I was originally going to call this “Ano Hana – FUCK YOU MARI OKADA” but decided against since I’m going for subtly. Ano Hana was a very odd show for me. I believed, given the right staff, it could’ve been leaps and bounds better than it is. It had a neat premise, characters had potential and it did have the production quality to be a well done show. However, it had a melancholy loving writer and a director that hates to go outside the domain of “High School life” in his work. Because of this, I didn’t end up hating the show but instead the staff. My opinion on the show is left in this weird void where I don’t know what to think of it. I wasn’t bored while I was watching it but I certainly didn’t enjoy what I was getting. All the time I was thinking “Ahh, if this just had a better writer/director…” or something along those lines. Therefore, expect a lot of “This is the fault of Mari Okada…” or “If the directing was better here…” rather than me criticising the actual show on its faults. As per usual, spoilers are inbound (not like I care for spoiling this show but whatever).
Melodrama can be quite the effective thing. It can either have people on their hands and knees crying their eyes out, contemplating if life is really worth it anymore or it can have people rolling their eyes in exasperation while laughing at the consequences the melodrama has on the show. I can say that I have been on both sides of this spectrum. Hell, one of my favourite shows has buckets of melodrama (Myself ; Yourself) but that doesn’t change the fact that it can still tell a great story and get to my heart. Unfortunately, Ano Hana falls into the latter of this spectrum. It did provide a nice premise and characters but they couldn’t do much with them other than “HURR MUH TEARS, MUH DRAMUH HURR”. So, what exactly went wrong and how did it happen? Mari Okada that’s what (See, I told you this is going to be a common theme). It takes a special gift to fuck up a story as much as she can. Its like she made the premise and was like “…what now?” and copy and pasted her usual formula of “Drama” i.e copious amounts of tears with little to no character development. Seriously, there was no episode in Ano Hana where a character didn’t cry. It made the viewer accustomed to the huge amount of tears so that when a character did turn on the waterworks, it was hard to give sympathy for them. Its kinda like Elfen Lied in the sense that Elfen Lied has the massive amount of blood and edgy gore so it made me go “Oh, a girl is getting her fingers chopped off…k, cool.”
That being said, there was moments, while being scarce, that I kinda cared about the characters, primarily Jinta . He was probably the best character in the show despite having his fits of melancholy. Overall, he is the character who has the least amount of outbursts in the show and I can understand his troubles…to an extent. It was in the first few episodes where he shined the most. There were actual instances where the show was being subtle in their development for him. For example, there was a shot which showed two certificates over his door. Both were awards for him coming in 2nd and 3rd place in a competition. Maybe I’m looking too much into it but I found it interesting that he never won them. Maybe it was a cause of Menma dying that made him fall short of winning. Maybe it was a factor that took a stunt on his confidence and made him a shut in. However, the show ruins this subtleness when they repeat this shot frequently in the latter half of the show. But that’s what he is, a confidence stunted shut in. He isn’t an emo faget that wallows in his misery everyday rambling “OH MENNMAAA, SHOW YOURSELF BEFORE ME” in much desire. He is visibly effected by her death but isn’t letting it get the better of him. I actually appreciated that. Sure, there was that moment where he was running, screaming at the top of his lungs in the first episode but that was only one of his very few emotional outbursts.
I wish that I could tell you that Ano Hana fought the good fight and made their characters have subtle interactions and developments. I wish I could tell you that. Unfortunately, Ano Hana succumbs to the Mari Okada and there is much melodrama to nourish in, constantly shoving the the tears down your throat until you drown in misery. It seems the message they are trying to convey is “Oh, you think that these characters can get sad? HA FUCK YOU I’M GOING TO SHOW YOU WHAT REAL DESPAIR IS LIKE” As previously mentioned, there isn’t one episode in the anime that doesn’t show one member of the main cast crying. Be it Naruko for calling Jinta pathetic, Matsuyuki for cross dressing, Chiriko for cutting her hair and Menma for….well, for being Menma I guess. Depending on who you are, the show either shoots itself in the foot or hits a goldmine by doing this. Its either “Oh god, they are crying. Just. Awesome.” or “OH MY GOD SHES CRYING, ALL OF MY TEARS. ;_;”
That’s the main problem with Ano Hana. Instead of just trying to tell a story, it tries to make the viewer cry. If that was what they were going for then great, it certainly worked on a few people. But that’s where the manipulation comes in. It creates these attractive characters with conflicts within themselves and hey presto, the masses are are in tears. If you found Ano Hana sad and you cried, fair enough. I’m in no position to say what’s sad and what isn’t. There are themes introduced that can hit quite close to home for people. All I’m trying to say is that the drama done in the show is very poor and shallow from a near neutral standpoint. There are many moments of unintentional comedy. For example, after Naruko is seen outside a love hotel with that twenty something year old man, many people spread rumours in class before Jinta interrupts them in Ano Hana fashion i.e in a unnecessarily over dramatic way. He defends her by saying something along the lines of “Y-yeah, Naruko could’ve gone to a love hotel once or twice, in fact she has a love hotel face. BUT, DO NOT SAY SHE IS A PROSTITUTE!” and Naruko is all like “Ah, my hero!”. So, basically it went “NARUKO SURE HAS HAD SEX A FEW TIMES, I BET SHE LOVES THE D BUT DO NOT CALL HER A WHORE”. I nearly died from laughing there.
A thing that makes the melodrama effective is the voice acting. I have to admit, I really like the acting in the show. If this was any other show, I would be proclaiming the greatness of the acting from the highest mountain in all of anime land, especially Tomatsu Haruka’s performance. However, this is Ano Hana so its used in a…well, its like putting the best OST over a video of someone eating a bowl of cold porridge. What I’m trying to say it is used in a wrong way. Too much of a good thing is never good. It needs to be taken in moderation. And that’s what this show lacks, moderation. Everything is thrown at you in one go. One moment its OH DANG NO ONE SEES MENMA, the next its OH SHIT THAT GUY IS A CROSS DRESSER and, without taking a breath, its OH GOD NARUKO LOVES JINTA. I like to think that Mari Okada saw all these things were effective in other anime and was like “Welp, if I put all of this in a 11-episode show then it will be the bestest thing ever” Yeah, no, it doesn’t work like that. Again, the show needed some sort of moderation. Maybe it was the fault of the short airtime, maybe it was just lots of ideas condensed into a brief show but it didn’t go down well with me.
For the actual ending, well…it was very…very…Ano Hana I guess. It was what we had in the show but ten times OTT. What they were going for was nice with the diary pages. It could’ve been quite a bitter-sweet ending to the show but uhh…that kinda didn’t happen. If it seems like I’m acting kinda awkward right now that’s because I found it extremely awkward to watch. I was just going “Oh, well uhh….good for them…i guess?”I appreciated the idea they had but the poor execution just made it hard to watch for me. A constant track of “this would be better if the staff was different” was repeating in my head. The constant barrage of the characters bawling their eyes and roaring at the top of their lungs made it tough to get through. That’s not what I should be feeling. I should be happy for the characters or at least laughing at them. This weird little middle ground that I’m lost in is not pleasant.
Ano Hana was a mixed bag for me. I was laughing at it and sometimes with it. I got angry at the characters but I could understand their reasoning, well, to a certain extent. The main conclusion I came to was that if Ano Hana received a better writer and director, it would be a great show. Hell, it could’ve been one of my favourites. However, wishful thinking is going to get me nowhere so I have to live with this. I wanted to like Ano Hana. It was a well made show, the music was nice, the OP and ED were both great and the voice performances were exceptional. But, while those factors are important, they can’t make a show good. In the end, it comes down to the core content and what we got was over the top, bad melodrama. That’s the saddest thing about the show really, its lost potential. And the fact that Mari Okada still has work.
Fuck you Mari Okada.