Processing Grief Through Anime Part Two: Anohana

I began the first part with an explanation of tearjerker anime, the ones that wring tears out of you. Not that I would ever cry over a silly cartoon, no idea what you’re talking about. You can tell from my macho blog all about those cartoons that I’d never feel emotions because of them. Shut up, Anohana didn’t leave me heaving and curled up in the fetal position.

Anohana is not one of those anime that try to make you cry, it succeeds at it. It is a custom-designed vehicle with the express purpose of making you feel as much as possible in just eleven episodes. That’s a strict deadline with a tall order to feel, but having just rewatched the series for this essay, it makes so much sense that it is this short.

Fast pacing has this way of making each episode or chapter feel like a monumental step in a journey. There is some dramatic paradigm shift in each step of that journey. If I had to deliver a lecture on how to make your audience feel, it would be in the same raw, emotional clashes that make Anohana a masterpiece.

I know I throw the word masterpiece out pretty often, but Anohana defends being given the label without any of my help needed. It isn’t just a phenomenally written story with enough depth to warrant a dozen essays, it has its piece to say about how and why we grieve. To cap off this two parter, there is no better choice than Anohana: We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day. And here is your warning:

SUPER MAJOR EXTRA SPOILERS FOR ANOHANA

AnoHana Archives - Geeks + Gamers
The Super Peace Busters preparing to watch the rocket launch.

Anohana follows a group of six, or rather five childhood friends, who formed the club The Super Peace Busters, who protect the peace of their small town. They’re led by the outgoing Jintan, and he’s followed by the kind and sweet Menma, Poppo, who idolizes Jintan, Yukiatsu, who’s jealous of Jintan, quiet an artistic Tsuruko, and shy and thoughtful Anaru. They spend their summer days at the hideout just outside of town, playing Nokemon, which is totally different from Pokemon.

Their idyllic childhood is broken up the day that Anaru asks Jintan if he likes Menma. Anaru, who is in love with Jintan, worked with Yukiatsu, who has a crush on Menma, hoping that forcing their friends out into the open might drive a wedge between them. It works as intended; the emotionally inept Jintan spouts off in a panic and runs away, but the plan goes awry when the ever compassionate Menma goes after him.

The show never specifies what happens to Menma after she left the base, but the implication being that she slipped on the riverbank and drowned. Everyone blames themselves for her death: Jintan for rejecting her and running, Anaru for asking in the first place, Yukiatsu for being unable to stop her, but Poppo most of all. Poppo witnessed Menma’s death, or at least the aftermath, and was petrified in fear. He never called for help, and all these years later, he’s never been able to get the image out of his head.

We first meet the Super Peace Busters five years later, now in high school, and alienated from their former friends. Jintan has become a recluse and dropout, Anaru fell in with a stuck-up clique, while Yukiatsu went to a new school, and Tsuruko, who’s infatuated with him, followed. Poppo left town and traveled the world, only returning home to get the money for his next trip, and still running away from his moment of cowardice.

The plot kicks up when Jintan begins seeing Menma again, but for some reason she’s now the same age as him, and alive. He puts it down to stress, but as Menma hangs around and proves the reality of her presence, she can offer him an alternate explanation: she’s a ghost, and she can only pass on if their entire group of friends fulfills her wish. Easier said than done, as they don’t quite know what her wish is.

Some of them come around quicker than others. Poppo and Anaru believe Jintan as soon as they realize he’s not delusional, even if they can’t see Menma, and Tsuruko takes a little more convincing, but Yukiatsu doesnt quite buy it. Fulfilling Menma’s wish isn’t going to be as easy as catching that rare Nokemon she wanted when they were ten.

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day | Netflix
The Super Peace Busters as children (left to right): Tsuruko, Menma, Anaru, Jintan, Yukiatsu, Poppo on bottom.

Each Super Peace Buster grieves for Menma in their own way, influenced by how each of them blames themselves for killing her. Anaru hasn’t stopped loving Jintan even after Menma’s death, since her jealousy of Jintan’s affection for Menma was why she asked the question in the first place. Even after Jintan stops being the outgoing, passionate kid she was friends with, the more her feelings dig their heels in, but her guilt only compounds.

Tsuruko might be the least guilty of any of them, but that isn’t to say there’s no resentment at all. She didn’t instigate the argument, she didn’t fail to stop Menma, and she sort of disappears from the backstory once the argument happens, but she’s still in love with Yukiatsu. He’s still hung up on a dead girl, and she’s only desperate to fulfill Menma’s wish so he’ll get the closure he needs to move on, to her.

This complicates as Yukiatsu flirts with Anaru, half the result of his carefully crafted persona of carelessness, half of it from Yukiatsu seeing a lot of himself in Anaru. They both pine for someone who only has eyes for another, it’s just that Tsuruko still can’t get the attention of the person she wants. As such, Tsuruko is in no way short on the teen angst this series runs on.

Yukiatsu is…well, a headcase. Holding onto an old crush on a dead girl, and an inferiority complex to a guy who isn’t as handsome, smart, or successful as him, it means nothing can satisfy him. As a result, he dresses as Menma and walks the woods where she died at night. Yeah, there’s a clear logical throughline there. Well, it’s not as abrupt or nonsensical as I make it out to be, but it takes a rewatch or two to grasp his mindset.

Atsumu "Yukiatsu" Matsuyuki/Gallery | Anohana Wiki | Fandom | Anime qoutes,  Anime, Anohana
It’s always the pretty boys that wind up cosplaying as their dead crushes.

His dressing as Menma is a manifestation of his jealousy and inferiority, so much so that he needs to create a Menma for himself because he’s lost access to her. He’s painfully self-centered, believing that Menma couldn’t be haunting Jintan, because Menma would only haunt him if she had the chance. Yukiatsu plays the villain for most of the series, but he’s only acting out in the same way all his friends are, it’s just that he does so i opposition to Jintan.

Poppo is initially the only Super Peace Buster who processed their grief healthily and moved on, but that’s a front. His boisterous world traveler act is a construct to run away from his guilt and belief that he could have saved Menma if only he wasn’t too scared to call for help. He’s the first to believe Jintan that Menma has returned, but only because the guilt tears him up so badly that he wants Menma to hate him, to bame him. He might be the most heartbreaking of the group, as he hides his pain the best, but it’s clear that every day of the last five years has been hell.

And Jintan…well, Jintan hasn’t lived a day past Menma’s death. His grief was compounded by his mother’s death soon after, but even before that, he was quick to anger and unable to process his emotions. He just doesn’t have to grapple with that until he’s faced with the two great losses of his life.

Menma’s wish is revealed to be a promise to Jintan’s mother, that she would make him cry, or more accurately, help him come to terms with all the painful feelings he pushes down and out of the way. The crying is just a side-effect of Jintan’s unwillingness to confront how he feels. Thus, the bold and outspoken leader of the group is reduced to a shut-in, angrily sulking at the chatter of a couple walking outside his window when Menma pushes her way back into his life.

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day Review • Anime UK News
The SPB shortly before Anaru asks the question.

The way that each member of the group processes their grief and comes to terms with it is similar to one another. Tsuruko is the only one who has moved on at least a little bit, but her issues come up as Menma returns. As such, everyone appears to be collaborating to fulfill her wish, but they’re obscuring their true feelings. It doesn’t help that they decide Menma’s wish is shooting a rocket that they tried to do when they were children.

Anaru confesses her feelings to Jintan relatively early on, and even before that, everyone discovers Yukiatsu’s crossdressing as Menma, but it only comes to a head in the eleventh episode. After the rocket launch fails to send Menma off, they have no choice but to come clean about their impure motives. They all want to help Menma move on, but it was only so they would get something out of it. Yukiatsu would deprive Jintan of her, Anaru would get Jintan to herself, and Tsuruko might finally get Yukiatsu’s attention if her rivals for his affection were out of the picture.

The only ones who don’t have a hidden agenda are Jintan and Poppo, but they’re both grappling with the guilt they feel at causing her death. Poppo’s motives are tainted by his dishonesty towards his friends, and as much as he wants to help Menma, he’s primarily seeking the absolution of his conscience. As bad as that is, Jintan doesn’t even want to send Menma back.

But Menma’s wish isn’t her friends shooting a rocket in her honor, it’s that they become friends again, and that Jintan might learn to come to terms with how he feels. It’s why she can’t disappear until she writes each of them a short note saying what she loves about them, forgiving them, and getting Jintan and everyone else to bawl like a baby. Oh, and also the most heart-wrenching game of hide-and-seek I’ve ever seen.

My Shiny Toy Robots: Anime REVIEW: AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day
Maybe the best OP & ED combo of all time.

Anohana’s message on processing grief is not so wild and complicated, yet it’s simple, honest, and speaks to the facts of mourning. Be truthful with yourself and your loved ones. Don’t live in the past, look to the future. Putting on a brave face is not the same as moving on. We see every Super Peace Buster adopt a new persona after Menma’s death just to act as though it no longer affects the, but it’s not true to themselves.

The only way to move past the loss of a loved one is to make peace with them. Jintan’s father comes across as a laid-back idiot for most of the show, letting his son ditch school and waste his life. At best he’s a pushover, at worst he’s neglecting his child.

The truth of his behavior becomes apparent as you see he regularly chats with Jintan’s mother at their family shrine and the cemetery. He’s not a bad father, he can see that his son is wrapped up in his grief and the only thing you can do is nudge him in the right direction. Forcing him to move on would have the opposite effect.

We see this in action with Menma’s family. Menma’s father didn’t allow the family to contemplate on the loss and forced them to move on prematurely. As such, her brother only has a few scattered memories of his sister that he’s barely been able to dwell on, and her mother has never processed the trauma of losing her child as such a young age. Anohana is explicit that grief is not something you can push away, ignore, or bottle up, and as it shows how our main cast deals with it, it shows how so many other people have failed to do so.

REVIEW: AnoHana (2011) - Geeks + Gamers
Okay, I’ll admit that this scene got me to tear up, but just a little bit.

Anohana and your Lie in April are both deeply interested in exploring how people experience and repress grief, and how someone might healthily process their grief after years of letting it fester. Your Lie in April is more interested in dealing with loss through the perspective of an artist, and how having a medium to express oneself can help you grieve. It’s why Kosei is shown slowly acclimating to his mother’s death, but handling Kaori’s at the tail end of the series once he has grown as a person.

Anohana chooses instead to explore how grief affects a wide group of people, both the Super Peace Busters, as well as Jintan and Menma’s families. The most effective way of communicating that unresolved trauma can permeate every level of a person’s life is to demonstrate it at different levels of severity, and different manifestations. Grief affects everyone differently, and while most people don’t resort to dressing up as them Norman Bates style, it’s a lot easier to admit you’re feeling lost and seek help for it.

I didn’t get to touch on half of what I would like to here, and this is already running longer than my average essay, but if I got to write everything I wanted, it would rival War & Peace. Even then, I’d only be scratching the surface. For one of the shorter full-length anime out there, Anohana possesses an incredible level of depth in each of its characters and themes. If you’ve only seen Anohana once, I’d recommend it again, because you haven’t really seen Anohana until you’ve seen it twice.

Many of the plot points and quiet character moments only realize their full meaning when you have the benefit of context. The only downside is that you now know the full emotional roller coaster you’re putting yourself through. Sometimes I can still hear them chanting, “Are you ready?” and it’s torture, but yeah, it was worth it.

Anohana is one of the best-written and most efficiently paced anime I’ve seen, and the fact that it is an excellent lesson on how to process an incredibly difficult universal human experiences is just a bonus. If you haven’t seen either of these two spectacular series I just wrote way too much about, you also managed to get spoiled for the entirety of it, so kudos. But, if you’re still interested in starting either of them, they’re both on US Netflix, so it’s a pretty convenient watch.

If you liked this two parter and want to see more of them, you can tell me so with a comment or a like, and get notified by following the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress. If you like that, but also want my hot takes on the anime I’m currently watching, you can follow over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Published by perseus54321

Author, blogger, and when they say "everybody's a critic", they mean me, I'm everybody. Direct all inquiries at otakuexhibition@gmail.com, or follow me @ExhibitionOtaku on Twitter.

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