I really don’t want this to degenerate into fanboy, slavish praising – but that’s a real danger after tonight’s AnoHana. I think this series has been amazingly close to perfect after four episodes and it’s not going to be easy for me to sound like anything except a starry-eyed fan.
If I worry about anything with this one, it’s that the series has packed so much awesome into only four episodes that it can’t possibly keep it going. In terms of economy, this is a worthy successor in the NoitaminA timeslot for Hourou Musuko – like a sprinter that came out of the blocks at full speed, both series have packed tremendous emotional impact from the very first episode. AnoHana is remarkable in its ability to impact the audience with minimal effort – a tribute to the writing and the amazing voice cast. Unlike Hourou Musuko, this series has proved incredibly popular – which for me is both surprising and delightful in equal parts.
At the heart of course are the characters, and this series is six-times blessed in that department. All of the main cast are main-character quality – layered, complex, mysterious, and ultimately human. Even the ghost – or whatever Menma is – is much more than she appears to be, with surprising emotional depth. In only a few episodes all six are remarkably well developed – and this week it was Tsuruko who really stepped to the fore. She’s been interesting from the beginning and showed indications in episode 3 that she had an ocean of hidden depths, but she emerged as one of the best of the season in this ep – I’m ready to call her GAR. She’s quiet, determined, decisive, and plain-spoken. I think she genuinely feels affection and sympathy for Jinta, and she seems to be carrying a torch for Yukiatsu – and both of those are reasons why she “outed” him tonight.
Ah, Yukiatsu. You’ve been set up as the heavy so far, but as I said last week I feel sorry for you more than anything. It’s confirmed – the “Menma” Poppo saw was none other than Yukiatsu in drag. Does the fact that he was smelling his own dress make him more or less creepy, anyway? It’s also plain now that his claim of seeing Menma at the end of episode 3 was a way to lash out at Jinta, to try and worm his way into the spotlight. For all that he’s still obsessed with Menma, Yukiatsu is obviously just as consumed with Jinta. It seems he was always the outsider in the group, even then – and clearly resented both the fact that Jinta was the de facto leader and that he had a hold in Menma’s affections.
For all that, though, Yukiatsu captured Jinta perfectly with his verbal jab of “Whipped Dog”. That’s exactly what Jinta behaves like – he cowers, his eyes are downcast, he avoids people for fear of getting hurt. Not to overkill the metaphor, but he was like a puppy before – bright, energetic, mischievous – but all the things that have hurt him since have transformed him. I still believe that as much as anything is why Menma came back – to try and restore some of Jinta’s life force. And perhaps getting the group dynamic back in place is a big part of that – for it was in that setting that Jinta last felt confident and happy.
You could focus on any one of these characters for an episode and I’d be fascinated to see where it goes – and that makes the prospect of the next seven weeks really exciting. We have one mystery (Poppo’s Menma) solved, and I love the fact that the series didn’t milk it – they hinted at it, they revealed it – let’s move on. We have strong hints about Menma’s death (enough with the “Cross Game” parallels already!). The question of just what Menma is still hangs over things, of course – though it seems obvious she’s still an odd mix of little girl (“Let’s pee together!”) and teenager mentally and emotionally. But I think that question probably isn’t the right one to be asking, as I don’t think it’s really going to be the point of the series. It’s the impact she has on the others that really matters – not least, to Menma herself.