Brief apologies for not getting a piece out this week, as work really interfered and my days off were busy.
Also, TW: minor mention of attempted sexual assault.
Grief is a powerful emotion in our lives, something that can root us firmly in place, making us feel like a rock in the river of time, unable to move while envious of the water flowing about us.
This is a story about moving on.
However, be warned that as I will be talking about this short series in depth, there will be spoilers beyond the cut.
Anohana – The Flower We Saw That Day came across my recommendations on Netflix about a month ago or so and runs for a total of 11 episodes. It’s centered around a disbanded group of friends who slowly come back together to grant the spirit of a friend her final wish. Menma, the young friend that died in a terrible accident, returns but is only seen by Jintan, who himself is suffering from grief and loss, and specifically what his last words were to Menma the day of her death.
The others are doubtful at first when Jintan reveals to them that he can see her, and as they come back together, we’re shown the course of their growth as they come to grips, for the first time in years, their own insecurities and thoughts over the role they either played or did not play in Menma’s death.
Not only do we see the fallout of Menma’s death on this group of friends, from the studious Yukiatsu, the far travelling Poppo, the cold Tsuruko, and the part time job having Anaru, but also in Menma’s own family, thus demonstrating how the loss of a loved one can impact different people differently.
Menma’s own mother, for example, has hardly paid any attention to her son, Menma’s younger brother, and it’s revealed in a heartbreaking moment when he tells her “Hey, I’ve grown up a lot, haven’t I? How tall am I, mom?”
And she has no answer.
What this series does and does really well is showcase how we’re affected by the death of a loved one, how we can get caught up in never ending cycles of what we last did or say to them, how we might have had some responsibility in their death, and the regrets we live with ever after.
Jintan’s journey in particular is one of dealing with depression, where he starts not going to school one year, and simply continues from there. He’s a bug mired in amber, unable to move until Menma’s ghost appears to him one day and stays, an uninvited guest from the past who’s as much a motivator as a reminder of what he perceives to have done wrong.
Also, while I did find Menma’s characterization to be annoying at first, it finally occurred to me by episode two that it’s purposeful. While she may appear to Jintan as the same age as him, physically, she died as a child, and thus didn’t have those years of maturing and growth that everyone else had.
In a sense, Menma represents everything that’s frozen and stuck in the past about her friends, as well as her family, and it’s only until they’ve learned to accept and move on that Menma herself can move on to heaven.
The final episode in particular is heartbreaking, especially when one takes into context that this happens in Japan, which is a very reserved culture when it comes to expressions of emotion in some regards.
All that being said, there is a sticking point in the series that bothered me, a minor subplot for Naruko “Anaru” Anjo, where she goes to a karoke shop with some friends, is taken out by an older friend of her friends, and nearly forced into a love hotel. She’s saved by Yukiatsu, but his attitude towards her over the affair is cold hearted, almost mocking, and throughout the rest of the series, Naruko has to contend with rumours of her being ‘that kind’ of girl.
It’s frustrating to me that this show trips up on this while doing a lot that is right. Naruko was almost sexually assaulted and she’s given no resolution for it, not in a confrontation with the man in question or even comfort from the other women in her life or any form of justice given to her. Nothing. While her personal resolution over the grief she feels about Menma’s death is cathartic and helps her grow, nothing is done about the other traumatizing event in her life.
Also, Yukiatsu is just a jackass.
All in all, I would still recommend this series but with the caveat that Episode 5 really drops the ball with regards to Naruko. Small anime series like these are a great example of the kinds of themes that anime can explore, that as a medium of animation it is more than giant robots punching each other, and it’s great that Netflix and Crunchyroll (a website focused solely on anime and J-Drama) bring these series over.