Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day is one of the most depressing and yet ultimately uplifting anime series out there. And now its creators are back to tell you a story about how hurtful words can be in the modern-day fairy tale Anthem of the Heart.
At its most basic level, Anthem of the Heart is a story about the power of words. From a young age, we are taught that words are just words and can't really hurt people (i.e., "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me"). However, our hero, Jun, learns far too young that words have a great and terrible power.
As a young child, Jun sees her father leave a castle-themed love hotel with a woman she doesn't know (though she doesn't realise the implications of this). Later, by simply telling her mother about her day, Jun unwittingly tips off her mother to her father's infidelity.
Her mother's immediate reaction is to blame her daughter for being a blabbermouth and upturning her life in a single moment. Then, when Jun's father is forced to move out, he flat out tells Jun that it is her fault that this is happening -- that her talkative nature caused the divorce.
While it is presented in a fantasy-like nature, with a magical egg fairy taking away her ability to speak, it is easy to see what is really happening with Jun. In her own mind, her words destroyed her happy life. The only way to prevent more tragedy is to simply never speak again.
This in turn becomes a psychosomatic illness: Whenever she speaks, she is racked by massive amounts of pain. Of course, the sad truth is that not speaking can hurt just as much. Jun's home life with her (now single) mother is strained -- as she went from having a blabbermouth child to one who literally never speaks. Her mother misunderstands Jun's silence, believing it to be Jun's way of punishing her for breaking up the family.
Likewise, Jun is completely isolated socially at school. No one talks to her and she talks to no one. However, this begins to change when she is put on the planning committee for her class' performance at the upcoming school festival. She opens up to fellow committee member Takumi, a young boy with a penchant for music, who seems to be able to understand her even without her speaking.
This in turn inspires her to try to express her feelings to him on a grand scale by writing a musical for the class' performance -- a fairy tale that tells the story of what it is like to be her.
Anthem of the Heart is both a fairy tale and a film about fairy tales. As a young girl, Jun is obsessed with them. She often goes to the white castle on the hill -- i.e., the love hotel -- hoping to see the royalty inside. This inadvertently lets her witness her father's infidelity.
After her father blames her as he is moving out, Jun retreats into fairy tale conventions -- calling out to her prince to save her. She then is confronted by her "prince" -- an egg fairy promising to help her. Of course, he does this by taking away her voice. While this is likely all in her head, a way for her child's mind to rationalize what has happened, it is perhaps the most pivotal point in her young life.
Therefore, believing she lost her voice through a fairy tale, it only makes sense that she'll need to use another fairy tale to get it back. The musical she composes with Takumi is thus a fairy tale about a princess whose voice is stolen away by an egg fairy. In other words, it is a more fantastical version of her life and the pain she goes through everyday being unable to speak.
Of course, if you've ever seen Anohana, you know that things couldn't possibly be that easy. Even as Jun falls more and more for Takumi, there is looming a problem -- he already has a girlfriend in fellow committee member Natsuki. More than that, because of a misunderstanding, Takumi doesn't think they are together while Natsuki does. The drama ramps up even further thanks to the fourth member of the planning committee, Daiki, an arrogant baseball star benched while his broken arm is healing, who seems to be intent on wooing Natsuki.
Luckily, the outcome of all the romantic drama is not quite the happy ending you'd expect -- and the film is all the better for it. While in fairy tales, the princess always gets her prince, the point of Anthem of the Heart is that real life is not a fairy tale. While Jun loves Takumi, his heart really does belong to Natsuki.
Finding this out throws Jun into emotional turmoil -- to the very edge of losing all she has gained. However, thanks to the friendships she has made with Natsuki, Daiki, and Takumi, she is once again able to live in a world where her words can hurt others -- and where the words of others can hurt her in turn. While such pain is inevitable, she now has a support network that will stay with her through thick and thin. It is a well-built end to her personal journey.
Anthem of the Heart is an excellent coming of age story. Its core theme about the power of words rings true and the light fantasy aspects bolster the story rather than distract from it. While nowhere nearly as emotionally devastating as Anohana, Anthem of the Heart is still guaranteed to play on your emotions and high school nostalgia. But if there is one thing you will take away from Anthem of the Heart it's this: words can destroy lives, but they can also save them. So chose your words with great care.
Anthem of the Heart was released in Japanese theatres on 19 September, 2015. It will air in select theatres in the US beginning in November.