It’s neither here nor there as far as AnoHana is concerned, I suppose, but I confess it was a bit emotional for me to hear Irinu Miyu and Haruka Tomatsu having a conversation on screen again. The chemistry is certainly still there – the force is strong with those two. And the same could be said about the second episode, in general.
This is a sentimental series, no question, and unapolgetically so. But it’s also rather matter-of-fact in the way it goes about presenting it’s characters – and the events unfolding in their lives – on screen. There’s not a lot of misdirection or subterfuge here, and the important moments aren’t stepped on by heavy BGM or camera trickery – the show trusts the material and lets what’s happening carry the load under its own power. Like Hourou Musuko it’s managed to give an awful lot of exposition both about the present in the past in a very short period of time without doing so in a clumsy, obvious way. After only two episodes I feel as if I know these characters well – their present situation, their past, what motivates them and what they worry about when they think no one is looking. That’s a testament to the quality of the writing thus far.
All of the characters have been introduced, and apart from Yukiatsu and Tsuruko they’ve all had pretty major screen-time. Turns out Poppo is still a major Jintan otaku – everywhere Jinta says and does is still awesome. Of all the living Super Peace Busters he’s changed he least in many ways. He’s led an odd life, apparently never having gone to high school and despite his youth already traveled the world. But he still remembers details about the gang the others have forgotten and seems untroubled by putting himself in a child’s shoes again. It’s Poppo who remembers that Memnma had wished for a very rare “Nokemon” (LOL) from the handheld they’d all played as a kid. This leads Jinta on a quest first to Anaru’s workplace and later her house to track down a copy of the game, and then a friend to trade Nokemon with – that being the only way to give birth to the rare character the boys believe may be Menma’s wish. It turns out to be a red herring, and not her wish after all – but in the process it brings Anaru and Jintan together again in a delightfully nostalgic journey into the past.
Meanwhile, Anaru has also had a run-in with Tsuruko, attending the same elite high school as Yukiatsu. She as much calls Anaru a slut and generally acts like a snobby bitch, but it was she who walked out of the “WcDonalds”, disgusted, as Anaru sat idly by and listened to her friends calling Jintan some rather unpleasant names and generally pissing all over his character. Menma throws herself between them trying to make peace – but of course, neither of them can see her so that’s of minimal effect. Before leaving, however, Tsuruko spills the beans that Yukiatsu is in fact just as hung up on Menma’s memory as Anaru is – a fact confirmed when we see him once again mumbling her name to himself as he sniffs a garment – presumably hers – in a slightly creepy moment.
The series has already done an amazing job of illustrating what the group dynamics of the Super Peace Busters were, and how they’re still in place, all these years later. All of these kids were closer than siblings, yet jealousy ran rife – Yukiatsu of Jinta, Anarau of Menma, Tsuruko of Anaru. Poppo, Jinta and Menma seem to have been more or less content with things as they were, but her death has obviously set everyone else’s life off kilter in a big way. Tsuruko at least appears to have let go, but the others have not – much the same dynamic as Mena’s family, where her mother serves her long-dead daughter curry while her father and brother tell Mom to move on.
I can certainly see a couple of major themes already playing out here. That idea of letting go, vs. holding on to memories of a loved one – a difficult balance for any survivor to walk, and made all the more complicated by the nature of Menma’s death – the details of which we still don’t know. It also appears as if the quest for Menma’s wish may end up being the wish itself – if in fact the other Busters are all re-united and reconciled as part of the quest for that elusive wish. However that plays out, what’s certain is that this is the series that’s hit the emotional high points of the season so far – exceeding Hanasaku Iroha in that respect by my reckoning, though others may disagree. There’s a fairy tale quality to this story that leads one to believe it’s going to succeed based not on trickery and plot twists, but by straightforward dramatic weight. If the premise is powerful enough, you don’t need to embellish it – that was the secret of Cross Game, whose ghost runs through the first two episodes of this series as surely as Menma’s does.