Reviewby Jacob Hope Chapman, Aug 18th 2014
anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day [Collector's Edition]
Six years have passed since the Super Peace Busters lost their treasured friend Menma, and one year has passed since the summer she came back to visit them...as a ghost. Finally reunited and living happier lives thanks to Menma's efforts, Jintan, Anaru, Yukiatsu, Tsuruko, and Poppo gather at the secret base on the one-year anniversary of that fateful summer to send their own letters to Menma up in heaven and reminisce on how much they've changed as the river of time flows relentlessly forward for all of them.
The best part of anohana The Movie and the greatest thing it adds to its source TV series is the film's first fifteen minutes. It is fitting for a story so fixated on the past that its epilogue's most resonant moment comes not at the end of Menma's story, but the beginning, with a childhood game of hide-and-seek that cements Menma and Jintan's friendship and shows us how she first became a member of the Peace Busters. It's an important addition because the TV series originally climaxed with a dramatic game of hide-and-seek that allowed Menma to say goodbye to her friends as adults. There's just one problem. The entire emotion-riddled episode played out like a callback to something we had never actually seen happen. We never saw the Busters playing hide-and-seek as children, or what it might have meant to them then, so any symbolic meaning the conclusion was meant to have was lost on the audience in favor of sheer blunt-force teardrop removal.
Needless to say, this movie is for prior fans of the series only, and makes no attempt to explain itself to the uninitiated. Even though most of the movie is recap, the events revisited are positioned like photos in a scrapbook where prior context is needed to actually appreciate them. Trying to follow the story for the first time through this movie would be a headache, and honestly, even as a fond look back, the presentation here is a little frustrating. The numerous flashbacks begin at the beginning and conclude at the end of the TV series, but everything in-between is a scrambled mess with little rhyme or reason attached to why certain scenes are revisited at specific times. The hide-and-seek scene that begins the movie, however, is extremely welcome and feels like it should have been part of the TV series all along.
This small amount of new material in the movie mostly aims to create more concrete closure for the slightly confused execution of the original TV series ending. In doing so, the movie also corrects the show's other greatest hiccup: its lack of characterization for Menma. It could be argued that anohana was successful because it didn't really revolve around its supposed star, the unflappable little ghost girl. Menma was more catalyst than heroine, a childlike symbol for both grief and recovery that drove families and friends apart in death but eventually brought them all back together when her spirit appeared to just one of the many affected years later. anohana's story was about lost survivors, and how death can freeze wounds in time unhealed, and remaining lives unlived. It's the main reason the show's original ending seemed so off, as it shifted the story's focus firmly onto Menma, choosing to wallow in how wonderful and underappreciated she was before death when this was always the weakest chamber of anohana's heart and rightfully sidelined in favor of exploring the other characters for most of the story's run. The real emotional climax of anohana is the point at which Jintan finally lets himself grieve, which goes unnoticed not only by the audience, but the characters in the story, because it's so innocuous. Surprise surprise, it turns out that was Menma's unfulfilled wish all along and she passes on quickly afterward, with more mixed emotional effectiveness.
The grieving is long over by the time the movie begins, so its focus on appreciation for Menma feels more appropriate. With the Peace Busters all moving on with their lives together and gathering at the secret base to leave her their final thank-yous, it's a good time to learn about who Menma was from the inside-out. Menma was a little kid, so her story in life was simple, but still meaningful. She was an invisible wallflower who never felt at home in the world, and Jintan and the Busters gave her a home. It is refreshing to finally see Menma as a character with a few desires and regrets more human than the perfect angelic facade that dominated the TV series. Still, like the game of hide-and-seek, these additions all take place in the movie's first fifteen minutes or so, which leaves us with the rest of the movie.
Apart from these tiny appreciated touches, it's hard to recommend the movie for content. The story is barely present outside of the heaps of flashback footage from the TV series, and what is there adds little to the lives of the Busters that we couldn't have reasonably assumed by the end of the TV series. It could all be easily summed up as "Everyone got their act together, went back to school/work, and remained friends despite all that pesky romantic tension." The only dramatic through line in the present-day story is a baffling non-conflict thrust on Anaru. She spends the entire movie agonizing over whether to confess her feelings to Jintan or not, but this doesn't make sense: her feelings were confessed to him twice in the TV series. She confessed to him herself the first time only to be wordlessly rejected, and the second time the truth was weaponized against her by Tsuruko in front of everybody. Both clips are even shown in the film! Everyone (except Menma) knows already! Her angst over revealing the truth to Menma in her farewell letter seems justified, but is there anything different about a third time for Jintan? It doesn't matter because of course her decision is to "just wait."
We can't have any actual conflict in the movie, it's meant to be a memorial to the success of the first TV series and that's exactly what it is. It drinks from its own self-satisfaction so deeply it drowns the whole experience. The film is so proud of itself for creating a proper callback for the hide-and-seek scene that it extends the payoff to the point of ludicrosity. When she's finally found, Menma's eyes well with tears so heavily and for so long that they look like the spin cycle of a washing machine. Even for those deeply moved by the original series' content, this movie's unhinged melodrama might be a little embarrassing.
Most of the film's appeal is just its pretty face, and to be fair, it's an extremely pretty face, with a lovely voice to match. anohana has always been beautifully animated, but there's a lot to be said for the score and acting as well. The movie is no different, with the returning cast so happy to be reminiscing and reuniting as their characters it's downright tangible. The universally great performances in anohana are aided by the character animation, which has always been a joy to watch as it pushes past the potential homogeny of "moe-face" and allows each character to express themselves differently while remaining restrained and sculpted in a way the market for this show expects it to look: always beautiful. Even when everyone is bawling out thick globby tears, there's a remarkable distinction between how Yukiatsu cries, how Poppo cries, or how Anaru cries. The production design and animation in anohana should be a hallmark for how to inject raw humanity into a glossy product. The movie also sports a new theme by Galileo Galilei which is not as good as the excellent "Aoi Shiori," but a welcome addition musically. The movie's score is a combination of pieces from the original show and some tender re-edits just for the movie, all excellent tear-jerkers that play a major part in enhancing the story's powerful effect on its fans. Aniplex's release includes a CD which is not just a movie OST, but a "greatest hits" compilation album with 27 of the best tracks from anohana including original OP "Aoi Shiori," ED "Secret Base," and the insert song "I Left You." On-disc extras are negligible, such as trailers and TV spots, but the set also comes with postcards, a small poster, and a short production booklet full of character sketches and art.
anohana is a story of high emotion. There's a lot of screaming, crying, laughing, and soppy emotional weltering of every flavor. It is tough to digest all of that in 100 minutes. In fact, it's not really recommended, not in the way this movie haphazardly goes about packing all the emotion down without rhythm or resonance. It requires you to have seen the first series to understand it, yet insists on spending most of its runtime recapping the show through rushed ramshackle editing. Its additions to the "future" of anohana are hollow and unengaging, which leaves its additions to the "past" of the story the only real nuggets in the film. If there's one takeaway from the movie, it's that nostalgia is not all it's cracked up to be, and sometimes it's best to look to the future instead of romanticizing the flaws and blessings of the past into one amorphous, meaningless wad. It's unsurprising that this was also a prominent theme in anohana the TV series before it fell so madly in love with the very things it had been reflecting more soberly on in days gone by.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Beautiful both visually and aurally, great seiyuu performances and character animation, provides mild closure for the surviving Super Peace Busters and some characterization for Menma
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