Last week we took a look at Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day—one of the saddest yet most uplifting anime series I have ever seen. This weekend, the Anohana movie was released in Japanese theaters. And while some parts of it work well, others neuter the emotional power of the series.
Taking place some time after Menma's ascension to heaven, the Anohana movie follows the five remaining friends as they attempt to write letters to "send" to Menma and keep her up to date with their lives and feelings.
These scenes serve the dual purpose of showing us a bit of what happened to the group after their supernatural experience and acting as a framing device to show flashbacks to the series. In general, these scenes cycle from person to person, occasionally returning to Anaru who is having trouble writing a letter to Menma because of her feelings for Jintan.
It all comes together when the five meet, discuss the events of the series, and burn their letters to send them to Menma. As far as epilogues go, it is a decent one that ties up many of the emotional loose ends left over from the series.
Other than the epilogue scenes, there are occasional prologue scenes strewn throughout the film. These scene focus on Menma before she died—showing how she joined the group and what their daily lives together were like.
This is an excellent addition to the overall series lore: While Menma was the center of all the action in the series, the story wasn't about her as much as it was about her effect on all her friends both before and after her death. The prologue scenes in the film, however, serve to show how the group affected Menma and what it—and especially Jintan—meant to her. It is an example of great character development.
The climax (of both this movie and the series), as well as the new epilogue and prologue scenes of this film are linked together by one common theme: a game of hide and seek. As children, they are simply playing around the temple—though where they hide and how tells a lot about the kind of people they will grow up to become. Then, in the climax, the game is Menma's final wish—her attempt to buy time to say goodbye to all her friends. Finally, after the end of the series, they play it in remembrance of Menma's final act and how it brought them the peace they hadn’t been able to find in the time since her death.
This common theme of hide and seek makes the climax so much more powerful when we see that the game, as seen in the series, isn't just a random childish fancy but rather a direct correlation to one of Menma's most beloved memories. And more than that, the prologue and epilogue games show parallels between Anaru and Menma that help the former make peace with what she should write to her dead friend.
Unfortunately, the prologue scenes, epilogue scenes, and the climax only take up about half the film's total runtime. The rest of the film is simply scenes cut directly out of the TV series. These scenes are usually narrated by whoever is writing his or her letter to Menma in the epilogue framing device and are used to show how Menma's ghostly return affected him or her.
The problem is, without the context of the rest of the series for contrast, these emotional scenes fall flat. Shown in this way, the flashbacks are little more than emotional nostalgia. Instead of feeling the emotions the film is trying to convey, you remember the feelings the scene invoked when you watched it in the TV series for the first time. It's almost like the film is saying, "Remember how good and emotional this scene was?" instead of actually making you feel those emotions within the story arc of the movie. This makes what was emotionally riveting seem like a punishment you must endure while waiting for the new content.
All in all, the Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day film neither works as a standalone film nor as a theatrical sequel. However, taken piecemeal, there is an excellent prologue and a serviceable epilogue to the series interspersed between the emotionally neutered flashbacks to the TV series. If you are a fan of Anohana, there is definitely enough that is new here to make it worth a watch. Just don't expect a coherent, well-paced film.
The film, Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, was released in Japanese theaters on August 31, 2013. There is no word on an international release.
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