As much as I’ve bonded with this show – which is a lot – it’s extraordinarily rare that any entertainment causes me to lose it emotionally. But while I held out for 9.5 episodes of AnoHana, there were a couple of moments this week that finally pushed me right to the edge. If I had to point to one, it would be when Menma hugged her brother – but I think there just a general build-up that nearly breached the dam by the final scene (although I never suspected that Menma’s wish was actually the firework – nor was I supposed to, I suspect). Next week has the potential to kick my ass and leave me for dead by the side of the road.
I’m not surprised to see some folks starting to turn on this series in the last two episodes, because where most series would have taken shortcuts and jumped the characters right to the emotional end-game, this one – as it has from the beginning – refused to do so. It’s dramatic, for certain – but that’s not a defect, it’s a strength. Because the drama comes from the genuine pain the characters are suffering, which has been slowly peeling like the layers of an onion for the last ten weeks (can’t peel an onion without a few tears). I wouldn’t love the series as much as I do if it copped out now and explained everything neatly, and lined up all it’s ducks in a dramatically convenient row.
Jintan isn’t winning over some folks, and I can understand it. He’s a maddening boy in many ways – stubborn, self-centered, eternally sad. But I love him for that – because he’s only a product of what’s been taken from him. I have a tendency to bond with damaged characters others hate (Makoto from Colorful comes to mind) and Jintan is no exception. He is, as Yukaitsu so perfectly captured him early on, a beaten dog. But the beaten dog – for all the trauma on-screen – made a couple of very important strides this week.
First off, he admitted that he loved Menma. This was obviously a hugely important scene for many reasons – important to Anaru, to Poppo (revealing some facet of his inner demonology I suspect we’ll learn more of next week), obviously to Menma, but most of all to Jintan himself. In doing so, he also admitted the selfish desire to not see Menma go to Heaven. It was obviously in his mind, so it’s much the better that it’s out in the open. He’s lost his mother, he’s lost Menma once – is it so despicable that he doesn’t want to lose her again? It’s wrong, of course, and selfish – just as it’s wrong for Yukiatsu to worship at the totem of a Menma dress and wig – but understandable. In admitting these things to himself and to the Busters, Jintan is finally in a place where he can confront them. Yukiatsu, at least, had Tsuruko out him publicly – Jintan had no such shove in the back.
Tsuruko is a complicated person – well, they all are. The word I think I would use for her is ruthless. Sometimes that ruthlessness works for good – as when she outed Yukiatsu to the others – but there’s a cruel side to her, too. Spilling his secret when she’d promised not to, withholding information from the other Busters about Menma’s last day – for all her calm superiority, she’s as frustrated and unfulfilled as any of them. And still as wedded to the past – as if she could be anything us, cutting her hair and dressing as her child self for Menma’s firework launch.
I don’t know that we can seriously expect a Jintan/Anaru end, at this point – there’s too much poison in the romantic water. The depth of Jintan’s love for Menma is clearer than ever, most importantly – even if she does go to Heaven, I don’t see how he can rebound to Anaru that quickly (time jump? Hmm…). Tsuruko is hung up on Yukiatsu, Yukiatsu seems to genuinely like Anaru (I was skeptical that he was simply trying to shove it in Jintan’s face, but I’m becoming convinced), and poor Poppo keeps his own desires to himself up till now. Anaru is the one I feel worst for, here – she’s been loyal to Jintan even as he slipped into a self-destructive shell, and no less honest about her feelings than any of the others. Menma is an obstacle in everyone’s path to growth to some extent, but her specific impact on Anaru is quite direct. Anaru is less manipulative than anyone else here – she just doesn’t seem to have it in her – but she suffers just the same.
I also want to note that the inclusion of Menma’s family into the main storyline – especially Satoshi – was handled beautifully. It was right to have them largely on the sideline for most of the series, because we needed that time to weave together all the strands of the Busters. But just at the very moment when it became obvious that Satoshi especially but his folks as well needed to be brought into the picture to frame a satisfying conclusion, there they were. Their pain is just as real, and Satoshi becoming an unofficial Buster as Menma’s proxy feels exactly right. It also felt right that her parents should have been present for the launch, because even not knowing the true reason behind it, it was the impetus for her father to finally confront his wife about the selfishness of her grief.
In the end, it certainly appears that Menma’s wish, and/or her ticket to ride is indeed directly tied into Jintan’s Mom – most specifically what she told Menma that day in the hospital that Menma dreamed of (and was there any significance to the fact that she was sparking as she dreamed that, as Jintan watched her sleep?). In addition to the mystery of Mom’s words we still have the mystery of why Menma’ called the others together on the day she died – the thing she “wanted to do for Jintan” – though I think it’s very likely directly related to the first question. Despite Jintan’s feelings – his expressed willingness to “marry” Menma if she stayed – I think it’s hard to concoct a finale that ends without Menma moving on. I’ve cooled on the notion – though not discounted it – that Jintan may be facing death himself as implied last week, though I’m still convinced the symbolism of the river as the boundary between this life and the next is on-target.
So here we are, almost at the end. In looking back, it seems obvious now that the selfishness of grief is a recurring theme of this series – not just Menmama’s grief, but everyone’s. Emotion is, at it’s heart, usually a selfish thing – we feel things because we feel them, and we react based on that. Rather than condemn each other for this – and condemn ourselves – we need to accept it. Selfishness is a fundamental part of who we are as human beings, but that doesn’t mean we can’t let others into our lives to share our pain. I suspect the ending will touch very strongly on this – the acceptance of our grief, and the willingness to rise above it and allow others inside the shell we’ve created. It applies to Jintan, and it applies to all the other major characters as well. If Menma has any wish that will truly satisfy her soul and allow her to move on in peace, that would seem to be a good start.