Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 02

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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.

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  1. I saw the Piano no Mori movie and liked it, and I've read some of the manga, though not a whole lot.

    BTW, I'd rather not have those kinds of links here, for obvious reasons…

  2. S

    Kaori's performance gave me a deja vu to that one episode of Nodame Cantanbile, which basically only contained the orchestra playing Rachmaninoff. Awesome stuff, even if you are not that much into classical music.

    On the other hand, the comedy elements are kind of odd and playing off not well, moreover Kousei is hardly likeable as a main character to me right now (especially after the last scene). Hopefully this will change.

  3. Just out of curiosity, what was it in the last scene that made you dislike Kousei?

  4. S

    I thought Watari told Kousei that he planned to skip practice and walk home with Kaori. Yet Kousei tells her that Watari is busy with club activities. Kind of nasty imo.

  5. A

    I'm assuming what makes some people dislike Kousei now is him trying to lie to cover for his BFF. This is a slippery slope for me, personally, because I sympathize with both Kousei and Kaori in this situation.

    On one hand, Kousei is trying to cover for a friend in an effort not to hurt Kaori's feelings (as well as to keep out of whatever verbal spats they will have in future because of Ryouta's straying eyes). But, on the other, he has more loyalty to his BFF and doesn't want to create a chasm between the two that are now obviously in a relationship. This is a tough situation to be in (and I've been in it a few times, myself).

    If you try and resolve the situation by doing what's morally right, Kousei should have told Kaori immediately that his BFF went home with another girl to save her from having her heart further broken by continuous lies from Ryouta while they are still dating in the 'early' period. However, to do that, his relationship would have been strained and possibly forever broken with Ryouta because that's essentially a betrayal on Kousei's part. Kousei, however, took the 'safe' route that most people take: He tried to cover for his friend in hopes he wouldn't be heavily involved in the fallout between Kaori and Ryouta when Kaori finds out. Kousei has a better chance of being forgiven by both Kaori and Ryouta for simply misleading Kaori because that route is the most 'understood' way most people take. The 'I just didn't want to hurt you/I didn't want to get involved' route is the one most men/women use when faced with this situation… and it tends to breed forgiveness on the 'wronged' party most of the time since it's understood that trying to betray such loyalty to a friend is a difficult and painful road that most don't have the courage to walk down.

    Most people would scoff and say, 'But that's not fair to the girl! Her heart's gonna get broken and she should know immediately that she's being played before she falls further in love with her new love interest!' — but most of those people have never been in a powder-keg situation where loyalty to both people from a moral and emotional standpoint tears at the person that's firmly in the middle of it all and is trapped on what to do. I'm a girl and while I'd LIKE to have told Kaori that her new boyfriend is a lothario to let her down gently at the beginning, most likely I'd have taken the route Kousei did: Lie/prevaricate about where my BFF is and who he's with. Loyalty is nothing to scoff at when it comes to lying for a friend—not only to protect them but to keep yourself as FAR away from the coming apocalypse as possible.

    Perhaps I'm just making assumptions, but that might be why some people are starting to dislike Kousei—because of the end-scene where he purposely lies for his friend which will more than likely have devastating consequences for Kaori down the line (if she doesn't wise up anytime soon about Ryouta's womanizing nature and manages to fall deeply in love with him). But that's just me : Personally, I don't hate/dislike Kousei now because he lied for his friend, because I have experience being in the situation he's currently in and I COMPLETELY understand. There's no real 'right' answer, because no matter what you do, you're still in the middle of a couple's problems that you have NO REASON to be in, but cruel circumstances put you there and you have to deal with it and accept whatever fallout comes from your choice.

  6. S

    Oh boy, seems like I misunderstood something completely in this episode. In that Watari didn't planned to go home with Kaori but with another girl names Keiko?

    I thought Kousei tried to weasle into their relationship out of jealousy or something, in the end he was backing Watari.. Haha talking about an awkward misunderstanding from my part.

  7. I find it pretty silly to expect a middle-school boy not to cover for his friend in that situation. If people are going to turn on him over that, he probably never had a chance in their eyes in the first place.

  8. w

    It wasn't a perfect ep, indeed, but I love how relaxing this ep is. Though it's very early morning already when I watched this lol.

    Anyway, this ep reminded me why I love piano. I didn't get to play it until college, but I have to agree that playing freely feels so great. I empathize with how Kaori feels when she asks how she did. It's always nice when someone tells you you're great. ^^

    I'm not so interested with the romance, but I will stay for the music. He'll want to learn to love the piano, and when he does, I'm thrilled to see him perform.

  9. s

    This series is pretty decent no doubt; One of my gripes with this series though is how it is using kaori. I understand that our protagonist went through a hellish childhood and as such, lost the color in his world, but it still doesnt resonate with me why his meeting with kaori would all of a sudden bring color in his world; why doesnt his childhood friend bring any color and life into his world. She is supportive of his music and very caring of his well being. No preferences whatsoever, it just feels odd and artificial, as if the story is trying to force the idea that kaori is the game changer in our protagonist's life and that type of writing just nags me a bit (it feels a bit unrealistic in my opinion, but it could just be me). I wish there was a bit more nuance to the impact kaori has on our protagonist. Even so, this certainly has potential to be a very good anime romance (all other gripes aside) and i hope in continues to bloom into something worthwhile.

  10. K

    Because that's how attraction works? You can expend all your life with someone, be really close to them, and never feel anything mote than friendship.

    And then comes someone outside your world comes around and well you take that person's route.

  11. Exactly. We don't choose who we're smitten by – it just happens. I have issues with Kaori as a character (and I'll be interested in seeing if they're ones I'm supposed to be having) but Kousei's reaction to her seems quite believable to me.

  12. s

    @kamui it's not a matter of kousei being attracted to kaori that was the issue. As i mentioned in my comment, it's the idea that kousei's world was lacking in "color" until Kaori came into it. The narrative is going out of its way to make kaori seem like some eccentric "oh this girl is so out there" type of person that can light up the entire world that it ends up lacking any of the nuance that id like to see from their interactions; that's the issue that nags me about the series so far; it's that part of it that comes off as artificial.

    Trust me, i understand how attraction works and that you can be with someone for a good part of your life and see them in a platonic fashion; i can relate to that with things currently in my life. But i scratch my head a little when you have someone as caring and supportive as his childhood friend in his life and his world is still void of motivation and spirit. You dont need to be attracted to someone for them to give that to you; you just need good family and friends. Kousei unfortunately does not have the family part but he does have a good friend and she is involved in his life enough that it should somewhat make a difference (again, which is why i never mentioned attraction to his childhood friend in my last comment but rather questioned why she does not have some sort of effect on him). There are outlier situations of course, but even in those situations, your support systems such as family and friends still give you emotional balancing and uplifting to pursue your goals.

    I have no problem of Kousei being attracted to kaori (and if you believe in love at first sight then you'll buy it even more) as i never mentioned that i find his attraction to her unbelievable; it's just the lack of implication, subtext, and nuance within their interactions these past two eps as well as Kaori's character is what has me scratching my head a bit. But of course, i realize that this is just my early thoughts on the series that's only two eps in and that issue is going to iron itself out nicely as the story progresses; at least that's the hope. Other than that, a good series so far with some emotionally hitting themes that are sure to be capitalized on as the story progresses and its narative presentation certainly as a punch as demonstrated this week

  13. c

    It's the music that did it. The charisma. I'm a bit like Kousei so I understand how he feels about Kaori nee the physical attraction.

  14. c

    (Bwahaha! Totally wrong use of 'nee' here. Replace 'nee' with 'bar' in your heads, please.)

  15. K

    @sonicsenryaku Well that's how it works. I'm talking from my own experience here. I was in a similar situation when I met the person who today is my fiancee, when we met it was like I got back my smile, my drive, hell everything.

    I did have friends, family everything was normal, the problem was entirely in me, then this person entered in my life and changed it forever. It sounds weird but it happens a lot more that you would normally believe.

  16. s

    I absolutely agree that people can enter a person's life and change their life forever. Again, my problem is with Kaori but im sure in due time she'll become more of a compelling character because she's not, therefore the conceit of this show is not quite grabbing me as well as some of the convenient scenarios that seem to happen. Still, i like this show and it's quite nicely presented and good to look at

  17. c

    Oh, man. Whatever else you can say about the episode — the comedy, for one, which I'm okay with existing 'cause it's natural from a character perspective — the competition was it. IT. It took me right back to my own youth and my own struggles with the instrument, the composer, the expectations; mine own, my parents', the judges'. I don't particularly find reason to like Kaori as a person yet either, but that demonstration between what she wanted to play and what was expected out of her was so spot on, wow.

    I mean, I get that in order to judge something one must be as technical as possible, but breaking down a score into its base components to calmly measure art with a point system… so much of that almost goes against what makes music important, tangible. So is it disrespectful to composers or disrespectful to oneself?

    …excuse me, I have a very complicated relationship with classical music. Shigatsu sure is hitting a lot of 12 year-old me's I left to die.

  18. I hope this is a subject the series plans to pursue, because it's a fascinating and very complex one that defies easy answers. Just look at the reaction to Glenn Gould's first "Goldberg Variations" album as an example.

  19. c

    Same! Nodame Cantabile touched on this subject a bit, but I don't think I've seen it explored in any way that was as direct as what Shigatsu did here.

    …I really need to check out "Goldberg Variations", it seems. Not sure what the critical reception to it was, but Bella Fleck's classical music album, "Perpetual Motion" is one of my favorite things. Fleck plays banjo, by the way.

  20. v

    All this talk about playing the classical piece in your own way/style vs following the intended form and structure reminds me of a certain calligrapher who went to live on some remote island.

  21. Indeed, I thought of that too. And for all its faults the anime did keep intact the manga's nuanced view on the issue – in the end we saw that there were many sides to it, and Handa's original perspective was flawed. That's all I'm really hoping for here.

  22. M

    Looks like I'm not the only one who thinks Kaori feels like a Mary Sue at times. She just seems so perfect and Kousei seems too idolized her for my liking. Feels like she's just a plot device to make Kousei overcome his hate of playing the piano.

  23. Well, that's exactly what I'm hoping doesn't happen, and that we're supposed to be perceiving that she has some serious issues. Time will tell.

  24. K

    I think Kaori comes off as a poor Nodame but I also hope there is more to her

    So far I like the two sports kids more than the musical kids. But the musical scenes themselves are great.

  25. J

    I really want to like this, but so far I don't find any of the main characters too likeable.

    I don't like Tsubaki for the reasons you described, she is "someone who thinks she knows what's best for everyone and has no qualms about trying to force them down her chosen path." Adding to her hit-and-run actions last episode, she hasn't exactly scored too many points for me.

    Watari is so far really just the "Friend A" character (ironically) and I don't really see his contribution to the series yet.

    I don't have a huge problem with Karoi's character but rather the way she is portrayed and used by this anime. It's like everytime she's on the screen, the studio put captions on her face that says "I'm magical, beautiful, mysterious, and surreal!" Also her style of music reminds me of Mine from Nodame Cantabile, whose style was described by Chiyaki as "masturbation" which is accurate here as well. I don't care as much about following the composer's intent but can you at least coordinate with your accompanist?

    Kousei is the only one of the 4 that I am okay with but I have yet to see reasons to particularly like him.

    In the end I still have hopes for this series and the animation during Kaori's performance was spectacular, although I would've liked to see similar animation treatment given to the other performers (I know I know budget problems) but having only her play like a real person plays the violin adds to my problem with her being portrayed as this magical magnificent brilliant out of this world creature.

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