There are some anime episodes for which that’s the only above the fold comment that really fits, and this is one of them. To call it impressive would be an understatement – it was staggering. Interestingly enough even as I was in awe I was still noting things which didn’t quite work, and subtle elements that could cause problems down the line (though some of them may be intentional) – this was by no means perfect. But when you achieve transcendence, perfection seems like a very mundane standard to measure by.
I swear, this series is so Hourou Musuko it’s scary. There are staff crossovers all over the map, from the obvious art and animation personnel to the director Ishiguro Kouhei, and given my regard for that gem that’s high praise coming from me. I dearly wish we had more serious anime set in middle schools rather than high schools, because much of the sort of drama those series aim for is far more authentic with this kind of cast. We see it often, from Hourou to this series and even in the first cour of Nagi no Asukara – this is the period in life in which everything is possible, everything is thrilling and terrifying, and every moment seems charged with peril.
Middle schoolers, classical music and NoitaminA – Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso pretty much had me at “Hello”, it’s true, but this series is really living up to the potential. I do have some issues here, most obviously that I don’t think the show is very funny when it tries to be, so I rather hope it keeps the broad comedy to a minimum. I also cringe a bit when one of the characters (last week it was Tsubaki, this week Ryouta) slips out of character to offer sanguine, adult commentary no middle schooler would ever utter. Most interestingly I don’t especially like Kaori, though that’s as a person more than as a character (where she’s very effective). And that’s interesting to me because I’m honestly not sure how much I’m supposed to like her, and the answer to that question is going to tell a lot about what sort of series Shigatsu is.
It goes without saying that this is a series that’s working on multiple levels – there are a lot of important elements running side-by-side, and all of them were on display in this episode (including Steinway’s very obvious role as a sponsor). The entire thing practically hummed with emotional intensity, starting with Kousei-kun’s reaction to being in the concert hall for the competition. He’d been tricked into it by Tsubaki of course, and their complex relationship is one of the many channels through which the narrative stream is flowing. As with much of Shigatsu a lot of what’s happening between them is depicted through imagery rather than dialogue – a face, a quivering hand – but it’s obvious that there are very strong emotional ties here. Tsubaki is trying very hard to heal Kousei’s relationship with the piano, though in truth she’s manipulating him – this fits her personality as we’ve seen it, someone who thinks she knows what’s best for everyone and has no qualms about trying to force them down her chosen path.
Why is Tsubaki doing this – is it love? Or perhaps a better question would be, what sort of love is it? When Ryouta talks to Kousei about impossible love, is he talking about something Kousei feels for Kaori – or perhaps his own feelings for Tsubaki? These are the sorts of questions Shigatsu is posing us but for the moment, choosing not to answer. We have a long journey to make with these four characters, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Kaori is an interesting case, both in terms of her own personality and what it says about art and being an artist. I haven’t decided if the mangaka Arakawa-sensei is portraying her as a kind of narrative Mary Sue, a pure free-spirit and genius who we’re supposed to admire and adore, or something else altogether (and indeed, this seems to be exactly the dilemma Kousei is currently wrestling with). This is the kind of girl who says “Wasn’t I fantastic?” after a performance, which is shockingly narcissistic – but then, as she asks Kousei what he thinks her hand is shaking as she waits for his response. This moment says a lot – it tells us that her arrogance is at least partly a front, and that she knows exactly who the boy she dismisses as “Friend A” and then “Substitute” is, and cares what he thinks.
What are to make of Kaori’s performance? To begin with the depiction of it was magnificent, as was the entire competition – I especially loved the sequence when poor Boy #3 struggled badly, and Kousei revealed his compassionate nature by agonizing for him so deeply (this sequence took me back to the nerve-wracking school play scenes from Hourou Musuko Episode 6). But what does Arakawa want from us here – are we to unambiguously admire Kaori’s brilliance, her rejection of form and structure that won over the audience? Or should we pause and consider that to honor the spirit of the composer’s wishes (Beethoven was no piker, either) is a worthwhile expectation, and that to enter a competition intending to mock it and to intentionally ignore your accompanist is disrespectful and arrogant? I’m not going to stop being entranced by April is Your Lie either way, but the answer to that question is a rather important one when considering just how profound this story may be, both as a tale of first love and as a comment on the nature of art.