Watson is a New Zealander in his 30s. He knows what anime is, but never watched it growing up and has still seen few titles to date. And a little while ago, I sat him down to watch the first three episodes of AnoHana.
This article is the third of its series – the first and second (Watson Watches: Azumanga Daioh and Watson Watches: Kuroshitsuji can be found here and here). As usual, Watson knew nothing about the anime before watching other than the title, and the following questions were given to him to answer afterwards.
Please note that there are minor spoilers ahead.
Did the reveal of Menma actually being dead during the first episode come as a surprise to you, or had you pegged onto this fact before it was established that only Jinta could see her?
Right from the start it was pretty clear that there was something odd about her. Her character art seemed distinctively different, and the fact she didn’t have a reflection was a pretty big hint. There were only so many likely explanations for something like that, even in a fictional setting, and the first one that came to mind was that she was dead. So yeah, I had a pretty good idea of the situation before it was revealed.
One point that’s been discussed in AnoHana is whether Menma is a ‘real’ ghost/spirit, or whether she’s a manifestation of Jinta’s (and later, other characters’) unresolved emotional issues. Which side of the fence are you on?
I’ve only watched a few episodes so I’m undecided on that point, but I tend to go with the latter. The main reason for that is that other characters claim to have seen Memna when she was with Jinta. But when they talked about it, she seemed as surprised as anyone else. It seems unlikely she could be in several places at once and not know about it, so that makes me think that whatever they’re seeing is private to them.
If you had to guess, what do you think Menma’s wish is, and do you think this is actually the key to her spirit ‘moving on’?
It feels a little strange to be imputing motivations to something I’ve just tentatively concluded was a manifestation of unresolved emotional issues, but here goes.
It’s possible that her wish is for her friends to ‘move on’ from her death – this would have a pleasing symmetry with Menma herself moving on, and allow for some interesting character-driven stories where they each have to come to terms with whatever role they played in her death. That would be nice, but I don’t think it’s what the creators of the show have in mind.
What I think is going to be revealed is that Menma wants her friends to be friends again after they drifted apart following her death. There’s nothing wrong with this idea either, although I think it’s a little less satisfying and a little more formulaic than the first. Sure, I could be wrong. The thing is though that the anime I’ve seen – not a long list, admittedly – has a tendency to go for quite formulaic stories, so I suspect this will be another in that mould.
An aspect of AnoHana that’s been consistently praised by the viewers has been its realistic portrayal of the characters and their relationships with each other – particularly on a psychological level. Does AnoHana strike you as being convincing in this way? Is there any particular character that you think is portrayed especially realistically?
The few episodes I’ve seen have mainly followed Jinta, so it’s a bit hard to judge the other characters fairly. The more we see of a character the more we know about them, assuming the writers are doing their job, and Jinta is getting the lion’s share of the screen time so of course he seems the most developed of all of them.
Because of that, I don’t really feel that I’m in a position to judge which – if any – have a particularly realistic psychological portrayal. Most of them seem plausible though; we probably all know or have known someone like each of the characters in the anime. Apart from Jinta, I think Anjou/Anaru seems to be quite well-developed. It would be nice to learn a bit more about her and what she thinks/feels, especially since she seems to be trying to deny something (or maybe several somethings).
But you know who I really think deserves more attention? Jinta’s father, Atsushi. There’s a guy battling on every day in a difficult situation. His wife is dead, his son is a reclusive shut-in who has some severe issues (possibly including hallucinations), and although we don’t hear about it, all this has to have had an effect on him. But despite all that he still manages to stay cheerful and kind around Jinta, never judging him, and gently nudging him towards taking part in the world of people once more. He might not understand what Jinta is going through and he has his own sadnesses to bear. Yet he keeps on loving him and supporting him in his efforts to come to terms with… well, whatever it is. If there was any justice in the world he’d get an episode all to himself. As it is, I think he’s destined to remain in the background unappreciated. And that’s a damn shame.
However, much of the drama in AnoHana has also been criticised by viewers as being cheap or overly theatrical – particularly because of just how often people break down and cry. What are your thoughts on this?
Generally speaking I’m a bit reluctant to give anyone a hard time over their emotional reactions. And if the creators thought that these were the right emotions for the characters to have then I’m also reluctant to second-guess them.
On the other hand, I do think the characters are coming apart a bit too easily. It’s clearly been some time since the events that lead to Menma’s death, perhaps as much as a decade. And while emotional wounds don’t necessarily heal over that period, I think it gets easier to examine them with some emotional distance. The fact that basically all the characters had found a way of carrying on, and then come completely unglued as soon as someone mentions her name, does seem hard to believe (although on the other other hand, they are all teenagers in the show. Making broad statements about what their emotional reactions would be is probably profoundly unwise…).
In fact, I think this relates to the point about being overly theatrical in general, and I would have to say I think there’s a fair bit of truth in it. Menma herself acts in an irritatingly childish fashion quite a bit. It could perhaps be reasonable in her case, but she’s far from the only one. Pretty much anything, right down to questions like “Can I have some ramen?”, can trigger an emotional response in the major characters that is often out of keeping with the context it occurs in. Excessive joy, anger, enthusiasm, sadness, etc. – I’m sure you can think of examples yourself. It doesn’t wreck the show, and it certainly gets the point across that they’re pretty wound up about things, but it does sort of cheapen the effectiveness of such displays when they can be produced so readily.
Yes, I was. I don’t propose to go into much detail here, but I think there will be a lot of people who have experienced trying to cope with ongoing remorse or sadness about some event(s). Those people will probably see some things in AnoHana that will seem quite familiar from their own actions or thoughts. Or if not, at least they’ll be able to sympathise with characters who did end up acting or thinking that way.
Unlike the two previous shows I had you watch (Azumanga Daioh and Kuroshitsuji), the AnoHana anime was not based on a manga – in fact, it was the other way around, with the anime being televised in 2011 and a manga series beginning publication almost exactly a year later; something of a rarity. Do you think this is a good thing?
Jumping straight in with my massive ignorance of both anime and manga, I’m going to say that it is a good thing.
Working from an already-established conceptual base has its advantages. The themes and ‘feeling’ of the work are already set out for you, the main characters and their relationships are already in place, and although you might not simply retell the same stories, you begin with a good idea of what sorts of stories will fit best. There’s also a pre-existing community of fans who will engage with what you do and foster discussion, which seems like an in-built marketing advantage.
But this can also be a double-edged sword. Everyone interprets things their own way, and if you stray too far from what these fans have decided is ‘the way things should be’ then they can turn on you in a heartbeat. You’re also more or less stuck with the ideas and so on that have already been introduced in the source material. This can be pretty confining.
On balance, I think that coming up with a new creative property is the best way to go about it. If you have something to say, you can probably say it best as a new creation, without being tied to something that already has its own life.
And finally, as always – would you watch more of AnoHana? How about the anime film (an epilogue set one year after the conclusion of the series)?
I would probably watch more of the series – at least a few more episodes, to see where it’s going. As for the film however, I’m less enthusiastic about that. I rather feel that if the series manages to come to a conclusion of any sort then there’s not much to be gained by revisiting any of the characters. Their issues might have stayed resolved, in which case there’s not much to say about them. Or they might have not stayed resolved, meaning that the series did not actually achieve anything and they have to go through the whole process again (in a 2-hour movie, with no guarantee that it’ll stick this time either).
A third possibility is that some new element is introduced to create the conflict that will have to drive the story, but I just can’t see how this could be done without making a mockery of the whole thing. Another group starts seeing spirits and the Super Peace Busters have to help them? It turns out that Menma was actually killed deliberately for some reason, and the Super Peace Busters must discover the truth? A year later all the main characters are at each other’s throats again for some entirely unrelated reason?
I suppose if I watch all the way to the end of AnoHana I might see something that cries out for an epilogue, but at this stage it’s not apparent what that could be. Whether that means it’s not real or this is just a manifestation of my emotional issues… well, I’ll let the audience decide.
Question of the post: What do you think of Watson’s reactions, and do you have any other questions for him? (As per usual, Watson himself will reply directly to anything aimed at him.)