As the heat from the summer months hammer down on Jinta, a reclusive teen who has given up on going to school, he's also haunted by a different presence—the ghost of "Menma", a childlike girl with silver hair. The two of them comprised part of the "Super Peace Busters" when they were kids, playing with their other friends Tsuruko, Anaru, Poppo, and Yukiatsu. While the nicknames still stick years later, Menma's unfortunate death after a spat within the group has demolished the friendship between the remaining five.
However, Menma isn't some sort of undetectable ghost—when she hangs on people, they feel her weight, and bumps against tables upset glasses. Jinta calls it a manifestation of his "stress", but Menma's desire for a "wish" to be fulfilled stirs him to the point of revisiting the old hangout where the "Super Peace Busters" used to play. It's here where he meets his friend Poppo again and gets the sense that everyone's still attached to Menma's death in some form.
AnoHana, short for Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai ("We Still Don't Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day"), is basically striving for attachment to the viewers still looking for their past childhood, whether the memories are good or bad, and that's typically a good subject for a solid story. If anything, I expect the story to play like a Studio Ghibli film and focus on that conflict between maturity and familiarity, change and complacency. It should be a good show as the ex-friends reunite.
While the hand-drawn animation is generally without much in terms of flaws, on par for the course with A-1 Pictures, there isn't anything overly attracting about the overall flow and art. We get some good backgrounds, but there rightfully shouldn't be much in terms of focus on how pretty the landscapes are or how fluid the characters move. This is a story-fueled show, so the art is on point to stay away from complex points-of-view.
At first, I was tempted to lower my grade when I came across the plain characters and the character designs by Masayoshi Tanaka (Highschool of the Dead)—there just doesn't seem to be much on the surface to make this random display of six characters appealing. However, I'm allowing for some developmental leeway, as we see just how much some of the characters have changed in ten years. Menma does appear to be the childish sort and a little frustrating to accept as a central character, but the role fits for a ghost who hasn't matured in ten years.
Considering the idea that AnoHana still takes place in the 21st century, even during the flashbacks, it was nice that the staff opted for someone who had experience composing music for dramas during that period. While the REMEDIOS brand hasn't produced anime soundtracks, they've worked on films and TV dramas of the late 90's/early 00's (Friends, PiCNiC), so the music gets a great hint of breeziness. Especially meaningful is the ending theme, a cover of pop band Zone's 2001 single "secret base ~Kimi ni Kureta Mono~" that captures the final passage of summer.
The noitaminA and A-1 pictures names should be enough to lift AnoHana to a little more of a respected status, but the real reason to watch may be in the staff listing. The AnoHana project managed to lure in Tatsuyuki Nagai for direction, and his work on lighthearted dramas (Toradora!, Honey and Clover) has been commendable. I can't wait to see how this one turns out.
Trends seem to indicate that noitaminA is opting for a bipolar approach to their seasonal shows by creating one that depends more on action ([C], Fractale) and one that depends more on drama (Wandering Son). I certainly have no problems with this approach at all, as it gives everyone a chance to appreciate the product. I'm a little surprised to find that AnoHana was the product that wasn't selected for online streaming, but it's likely that this slow sort of drama may not be appreciated by foreign fans as much as domestic fans might.
Nevertheless, if you were a big fan of Wandering Son last season and need a show that takes the edges off of the comedies out there, AnoHana is a selection that should appeal to you.