After the death of a close friend as children, a group of once tightly knit friends drift apart and have grown up as near strangers. When their ‘leader’ Yadomi (Miyu Irino), a shut-in who hasn’t attended school in a long time, wakes one summer day, he is shocked to discover that he can see and speak to Menma (Kayano Ai), his deceased friend. Trying to find a way to send Menma to heaven, Yadomi sets about trying to enlist his former circle of buddies to grant her final wish. However, years of separation and some very strong personal issues for each of them may make convincing them of Menma’s return difficult, especially since Yadomi is the only one who can see her.
Growing generally disinterested in much of the anime series that has been released in the last few years, barring some exceptions, Ano Hana arrived like a shot in the arm and truly captivated me with it’s deft blend of humor, drama, and beautiful animation. It’s a marvel of a show that lends itself much more to my modern film sensibilities, especially concerning the Japanese drama, than I ever would have expected. Series director Tatsuyuki Nagai, a veteran with a number of hit works under his belt, teams with A-1 Pictures, probably the hottest Japanese animation studio around these days to craft a stunningly beautiful and thoughtful series with real sentimentality and heart.
The true strength of the series lies with the eminently sympathetic and diverse characters. The tragedy which is alluded to in brief flashbacks has changed them in ways which challenge their fears, hopes, and sense of being. When the unexpected arrival of Menma’s ghost brings up feelings of regret and guilt, you truly sympathize with them despite some of the odder coping mechanisms some may employ. This helps that the character of Menma herself is so likable. With her death as a child, she seemingly hasn’t aged mentally despite her ghost appearing as she would have if she was her current age. This simple innocence is an enduring trait that makes you share in the tragedy of her death and invests you in a way which is in line with her friends who had been so affected by her passing.
Briefly mentioned above, the animation is absolutely stunning. Flowing movement and interesting character designs certainly set this 11 episode series apart from many other contemporaries. Also, the fact that 11 episode runs are becoming much more common is a plus in my book; the pace and content is fuller and richer and the shorter episode count guarantees a better looking and produced show without having to stretch the budget for the typical 13 week run. The excellent music is composed by Remedios, who turns in some hugely reflective and quiet pieces which stuck with me long after my first viewing. Pensive and beautiful, the music here is perfect for the type of introspective mood and character moments in which the show excels. Themes include a terrific opening “Aoi Shihori” by Galileo Galilei and the phenomenal cover of “secret base” by the three principal female voice actresses. This theme is actually subtitled the ’10 Year After ver.’ which places it in line with the show’s timeline as the original song by ZONE would have been popular during the days of the children’s youth.
While it isn’t a perfect series, some melodrama sneaks its way in there, it does come incredibly close and it is sure to be a series which I would recommend years down the line for its human characters and at times heart-breaking drama. While regret and loss may ever be a part of the human existence, the sentiment this shows imparts, that of love and friendship, shows that it is NEVER too late to say “I Love You” to those that mean the most to you and yours.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Love Letter, Crying Out Love at the End of the World, and/or Heavenly Forest.