Bakuman 2 will come in a later season). If Fall 2010’s fourteen (or was it fifteen?) shows taught us anything, it’s to be more discriminate; giving a few decent-to-great shows our full attention is far better than spreading it out amongst more than a dozen or more of varying quality.

To that end, seven to eight shows will be our limit this spring, so a couple of the ten Spring series below may be dropped before their runs end. Which ones, we have no idea; we always go in as blind as possible, let the anime speak for itself, and decide after two or three episodes. And we will have no regrets. The eleven we’ve chosen here are based solely on their initial synopses, promo art, and in the case of some, the fact they’re sequels to stuff we’ve already watched (God Only Knows.)

Similarly, we won’t be watching any sequels to franchises we’ve never watched, and there are many this season that fit that bill (Kaiji, Gintana, Maria+Holic, Chaos;Head, etc.) There’s just too much new stuff coming up to get bogged down in shows that have already established themselves (though lately we’ve gotten into Haibane Renmei; retro wrap-up pending). So here’s the list. Looking forward to April: leaves, sunlight, baseball, and…the following:

Hyouge Mono – Beetrain – April 7 NHK BS2
Ao no Exorcist – A-1 – April – MBS
Tiger & Bunny – Sunrise – April – BS11 / MBS
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai. – A-1 – April – Fuji TV
C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control – Tatsunoko Production – April – Fuji TV
Sket Dance – Tatsunoko Production – April – TV Tokyo Kei
Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko – SHAFT – April – TBS / TBS BS
The World God Only Knows II – manglobe – April
Hana-Saku Iroha – P.A.Works – Spring
Deadman Wonderland – manglobe – Spring