The Living Ghosts of Ano Hana

The past is never dead. It’s not even past. —William Faulkner

They are still children, really: teenagers, dealing with a different set of problems, but young enough that early childhood still looms large in their minds. So much so that it is embodied, so to speak, in the ghost of a girl in a white one-piece dress. The way the characters in this fine series see, and don’t see, her and the past she represents is as varied and real as anything in slice-of-life anime today.

You can tell from the title on downward, We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw On That Day (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai). The flower has yet to be revealed in the flashbacks but, especially given the staff pedigree, it won’t be surprising to find that it will function like Honey and Clover’s clover: a symbol of a different time, treasured in memory but never to be found again by the sadder, older, and wiser characters. And flowers aren’t the only things that have been lost in the years since Menma died: hairpins, Pokemon-like video games, ramen brands, friendships…Some of them are found again, and the old gang is trying to get back together, only to find that everyone has changed, and not always for the better.

And yet. Menma is still hanging around, having changed little in personality and maturity since the day she died, accompanying Jintan like both a bad conscience and a taunt: he will never be over her because she is as real to him as ever. That is what it means to be haunted, to have the past be so real that it’s still present. It’s like that painful twinge one feels when a particularly embarrassing or traumatic memory returns; for a few seconds, it’s like you’re reliving it all over again. For Jintan, it’s as if his entire life has become like that moment.

Ano Hana strikes me as being a gentler variation of the kind of show Welcome to the NHK was: slices of broken life for multiple characters, not just Jintan—he may not be the most damaged individual if what we learned in Episodes 4-5 are any indication. It is less bitter/cynical than NHK, perhaps because these teenage characters are still unformed compared to NHK’s young adults, and thus still have reasons to hope. (Imagine what the Jintan/Menma relationship might have been like in the hands of more twisted writers!) It also uses some more traditional forms, like the standard ghost story plot in which the spirit has unfinished business on earth, and Menma herself as a standard genki moe loli to a certain extent. To the point where I found her annoying, initially, though it’s still unclear where the spirit begins and the projection ends.

It’s hard to see how many more surprises can come from this story, really; but in any well-told, character-oriented tale, the plot twists are far less important than watching characters change in believable and heartfelt ways. Oddly enough, we’ve seen more character nuance from Anaru and Yukiatsu than from Jintan and Menma so far; however, the whole cast is balanced in ways that prevent the show from becoming both too angst-ridden (Poppo helps a lot here) and too lightweight (something that may be happening to Hanasaku Iroha thus far). Good ensemble writing is hard, and so far, the crew that helped adapt successful shows of just that type in Honey and Clover and Toradora are proving themselves worthy thus far in this original production. At this point in time, it’s my favorite show of the season.


“Why does everyone love melodrama so bloody much?” 5camp asked today in relation to this show. A possible answer to that question in “The Slice of Life Age, Part 2: The Hinge Years,” coming tomorrow.

8 thoughts on “The Living Ghosts of Ano Hana”

  1. Ages ago in an Ah! Megami-Sama manga chapter, I remember a character that pops up during an episode in a country estate. She’s a special kind of ghost that they refer to as a Shinnentai – like a ghost, but a bit more corporeal, able to manage a physical presence and show reflection in mirrors etc for short periods of time, and given this power by their determination to see a wish fulfilled … sounds familiar? I wonder if there’s a folklore foundation for this, or whether Kyosuke Fujishima just gave a name to a popular manga trope –

  2. It’s my favorite show of the season, too. As it progresses, it’s gaining steam. The show is coming together nicely, it seems, though there’s enough questions to wonder exactly how everything will turn out. The characters are developing nicely – some subtly (Tsuruko) and some not-so-subtly (Yukiatsu). But either way, the development seems somehow real – like that in Toradora, despite characters were probably unlike any people we knew in real life. I feel confident (based on how the show’s progressed so far and on the the crew’s credentials) that by season end, this show will have lived up to and surpassed expectations.

    1. I sure hope so! Though I will say that I’ve known a few people like the ones in this show before. The characters are more broadly drawn thus far but they are recognizable types of people that actually exist, as opposed to the cookie-cutter cliches we usually see in most anime (with, again, the possible exception of Menma herself though as a ghost, or something like it, it’s hard to say).

  3. I remember watching this anime the first week it came out and getting hooked. It really is an anime of a different sort, at least in my book. The thing that sets it apart from a lot of other anime of this season is that it doesn’t try to play itself as being more dramatic or important than it is (I’m looking at you Ao no Exorcist). Nevertheless, there definitely are flaws to this anime. I mean, after all, if I were to say it was perfect I would be completely biased.
    Anyways, despite its flaws (the unrealistic characters, not that they’re bad), it’s a wonderful show. And one that I’ll be looking forward to in the weeks to come.

    Oh, and I’d appreciate it if any of you readers out there, and the author, too, could check out my blog where I review this anime as well. Feel free to comment as I’m open to all comments/criticisms. Thank you!

    http://aniphiles.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/anohana-episode-5/

    1. I actually don’t think the characters are all that unrealistic. Some of the situations might be a little out there, to be sure—a common trait to slice of life shows, actually—and the characters so far are broadly drawn, meaning that most of them still aren’t terribly multilayered and nuanced yet. But I’ve met plenty of people who became sullen and withdrawn for years after a significant other died; a person who tries to hide his pain with a facade of cheerfulness; another who processes grief through art; etc., etc.

      I totally agree that its relatively low-key nature works in its favor. A well-told story speaks for itself, and good and interesting characters are inherently interesting. There’s no need for gimmicks or major plot twists in the very best of them. Of course we’ve been treated to one just recently in Ano Hana but it’s fine. Some people really do bizarre things. People suffer in very individual ways.

  4. Yes, NHK hikikomori was way bitter, he was very Underground Man, oh yeah, Jintan’s T-shirt also said “Underground Man.” NHK was funny too. It had a comedy tone. For Ano Hana, I haven’t had a funny moment yet. I thought “flower” was referring to that ghost girl. It wasn’t, hu? Usually flower is a girl, deflowerment is girl losing maidenhood. Bill Murray’s film, “Broken Flowers” is about girls too. Or more accurately, older women who had relationship with a character Bill Murray plays back in their youth. So, I thought she was the flower that the title was referring to.

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