NIS has made a name for itself by putting out some great anime shows in high quality packages, but they've topped themselves with what is arguably their best series yet, anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. A simple story that becomes unexpectedly deep, this sad yet touching story will have even the most jaded anime fans holding back the tears in the last episode. It's a wonderful show and the type of drama that I wish was more common.
One summer a group of six young children form the Super Peace Busters. Lead by the most charismatic one of their circle, Jintan, they are a group dedicated to fighting for peace. They find an old shed that they use for their clubhouse and have a wonderful time climbing trees, catching bugs, and basically doing what kids do to have fun.
Years later they're all in high school. They've drifted apart and though they still live in the same area, don't talk to each other. That is until the semi-recluse Jintan gets interrupted by Menma while playing a video game. He takes no notice of her incessant questions about what he's doing and makes dinner without even talking to her. Ignoring Menma as Jintan sets the table for he and his father, he doesn't even set a place for the bright and happy girl.
He's not being rude though. He's just questioning his sanity because Menma died at the end of that wonderful summer years ago. She drowned while running after Jintan who had just said something mean to her. No else can see or hear Menma, and she's grown just as her friends have (though she still has a child-like innocence about her). Jintan finally asks the ghost what she wants and she tell him that there was a secret wish that she had before she died, but she can't remember what it was. Jintan figures that if he can grant her wish, Menma will pass on to heaven.
He slowly starts contacting his old pals, and discovers that they've changed a lot. Anaru who used to be shy and quite hangs out with the popular girls now. Poppo the comical one dropped out of school and does manual labor, saving up his money for travel while Tsuruko and Yukiatsu have gone on to the college prep high school and have both become aloof and cold.
There's a lot of strife when they first get together again, but eventually they all decide to help Jintan (whether he's making it up or not) grant Menma's last wish, though spending time with their childhood friends brings up some painful memories for every would rather forget, though none of them have ever come close to doing that.
This is a touching show that starts out deceptively simple. While the revelation in the first episode that Menma is dead is surprising, there are a few gags involving the fact that Jintan can see her while no one else can. The show isn't a comedy though and as the series progresses and viewers get to know the five main characters it becomes clear that all of their lives were deeply affected by Menma's death and that while it may seem that they've changed dramatically, inside they really haven't.
This tale of loss and how people deal with it has the perfect mixture of sadness and joy. The show isn't a downer, though there are some very sad parts. There's just enough humor and light to keep the show not only enjoyable but in a certain way, fun. It's an intelligent drama that really tugs at the heartstrings, especially at the end, but not in a sappy or manipulative way. It's one of those rare shows that makes you happy, even while you're holding back the tears.
I really like the way NIS America handles their Premium Edition releases. This time the 11-episode show is presented both on DVD and Blu-ray, each format taking up two discs. The discs come in a pair of double thinpak cases. These are housed, not on top of each other, but side by side in a beautiful sturdy board case that's nearly 8 in X 11 in. The case is attractively illustrated with characters from the show. In a nice touch that shows a fine attention to detail, the UPC code in hidden inconspicuously on the side of the case so that the artwork isn't marred. Included with the two DVDs is a very nice hardcover art book. Scroll down to the extras section for more details on that.
This release arrives with the original Japanese soundtrack in lossless LPCM stereo. It sounded very good, with full range and some nice separation. There are optional English subtitles, but there is not a dub track, which is fine with me. I prefer watching anime in Japanese since that was the way it was created to be seen.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks very good. The colors are strong and solid and they're accurately reproduced and come through clearly. The level of detail is very good and the lines are tight. Digitally it also looked very good with aliasing, which often plagues anime, being nonexistent.
The discs themselves include a clean closing and a series of episode previews that appeared online originally. There are also some commercials used to promote the show. The best extra isn't found on the discs however. That award goes to the very nice hardcover book that is included with the set. This attractive full-color book includes large images along with a synopsis from each episode, some images from Menma's scrapbook, story board sketches and more. It's printed on high quality glossy paper, and is really very striking.
This is an excellent show and one of the top anime series that I've seen in years. Though only 11-episodes in length, the program puts enough character development and plot in for a show 4 times as long. Sweet, touching, and more than a little tear-jerking, anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day comes very Highly Recommendation.