First up we have one of the noitaminA shows, specifically the moe looking show with an ultra long title. Back when the series was announced I was excited, heck I even started a thread for it on a pretty big forum, but as the winter wore on I got more and more alarmed by the "Fractale debacle" and started getting worried that maybe noitaminA had lost their touch for creating shows that I dearly loved. I mean, not only was this show about teenagers (not adults, the normal protagonists for shows in this timeslot) but it was also an original story so there was no way to check the source material to see if it was any good. So, with some trepidation, I tried out the first episode and by the end of it I was convinced that Fractale was more or less a fluke and noitaminA was still going strong.
AnoHana (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shirani or We Still Do Not Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day)
Summary: When they were kids, Jintan, Anaru, Menma, Yukiatsu, Tsuruko and Poppo made up the "super peace busters gang" and were the closest friends you could imagine. Then Menma died and that was the first event that eventually forced them all apart and made them what they are today, a mixture of average and yet deeply hurting teens. Then one day Jintan, once the leader of their band and now a shut-in, discovers that Menma has returned as a ghost and in order for her to finally move on to heaven she needs help fulfilling her wish, one that needs the whole gang back together to grant.
The Good: This show understands that it's really hard to tell a complete story in just 11 episodes so, instead of trying to tell a story that really focuses on a central plot, it instead develops five characters, all of whom are a little or a lot messed up after Menma's death and even Menma herself gets some character growth (which is rather impressive considering she's been dead for at least five years). So it's difficult to say much about the show without giving away it's secrets yet it's also very simple to explain why it's so good, the characters really do grow and it's simply satisfying to see an inherently good yet flawed character become a happier and healthier person by the end of the story.
The Bad: At times there is an awful lot of crying in the story (mostly by Menma which is understandable, she hasn't had a chance to really grow since she died) and it was enough to really irritate some people*. Tsuruko and Poppo never got an episode that was devoted solely to fleshing out them (Tsuruko is fleshed out over a few episodes but poor Poppo only got his right at the very end) and those would have been very satisfying episodes to see, especially when the show lagged a little bit towards the middle. Yukiatsu was perhaps too realistic in that, while he did get better, he was still a jerk to nearly everyone for most of the show and Jintan seemed a bit slow to develop at times as well. So, not surprisingly, the strongest part of this show was it's characters but they were also it's weakest link at times.
The Audio: For a number of the episodes the ending theme (which is a cover sung by the girl's voice actresses) starts playing during the last minute of the episode itself and really adds to what's already a pretty emotional scene. I have heard that the opening song is also a cover, although I can't find enough information to confirm that, but the lyrics match the show so well that I'd be surprised if it was. And not only the words but the melodies of the songs really fit well with the series. In an emotional series you really need strong music, almost more than you need strong visuals, to make it all come together and the music certainly succeeds here.
The Visuals: The show never has a need for extravagant animation but thankfully A-1 Pictures never uses this as an excuse to slack off on their art. The backgrounds have a nice amount of detail (probably because the town is based on a real town) and the characters even change clothes between episodes (or sometimes within an episode, depending on how much time has passed) which is something that few anime bother to do. Heck, apparently the kanji on Jintan's shirt change to reflect his general feelings as the show goes on and both Anaru and Tsuruko have multiple hairstyles and Anaru even switches between her glasses and contacts during the show. That's a lot of little details that, while they weren't necessary, just felt appropriate for a show that is all about it's characters and the world they now live in.
I mentioned in my Doctor Who review that at first I wasn't sure how I felt about the big, mid-season finale reveal since I had seen so many people predict it and it was just less shocking for me (yet this did mean it had a lot of foreshadowing so the reveal made sense). Menma's wish was the opposite, I didn't see anyone else predict it exactly yet it also made complete sense in the context of the show which, even though her wish wasn't a twist or anything, made me think that this is more of what I want in shows. I want reveals that make so much sense that no one bothers to think of them beforehand (actually, I've heard that that's how the climax of Madoka Magica was), so kudos to the writers for this series. Sadly this series was my one fansub of the season, so I can't point anyone towards any links that would support these writers, but if this series got licensed in the US (which I think it has a decent chance ot) I would be sure to go out and grab it.
*as for me, I've seen both seasons of Tegami Bachi/Letter Bee and Lag cries in nearly every episode, it's going to take a lot more than what was here to annoy me.