The heavy hitters for Fall are pretty much all checked-in at this point with the exception of Mushishi, and in terms of my anticipation levels they didn’t get much heavier than Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. This was probably right behind Kiseijuu on my list for the season (not including sequels) and seemed like one of the few series that offered the potential to be truly great. The first episode didn’t quite reach that standard, but it was awfully good, and certainly lived up to expectations for the most part.
NoitaminA has had its ups and downs to say the least, and even when it’s aired a really good show these last few years they’ve rarely felt like a NoitaminA show. That’s not a huge deal since airing a good series certainly trumps arbitrary genre or demographic considerations, but it’s still nice to see a new NoitaminA that for the first time in a long time really feels exactly like an old-school NoitaminA offering. And this one certainly does.
The influences at play here aren’t terribly difficult to pick out. The kinship with Nodama Cantabile – which is as NoitaminA as it gets – is obvious enough that the series preview gave us a crossover. There’s a lot of common staff (and goose house) with fellow A-1 NoitaminA series Gin no Saji, and some shared tone as well. But most striking for me is the link with NoitaminA standout Hourou Musuko (which may well be the last “old-school” NoitaminA series to have aired). That Art Director Usui Hisayo did the backgrounds for Wandering Son is unmistakable from the first frame of April is Your Lie (that love of sakura), and Animation Director and Character Designer Aikyou Yukiko worked on that series as well. There’s the same sense of a series presenting the full scope of emotional volatility faced by kids in puberty – boys and girls equally. And the same sense that we’re going to see that play out in the form of some serious drama.
I wouldn’t put Shigatsu in the class of Hourou Musuko based on the first episode, mostly because I found some of the comic intercuts a little jarring and it didn’t achieve the same level of emotional transcendence. That’s a pretty high bar, though, as we’re talking about one of the greatest first episodes in anime history and one that could have functioned as a stand-alone entity. Make no mistake, apart from the humor sometimes falling flat this was a very good first episode indeed. It paints a very effective picture of the drama to come without delving too deeply into details, and the “Bremen” scene at the park is one of the best of the season.
Happily A-1 has two cours (NoitaminA cours, anyway – 11 episodes) to adapt Arakawa Naoshi’s manga, though given that it’s ongoing we’ll have to see where that leads us. We have an interesting breakdown in terms of cast – four 14 year-olds, two athletes and two musicians. The center of the story is piano prodigy Arima Kousei (Hanae Natsuki), whose terminally ill mother beat and berated him to try and make him the celebrated pianist she never was. When she died just as Kousei was about to fulfil her dream for him to play in Europe, he lost his ability to play the piano (there’s more detail there, but I’ll let the anime get there in its own time). His neighbor and osananajimi is Sawabe Tsubaki (Sakura Ayane), a softball slugger and general tomboy. Their best friend is Watari Ryouta (Ohsaka Ryouta), soccer genius and general playboy. And the one who changes everything is gifted violinist Miazono Kaori (Taneda Risa) who makes one of the most memorable entrances of any character this year.
There are some stock elements in this mix, no doubt, most obviously the relationship between Kousei-kun and Tsubaki-chan. But there are hints in the premiere of deeper and more opaque waters. Tsubaki seems quite clearly to love Kousei, and Kaori supposedly asked her to be set up with Ryouta. But there seems to be more to Tsubaki’s actions here, as she’s clearly distraught over Kousei’s inability to play the piano (which she loved to hear) and might perhaps have been using Kaori as a means to jolt him out of his musical slumber, with Ryouta as a pretext. And there can be no question that Kousei was immediately transfixed by Kaori as he watched her play the melodica and frolic with a trio of elementary-schoolers, using their simple music to lure pigeons (I suspect that would never work), the best scene of the episode.
I wasn’t especially impressed by the misunderstanding gags here, or the formulaic beating on Kousei by the girls – it really felt like an attempt to throw some generic fluff into what’s otherwise a substantial story. But as with Hourou Musuko April is Your Lie manages to convey the almost electric crackle of adolescent emotion – it courses through the entire series as if it were a Jurassic Park fence (Jump Timmy, jump!). Series set among 17 and 18 year-olds often try to capture this but it’s invariably less authentic than it is when a series (all too rarely) focuses on those at the onset of puberty, where everyone and everything seems both exciting and dangerous. That this feeling comes across so strongly in the premiere is the biggest reason I have great optimism for what this series can do over 22 episodes, and I can’t wait to find out where it goes from here.
ED: “Kirameki” (キラメキ;Sparkle) by wacci