First Impressions: Ana Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai

I have a lot to talk about with this one, starting with the fact that it faced by far the highest expectations for any Spring series in my eyes. And, in the event, it managed to live up to them almost completely. That’s really something to celebrate.

There are so many aspects of this production that are interesting and worthy of discussion. For starters, it’s more than a little weird – but ultimately wonderful – to see “Cross Game” trio Miyu Irinu (Kou/Jinta), Haruka Tomatsu (Aoba/Anaru) and Takahiro Sakurai (Azuma/Yukiatsu) reunited here. They’re all great, but more than that, they have great chemistry together. What’s more, they’re appearing in a highly emotional series that starts with a time jump and events that spin off from the death of a little girl. Haruka-san appears to be the “other” girl again here – the survivor – though whether romance will bloom it’s too early to say. Takahiro-san is playing the heavy here, apparently, but there’s clearly a lot to his character we haven’t seen yet. And then there’s Miyu-miyu, appearing in his second leading role this season (and second promising premiere in two days). It’s clear that this is going to be an extremely sentimental and emotionally-driven show – and thank goodness he’s playing the lead. Hard to imagine anyone else.

Of course, it also needs to be pointed out that this is yet another promising series from A-1 Pictures. Their track record in the last couple of years is probably the best of any studio on the TV side. They’ve done an admirable mix of original (more than most studios) and adapted material, and it almost always looks and sounds fantastic. It’s not so much that A-1 has a “signature” look or style, other than pure quality. Speaking of which, I’m about ready to proclaim Mari Okada as the best writer in TV anime. I knew of her before this year of course – she wrote one of my all-time favorites, True Tears. But already this year she’s been responsible for adapting the best show of the Winter season (Hourou Musuko) and what look to be this season’s elite, this series and Hanasaku Iroha – both original works. That’s an impressive track record. Her words here are in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai, best known as the director of Toradora.

There are lots of details behind the basic story that are not clear yet. We have a troop of six grade-schoolers who are the best of friends – the “Super Peace Busters”, led by Jintan – a dead-ringer for Class 5-2’s Ryouta. He’s a little spitfire, full of life and mischief – but something terrible happens to Menma, the girl he surely loves. Flash forward to high school and the kids have drifted apart. And Jintan has become a hikikomori, not even attending the second-tier high school he wound up flunking into. One day in his 16th summer Menma shows up – looking older, but acting like the same girl he knew as a child. No one else can see her, but she tells Jinta she thinks she’s back because she wants to see her wish fulfilled – a wish neither of them remembers.

It’s obvious from the quality of the writing, direction and acting that maximum emotional impact is going to be mined from this premise – and it’s just as clear that there’s a tremendous latent punch behind all this. You can practically feel the emotional weight of the material Okada has crafted – though there isn’t enough information to understand and we don’t really know the characters yet, the impulse to feel what’s happening on screen is already powerful. I can only see this deepening as the series progresses. I even have reason to hope that this show can evade the 11-episode curse that has plagued so many NoitaminA shows of late. This is original material, so hopefully Okada and Nagai have plotted this out to get them where they need to go in good standing.

Again, NoitaminA has delivered the goods big time. While everyone seems to want to write its obituary based on mediocre ratings, I’d much rather talk about the staggering quality of the shows it’s aired. No matter the studio or the style, the shows have never been less than good and very often been the best things on the air at any given time. While C still has work to do to make me really care about what’s happening, it’s impossible not to admire the craft that goes into it – and AnoHana looks to be the best series of the season, along with “Hanasaku”. It’s an amazing track record and I hope they can keep it up for as long as possible.

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