What ever happened to 'Ano Hi'? It was flavour of the month for a while - absolutely everyone was raving about how good it was - but then it seemed to drop off the radar. I'll tell you what happened. 'Ano Hi' pulled a Charlie Sheen. It seemed loveable enough at first, but then it went clinically insane and no one wanted to write about it anymore. For me, at least, it's not too hard to pinpoint where it all went wrong.
Hype rarely works in favour of the show it's supporting - for the most part it just raises expectations beyond reasonable levels. In the case of 'Ano Hi', which received an impressive reception after the first couple of episodes, looked to be on to a winner. Alas, if it weren't for a couple of crucial plot decisions along the way, 'Ano Hi' might have achieved more than "fallen short". I guess I'll begin with a quick summary of the premise, which held quite a bit of promise on its own.
So we have what, at first glance, appears to be your typical teenage protagonist. He doesn't go to school? Nothing new there, maybe a delinquent character then...wait, he's haunted by the memory of his dead childhood friend? This could be interesting indeed! Menma, a friend of Jintan's from when he was small, has been tormenting him all Summer, but it is a little while before it's revealed that she died years ago - quite a shocking reveal for the first episode, though it didn't catch me entirely by surprise. What follows for the next few episodes is Jintan struggling in an internal conflict; trying to suss whether Menma's appearance is some kind of affliction due to the heat, an image conjured solely in his head (and as such a symptom of some mental condition) or an actual apparition/ghost.
The main progression of the story, then, revolves around Menma claiming she's come back to have her "wish" fulfilled and the burden of finding out what it is and carrying it out falling to Jintan. It soon becomes clear that Menma wants Jintan to get together with their friendship group from back when she was alive, and so begins a saga in which old rivalries, romances and feuds are brought to light.
This I could have coped with. The first half of the series in which old emotions are rekindled one-by-one and Jintan is still locked in conflict with himself about the nature of the Menma he's been seeing was interesting and enjoyable to watch. That could have continued for the rest of the series. But then it all goes downhill from there.
My first complaint is directed at the absolutely insane decision to make Menma an actual, physical ghost. The part where the pen starts floating and she writes something down that the whole group can see...needless to say I was raging in my seat. Whether Menma was real or purely a product of Jintan's guilty subconscious could have been left unresolved for the entirety of the series as I see it - there would at least be more emphasis on the "lessons" that she has to teach everyone that way. Not to mention one of the best parts about the series up til that point was the fact that it was exploring, in a realistic fashion, how relationships change over time and the effect that a heavy past might have on someone's mind. But no. It's a freakin' ghost guys. And then the bit in the final episode *SPOILERS* where they can all actually see her.....painful.
The second complaint that just has to be made then, as noted in the title of this post, is indeed 'too many feelings'. It's as if towards the end of making the series the director decided they were going to be receiving acclaim for the way they portrayed emotions (and this is true to a certain extent, in the first half) and so dictated "LET THERE BE MELODRAMA!" Suddenly all the characters' personalities change and swing to a random extreme just so as to antagonise one another. And then they're just putting feelings in for feelings' sake. It gets bad from about episode 8 onwards, but the main culprit has to be the final episode. It really does feel as if they're trying to fit as many different emotions into twenty minutes as possible, and blow each one ridiculously out of proportion. Just look at these stills from the episode, all taken from one scene and only Jintan (every other character is a mess at this point):
That's right everyone, cry it out
Ever so slightly creepy Jintan
That about summarises it really. I only have a couple of quibbles with the show, but they majorly ruined the experience for me when I was watching it. The purpose of the last episode usually involves going out with a bang and reinforcing everything that's come before, as well as providing some sort of closure, but in this case it made the series nonredeemable for me. I was squirming in my chair watching it it was so painful.
'Ano Hi' truly was two decisions away from being something great:
1) Don't resolve the question of what Menma is, or at least don't make her some sort of physical ghost.
2) Don't turn on the waterworks every time you're stuck for something interesting to show. It's not actually enticing to watch, surprisingly enough. People in real life don't cry that much. Jus' sayin'.