Anime Review: Ano Hana

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Reposted from my Facebook August 2, 2011.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai aired in Japan in 2011, and fansubs are available in English over the Internet. Ano Hana, the title, translates to “We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw that Day.” More like, “I still don’t know the name of this anime without a cheat-sheet,” but I can’t complain. Ano Hana is a great 11-part series which made me laugh, cry, and cheer: the three emotions that I associate with any good media.

Ano Hana is a “slice of life (and death)” (thanks, Zach) series which involves six childhood friends. For the sake of continuity, I’m just going to refer to them by their nicknames: Jintan, Poppo, Yukiatsu, Tsuruko, Anaru, and of course, Menma. After the death of Menma, the remaining five go their separate ways in order to grieve their own ways. That is, until 10 years later. Menma appears as a ghost in her mature form to Jintan. Jintan, confused as ever, wonders why she had appeared to him now and how to get her to go to heaven. Menma tells Jintan she still had a wish that needed to be granted, and that would involve getting the old friends back together. Jintan reluctantly goes along with this plan and finds Anaru, Poppo, Yukiatsu, and Tsuruko. To his surprise, none of them changed that much over the span of 10 years nor had they forgotten about Menma. Over the course of the series, the five friends do what they can to grant Menma’s last wish to let her finally be at peace and go to heaven.

Death and Grieving

As any tragic series goes, there is a lot of grieving which takes place in Ano Hana. Ten years since Menma’s death, each character had their own unique way of showing their grief. Poppo had traveled the world in those later years, yet he still clung to their “secret base” in the woods as his home. Anaru tries what she can to pretend that she has moved on, as if nothing had happened. Yukiatsu couldn’t let go of his love for Menma and decides to go to the extent of trying to dress like her occasionally. Tsuruko tries to hide her grief by caring only about herself. And as for Jinta, he appears to be the only one who is unable to show any signs of grief because he doesn’t cry at all; yet he is the only one who can see Menma’s ghost.

All of them were hurt as a result of Menma’s death, but the one who probably hurt the most was her family. Menma left behind a father, a mother, and a younger brother. Since her death, Menma’s father has accepted Menma’s fate and her brother has very little memories for his sister. Menma’s mother, however, misses her the most and becomes saddened each time she sees Menma’s old friends. In one scene, she refuses to meet up with Jintan and his friends because she can’t stand seeing them together without her daughter. It comes down to Menma’s father to comfort her, saying that if they are to miss Menma, then they must miss her together as a family. Menma’s death has separated her family by grieving their own ways. And yet, when they finally come together to remember Menma’s life, their familial bond becomes closer than ever. Sadness always comes when we grieve, and therefore grief has often separated the family and friends we had when a person was alive. However, when we finally come to accept that someone has passed on, grief can then bring people closer together.

Wishes

The premise of the show is to grant Menma’s final wish before she had died. The six friends gradually realize that what Menma wanted most was perhaps a wish she wanted to fulfill when she was alive. That wish happened to be setting off a firework with a letter to God attached to it. Jintan, feeling the most responsible for granting this wish, begins to work hard and earn money to buy a firework in order to grant her wish. Everyone else follows suit hoping that finally setting off the firework would return her to heaven. If only things had turned out the way they planned.

It turns out that each one of them had wished to grant Menma’s wish for their own selfish reasons. They wanted to get her to go to heaven so they could all move on in their lives without her. They believed that if they could get her to leave, then perhaps they would somehow be at peace once they knew she was gone. Unfortunately, they cannot control the fate of when one can finally pass on. Menma’s wish as a ghost had nothing to do with fireworks or having her friends finally move on from their grief. It’s true that we as humans wish to move on for ourselves when grief strikes. Yet in the end, only the passing of time and spontaneity will allow us to finally move on, as we would hope.

I’ll try not to spoil anything, but Menma’s wish is granted, and the five remaining friends do move on as if Menma had never left.

The Flower

As the title suggests, Ano Hana refers to a flower of some sort: a flower whose name we had forgotten. The flower symbol in this anime is drawn as a five-petal star which blooms in the summer. It is therefore no coincidence that “Menma” refers to a Japanese root plant for Ano Hana. Menma seems to be referring best to this nameless flower (although to be honest, I’m not sure what menma are supposed to look like).

It is also of no coincidence that Menma is drawn in this anime in a “Moe” (pronounced MO-eh) style. Moe is an anime style of a girl who is generally in their pre-teen state. Moe translates literally to a “budding flower” which is what the girl looks like in her tall, but petite shape. The five-petaled flower symbolizes Menma and even though Ano Hana refers to it as a name they had forgotten, they know exactly what the flower means.

Interestingly enough, flowers are also symbolized in other linguistic parts of the series. The Japanese word for firework is “Hanabi,” which has the kanji for “hana” in it. Hana, of course, is the Japanese word for a flower. Fireworks get this name because the explosion from a firework looks a lot like a blooming flower. Coincidence for Ano Hana? I think not.

Friendship

The five-petaled nameless flower is not just a representation of Menma. It is a representation of what Menma means to the five remaining friends. True, the five friends had their own selfish intentions throughout the series, but it is because of Menma that they stopped thinking about themselves and rather about each other for once. Each friend is like a petal to the nameless flower, and Menma is the center which binds the petals together. This symbol is hinted in the final episode, so I won’t spoil any more beyond this.

Closing thoughts

The six friends of Ano Hana are always together, no matter if one of them is gone for good. In the end, the five get a chance to move on, not for their own sake, but because it is what Menma had wanted. The friends may have changed over the span of 10 years and have their own lives now, but their friendship remains so long as they won’t forget… Menma.

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