I have so many thoughts running through my head as I think back on the finale of AnoHana. That’s the hardest part about writing this post, probably – that, and trying to be objective about a show that’s so incredibly close to my heart by now. So I’ll begin by summing up and keeping it simple – thank you. Thanks to Mari Okada and Tatsuyuki Nagai and A-1 Pictures and NoitaminA for creating and airing this work, and thanks to anime viewers everywhere for confounding my expectations and making this one of the most talked-about and loved shows of 2011. It’s certainly the best.
To my great relief, Okada trusted what she’d built for 10 episodes and let the situation speak for itself in the finale. There were no shocking plot twists, no deux ex machina moments, and no “going big”. There was no need – you’ll never see a better job of developing complex characters and placing them in a powerful situation in a short series. Yes, it was emotional and I can see some fans turning on the show for that – but this is an emotional series. Despite it’s supernatural premise it derives all its power from raw human feelings – and relatively simple ones, too, the world viewed through the lens of children and teenagers who still have the child very much inside them.
As I kind of expected, the theme of selfishness was a major player in the conclusion. Of course the firework was never Menma’s “wish”, and the wish itself (as was becoming increasingly apparent) wasn’t really the point at all. While Menma did have her reasons for being back and a promise to keep, Okada thankfully stayed away from dissecting the mechanics of the situation and offering endless explanations. What was important is that Menma was real, and the impact she had on the Super Peace Busters.
Of course, they’ve been spending the years since her death blaming themselves in various ways. They all blamed themselves for their own selfishness being the reason Menma couldn’t go to Heaven. Poppo blamed himself for seeing Menma’s death and not being able to stop it. Anaru and Tsuruko ended up being a lot more alike than they realized, so much so that they had a catfight about it. Yukaitsu hated himself for wishing Menma away so that Jintan wouldn’t have her to himself. Ironically, it was Jintan who ended up holding it together while the rest of the gang tore themselves and each apart and broke down sobbing. He was the only one, in the end, who was OK with her going to Heaven for the right reasons – but Menma had other plans.
That confrontation and breakdown at the temple was a sort of false conclusion, an important cleansing moment for the Busters to finally bare their scarred souls but ultimately a prologue to the main event. Of all the confessions and recriminations (self and otherwise) in that scene, I found Poppo’s to be the most compelling. Always the odd man out of the group, he finally admitted what was obvious – that he was torn between running away from his childhood and being stuck in it. What was new was the reason – what he saw on Menma’s last day – but we knew the rest of the story already. He dropped out of school and traveled the world, all to escape the pain of that day – yet ended up returning to the scene of his greatest heartbreak, unable to escape it. In many ways Poppo was the simplest and purest of the living Busters – untainted by unrequited romantic feelings he could focus on Menma. And even if he was ultimately selfish too, seeing her return to Heaven as a way to redeem his own perceived sins, his ultimate reasons were still altruistic in my view. Poppo loved Menma as they all did, and the fact that he’d been unable to help her when she died made him all the more desperate to help her now.
The temple scene was intentionally theatrical, with each character symbolically returning to their child selves – right down to the names they addressed each other with. It was the eruption of a lava flow of repressed emotion of literally more than half the lifetimes of the Busters, so it’s only natural that it be so. Then, with everyone’s darkest secrets out in the open – secret plots, terrible visions, petty jealousies – and the mood suitably lightened by Anaru’s eyelash fiasco, the Busters were free to move on to the business of helping Menma to a better place, from a better place themselves. But the matter of her existence was still unresolved, and as expected it turned out to be directly connected to Jinta’s Mum. It was thankfully simple and elegant in the end – a promise to make Jintan cry. What the others needed to do to move on from Menma, Jintan’s Mother knew he needed to do to be able to move on from her. So Menma promised she would make him cry, and she certainly succeeded there – along with me and, I suspect, millions of viewers.
That was the setup for the real emotional climax. Her promise fulfilled, Menma was starting to disappear on her own. But in coming back at all, she’d created the need to fulfill one more requirement – a proper goodbye to the Busters. Her own selfish wish – even Menma had one – was to be able to say Goodbye to everyone, not just Jintan. In a race against the clock as she faded, Jintan carried her to the secret base only to have her disappear even from his sight. What followed played out through the diary and a desperate, gut-wrenching game of Hide-and-Seek. Irinu Miyu proved why he’s the best in the business, creating more raw power in his frantic pleas to Menma than the entire confrontation at the Shrine had mustered. And in the end, Menma (no explanation necessary, or desired) managed to be found at last. She left each of the Busters a note, and one last vision of her smile as she disappeared into the sunrise. Did she fulfill her last wish to continue to be with her friends by being reincarnated as field of flowers – forger-me-nots? Perhaps. I don’t need to know – I’m happier with that left to the imagination.
Similarly open-ended is the epilogue. There are hints that Jintan and Anaru might be growing closer, but no more. Yukiatsu makes a peace offering to Tsuruko, but we don’t know if it was more than that. What’s clear is that Poppo is going back to school – taking that important step towards growing up at last – and that Jintan is back in school himself. Their lives go on, perhaps with a renewed sense of friendship between them and a weight lifted from their shoulders. But there won’t be any shortcuts to happiness – they’ll have to work at it. Menma gave them an opportunity to move on, but that was the easy part – now they’ll have to do it.
I was pretty happy with the landing points for each of the characters. Ironically the firework ended up bringing closure not to the Busters and Menma, but to her family. Jintan’s father still worries for his son, but sees hope in his renewed connection to the world. As for Jintan himself, he’ll forever live with the knowledge that he loved a girl who died, and that she loved him in return. Their future was stolen from them, but he was at least given a chance to tell her how he felt and to learn that it was reciprocated. Will he take that knowledge and look at Anaru in a new light? Perhaps – but that would be too much to ask from this series. It’s enough for now that he realizes how much all of the Busters mean to him, and that he can’t function alone in the universe. Menma was not able to give him happiness, but she was able to give him a fresh start. With that miraculous gift, perhaps he can find happiness with the help of his friends and his father. Knowing that nothing would please Menma more could just be the motivation Jintan needs to do it.