In a sentence: I grew up.
This isn’t a bashing post or even a review. Rather, it’s a personal reflection on the series and how one’s perception of it can change over time, which I suspect that a number of you can relate to, whether you like or dislike the anime. Despite the torrent of emotions it initially brought me, I don’t think Anohana is the type of story that holds up well to rewatching and/or critical scrutiny, though to what degree that can be attributed to the inherent faults in the story’s setup or to a change in my own mentality is hard to say.
Regardless, I want to get my view out there, because Anohana was a story that was once close to my heart (and I would argue that it still is), and I want to know if others have had the same experience as me.
This is what I’ve observed: When Anohana first aired in early 2011, it was lauded as one of the most brilliant and touching dramas of the year. While there were some dissenting voices in the crowd – most notably from Scamp and E Minor – I think a lot of us were swept away by the sheer level of emotion Mari Okada managed to wring out of only eleven episodes of content. Since then, after Okada has scripted a few duds to go with her masterpieces, popular opinion of her has been on the wane. In fact, it’s become the cool thing among anibloggers to hate on her “overblown” melodrama (Examples: one, two).
With the confirmation that Anohana will be getting a rerun on the Noitamina TV block along with an upcoming recap movie this summer, I decided now was as good a time as any to revisit the anime and the “feels” it gave me. I was surprised to find that I agreed much more with the haters this time around – the ending in particular devolved into a mess of forced dramatics and sobbing that made me cringe in hindsight. Characters withheld information and their emotions from each other in a contrived manner, and none of their personal issues were ever seriously dealt with by the end. What of Poppo’s mask, Tsuruko’s hidden feelings of jealousy, etc.?
It seems clear to me that if Anohana had gone on any longer than it had, these problems could have been addressed, but the anime’s greatest virtue was, in fact, how it was so short and sweet. It packed so much in each episode that at the time it was easy to overlook the underlying flaws in the dramatic structure. It’s a lovingly constructed but ultimately clumsy narrative, aiming for brute sentimentality rather than eloquence in spite of its sensitive subject manner. Had it been extended for even a few more episodes, I suspect this approach would have gotten tiresome, even to the show’s staunchest defenders.
I won’t deny, however, that the overall themes of the story resonated with me deeply on a personal level. I watched Anohana during my final year of high school, when I’d been struggling to come to terms with the idea of leaving my childhood and my ghosts behind. Anohana expressed something very important to me at a very important time in my life. Not only are these themes still relevant, their universality ensures that anyone can take something away from this at no matter what point they watch it in their lives, and that’s the sure sign of a modern classic.
In an old, old review of Anohana I wrote, I said this: “I thought the writers of this show had actually haunted me in my dreams and used some kind of weird tube thing to probe out my psyche and discover my deepest subconscious desires for a touching story.”
At the time, I was unable to separate the story from my own circumstances. The anime had such a strong impact on me largely because of its fortunate timing. I was able to empathise with the angst to a large extent because the story addressed so many of my worries and anxieties at the time. The overwrought emotions the characters dealt with were, in many ways, mirrored by my own emotional state in real life. The flaws thus became the strengths in my eyes and I was incapable of seeing it any differently.
Does that mean that the series is now worthless, because it no longer has the ability to speak to me as profoundly as it once did? Of course not. Art is about life, yet while art remains static upon completion, life will always remain fluid and dynamic. Artistic merit doesn’t diminish with the passing of time; it is only altered and, through certain perspectives, is enriched. The way I see Anohana has changed, but I can only fully appreciate now how it has shaped me indelibly into the person who I am today.
You see, the thing is this: for all the seeming self-berating I’ve done about my inability to see the show “objectively”, I’m glad I got to see it when I did, at a time when I considered myself emotionally immature. I think all stories should be approached through the lenses of personal experience – because only then do they obtain real meaning. To view fiction in a vacuum in a vain attempt at objectivity fails to do justice to the experience as a whole. Even now, watching Anohana is a delightfully revealing experience about who I am as a person, even if my kneejerk response is not to cry at all the maudlin drama.
So for that reason, if nothing else, I think of Anohana as a worthwhile anime that everyone should watch at least once in their lives. If you’ve already seen it, why not try watching it again? It’s always interesting what sort of things come up upon second viewing, and I’m sure some of you out there must be as curious as I was about whether the emotional impact will still hold up in time. Whether it does or doesn’t, Anohana is still a well-made and thoughtful series that is capable of some genuine emotional truth when it comes to teenagers and how they think.
I found you, Menma.