As I mentioned in my Madoka review, a well-written story requires its characters to make choices as to how they should act to set things right in their world. Those actions stem from internal needs and external desires that are established throughout the duration of the narrative, which both need to be resolved by the same action or series of actions which occur through character choice. Where Madoka was able to do this to great effect, Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai failed to identify this importance, resulting in a very jumbled up ending that greatly tarnished what would otherwise be a fantastic drama.
In the beginning of Ano Hana, we are presented with a well-characterized cast who each suffer from a common internal weekness and need: getting over the death of Meiko “Menma” Honma. Growing up since Menma’s death has driven these childhood friends apart, and show clear emotional weaknesses. Jinta “Jintan” Yadomi suffers from social withdrawal and is a Hikikomori. Naruko “Anaru” Anjo falls in with the wrong high school crowd and is easily succombed to peer pressure. Atsumu “Yukiatsu” Matsuyuki is mentally distraught despite his good grades, to the point of cross-dressing as Menma herself. Tetsudo “Poppo” Hisakawa dropped out of school altogether to travel and work part-time jobs. Chiriko “Tsuruko” Tsurumi is cold and distant to everyone, even Yukiatsu, who she has unrequited feelings for.
These needs are not only psychological, but moral as well, as the actions they take in the first half of the show affect other people. When they are brought together due to the reappearance of Menma as a ghost, they hurt each other due to their own romantic selfishness, jumbled together in a very messy love polygon.
The external desire develops when Menma appears to them, particularly Jintan, and urges the group to try and reconcile after their falling out due to Menma’s death. Fulfillment of Menma’s wish, which starts off as a mystery, becomes the goal for the Peace Busters to achieve. As the cast tries to accomplish this task, they gradually learn a little bit more about themselves, often at the cost of painful realizations, and hard choices.
One particular gesture that stood out in the show involved Tsuruko’s acceptance of her unresolved feelings towards Yukiatsu, and accepting Anaru as the proper replacement for Menma for Yukiatsu’s romantic interest. As a gesture of acceptance of her new role, she cuts her beautifully long, flowing hair, into a bob of sorts. The act was greatly understated, but the subtle symbolism came off pretty well, without being too obvious. While this addresses her psychological need, her moral needs remain rampant. She refuses to tell Yukiatsu her feelings, and attacks Anaru instead, hypocritically pointing out the faults in Anaru’s romantic outlook in the wake of Menma’s death.
However, amidst the actions which were somewhat few and far in between, there was a bit too much reaction. Instead of acting on the feelings that arise from new revelations (sorting out romantic feelings and whatnot), The characters are often stuck in their emotional ruts, and desperately hope that fulfilling menma’s wish will give them the emotional closure. While this is a reasonable development, it makes for weak storytelling, as the internal needs are never addressed for the last half of the series.
The Peace Busters are in for a rude awakening when they realize Menma’s true wish, and how everything they’ve worked was for naught. The driving action of the story, the choice to address the external desire by building those fireworks for Menma, do nothing with regards to their emotional development. Everything that was built up in the first 10 episodes come crumbling down in the 11th, and there’s no quick fix.
Menma passes on to the next life, leaving a horrible mess behind her, and the audience sees next to nothing of the process that the surviving members take in order to improve themselves. This choice to improve needed to be done earlier. The actions they take to improve themselves needed to be intrinsically tied to Menma’s wish. Their decisions needed to come at a cost, because realistic drama comes from suffering even in victory. Certain pairings were more realistic as outcomes, but never came to fruition despite their significant developments throughout the show.
Instead, Menma’s ascencion into heaven was too sudden, and gave no closure to the issues. It came too quickly, and too many loose ends were haphazardly tied up in heaps of tears and angst. It’s the exact opposite of Angel Beats, where a dramatic ending came up unexpectedly out of nowhere, trying to end the show in a bang, when the fireworks weren’t even given time to set up during the series. Ano Hana instead set up the fireworks, but seemed be unable to light the match to set them off on queue. It was really awkward, but I personally prefer the latter over the former.
I feel it’s necessary to outline the importance of the effect of this flubbed ending on the overall quality of the show. As Edgar Allan Poe said, “no part can be displaced without ruin to the whole.” This is even more true when it comes to plot construction, perhaps most importantly so in comparison to other characteristics of merit for an animated series, such as music, art style, animation, and direction.
I personally couldn’t find much to complain about in any of those other aspects. The music is warm and nostalgic, and appropriately melancholic when it needs to. The overall art style is engaging and realistic, combining well-drawn designs with reasonably good cuts and shots. The voice acting was pretty much what you could expect from a show that demands a lot of angst. Even the dialogue sequences in the final episode, as awkward and unnecessary as it was, was well acted, without any held back emotions. It was the story that suffered, and the ending was the biggest culprit in being unable to bring the development of the rest of the series into full circle.
Final Score: 6.5/10 (6/10 on MAL, Fine)