Desires and Needs: Ano Hana Review

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai

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)

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14 thoughts on “Desires and Needs: Ano Hana Review”

  1. Hi! Nice review, but I’m not sure if 6.5 is fair for the anime. I know everybody has their own way to view the anime, so I’ll just be sharing mine (if it’s ok with you ;p)
    I enjoy this show very very much, and to me the ending is just perfect (I couldn’t imagine anything better and I’m pretty satisfied with the whole story and ending). The length of the movie’s just nice too. My rank for this anime would be 8.5 or even 9 since it manages to make me shed many many tears. haha.

    1. I’ll admit that the show moved me as well in the beginning. The premise was really deep, considering it was dealing with death and having to grow up despite of it. The crying definitely got to me at first, and I was moved to tears as well, which was part of the show’s ability to build up its story. The ending didn’t build off of what was shown leading up to it, which made the last leg of the series a bit harder for me to sympathize with. It’s a storytelling thing that irked me, since I like a well-structured story that builds upon itself naturally. Ano Hana had a nice base, but I couldn’t appreciate what came from it. Maybe I should round up for my MAL score. 7 would be reasonable, but 6 fits the definition, since MAL defines 6 as ‘fair.’

  2. I see where you’re coming from, but I don’t know.. I much prefer an ending that simply resolves the major reason the show exists, rather than going overboard and showing us more than necessary.

    AnoHana was about this particular hurdle, and not how the characters eventually ended-up. I think anything more than what AnoHana gave us would just feel tacked-on at best, and at worst lower it to the banal level of Angel Beats.

    1. I can see where you’re coming from, but the premise of the show is very ambitious, and I couldn’t think of a way to make such an issue lighter than it was already presented.
      When i think of what you said regarding overcoming hurdles and ending up in a place much different than when they started, I think of Wandering Son, which tackled its premise really well, even going as far as getting away with making light of the issues surrounding the main characters. I believe it had something to do with the mood that it gave with Wandering Son’s light, airy soundtrack and pastel art style. Kind of like the Tsuruko example I gave in my post, Wandering Son did a FANTASTIC job of making the characters act on their feelings, as well as making the conflict very subtle, yet efficient given the episode length. I highly suggest watching that one as well, though it’s a different kind of drama, one that does not aim to have its audience crying all the time.

      1. AnoHana is a very different beast, from what I’ve heard of Wandering Son. Based on what I’ve read, I’m sure I’ll agree with you that Wandering Son is a superior drama. But it still doesn’t change my perspective on how AnoHana ended 🙂

        I think it’s just a difference in perspective.. I expect my anime to be anime first, unrealistic and full of unrealistic stuff in order to get a rise out of the audience (like Hollywood movies, etc etc). Some of them try to entertain, others don’t. AnoHana.. I think it tried much harder to fulfill it’s potential than something like Angel Beats did. It certainly was way above average for an anime drama.

        Solid, worthwhile endings in anime are so very rare already without also wishing for more. AnoHana already struggled enough to explore all of it’s perspectives, and stuffed too much into 11 episodes. Asking for more really seems like you’re “asking for it”.. it’s clearly not written to be anything more than a cathartic tearjerker anime to begin with. Wandering Son, on the other hand.. that seems far more serious.

  3. I’ve just seen ep. 11, and I pretty much agree with your take. These days, I think I’m trying to separate “enjoyment” from “satisfaction.” Maybe that’s only a mental distinction, I don’t know. A scene or story thread can crack me up, make me cry, or get me scratching my head. It’s the coherence of the characters within that sticks, though, regardless of whether you find their personalities “likable.” That, in my opinion, is less variable a standard. Sort of. Seemed to me that the characters were supposed to get the story somewhere, in this particular case.

    You quoted Poe; if you don’t mind, I’ll bring up Hemingway’s “iceberg theory.” The beginning of AnoHana stuck with us for that reason. It was when things weren’t said that I think the story was at its best. But when the Busters got to ranting about their feelings (even at bits throughout the earlier episodes), something felt unwarranted about it. My gut churned a little when they just started yelling and whatever. Teenage angst, my foot.

    As for the epilogue, I would probably add the nuance that it isn’t what you mentioned alone which poses a problem. It might also be that the Busters haven’t been “adequately” set up as characters who could resolve their problems. We didn’t necessarily need to see whether they do so, or how.

    Bringing me to my final puzzle piece: re-watchability. Human beings probably consume the narratives within stories over and over again because they’re kind like the Matrix- detailed enough to be compelling, yet universal enough to work across the board, to be “true” (and as Hemingway himself said, “truer than true”). When people are looking to feel certain emotions, they might watch AnoHana. Or to figure out all the odd reasons why the spiritual stuff happens the way it does. Nonetheless, I didn’t find the show sincerely interesting enough even for that, not when there are constantly new shows on the way, and old ones to check out.
    p
    Which is why your score is fine, in my opinion. I enjoyed looking at Anaru, though, so that personally would make me bump the score up half a point. 😄

    Sorry for the long post.

    1. You’re onto something with regards to the way the show was paced. Depending on the approach that was taken to develop the characters, the staff could have probably made it longer by one or two eps, but I don’t think it there was enough in there to fill out two whole cours. I’ve been spoiled by Wandering Son such that it managed to do so much in only 11 episodes, despite not actually having an actual resolution to the plot, which I don’t put at fault anyway simply on the basis of it being an adaptation of a currently running manga.

      And if anyone’s going to bump up the score, it’s Tsuruko. It’s all about the glasses, man.

  4. [Hee.] Surely you’ve seen 2DT’s Anaru post:

    http://2dteleidoscope.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/getting-to-the-bottom-of-anaru-ano-hi-mita-hana-no-namae-wo-bokutachi-wa-mada-shiranai/

    Although Tsuruko’s frostiness had me going early on. I guess both of them felt more moe when they were secretly hurting, as opposed to catfighting. Odd, though- her character’s usually the kind I go for. Maybe the moe radiating from Anaru was just too overpowering.

    1. I appreciate the levels of hurt that both female characters went through. For Anaru in particular, the passivity that she exhibits during her suffering period, conflicted with the ‘falling in the wrong crowd’ choice that she made prior to the show was excellently displayed in the scene where she was led to the love hotel. It was full of tension, and the wonderful save by fellow ex-friend-also-in-mourning Yukiatsu made for a very natural twist in both individuals’ personal development, which is one of the reasons why I heavily supported the development of this developing storyline. As I mentioned in the post, I found it to be a shame that it didn’t develop completely by the end.

  5. My Initial feeling after watching this was that I felt like it left me with wanting more, though I don’t mean that in a good way. I agree with what you said in that the build up of the story was really great but that it failed in delivering a proper ending. I felt like the story had been courting me for the past 10 episodes only to leave me at the altar on the last. It was to the point that seeing Menma still present after the rocket launch got me excited as to how they would resolve it, only to leave me disappointed in the end.

    I agree with Hogart in that I believe overcoming those hurdles would have been the more important focus thus the ending we got, but I think it’s good to remember that Ano Hana is still in fact a story and that as viewers and or readers, we like to get a closure from the characters we grew like over its duration, and I guess its safe to say that with the good build up and great premise, its really should have an ending that was “handled” better.

    Though I would bump it up to 7 just for Tsuruko. Totally Agree

    1. In my mind, Tsuruko alone is a 10, and I am completely okay with that. Unfortunately, that ratings site is called MyAnimeList and not MyCute2DCartoonGirlsList or something just as silly.

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