AnoHana – 09 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 11 Jun 2011 – 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 we’re loath to pick favorites, but if we had to, we’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, we 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: 9 (Superior)

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2011 So Far – in chart form

We like charts here on RABUJOI. This one plots the ratings of all the anime series we’ve reviewed so far in 2011. We’ve included Summer 2011 series, even though we’ve got 5-6 more weeks of episodes in those seasons. When the Summer season does conclude, we’ll update this chart.

So what do we see? Well, while we deem a 2.5 rating to be “Average”, our actual average is closer to 3.5, which we deem “Standout”. This is because there’s a lot of anime out there, but we try to only watch the best. There are exceptions, of course: the main outlier here is Morita-san wa Mukuchi, which rates just above 2 or “Mediocre” (UPDATE: As of episode 7, we’ve dropped Morita-san :P). There are a lot more series out there we’d probably rank this low or lower, but we don’t have the time or the stomachs to sit through them.

So why do we watch Morita-san wa Mukuchi? Well, it’s only three minutes long; hardly a major investment. So it isn’t that we rate high. We just watch series that regularly deserve above-average ratings. Thus when a truly brillant series comes around – like AnoHana or Mawaru Penguindrum, you’ll see a lot of 4s. At the end of the day, it’s all subjective. We also just like charts. Did we say that already?

2011 So Far

With most of Spring 2011 all wrapped up and the Summer 2011 season starting this weekend, it seemed a good time to line up all the series that have aired this year (excluding Fall 2010 carryovers) and see what’s what so far:

Episode # : 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 AVG

AnoHana 4 4 4 3.5 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 3.955
[C] 3.5 4 4 4 3.5 4 4 4 4 4 4 3.909
Hanasaku Iroha 4 4 4 3.5 3.5 3 3 4 4 4 4 4 3.769
Puella Magi Madoka Magica 3.5 3.5 3 4 3.5 4 4 4 4 4 4 3.5 3.750
Deadman Wonderland 4 3.5 4 3.5 4 4 4 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.727
Level-E 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 4 4 3.538
Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.450
Fractale 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 3.364
Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 2.5 2 2.5 3.5 3.5 4 4 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 4 3.308
Sket Dance (First Half) 2.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3 4 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.308
Ao no Exorcist (First Half) 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3 2.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.273
The World God Only Knows II 3.5 3 3 2.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 3.5 3.5 2.5 3.250
Tiger & Bunny (First Half) 3.5 3 3 3.5 3 3 3 3 3.5 3.5 2.5 3 3.5 3.154

Weekly Average 3.4 3.3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.7 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.8 3.520

Stray Observations:

•  Overall, Spring 2011 was a particularly good season. Even if I included the huge Fall 2010 season in the table above, the top three Spring series would still dominate the podium. Quality, not quantity. Summer 2011 has its work cut out for it.

• AnoHana, just an episode shy of perfection, became a personal favorite. [C] came two shy. These two series couldn’t be more different, but both rocked.

• Best Music: Taku Iwasaki. He provided the excellent score for [C], and has also scored Katanagatari, Gurren Lagann, Soul Eater, etc.

• Hanasaku Iroha sagged a bit in the middle there, but its first half began and ended extremely strong. And even those middle episodes had their charms. Looking forward to the second half this Summer.

• At first I didn’t quite know what to make of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, but it quickly found its stride and ended up one of my all-time favorites, despite its relatively modest score.

• Deadman Wonderland has just one episode to wrap everything up. This show deserves a second season. More than Tiger & Bunny.

• Level E and Denpa Onna both involve “aliens” of some kind – and both scored extremely consistent ratings. Moreso if Denpa’s final double episode is a good one.

 In hindsight, perhaps some episodes of Fractale were ranked too high. This is possibly due to the great visuals and imaginative setting, which carried that series.

• I was harsh in the beginning of Kimi ni Todoke’s second season, but perhaps that was just because I hadn’t quite settled back into the romantic futility. As a result, this series had the most rating variation.

• Sket Dance’s only flaw was its opening episode, with its red herring protagonist. Since then it’s been consistently funny and entertaining, so I’m sticking with it.

• I’m also optimistic about Ao no Exorcist‘s second half, but not as excited about Tiger & Bunny‘s. Prove me wrong, Tiger & Bunny!

• The World God Only Knows II took a dip of .167 below its first season. Hopefully, the third season will arrest that downward trend.

• Best Female Seiyu: Winter: Eri Kitamura as Sayaka in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Spring: Haruka Tomatsu as Anaru in AnoHana. She was also Megumi in Shiki.

• Best Male Seiyu: Winter: Level E’s “Prince”,  Daisuke Namikawa.
Spring: Tomokazu Sugita as Sket Dance’s “Switch.”

AnoHana 11 (Fin)

That was a properly fitting and satisfying finale. It cemented its place as the best series of the season by far, along with perhaps the most consistent, moving and best-executed eleven-episode series I’ve ever seen. I was expecting a good ending, but I could never have predicted just how totally it would kick all ass. Nothing in it felt the slightest bit contrived or out of place; it remained fiercely true to its characters, and above all, was a surprisingly happy ending, and the perfect place to close the book.

After Menma fails to pass to heaven, the busters regroup and it turns into an all out cryfest, with everyone pouring their guts out. Even Tsuruko gets worked up for the first time. Even Poppo lost his composure. And in this mega-catharsis, they all finally realize that none of them are alone in their inconsolable grief or guilt. They’re all in the same boat. They can all forgive each other, and themselves. They all love her. And I’m sorry, but Anaru’s little eyelash moment was the perfect way to re-lighten the mood.

After this, Jintan races home to collect Menma so they can finish things and say goodbye. But she’s fading fast; it turns out, her wish was inadvertently granted: the wish to make Jintan cry. She promised his mom she’d do it. More specifically, to make him break out of his shell and properly grief, embrace the pain and the love that’s released, and to be able to live his life. By the time he reaches the base, he can’t see her anymore, and is sent into a panic. “Oh no,” I thought; “Will this just end with him still crazy?”

Thankfully, I had no reason to worry. She says goodbye to them all by hastily scrawling goodbyes to everyone, which sets off another cryfest. All that’s left is to finish the game of “hide and seek” – at the end of which everyone can see Menma – and get Jintan to cry once more, and then she disappears, content and with her wish fulfilled. Closure at last!

What follows is a phenomenal end-credits epilogue, in which Jintan goes back to school and shows signs of giving Anaru a chance; Poppo is working construction and studying for a diploma; and Yukiatsu and Tsuruko become an item (her tiny smirk is genius. I honestly wouldn’t mind these two as the focus of a spin-off).  This series was an emotional roller coaster, and its makers knew the viewers wanted and deserved this ending and wrap-up. Menma’s ultimate gift was bringing these friends back together.

So what have we learned? Well, first of all, director Tatsuyuki Nagai and scriptwriter Mari Okada put on a romantic drama clinic, and I shall most definitely be looking out for their next works. Secondly, don’t collapse within your own grief. Everyone has it; let it out and make your true feelings known. Don’t let ghosts haunt you. Er…don’t go up to a hotel with a guy you just met. And, of course stay in school! Rating: 4 ~Series elevated to Favorites~

AnoHana 10

This series’ ability to really tug at the heartstrings without coming off as schmaltzy, while simultaneously infusing so much life and emotion into every single one of its characters, never ceases to amaze me. This show has almost rendered RABUJOI’s 4-ranking irrelevant – just about every episode has been excellent and a cut above most of the rest of this spring season, now winding to a close. This was one of the best yet, when all the build-up around Menma’s “firework send-off” comes to a super-dramatic head. Not one minute is wasted.
Poppo, planner-in-chief, plans a farewell party. Yukiatsu isn’t planning on going at first, preferring to wait for the rocket launch itself. But after meeting Anaru, he comes up with a plan, one that is both devious and necessary for catharsis. He convinces Anaru to re-enact that day years ago, when she asked Jintan if he loved Menma. This time, he tells the truth: he does. I thought for a moment Menma was going to disappear right there – but she just cries, and later tells him she loves him too, and probably would have ended up marrying him if she was still alive. This kills Jintan, because this is also what he wanted.

He’s so desperate to keep her around, he even asks if its okay if she just stays. But she wants to go to heaven; his mom taught her about reincarnation, which is her only hope of her being able to talk to everyone else. Jintan wants her to himself; but considers that maybe he alone isn’t enough for Menma. It isn’t fair to her. Saying he loves her out loud sends Anaru into a crying fit, at which point Tsuruko tells her she too has her unrequited love, (Yukiatsu), but her situation is worse: If Menma goes, Jintan may warm to Anaru, but Tsuruko never thinks Yukiatsu will come around to her.

This brings us to the climactic firework launch, which is gorgeously presented; I particularly loved the quick “camerawork” which lent to the tension and gravity of what was about to happen: Menma is really going to go, and Jintan doesn’t open his mouth to stop it until it’s too late. It’s up in the air, and with it, quite a bit of weight. Only one problem: It Didn’t Work. Menma is still there, and all the issues that come with her still being there remain as well. That’s fine with Jintan, but the obvious question is, what now? Only one episode left; will Menma ever go, and how will that happen? Rating: 4

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

AnoHana 8

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

AnoHana 7

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

AnoHana 4

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

AnoHana 2

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