A childhood of summers blend and blur together, casting adolescence in the golden light of magic hour. As we get older, that summer becomes more like a fantasy of half-forgotten memories, distant and unreachable. Like a flower that blooms and then withers, the summer of our youth burns bright but must ultimately end. For the five living characters at the heart of Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, that summer never ended. It became a fixed point, stranding them to an island none could escape or outgrow without a little help from a long-lost friend.
Jintan, Menma, Anaru, Yukiatsu, Tsuruko and Poppo together formed the Super Peace Busters when they were kids. Complete with a secret hideout, the club had everything they could ever want for. On the surface it was perfect, but conflicting emotions and who-likes-who created tensions even amongst this group of sixth graders. The flashbacks focus mostly on one day, the day Menma died in a tragic accident. In one way or another, the others each blame themselves for her death.
That’s no surprise considering how young they all were. Only at around seven do children first begin to understand that people who have died won’t come back, that death is the inevitable outcome of life, that they too someday will die. But often they think that death is something that only happens to adults. Kids aren’t supposed to die, there’s an immortality in being young and so how are children supposed to comprehend – never mind deal with – the death of one of their own?
Yet death is only one part of losing a friend or loved one, there follows an entire grieving process and, at this age, bereaved kids sometimes feel as though they need permission to show their emotions and discuss their feelings. Children between five and ten often just copy the coping mechanism that they see in bereaved adults, or try to disguise their emotions altogether to protect everyone else around them.
And so, in Anohana, the grieving process is delayed until each of the Super Peace Busters are old enough, not only to understand and reconcile what happened to Menma, but to accept it and begin their journey of healing. Five years after her death, Menma returns as a ghost, presenting herself to Jintan, who’d been the de facto leader of their gang. At first Jintan dismisses her as a summer-induced hallucination, but little by little he believes that she’s real and wants to help her fulfil her wish so that she can move on to heaven and reincarnate.
Jintan embodies the first stage of grief and loss, that is denial and isolation, especially when it comes to the latter. Not long after losing Menma, the girl he loved but could never confess to, his mum died. It’s really no wonder Jintan withdrew into himself, creating a safe little microcosm in his room where he’d eat, sleep and play video games. He dropped out of high school as the rest of Super Peace Busters grew further apart. When he is forced to leave the house, he hides himself with a hat and glasses so that he won’t be recognised. Coupled with his lack of motivation and difficulty even existing and it’s clear he’s also suffering from depression – the fourth stage of grief. Because he’s mourning two souls in tandem, Jintan is scattered across these stages, stuck in that summer five years before, unable to move on and grow as a person.
Jintan is the most outwardly affected by what happened. But the other four just hide it better. Anaru has a new friendship group, wears trendy clothes and tries to get on with her life, but she’s still so hung up on Jintan, who in turn is still so hung up on Menma. Tsuruko is cold and distant and has buried her feelings so deep for Yukiatsu it’s as if they never even existed, while Yukiatsu’s love for Menma surfaces in cross-dressing as her to try and keep her close. Perhaps most tragic, though, is Poppo, whose easy-going demeanour hides a deep trauma. He was the only one who saw Menma fall from the slope, into the river and watched as her body drifted down the water. No amount of running away and travelling the world was enough to escape that image and the guilt he feels for watching, unable to do anything. Though he tries escape, he finds he always comes back to the Super Peace Busters’ clubhouse, so it’s no wonder he’s the first to believe Jintan when he tells them that Menma has returned, and only he can see her. There’s so much unresolved tension and conflict between all of them, but, like Poppo returning to the clubhouse, they are all running around in circles. All of them imagined the rest having changed, but they discover that they’re all still the same. They are still trapped inside that one long summer.
Floral imagery is woven throughout the series, from its title and opening and closing sequences, to carrying thematic weight in the narrative. Flowers represent death and are synonymous with new life and love. In Anohana, they represent Menma. In trying to grant her wish, the gang find the designs they’d drawn as children for a big bright firework. Through a lot of hard graft and determination, they launch the firework and bid their farewells. It explodes in a cascade of colour, blooming like a flower in the sky. Yet it was something subtler that saw Menma able to move on. She writes each of the group a note, containing a few simple lines that allows them to let go of their grief, pain, and trauma. That is her gift to them, and she lays these five folded sheets out in the shape of a flower on the ground, a flower that bloomed from death and despair, but which brought catharsis and acceptance.
In putting away their childish things and leaving them far behind, the gang convinced themselves they could grow up and away from their pain. But in seeing Menma ascend to heaven, they become their childhood selves again, expressing Anohana’s ultimate lesson. It is only in peeling ourselves back, petal by petal, to our truest core that we can heal and become who we are meant to be without the ones we’ve lost.
Read more about Anohana in LofZOydssey’s My Favourite Anime post.