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Why Anohana No Longer Makes Me Cry

Anohana - 01 - Large 34

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.

Wangst

I don’t know how I managed to put up with all of this.

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.

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Posted on June 18, 2013, in Anime Analysis, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. I kinda agree. The magic that the show had doesn’t come back up on a second viewing but mainly because the show had a pretty straight forward story. I also re-watched it sometime back and yeah, scenes that made me cry got little reaction now BUT I still believe the show is amazing. the characters still had some value on a second watching.

    and that is why I am pretty sure the movie will knock it right out of the park.

    • I actually read your review as I was writing up this post and found myself agreeing with a lot of what you wrote there. Anohana will always be the most powerful the first time, but that doesn’t mean it stops having value after that. I agree, the characters in this show were pretty great.

    • Just came across this review, perhaps I’m a bit far behind on watching this anime.

      This anime was fantastic. I think the only reason it wouldn’t have the same affect the second time around is simply because you know the story. Let’s be honest, watching the guy slap the propeller in Titanic wasn’t as hilarious the second time around… maybe because I was one of the few people in the theater laughing at that. At 24 I’m still able to relate to my childhood self, I won’t let it go for the world. Anohana made me cry, and that’s pretty crazy considering I’ve honestly only shed a tear once or twice before watching ANY FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT.

      I guess if you’re able to relate to the characters, for me I most relate myself to Poppo, then you might be able to grasp it a bit better. There are also parents like Menma’s mother who DO NOT cope well with the loss of a child. The emotions Anohana plays upon span far beyond cultural differences. You don’t find that with a lot of anime. I’ll be recommending this one to everyone I know, 10/10… and I was hesitant at first.

  2. What a really great, well thought out blog post – thank you for taking the time to write this. I don’t really have anything to add to what you’ve already said, although I wasn’t aware that there’s an upcoming movie. I’m not sure I’ll watch it if it’s purely a recap, but we’ll see how it goes.

    • From what I hear, it’s going to be a retelling from Menma’s perspective. It’ll be interesting enough to get a new angle on the same story, but my suspicion is that it won’t be as touching as the TV series – for the reasons I detailed in my post.

  3. Your perceptions might have changed now, but they might well change again. If in a few years maybe you’ll watch AnoHana again and find new things to love about it. Great works of art work that way. (I say this though I’m one of the show’s “haters,” mainly because of all that sobbing)

    • That’s very true. One’s perceptions constantly change, for better or worse, so it’s always worthwhile to revisit a series every couple of years or so. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Very nice post. While I didn’t think AnoHana was a total masterpiece when I first watched it, I thought it was very good. I actually did watch it a second time afterwards (not too long after the first time), and yeah, it didn’t quite hold up. I still liked it, I was just able to see the things wrong with it more clearly. I wrote a post a while back called “The significance of the second viewing” and described how sometimes, once the novelty and suspense factor wears off, you’re able to view shows a different way (even if not enough time has passed for you yourself to be different) and often I’ll see flaws in an anime I didn’t see the first time because I was too wrapped up in the newness of it. I did find the melodrama over the top at times, especially in the last episode, and other things about it were left contrived or underdeveloped, like what you mentioned with Poppo and Tsuruko.

    But yeah, if it was able to touch you in such a way at a certain time in your life, it wouldn’t do to just cast it aside now that you’ve “grown up.” The fact that you can still enjoy it and understand how and why it affected you, even though you’re a bit more critical now, is a great thing =)

    • While the first viewing is always the most significant, I think you only really gain perspective on a series when you watch it more than once and you can look at it from a variety of different angles. I find this second viewing of Anohana valuable for precisely that reason.

      I checked out your editorial. You addressed a lot of different points that my post didn’t address, so I left a comment there :)

  5. My feelings about AnoHana soured in the last leg of the show. I liked it because I was intrigued with the theme of childhood friends who drifted apart, but even then Menma and the supernatural component were my least favorite elements of it. The narrative lacked subtlety as a whole and didn’t give enough justice to the characters. I wanted to care about them in the end, but blarrrgh.

    I do agree with one of the commenters above that good stories stand up to multiple readings, where each succeeding one reveals a layer unexplored. There’s so many anime I want to revisit, but I just don’t have the time! It’s also true that you shouldn’t write off a show because it turned out to be not as good as you thought back then–that’s just sad.

    Oh, and if anything, I found a similar-sounding show with Flower in its title that I thought was significantly better.

  6. As the author of one of the posts you linked, I wrote it right after rewatching the anime in question. Thanks to the rewatch, I actually remembered why I liked the show, at least the first 3/4 of it. I was kind of hoping that my writing reflected that sentiment towards Ano Hana, but I failed to mention something along the lines of what youve written here in order to justify my stance a bit more. I may have a conflicted opinion about Mari Okada, but me “hating on” her writing style is a bit much.

    More to the point, I now think similarly to you when it comes to Ano Hana: a static piece of art that varies both upon state of mind and interpretation. I did not cry because of this anime, and i am sure that this will never happen no matter how many times I watch it, but I am fully aware of how it affects others, especially my close friends. I personally think that is a merit in and of its own.

    • I’m terribly sorry for misrepresenting your point of view in my post! I should probably have tweaked the wording because “hating on” is really a phrase that implies blind hate rather than a measured sense of dislike. To be honest, I don’t get the impression that any bloggers – at least, not the ones I read – outright hate Mari Okada’s writing just because her works are popular. “Strongly critical” is a better phrase to use, and in linking to your post I wasn’t meaning to disparage your argument in any way.

      Thank you for writing that post and commenting here, by the way. I think it’s fascinating that an anime can make people respond emotionally to it in so many different ways, which is what makes Anohana fascinating to me, “objective” merits aside!

  7. “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.”

    I feel the same way about many of the shows I watched coming out of high school and into college, and actually haven’t rewatched a great portion precisely because I feel I’m going to have the same reaction you did. But I think you’ve convinced me to give them a try. Who knows – maybe I’ll learn some more about my past self and gain a new perspective on some of my old favorites ;)

  8. I only watched this show once but when I did, I came to the conclusion that it is a show that is not experienced the same way from one person to another. That can be said about many other shows but imo, it applies very strongly to this one.

    Personally, the ending is what really got me. I didn’t shed man tears the first time, but it definitely touched me.

    However, this show did not touch me on a personal level the first time like it did your person. It merely made me feel many different emotions, much like Tari Tari did last year. I can’t say whether I’d feel the same way I felt the first time I picked up Ano Hana, but like you said, it’s still a worthwhile show to watch at least once.

  9. i think the most failure part of anohana is in supranatural aspect of menma..
    why does the writer make menma’s friends can see her activities, like the scene when menma bring dishes to her friends..
    whoaaa a floating plate?? lol.. that turns this anime from melodramatic drama into a mystery/horror genre anime..

    • Yes, and then when you remember the name of the anime: “We Still Don’t Remember The Flower We Saw That Day” – when you think about it, that sounds like the subtitle of a horror movie.

  10. It just shows how human emotions can decay over time, when they lack resolve.
    And when you start agreeing with the haters, you have truly forsaken yourself.
    If growing up means that you lose your feelings for what you used to care about, then count me out.

  11. its really nice its the best anime i watched 1 piece ,fairy tale all cant beat tis its awesome i love it i love menma the most it has an aweomse story n i trully enjoy wathing it its worth every second watching it :)

  12. omfg do you not understand how much i love you when people have a different viewpoint than me they usually blindly rant on it and it makes me feel sad, that no matter how much reasoning I try to use they will not try to come up with a conclusion with me until i somehow agree with them. And I completely agree with you most of this anime’s feels are based on the viewer’s perceptions at the time, and when I first watched it my friend committed suicide, so of course the summary opened up to me and I could relate so much to the anime I basically bumped it up to my most favorite anime of all time.
    I feel that when people say some of the interactions are exaggerated or “fake” I don’t believe they fully experienced that type of emotion or conflict in one certain way. Obviously they can experience something similar but their mindset is different so this show may come off as pretentious to them. I also fully agree that the novelty would probably wear off the second time as different times throughout my life, I would probably have different interpretations of this anime. Anyways I just love you so much because I can agree with your points even though I’ve never agreed with them originally, your rational thinking helped me understand the other side of the Anohana spectrum :)

    • Glad this post (and Anohana!) resonated with you. It certainly is hard to explain to people why you feel a certain way about something when you’ve experienced something they haven’t. They might be able to understand it when you tell it to them, but they don’t actually feel it on a visceral level.

      Something like Anohana really relies on that gut response to the story to be effective. You read your own life story into it because the themes are that universal, but how well does the story present itself on its own terms? How relatable is it to someone who has never experienced the loss of someone close to them? Or someone who has experienced it in a different way from how the anime presents? You actually learn a lot about how the story was actually crafted by reading the criticisms by people who didn’t read themselves into it. It’s valuable, and I’m glad you can relate to that.

  13. The thing about anohana is that I’ve never once thought it was a depressing anime, I always thought it was beautiful or “bittersweet” if you must. It’s a story about moving on and growing up even though the past may haunt you. I absolutely loved the end, because to me it was a start of new beginning not an end. If you want to take it to a whole new level you can even call Menma a metaphor XD (but then that ruins some of the nostalgia for the show D:)

  14. Interesting post!
    From the first time I watched it, I felt that the last episode milked everything it could. The over-dramatic sobbing and self-blaming, and blah, but I still loved the anime. They could have turned down the dramatics, but I saw it as just a convention of the genre, so I would have expected to see it there.
    In terms of feels, Menma’s position is what always gets me the most, how she struggles to hold on enough to say goodbye. I think the line is something like “I can say goodbye properly this time”. So I still cry when watching it, haha.

  15. Well, I came across this review and I truly hate you right now. After writing an incredibly cogent and well-considered essay on how one’s perspectives on art and, of course, life, alter over time (and with the truly valuable insight that altered perspectives do not imply that one’s prior observations and experiences are no longer valid), you just had to do it.

    “I found you, Menma.”

    And yeah I started crying nonstop. Just like I always do. I cannot explain why this is the case, but I have never, ever reacted to any other novel, film, tv series, manga, or anything else like this. For me it’s beyond analysis. I always think I won’t cry. I know all the tropes and all the narrative strategies. But even reading those four words that you typed set it all off again. And secretly I think you knew it would hit a lot of people really hard. It was a perfect way to end your post and I am still wiping tears off of my face while trying to write this reply. Thanks for so much insight and for remembering your own past self while also embracing the present and what’s to come.

  16. completely agree. thats why, i dont rewatch it at all. because all melodrama will lost it touch for second time. because there were no point of surprises anymore. IMO

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