by Paul Jensen,
You know all those stories about people paying for things in pennies? Well, it actually happened to me this week. I had the dubious honor of processing a payment made entirely in small change and mostly in pennies, all delivered in a dirty plastic bag. Humans can be irritating sometimes, but I suppose that's why we watch anime to escape from the aggravations of reality. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
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Shelf Life Reviews
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
Nothing this week.
Nothing this week.
What's that? You say this Blu-Ray collection of Anohana came out months ago? Well spotted, eagle-eyed reader. The truth is that we had a slight scheduling hiccup and I ended up pulling this set out of the ol' emergency reserve pile. However, as last-minute picks go, I can't really complain about this one, especially since it forced me to finally watch an excellent show.
If, like me, you've avoided this particular hype train until now, here's the basic setup: Jinta “Jintan” Yadomi is technically a high school student, but he's stopped going to class and spends his days at home. One day, he's visited by the grown-up ghost of his childhood crush, Meiko “Menma” Honma, who died in an accident as a child. Since no one else seems to be able to see or hear Menma, it falls to Jintan to reunite their group of childhood friends in order to grant her final request, which should allow Menma to move on to the afterlife. Unfortunately, the tragedy of Menma's death has long since split up the group of friends formerly known as the “Super Peace Busters,” and they will all have to face some harsh realities if they're going to make Menma's wish come true.
One of the biggest surprises for me, especially in the early going, was Anohana's sense of humor. There are silly, unguarded moments like Menma pestering Jintan while no one else can see her or Jintan bantering with his old friends as the group slowly reunites. There's also darker, more bittersweet humor that comes up in more emotionally intense scenes; even as they come face to face with their long-held regrets and grudges, the characters are often able to laugh at themselves in a way that feels very human. Anohana's ability to include these moments of comedy without undermining its dramatic ambitions is impressive, but it's not unprecedented; writer Mari Okada and director Tatsuyuki Nagai both worked on Toradora before making this series, and that show remains one of the most well-balanced romantic comedies I've ever seen. While this by no means an easy line to walk, those flashes of joy and humor go a long way toward making Anohana easy to watch despite its heavy emotional content.
Speaking of heavy emotions, this show will absolutely break your heart. As the premise suggests, Anohana deals with all the nasty feelings that a tragedy can unearth. Menma's death affected the people around her in a wide variety of ways, and none of them are fully prepared to deal with her reappearance. Each member of the Super Peace Busters harbors some form of guilt over the roles they played in Menma's demise, and many of them are also nursing grudges and jealousy towards one another. Then there's Menma's family, which has been more or less frozen in time by grief and bitterness. Even Menma herself isn't fully on board with the idea of being dead, and she's not at all happy about seeing how her absence has affected her friends and loved ones. These emotions rise to the surface in bits and pieces over the course of the series, but they don't truly boil over until the last couple of episodes, which hit with an overwhelming amount of dramatic and emotional force.
It's not all laughter and tears, though; the script is also seasoned with plenty of insight. Aside from the examination of how a tragedy can affect people in the long term, Anohana has a lot to say about growing up and growing apart. In the early going, Jintan is keen to tell Menma that everyone has changed, and at first glance he seems to be right. Jintan has gone from natural leader to shut-in, the timid Anaru has joined up with a flashy group of “outgoing” girls, perpetual follower Poppo is off having adventures of his own, and so on. As the story plays out, however, we start to see that while their views and attitudes may have changed, this is still the same group of people with the same defining traits. It's not so much their core personalities that have driven them apart as their incompatible goals and desires. These themes are presented with an impressive amount of nuance and subtlety; rather than hitting the audience over the head with obvious statements, Anohana tends to drop just enough hints to let us figure things out for ourselves. Little details like whether one character refers to another by a childhood nickname or their actual name are used to good effect when it comes to relaying what they're thinking or how they're feeling.
On a similar note, Anohana has strong character animation working in its favor. Things like facial expressions and body language make a big difference in a series like this, especially when there's a disconnect between what a character is saying and what they're thinking. Anohana may be seven years old at this point, but it holds up remarkably well against more recent A-list titles in this area. Its visual direction is also strong, and the level of detail in the background art gives the setting an immersive feel.
Previous physical releases in the US have come from NIS America, but this more recent box set is published by Aniplex of America. The most notable result of this change is the addition of an English dub. I watched four dubbed episodes after going through the full series with subtitles, and I'm pretty impressed with what I've heard from the English audio track. Casting choices are solid, and performances for the main characters are strong across the board. The writing occasionally strays from the more literal subtitle track, but nothing seemed too far removed from the core meaning of the dialogue, and most changes helped to make conversations between characters sound more natural in English. This set is packaged in a small art box with an art booklet, and on-disc extras include a commentary track and a blooper reel along with the usual clean credit sequences and trailers.
At only eleven episodes, Anohana packs a ton into its relatively short running time. It's a smart, heartfelt, and well-executed story with an engaging group of characters that is highly likely to make you cry. It never feels cheap or manipulative, either; this series earns its dramatic peaks the hard way. If you haven't seen it yet, this release is a good (if somewhat pricey) way to check it off your “must-watch” list.
Well, that about wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember to send your entries for our Shelf Obsessed section to [email protected]!
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