Childhood is a time enfolded in mystery. Even as we tried to make sense of the world through play as youngsters, adults would likely try and make sense of our games. Then, looking back as adults, we see our childhood selves as those miraculous creatures again, apparently so untouched by life’s pain. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day examines all three sides of that puzzle box, following a gang of friends fighting to grow up and leave a tragedy behind.
Jintan, Menma, Anaru, Yukiatsu, Tsuruko and Poppo were the Super Peace Busters, seekers of adventure and thick as thieves. That is, until Menma died in an accident. The five left in her wake drift apart without the ability to make much sense of themselves, let alone how the loss impacted the others. So they are each trying to forge their own path, with the added difficulty that most of them are still tangled in each other’s high school orbit.
When Menma’s ghost appears to Jintan, to him it’s the final brick in the wall of his depression and social withdrawal. Of course, the more he tried to hide, the more he encouraged the curse of this summer heat hallucination – or so he assumes. But this is only the beginning of the Super Peace Busters reforming to support each other through their shared trauma.
Both the Japanese and English cast do an admirable job of exploring how each of their characters would be affected by such profound grief. Around them, a grounded screenplay and recurring floral imagery bind death’s comforting spirituality to its tangible consequences in everyday life. But in Menma, voiced in Japanese by Ai Kayano and in English by Xanth Huynh, these separate threads are woven into something extraordinary. With the combined strength of Mari Okada’s writing, Kayano and Huynh’s peformances and the nostalgic pastel effect of A-1 Pictures’ animation, Menma becomes a powerful touchstone for grief and the path to recovery.
Six souls, one of which is preserved in eternal childhood, together recapture the imagination and wonder needed to let go of the fear of death. It seems a simple enough premise, but in details like Anohana’s gentle string score and characters sharing their pain, the show becomes a snapshot of the brave act that is being a fragile, mortal human.
Extras: English dub; episode web previews