The time evolution of the correlation functions of an ensemble of anharmonic N-component oscillators with $O(N)$ symmetry is described by a flow equation, exact up to corrections of order $1/N^2$. We find effective irreversibility. Nevertheless, analytical and numerical investigation reveals that the system does not reach thermal equilibrium for large times, even when $N\rightarrow \infty$. Depending on the initial distribution, the dynamics is asymptotically stable or it exhibits growing modes which break the conditions for the validity of the 1/N expansion for large time. We investigate both classical and quantum systems, the latter being the limit of an O(N) symmetric scalar quantum field theory in zero spatial dimensions.