Anohana – The Flower We Saw That Day (Cert 12)

2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 256 minutes approx.

Release Date: January 27th   

“Friendship never ends”

I never thought I’d be quoting those philosophical giants the Spice Girls but in this case they do have a point. It’s not always true but some friendships can last a lifetime, weathering many storms.

Such a situation forms the basis of this touching drama from the pen of the mighty Mari Okada revolving around a splintered group of friends reuniting for a just cause. A young sextet that made up the Super Peace Busters were as thick as thieves although like many mixed gender collectives, some awkward feelings held were kept secret from the others.

Group leader Jinta aka Jintan is now is a hikikimori having ditched high school due from still being  haunted by the death of his mother, and one of the group Meiko aka Menma a decade ago. One summer Meiko appears before Jinta as a ghost, and says she can only pass on to the other side if her wish is granted, although she can’t remember what that wish is.

To figure this out, Jinta will have to reunite the original group who have since gone their separate ways but as only Jinta can see Meiko they think he is hallucinating from being stuck indoors all day long. Will the Super Peace Busters believe their lost friend is among them again? And can old wounds and feelings from the past be resolved before they can fulfil Meiko’s wish?

Anohana bares all the hallmarks of an Okada story – youthful friendships, unrequited feelings, and playful comedy with a fantasy bent, all wrapped up in a lachrymose drama to touch the hardest of hearts. Something Okada is very adroit at is the character study element of her writing, making these animated caricatures very real and relatable for the audience even if the story does wander off into tangents bizarre.

One might see a parallel between Anohana and a later series Okada wrote which already has a UK release, A Lull In The Sea, which takes a similar group dynamic among young friends but transports to beneath the ocean waves. The only thing unusual about this tale is Meiko’s phantom presence, never really explained but the supernatural rarely is and it’s anime, so we go with it.

Meiko is a giddy, silver haired young girl, died under undisclosed circumstances so it stands to reason she hasn’t changed whilst Jinta and the others have all grown up -Naruko aka Anaru is turning into a typical teenage girl following the latest fads to fit in; Atsumu aka Yukiatsu and Chiriko aka Tsuruko are both at a college entrance school and the only ones to have stayed close; and Tetsudo aka Poppo left school to travel the world but is currently of no fixed abode.

Poppo is the first to believe Jinta when he hears about Meiko’s return, because he felt her presence too from making the group’s old secret base his current home, though he can’t see her. Anaru goes to the same school as Jinta so they remain in contact but are not close, because Anaru had a crush on Jinta but he had a crush on Meiko and was jealous of her.

Regardless, Anaru chose to help Jinta if she thought it would help him get over Meiko, whilst rational thinker Chiriko secretly feels guilty about causing Meiko’s death as it was her words that set the ball rolling. Adopting a lofty attitude, Atsumu refuses to be party to any of this but is soon exposed as dealing with his own sense of loss from also having a crush on Meiko, which manifests itself in a very unusual way.

Eventually, everyone involved is forced to confront their own feelings of guilt and those towards the others and resolving their differences before working together for Meiko’s sake, the one member of the group universally loved by all. Despite running for just 11 episodes, there is plenty of baggage unloaded, mountains climbed, issues settled and tears shed across the board, but it doesn’t just stop with the friends.

Okada is keen to remind us that mourning isn’t an exclusive feeling, an whilst he focus maybe on the friends, there is Meiko’s family to consider – her mother for instance is still   hurting after all these years, also worried about the lack of closure for her daughter for dying so young. And there is Jinta’s mother whose passing intertwines with Meiko’s and not just as a convenient subplot either.

Because angsty teen drama is a prevalent sub genre in anime, the default reaction from some fans might be “Here we go again”, and there is no question Anohana caters to the faithful, so how does it ensure its appeal crosses over to a wider audience? As suggested earlier much of it is in the characters, maybe a little tropey on first inspection but much more developed and acutely observed than the norm.

The writing is also geared towards subverting typical plot beats with subtle shifts to the side where taboo subjects loiter but are usually avoided. There is nothing too dark here but by veering off into these areas, the show takes on a maturity and awareness that not even a fantastic premise like a ghost friend can hide the fact real life is not always a pleasant experience.

A1 Pictures brought this story to life and to some eyes, the animation might look a loose and sloppy in places, but this adds a certain charm to it, especially as it is set in a rural province where the atmosphere is generally laid back. I have to say the Japanese voice cast put themselves out there in bringing out the character’s strained emotions, but I must warn you Meiko has a very annoying voice!

Don’t be put off but the cutesy designs and sentimental centre of the story, Anohana is a potent blend of breezy childhood frolics and fraught teenage conflict that reminds of us of the power of true friendship.

 

Extras:

Japanese Language 2.0 Stereo LCPM

English Language 2.0 Stereo LCPM

English Subtitles

Disc 2 Only:

Web previews

 

Rating – ****

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