Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai: The Movie

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There’s great comfort in knowing some things don’t change.

I wasn’t totally sure how I’d feel about returning to AnoHana, some three years after the completion of the TV series.  I certainly loved it (I ranked it #2 on my list for 2011), but three years is a long time – all of us change over a span like that, not least as fans of a specific medium such as anime.  And maybe some part of me had come to almost believe the 20/20 hindsight criticism of the series from so many quarters, that maybe I’d been kidding myself about just how great a show it was.

Nope.

The first thing I need to say is that I’m very glad I didn’t see this in a theater, because it would have been a rather embarrassing spectacle.  That’s how it is with me and AnoHana – this story gets me where it hurts (especially when the strains of “Secret Base” start playing).  I think it’s a pretty good acid test of whether someone is constitutionally capable of being moved by fiction, because AnoHana makes no bones about the emotions it’s trading in.  It’s not overly subtle, and it’s not especially complicated – but it is absolutely honest.  It’s an unaplogetically sentimental story which asks of the audience only that they embrace some very fundamental human feelings – some call it manipulative, but I don’t see it that way.  It’s just completely lacking in subterfuge or deception.  There’s a strong current in anime fandom (more in the English than Japanese-speaking community, interestingly) to dismiss any anime that displays emotion openly as inherently defective, and it’s so pervasive that I only now realize that I’d almost allowed myself to feel guilty about loving AnoHana – as if doing so betrayed some character flaw.  It’s great to be able to embrace it wholeheartedly again, and recognize the pompous scorn heaped upon the series as nothing more than it is – an opinion, plain and simple.

There’s no need to go into a great deal of detail here, because this is essentially a retelling of the events of the TV series, and I already have 12 posts on that (indeed, it was one of the first series I blogged).  There are some new scenes and they do flesh out the emotional side of the story very effectively (especially an additional game of Kakurenbo), but for the most part this is a look at the events of the series from a slightly different angle.  I think it’s on-point and comprehensive enough that someone who’d never seen the series could follow it and it would resonate, and if you liked the series (and vice-versa) I see no reason why you should feel differently about the movie.

There’s a wistful subtext in watching AnoHana in light of where Okada Mari’s writing journey has taken her since, I won’t deny that.  For my money this series and True Tears are the apex of her career by a wide margin, and returning to Chichibu and the Secret Base with her is a reminder that when she’s in her element, Okada-sensei is a major talent.  Subtlety is not her strength, but painting the emotions tied into friendship, loss and first love is – and when she’s paired with a first-rate director like Nagai Tatsuyuki the results can be spectacular (as they are with AnoHana).  Nagai-sensei’s role in the success of this series and film cannot be overstated – he’s arguably the best director in anime when it comes to relationship drama and romantic comedy.

Watching this movie I’m struck as well by how fantastic this cast is.  Of course any fan of Cross Game registered immediately that AnoHana was a reunion of its three stars – Miyu Irino, Tomatsu Haruka and Sakurai Takahiro.  But the ties to CG really are deeper than that – AnoHana too is a story of dealing with the tragic drowning of a young girl, of the Miyu-portrayed boy with the beautiful soul who was damaged by it and the Tomatsu tsundere girl left behind who loves him, and forever measures herself a memory and comes up short.  Adachi’s work is all about psychological subtlety and emotional subtext, while Okada obviously paints with a much broader brush.  But the feelings are strong in both instances, and Miyu and Tomatsu are once again superb here – both are among the very best in the business, and they have a magnificent chemistry.  Hayami Saori (Tsuruko) and Kondou Takayuki (Poppo) are both excellent, and the actors who play the boys as children – Mutsumi Tamura as Jintan, Seto Asama as Yukiatsu and Toyasaki Aki as Poppo (all of whom have much more to do in the film) equally strong.  And the great Kayano Ai as Menma takes what could have been a grating role in lesser hands and infuses it with real depth and integrity.

It’s interesting to muse on why I didn’t re-watch AnoHana, but I suppose it’s  most likely that the emotional impact on me the first time was so strong that the urge to endure that again never quite won the day – that and the fact that the story felt complete and told, with no need to return to it.  That said, I was amazed that I found myself so totally immersed with these characters again so quickly – in that sense a movie like this can almost feel like time travel if it’s well-made.  And this one is very well-made, indeed.  It’s spiritually faithful to the original while giving us just enough of a new framing device (the Super Peace Busters reuniting a year after the series ended to send Menma letters they’ve written to her) to feel fresh.  And more importantly than that, to give the impression that it has a reason to exist – the movie really does have something to say, and it does add something meaningful to the AnoHana experience.  This is not a reworking, a substantive reinterpretation of the series’ events and ending – more of a fond reflection with the benefit of a little distance provided by the passage of time.

This works – all of it.  The movie works, and AnoHana still works as a concept.  Why?  I would say because for all its simplicity – or perhaps even because of it – AnoHana is a brilliant little story.  It’s elegant and direct and unpretentious and asks us to make no Olympian leaps of logic or empathy.  These are very universal and basic things all of us can understand – friendship, loyalty, first love, the hurt of unrequited love, and most of all the pain of having to say goodbye.  This is magical realism in the truest sense of the word, using fancy to allow the exploration of the human experience in a way literalism cannot.  For all the high-handed derision heaped upon it from certain quarters since its airing, AnoHana remains wildly popular and by most, beloved – and it’s quite deserved.  It’s a beautiful and painful story, the kind of hurt that feels cleansing and sort of nourishing.  I’m glad I still feel that way after all this time, and I’m glad I was able to re-discover my love for AnoHana.

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27 comments

  1. K

    I'm going to watch this now. I tell you later what I feel about it.

  2. I

    I recently rewatched the series not to long ago. Still so so good. I would like to check out the movie hopefully in a year are so.

  3. Why so long?

  4. I

    Since the movie is pretty much a retelling of the show, I kind of want to give myself some distance so I receive the full impact the show has again.

  5. S

    I have a friend who saw it in the movies in Japan and he said that there was not a dry eye in the house when "Secret Base" kicked in.

    Like you I was a bit worried about the movie but I think it has done the amazing job of both being a companion to the series yet allowing those who haven't seen the series to completely get it.

    Loved it, Cried like a baby

  6. R

    This has been sitting in my HDD for a while. I need to watch it sometimes later, maybe I will feel differently watching it this time around.
    This along with Hourou Musuko and Zetsuen no Tempest is my favourite Okada's show (both are adaptation though).

  7. t

    AnoHana movie was really really wonderful and simply great.
    although lots of the movie is somewhat a recap of the series with new events, it doesn't matter and no bother at all (unlike other recaps like Chunni). it created the right vibe of emotions that the TV series gave us, and the movie has even got himself a more special tone. I think the main reason is that there is a more complete picture. we had new scenes of the childhood combined with the known past of the series and the "future scenes" that aren't a distant future, but it enhancing lots of things in AnoHana.

    it's really get into you (considering you loved AnoHana). from the beginning, watching Jinta carrying Menma in that time, continuing with everyone point-of-view from past and present. then when "secret base" is starting…it just get into you. and it was hard.
    yup, it was very emotional and exciting for me to watch it. I love the way the movie handled the characters so subtly (even Menma's family) and the themes weaved in the story. sure, in times it's a bit too strong melodrama, but the feels and everything around aren't that much false given.

    AnoHana movie is sure wonderful.
    still probably Okada's best – the way characters are handled is subtly enough (despite manipulation here and there, but it's not like NnA), the story is going to the right places and doesn't spread much and of course the feels and emotional value – sure it's too strong and melodramatic in times, but it fits to the characters and story in general.

  8. m

    Is it me, or does Okada seem to do better when she has shorter episode count to work with? That might be because like you said "Subtlety is not her strength", and when you get something like NagiAsu with 26 eps that outpour of emotion from the characters seems too much. Heavy emotions can be tricky like that. You can relate to people in sad situations like those, but if someone is doing nothing but crying all the time, you eventually won't want to be around them. Okada does well with big impact situations in a short span, which is (as you said) the opposite of Adachi's skill at subtlety and depth, but (Cross game did both perfectly though) not often on overall impact of one particular scene.
    I never read any blogs about AnoHana or went on any message boards, but I really can't imagine what issues someone could take with it. It's funny how the things people like/dislike, and more so their specific reasons for that, can speak a lot about what type of person they are. I think (though I admit I'm no psychology major) that if you dislike it for being "emotionally manipulative" you prob just aren't comfortable with honest displays of emotion. Maybe it's not your genre, or you aren't a fan of tragedies (there's nothing wrong with that), but I can't see how you can knock the writing or any of the other technical merits of the show. I'm clearly biased from how much I loved this anime though.

  9. It's not just you.

  10. R

    I want to believe your first sentence, but then, I remember Black Rock Shooter and WIXOSS…

  11. WIXOSS is now officially two cour.

  12. K

    If you ignore the incest vibes which I hope to be toned down, WIXOSS is actually a pretty good story…

  13. m

    She's too up and down to ever be perfect at all short shows, but I mean the overall quality of her 1-cour work seems to be significantly higher if you compare them to her 2-cour work. Even with NagiAsu cour 1 was much better than 2. Or just taking the number of good-great eps you'd get a short one cour season from it. I honestly think it's due to the high intensity emotion she puts in her writing. Too much of that is generally hard to pull off, but with limited amounts of highly emotional scenes it seems to work very well.

  14. Z

    And to this day the only shows that she's worked on that I've liked have been Lupin III: Mine Fujiko and Simoun.

  15. m

    Since you're reviewing movies, how long before the Star Driver: the Movie entry?
    Clearly Bones' masterpiece needed to come out in movie format…..

  16. S

    Did they make it end this time? I HATED how the series ended

  17. I'd sooner poke my eyes out with yakitori skewers.

  18. m

    Hahaha I figured your response would be along those lines.

    @Scruffy I don't know I haven't watched it. I was just making a joke bc I didn't like star driver, and bc Enzo said he hates it.

  19. s

    This movie reminds me of how much i liked the first 2/3 of the series. I still thought the show was good, but it kinda got too melodramatic for me towards the final stretch and i didnt like that feeling whatsoever. Still, it was a nice trip down memory lane; the character designs are still a joy to watch and the animation has such personality to it.

  20. Z

    Wasn't this originally penned as an ecchi comedy?

  21. m

    Haha really? That can't be right

  22. S

    My understanding is that Okada wanted to add some ecchi comedy into the show but the director didn't want that. There was the scene where Menma wriggles on Jinta causing him to 'rise' but that was about it as far as I can recall.

  23. F

    I don't really know why this series has such a powerful effect on me. I'm tearing up as I read your blog; remembering the story and characters always produces a sadness in me. You're right though – the hurt and pain feels healthy to experience, like it accomplishes a kind of emotional cleansing. I am really looking forward to seeing this movie!

  24. I think it's just the simple, honest pathos of the situation. It's based on emotions we can all relate to, and the characters are exceptionally well-developed so it feels as if we know them well.

  25. m

    I think it's because the stuff she put in here is so universal. Anyone who has dealt with losing someone can understand it, and certainly the added emotion of it happening when you're young and aren't as capable of dealing with loss. Aside from the cross dressing and becoming a hikimori, or whatever its called, the characters react in ways I'm sure most people have at least seen in those close to them.

  26. G

    Just catching the movie now and if you did not watch the original series you would be lost here. It was one of my favorite series of that year.

  27. I think I disagree – someone could get a decent sense of what was happening from the movie, it seems to me. But I'm not the best judge of that.

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