I could cite few examples of a series that has me as conflicted as this one. Perhaps it’s true that if a show can make you feel anything intensely than it’s doing something right, even if what you’re feeling is anger and disgust. But that doesn’t mean the experience is going to be an enjoyable one. It’s a tough thing, anyway you look at it – there are shows about which sorting out your feelings is straightforward, but Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso definitely isn’t one of them.
At the eyecatch this week, I was absolutely convinced that Shigatsu was at the crossroads – the next 11 minutes would determine whether this series was one of the elites of the season or dropped. Now, at the close of the episode, I find that (somewhat irritatingly) neither one of those results has come to pass. I’m as torn over this series as I was then, because those 11 minutes were non-committal as far as what sort of series this is going to be. I may in fact feel very differently tomorrow than I do right now, or the day after – but the nature of a website like this is that you write down your impressions in a timely manner. And right now, my impressions are that the signs are not hopeful.
Last week I said that if Shigatsu were to have any credibility, Kousei’s performance would have to be a disaster. Well, it was – but one could tell that the seeds were being planted for it to be redeemed in the second half. So was it? Sort of – I think the show was trying to have it both ways here. But the fundamental problem remains – this whole scenario was a terrible, terrible idea, a huge mistake by the two girls who forced it on Kousei with Ryouta’s help. And I see no evidence that the POV of the series itself recognizes this fact.
No exaggeration, I think this was borderline abusive – far worse than the comic violence against Kousei that’s so utterly unfunny. For someone in his situation being forced to play against his will and then suffering such public humiliation might just be the final straw that prevents him from ever being able to play the piano (certainly in public) again. OK, you might say, but these are middle-school girls and they meant well – how can you expect them to know better? But even if you make that argument, I expect the mangaka to know better. I expect them to realize that they’ve made a terrible mistake, and beg Kousei for forgiveness. But there’s no sign of that – no sign that the story itself believes anything except that Kousei needs to man up and get over it, and that he should be thanking Kaori and Tsubaki rather than accepting (or refusing) their apologies.
Lord knows, there’s more. A real problem for me – perhaps paradoxically – is that I love classical music too much to love the way it’s presented here. As the evidence mounts that the same is true with the character drama, Shigatsu takes an extremely simplistic view of interpreting the classics. Kousei’s Mom is grey, robotic, a drone – literally a metronome, exhorting Kousei to worry only about the notes on the page. Fall to your knees and give thanks to free spirit Kaori (“You’re freedom itself!”), who with her divine powers of inspiration liberates the music! Liberates it from the intent of the one who created it, as often as not.
Make no mistake, the interpretation of a piece of music is called “interpretation” for a reason – the musician must make their own soul a part of the performance, or else they’re irrelevant (you could refer to a subtly brilliant conversation between Picard and Data on this topic). Yet it’s not the black-and-white cartoon reality being presented here – a true musician seeks to interpret the music in a way that’s consistent with the intent of the composer. I can’t help but be reminded of one of the most famous recordings in classical history, Glenn Gould’s 1955 interpretation of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”. It was a sensation at the time, sparking a love-hate (mostly hate) reaction among critics. And not just critics, but Gould himself, who came to hate that recording so much that he re-recorded the Goldberg 26 years later. This was what he said about the original recording:
“It was too fast for comfort… The 25th variation sounded like a Chopin nocturne. I can no longer recognize the person who did that. To me today that piece has intensity without any sense of false glamour. Not a pianistic or instrumental intensity, but a spiritual intensity.”
Once again, a distinction must be made here. The problem is not that a 14 year-old girl has a narrow and narcissistic view of the interpretation of music. The problem is that there’s no sign that the writer’s feelings are any different than the 14 year-old girl’s – that his own view is any less childish and simplistic. In that sense the issue here is exactly the same as that with Kaori and Tsubaki’s spiritual assault on Kousei.
As if all that weren’t enough, there’s the fact that it seems Arakawa-sensei is going to play the “fatal illness” card with Kaori – as if she weren’t being deified enough already. It’s too early to ask the jury for their verdict on that development, but it’s a dramatic voyage filled with terrible danger – the place on the narrative map that says “Here there be dragons”. Maybe Arakawa is a good enough writer to pull that off without being swallowed whole, but many other writers have thought that they were, and very few were proved right.
And in spite of all that, I can’t quite let it go. The raw, visceral emotion in the air when Kousei was suffering on-stage – so reminiscent of the most painful moments of Hourou Musuko – or the crestfallen look on Tsubaki’s face when she sees that Kousei shares a connection with Kaori that she’ll never share… You just don’t find that kind of intensity very often in anime, or any fiction. It’s not easy to walk away from a series that has the power to make you feel the moment so deeply and powerfully, even if this one seems to have none of the subtlety and depth of Hourou Musuko. For all the flaws I see in Arakawa’s writing the fact that he can create such moments is a testament to his skill, and that’s not something to be lightly dismissed.
As I said earlier my feelings may be different tomorrow, or the day after, or next week. For now I think I’m in limbo (although in truth it’s more like splitting myself between Heaven and Hell). I’m condemned to suffer the highs and lows of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso for the moment at least, because the idea of not knowing what it’s going to make me feel next is more unacceptable than the knowledge that whatever it is, it’s going to put me through the wringer.