Imagine a group of six childhood friends. Three girls, three boys. Happy, carefree, with a secret meeting place in the countryside, all of their own. There are little tensions within the group, of course. Although they are very young, there is competition for the affections of the cutest girl, sparking jealousy from the other girls. But that’s ok, because their friendship will overcome that. They are the “Super Peace Busters”, a funny little nickname for their group.
Then the cutest girl dies.
Several years later, the group has been torn apart. Mostly they have gone their separate ways. None of them has dealt very well with their loss, or been able to truly move on. Then the dead girl comes back.
This is the premise of Anohaha, and it’s an emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. I defy anyone not to cry at some point during this series, but the tragedy is intersperced with so much hope that the whole thing never feels too downbeat, and there is just enough humour to lighten the mood when necessary. Each of the six main characters is absolutely fascinating in their different ways, with strongly individual reactions to what life has thrown at them. The main male character is Jintan, the only one of the group who can see Menma when she returns. He has also lost his mother, and has dropped out of school. Although he used to be the leader of the group, he is now a recluse, a shadow of his former self, eaten up by his grief and all-encompasing love for Menma. She returns looking much more grown up, but still with the same mental age as the day she died, which is… awkward.
Then there’s Yukiatsu, who loved Menma but always knew he was losing out to Jintan in her affections. Like Jintan, her death has left him incapable of forming a relationship, and obsessed with the dead girl in a very unhealthy way, which is the most shocking moment of the series when it comes to light.
Making up the rest of the group are Anaru and Tsuruko, both carrying the guilt of having felt jealous of Menma, both unable to rationalise that guilt with the grief of losing a friend they adored, and both in love with a boy who has eyes only for a dead girl, and finally Poppo, who might seem like nothing more than the joke big guy who is everyone’s friend but nobody’s love interest, but there is far more to him than that. One reason for that is something I won’t mention because it doesn’t come to light until the final episode, but also he is the very definition of loyalty, and unwavering trust and belief in his friend. Although he hasn’t seen Jintan for years, never for one second does he doubt his friend’s word about the return of Menma.
So these are all fascinating and compelling characters, and are written and animated with great individuality. The attention to detail is amazing, even something as simple as the way each character cries, which is strongly individual and realistic. This is a million miles away from some of the clone anime girls you get in a lot of series, distinguished from one another by little other than their hair and eye colour. And while we are on the subject of the visuals, the animation is utterly beautiful and imaginative throughout the series. At eleven episodes it’s a complete story with a rewarding conclusion, and you can’t say that about a lot of anime television series.
As an examination of the consequences of grief, this is one of the most fascinating and realistic approaches to the topic I have ever experienced in any medium. The different ways each character has been eaten up by guilt and loss speak very true, and the series acknowledges how grief can play out over a period of years, and have a lasting impact on people’s lives.
Why did Menma return? Why can’t she go to heaven? What is her final wish? Just when you think you know the answers, and you get to that moment of euphoria, her final wish granted, the rug gets pulled from under your feet and there’s still one episode to go. This is a series that refuses to conform to the standard narrative pattern. It finds a new path to travel, one that makes perfect sense while maintaining the element of surprise. It might leave you feeling emotionally drained, but satisfied that you have watched a story play out to a bittersweet and truthful conclusion.
Anohana was made in 2011 and neglected for an English dub for a few years. It has recently been dubbed and can be viewed on Crunchyroll, or by purchasing a collector’s edition blu-ray (USA region), but at a collector’s price. I strongly recommend watching the dubbed version if you can, as it is a very good one. The series was previously released on DVD without a dub, but that version has been unavailable for a long time and is hard to come by without paying a fortune for a second hand copy. There was also a movie, which I haven’t seen, but apparently it retells much of the same story, with a lot of clips from the series and some new material, so I haven’t considered it worth the bother so far. I’ll leave you with the trailer for the English dub, which also showcases the ending theme, one of the most beautiful anime themes ever. RP