Hanasaku Iroha 26 (Fin)

The Bonbori festival is a magical evening when people all over the prefecture converge and bring fresh vitality to Yusonagi. Everyone strings up their wish planks, all of them reinforcing their character arcs. Ohana wishes to be like her grandmother, Sui, who herself believes she should “fest it up” more often as Ohana does. Ohana seeks out Ko and finally confesses to him. Beanman announces his retirement. Enishi, realizing he has a lot to learn about running an inn, agrees with his mother to close Kissuiso, but only temporarily, so that he can train.

The staff pledges to return to work there when it reopens, and can live up to its name of “A place to make Sui happy.” Ko wants to “find his place” as he sees Ohana has, and if it’s the same place of her, all the better. Minko dreams to be Kissuiso’s next chef. Sui gives us one last tour of the inn where dreams are born. The series finishes with a montage of the staff in their new places, and in Ohana’s case, back in Tokyo with her mom and Ko.

It’s been a hell of a ride, with its share of bumps, but IMO Hanasaku Iroha couldn’t have had a better finale. It ties up all the loose ends, doesn’t cheat by keeping everything the same, gives everyone a solid goodbye and dream to follow, and, of course, Ohana gets the guy by finally speaking up. Even better, she gets that out of the way in the first minutes, before the suspense grows excessive, and moves on to other things. Just about everything worked here, from the utterly gorgeous visuals to the not-too-cheesy soundtrack.

I really liked Angel Beats!, but I think I have to consider this P.A. Works’ finesst work yet, which is encouraging, because it’s also their latest, and I can’t wait to watch their next one. After AnoHana wrapped, this has been the series with the most involving, likeable, fun-to-watch characters, as well as the prettiest setting and some of the best animation values. The inn itself was a character, and given no less fitting a sendoff. When it was populated, it was hard to sit back and admire just how beautiful a building it is, inside and out. I’m glad that the series was able to take its time and say a decent goodbye that left me wanting for nothing.



Rating: 4 ~series elevated to favorites ~

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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~