I made no secret of my affection for last week’s episode of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. In fact at the time I watched it I thought it was the best episode of the season, though the premiere of Mushishi a few days later usurped that title. Watching it was really a transcendent experience, to the point where any flaws were like dust in the wind compared to the powerful impact of the experience as a whole.
But there’s a lesson I should have learned by now, because I’ve seen it repeat itself over and over in my time as an anime fan. When my reaction after an episode – especially an early episode – is one of being enraptured despite some significant red flags, I really need to keep my expectations in check. Because often it’s those trip-wires that prove to be the most enduring legacy of the episode, and not the things that made me so giddy with excitement. And so it is, for a week at least, with Shigatsu.
In sum, everything that I was worried about (I mentioned all of it in my otherwise glowing post) hit like a ton of bricks with this episode. The show still isn’t remotely funny, and it tried to be way too often this week. The comic violence by the girls against Kousei continues to be especially unfunny and a discordant note, and it was struck over and over here. And we got even more moments (this time mostly Kousei) of characters slipping into rhapsodic philosophical musings that sound absurd coming from a middle-schooler.
The biggest problem, though, is with the female characters. It’s bad enough when anime hero-worship their pedestalized female characters and turn a blind eye to whatever they do wrong, but it’s even worse when they hero-worship ones who hero-worship themselves. It appears what I feared about Kaori may well be true – she’s being cast as an ideal, a higher being to be admired by all (not least herself) and given a free pass for her dubious behavior and frankly shocking narcissism. I may be jumping the gun on that, and it could still change – but the larger issue is that I don’t like her behavior even when I’m supposed to. In fact I think both the female leads are arrogant, violent and not especially endearing people. They’re convinced they know what’s best for Kousei and they aren’t remotely interested in giving him a choice about his own life.
It’s certainly true that Kousei has some serious issues, and he’s running way from them. With no parents in his life it appears no one is pushing him to receive the therapy or other help he clearly needs. But what Tsubaki and Kaori are doing is a textbook example of how not to go about “helping” someone. This isn’t a game for Kousei – it’s a serious trauma, a dysfunction that makes him unable to utilize his greatest natural gift. He shouldn’t be forced to accompany Kaori (at least her accompanist had the good sense to dump her) if he doesn’t want to, and he shouldn’t be turned into a punching bag because he refuses. It’s not good comedy, it’s not good therapy, and it’s not good friendship.
As if all that isn’t bad enough, what do we get in the end? After Kaori’s belligerence doesn’t get her what she wants, she turns on the waterworks and naturally, Kousei caves. That’s wrong on so many levels, not least for how demeaning and sexist it is. I want Kousei to overcome his demons and play the piano (the tiny taste we got of it was wonderful) – desperately so – but I sure as hell don’t want this to be the way it happens. Frankly, I find myself hoping that the performance at the competition next week is a disaster because that would restore my faith that Shigatsu and mangaka Arakawa-sensei haven’t completely missed the boat on common sense. It should be a disaster – a lesson that everything we saw this week was completely wrong. But I’m not expecting that.
It’s only when one loves a series as much as I did the first two episodes (especially the second) of Shigatsu that it can piss us off as much as it did this week. And I’m equally pissed at myself for seeing this coming to the point of writing about it and being blinded to the danger by the sheer majesty of last week’s episode. I’m pretty sure I’m in it for the long haul with Shigatsu – I sure want to be – because there’s just not much anime out there that can match the emotional pitch of this series when it’s on its game. But I’m definitely going to be going into next week’s episode with a lot of wariness, based on what happened in this one. I don’t have to like the female leads to like the series, but it would be nice to at least feel that the show itself is coming from a place that makes sense.