Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 01

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Don’t look now, but I’ve got myself another contender for top Fall pick in the romance/comedy/drama genres, with this show easily eclipsing InoBato’s more shallow charms, while eschewing the gut-punchy twists of Waremete. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April) is off to a superbly gorgeous, heartfelt start, and it gets there by sticking to the fundamentals of anime as a medium: sights and sounds.

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Cutting from a blonde girl chasing a cat around a town in full Spring bloom to the flashback of a piano prodigy absolutely killing it at a recital (playing Beethoven’s appropriately relentless Piano Sonata No. 14 – Presto Agitato) but the piano abruptly cuts to silence and the present day, when he’s transcribing pop music for work, but writing and playing none of his own. This is our bespectacled protagonist, Arima Kousei (Hanae Natsuki).

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His work is interrupted by the cute, lively, tomboyish Sawabe Tsubaki (Sakura Ayane) in the form of a baseball through the window of the music room into his face. It’s almost a fated ball, since in addition to being his neighbor and childhood friend (who attended that recital years ago), she also seems to harbor pretty strong feelings towards him, which aren’t really returned in the way she’d like; Kousei considers her a sister.

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The episode spends a good amount of time establishing these two as an all but ideal married couple, despite their differing views on the relationship, creating a kind of holding pattern. They may be very different people, but proximity and time have made Tsubaki grow fond of Kousei, though she remarks that he was cooler back when he played the piano.

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About that: it’s not that Kousei doesn’t play piano because of some kind of magic spell: his ill mother was obsessed with molding him into a world-class pianist, and she was quite emotionally and physically abusive to him. That took its toll, with him coming to believe becoming great would help her get recover, but then she died before his first big recital. For that he blames and hates the piano, and himself…but still clings to it, because without the piano…he’s “empty”.

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The visual medium is exploited to its fullest to express moods and states of mind. Despite his lush, arresting environs, Kousei sees the world in stark monotone, like sheet music or piano keys. But he’s in his fourteenth spring, and his last in middle school, and all around him people are pairing off into lovey-dovey couples, as the season is full of young love. He and Tsubaki are never far from one another, but he doesn’t see her that way.

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It’s only when Tsubaki makes him join her for a weekend double date with their handsome, athletic mutual friend Watari Ryouta (Ohsaka Ryouta) and a girl who likes him that things change. The others are seemingly late, but he finds suspicious pair of shoes and tights, and is suddenly led to a playground where a gorgeous barefoot girl is playing Hisaishi’s uplifting “A Morning in the Slag Ravine” from Castle in the Sky on the melodica, accompanying a trio of little kids who want to attract pigeons like Pazu.

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The sound of the music, and the sight of the girl playing so beautifully, suddenly switches on all the light and color in Kousei’s world, like he was shot with a diamond, and he experiences exactly what Tsubaki’s friend Miwa described as the moment she found love. It’s such a lovely scene, Kousei breaks out his cameraphone to capture it…just when a stiff breeze lifts the girl’s skirt, which is the moment she realizes he’s there, and she shows her violent side.

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Tsubaki and Ryouta arrive and introductions are made: the blonde girl is Miyazono Kaori (Taneda Risa); Tsubaki introduces her to Kousei as “Friend A.” As Tsubaki predicted, Kaori and Ryouta start flirting with each other immediately, like the pair of perfect human specimens they are, while Kousei and Tsubaki look on. Then Kousei learns Kaori is a violinist. When she invites everyone to hear her perform, he declines and turns to leave, but she catches his hand and insists: he’s coming with.

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That shows that despite their somewhat rough start, Kaori is receptive to starting anew, making friends, and sharing more of her musical talent with him. Little does she know that in doing so she may be touching old wounds he bears, but also showing him that music need not be a nemesis; it can also heal, inspire, and bring people together. And so it begins.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 02

"He's tapping his fingers...I knew he'd like being back here."
“He’s tapping his fingers…I knew he’d like being back here.”

I should have known this show had every intention of surpassing its already excellent first episode in pure win with its second, showing us just how powerless Arima is to Miyazono Kaori’s charms. He was smitten enough—as I was—before we heard her play. And then we heard her play, and goddamn, that was the best musical performance I’ve seen in an anime since Kids on the Slope; mayyybe a bit better. A truly spellbinding scene that almost seemed to transcend time.

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First I like both the feeling and the characters’ observaiton that the inside of Tama Hall almost feels like they stepped into another dimension. The world of classical music appears small, insular, and passionate. The set piece for the competition is Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 (Kreutzer), and the winner gets to play a rare Guarneri in a recital. We see as the competition progresses that this is a hall that can put you to sleep, but it can also be a place where light and magic springs forth from the hands of the musicians.

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The latter is what happens when it’s Kaori’s turn. She seems to utter a small incantation before not slavishly playing the composer’s piece, but feinting, lunging, and parrying the Sonata as if it were a fencing opponent. One of the more conservative judges calls her play blasphemy, accusing her of “picking a fight” with Beethoven. But I’m not sure he wouldn’t have enjoyed such a rousing version, which sounded nothing like the other players. (Note that I know jack about music, but I know what I like, as does the audience, who chooses Kaori.)

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Not only does Kaori bring the half-full hall to its feet in sustained applause usually reserved for formal concerts, but also tightens her grip on Arima’s heart. Tsubaki surprised him into coming, as this was once a venue where he was all but forced to perform at the highest level to achieve first place at any cost for his mother; in other words, he’s understandably edgy at first. But Kaori simultaneously calms him and sets his heart ablaze.

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After her performance, Kaori intently seeks Arima’s opinion, her hands shaking with anticipation…does she know about him and his past, or does she simply sense it (or neither)? Arima, speechless as he is, is still able to convey how he felt about it: it was the kind of performance that compelled perfect strangers to buy her flowers. I also like how he describes watching Kaori like some kind of movie. He could have also said it was the kind of performance to make someone fall in love, but the reality is she’s on a date with Watari, and he’s designated “Friend A” and nothing more.

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But from the way Kaori acts towards him, it’s bound not to stay that way. Watari, preeminent ladies’ man, senses Arima is crushing on her, but far from warning him to stay away from his girl, he advises him not to be so hasty in accepting defeat or believing he has no chance. He knows from experience, people fall in love not because the ones they fall for are obtainable, but because they sparkle in your eyes; it’s not rational. And its also not just up to Arima: Watari tells him the girl will let him know.

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Last week we had a Castle in the Sky reference, but the introduction of the violin is pure Whisper of the Heart

That’s quite the evolved sensibility from Watari; he seems the kind of guy who wouldn’t take a girl his friend formed a closer bond to. But again, it’s ultimately up to Arima to fight for her, and up to Kaori to decide who she likes. There are indications she’s leaning Arima’s way, judging by how seriously she valued his opinion and the fact she let his lie about Watari practicing slide because it was his way of professing his desire to walk her home, and promotes him from Friend A to Substitute Watari. Progress!

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Poor Tsubaki! She looked like a perfectly acceptable choice for Arima for most of last week’s episode right up until Arima met Kaori. But now, Arima settling for her, as cute and loyal and fun and close as she is, could only feel like defeat at this point. Kaori is rapidly restoring Arima’s passion for music and sweeping away all the bile that had amassing in him from his mother’s negative influence. But in setting up this fateful double date, Tsubaki may have handed her beloved Arima to another.

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Two episodes in, and this show is hitting on all cylinders, with few if any flaws. The animation during Kaori’s performance was fantastic, and while we have Beethoven to partially thank for elevating the scene, we have whomever put such a provocative, avant-garde spin on his Sonata for elevating it even more. I want a musical performance in every episode. And I want to watch Kaori and Arima to play together…like soon. Bra-fucking-vo. Encore! Buick Encore!!

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 03

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Kaori knows about Kousei. Of course she does; any musician worth their salt knows of the “human metronome” who played with a symphony at eight. He’s a celebrity, but he’s one you always talk about like “Well…yeah…shame about that guy…he was really going places.”

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We open this episode with Kousei a bit annoyed he’s gone from “extra” to “substitute”, but he has no idea of Kaori’s true interest in him, though he probably has an inkling that she knows who he is…or rather was. But we see firsthand along with her just how deep and dark an ocean he’s fallen to the bottom of, where a mental block suddenly kicks in, depriving him of color and hearing his own music just when he’s getting into it.

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It’s a cruel affliction, but Kaori isn’t interested in attending his pity party: she’s on a mission of rehabilitation, not commiseration. Arima Kousei fell into the deep, but she’s come to pull him out. He’s gotten too comfortable in that darkness, to the point painful emergence is inevitable. But Kaori has faith there’s still a brilliant pianist in there, which is why she decides to make a bold decision: to choose Kousei as her accompaniment in the second round of her competition.

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Kousei refuses vehemently, and his reasons are many; insufficient training for accompaniment; inadequate time to rehearse; rustiness; inability to hear the piano…but it all comes down to fear…not even necessarily fear that he won’t be able to do it (of which he’s not at all confident anyway), but because he’ll be leaving that deep dark sea where he’s grown so…accustomed. It will be so bright and loud and scary out there…it will be different.

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But again, from Kaori’s perspective, that’s the point. That sea is a kind of limbo, where he constantly bathes in currents of self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-pity. Kaori means to wean him off those currents. The tactics she takes frankly border on the excessive, and she and Tsubaki kill a forest’s worth of paper plastering all of the walls in Kousei’s life with the sheet music for the competition: Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. (I’m sure there’s probably some symbolism in that choice of music, but I”m gonna play my musical tourist card at this juncture.)

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As Kaori sees Tsubaki put everything into trying to get Kousei to agree to play, she also sees the feelings Tsubaki plainly has for him, though she says she considers him more of a little brother (just like he considers her a big sister) than a romantic interest, the fact remains, she loves him. She’s doing this for selfish reasons…for “family” reasons: she doesn’t want to see her kid brother continuing to “live life halfway.” So you’re he’s Beethoven. So what? Beethoven’s a baseline. Play it backwards, upside-down; with a frikkin’ distortion pedal. Stop hiding. Stop running. Start playing.

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What neither Tsubaki nor Kousei know, however, is that Kaori isn’t asking him to play just for his sake, but her’s as well. No matter what crappy stuff has showed up in her life, she’s always kept playing…it’s how they (musicians) survive. On the rooftop, where she finds a Kousei frustrated she’s still pressing the issue, Kaori finally tells Kousei: she’s in a moment where she’s about to lose heart, just as he did so publically and brutally years ago. She needs his support now as badly as he needs to be saved from his sea of silent darkness.

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We close with a heartwarming, Ghibli-esque scene of youthful energy on display in the heart of Spring

It’s there, when she shows that heretofore unseen side of herself, where Kousei realizes Ryouta was right: ‘the girl will let you know.’ He realizes maybe what he thought was impossible wasn’t. He won’t be alone on that stage, Kaori will be right there with him. Alone, they probably wouldn’t have a chance. But together, perhaps they can pull out a performance that may not be perfect, but will propel them into that big bright scary unknown where they both must go to keep surviving.

I. Cannot. Wait to see it.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 04

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I think I’m still in shock. Happy shock. My heart is still racing. What the hell just happened? What did I watch? What did I just experience? I’ll tell you what that was: It was far more than a violin competition entry with piano accompaniment, play-by-play, and color commentary. That was a frikkin’ journey with no clear destination. That was nothing less than one of the finest and most riveting episodes of anime I’ve ever seen.

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Perhaps so strong a reaction is a product of having sat through most of half hour with almost no dialogue whatsoever, aside from the occasional comment from a stunned onlooker. We’re in that audience along with them, in this vast dark, dusty chamber that’s only a room until someone picks up an instrument and starts to wield a kind of wordless magic.

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That pure sound emanating from piano and violin taps into our most fundamental emotions of joy and pain. The silence is a canvas; Kaori and Kousei are charged with filling it. And fill it they do. But first, the buildup. Oh, God, the build-up before the Big Game. Once off that bike and miming the sheet music, things start to get real for Kousei, and he starts to get lost in that black and white.

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Kaori headbutts him, even a little harder than she intended; she’s nervous too! But neither of them are going out there alone. They’re going to play together, and she belives the two of them can do it together. She leaves no room for protest as she grabs his hand and leads him to the stage. We, and Kousei, don’t know it, but this is the moment of departure on the journey Kaori takes him on. He says she’s “freedom itself,” out loud. “I’m not,” she rebuts. “Music is Freedom.”

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With that, they take the stage, and Kousei endlessly adjusts his bench as some in the crowd starts to recognize him. They’re voices he can hear; they sound similar to the voices he heard when he was a prodigy, when his mother had essentially placed him in a hermetic prison with musical bars he could not hope to bend. But back then, just as now, he does not blame his mother. He felt honored to be the recipient of her wisdom and guidance; whatever pain he felt, it was the price of being able to bear that greatness.

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Trying to remember Kaori’s words — music isn’t a prison, it’s freedom — the two begin, and Kaori goes easy on him at first. Her initially docile play gives him time to find his bearings. Almost like riding a bike, his body remembers what to do, and the fact he can hear his own notes encourages him. Then Kaori gives him a look, and he knows she’s about to turn off the main road of their journey and enter some dense brush. He can keep up like she knows he can, or he can get lost.

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I knew as soon as the started playing that things could go south at any time without warning, like they did at the cafe, so I watched with a lump in my throat and a slight weight in my chest. The brilliance of the episode is its depiction of Kousei getting lost back in his deep sea, the water and darkness washing around him and us. The gradual and increasing distortion of the music is as emotionally effective as it is technically impressive.

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Eventually, things get so bad for Kousei, he can barely hear anything at all, and he stops, worried he’ll ruin Kaori’s playing. Then Kaori stops too. When they both stop, everything from a competition standpoint is over. But this isn’t about a competition, it’s about Kaori and Kousei’s journey. He’s tripped and fallen and can’t – or won’t get up, but Kaori isn’t going to leave him behind. She doesn’t want to continue on alone.

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But wait…we’re only a little over halfway through the episode. Things are bleak, but a comeback is still possible! Lest we forget, a tearful Kaori begged Kousei to help her prove she could do this, that they could do this. She’s not annoyed Kousei stopped; she’s scared. He has to get up and they have to keep going. “Again,” she says. They start playing again, but Kousei is still in the trippy sea, the currents choking the notes.

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Then Kousei remembers his mother singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” during a happier time. He remembers her telling him “The Piano Is You.” Caress it like an infant and it coos; bang its keys and it roars. Kousei digs deep and changes his strategy: he’ll stop worrying about hearing the notes and merely imagine them, playing with his whole body.

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He starts playing like a man possessed; like a man one with the piano, and he even starts getting into it with Kaori, as he stops being her accompanist and morphs into her opponent. He’s back on his feet and racing ahead; and she’s more than game to chase him!

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He’s no longer behind the musical bars. Kaori, and the music, has sprung him, and sprung him righteously. He’s no longer looking down, he’s looking up, looking at Kaori, smiling, full of joy, and Kaori’s looking right back at him, no less overjoyed that they’ve recovered so splendidly. This is what she saw in him.

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POOR TSUBAKI!!! T_T

And as they get lost in each other’s eyes and music, they put the whole of the audience under a spell. Tsubaki, who jumped up and cheered when he started playing again, adopts a pained, defeated expression when she realizes what’s going on between the two. Next to her, Ryouta becomes ever more lovestruck with Kaori.

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The episode realizes that just because they’re both musicians doesn’t mean this performance makes them a couple now. She even still calls him “Friend A” up there, though at this point it could just be an ironic pet name. It’s not as if Ryouta is done; in fact, he still probably has the inside line. A harrowing love rhombus has been built this day.

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But that doesn’t matter to Kaori or Kousei right now; Spring has Sprung and they’re on Cloud Nine; the change of Kousei’s scenery effectively illustrates that point. Things are getting brighter and more saturated until they finally bring the piece to a stirring close, bringing the house down…

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But the performance, which was perhaps as long and energy-draining a performance as she ever gave, brings Kaori down as well. She left nothing left in her tank. Kousei got bloodied while dismounting from Tsubaki’s bike, which provided a measure of symmetry to this closing shot, But while that was a joke, this isn’t. It suddenly, ruthlessly imparts the episode’s title – “Departure” – with unspeakable dread and foreboding. The episode plummets from the dizziest heights to the lowest depths. Not again, Kousei may be thinking; God, don’t do this to me again.

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P.S. That up there is a 1,158-word review. When I really like something, I tend to ramble.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 05

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It was going to be hard to follow up an episode like last week’s, which moved me so much I invented a World Heritage List for it. This week was further hampered by lacking a musical performance centerpiece (though this show was never going to be able to, not should it, do one a week). But this week followed it’s own theme and comported itself well. That theme began with a flashback to when Kousei, Tsubaki and Ryouta were rugrats: Even if you’re uncertain or afraid, dive in anyway.

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I was wondering how the show was going to proceed after leaving Kaori sprawled out unconscious on the stage. We jump forward to when she’s been admitted to the hospital, where she assures her friends it’s “the first time” she’s fainted like that, and it was probably due to baka-Kousei making her work so hard to get him to accompany her, anyway.

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Let’s not kid ourselves, shall we? There’s no way that was the first time, and there’s no way there won’t be another. You don’t put a girl in the hospital like that and never put her there again. But let’s leave that aside for now. Seeing her in the hospital only makes Kousei guilty he caused Kaori to be disqualified and wash out of the competition. He doesn’t realize: Kaori knew what she was doing.

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Holy crap, was this a gray, cloudy episode! Today, in fact, was just this dark and gray and cloudy! It’s the gray of doubt and uncertainty, following Kaori’s incident, but also in terms of what Kousei thinks it meant to her. Didn’t she just Kousei him for accompaniment? Ryouta is her betrothed after all. Yet when Kousei tells Ryouta to go on ahead, Ryouta tells Kousei not to worry about the percieved mismatch, but to dive in with him. Ryouta saw how Kousei and Kaori played together. He’s not setting aside his friendship because of a girl. This is a fair fight; may the best man win.

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Rejection and awkwardness isn’t all Kousei fears, though. While Kaori did lean on him, she also ended up supporting him, by bringing music back into his life as a positive force. He was supported by her just as much as she him, which is what made her collapse on stage so devastating to him. He used to equate obsessive practice and flawless play with his mother recovering from her illness. When she died, he blamed himself. Even if Ryouta is right and Kousei has a chance with Kaori, history could repeat itself, with Kousei being powerless to save someone he loves.

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As for Poor Tsubaki, knowing the score between Kousei and Kaori (no pun intended) doesn’t change her feelings for Kaori. Even if she can’t verbalize the positive qualities he possesses other than playin’ the pianny real good, she’s keenly attuned to those qualities, and they draw her to him still. She was once in love with Saito, the hot, dependable baseball captain a year above her, but time passed and so did those feelings. Saito’s late, sudden confession doesn’t move her, because despite the possibility he’s a lost cause, she’s in love with Kousei now.

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When Kousei spots a discharged Kaori in the school hallway, he hides, and misses his chance when Ryouta starts flirting with her. But then fate brings the two together on that bridge Tsubaki essentially threw him off years ago. Not coincidentally, the sky is a lot more bright and dazzling, now that Kaori is out of the hospital. Wise beyond their fourteen years, Kaori tells him it’s okay to be afraid.

Everyone is. Afraid of failure, pain, rejection, despair. But you go out on the stage and play your damn heart out anyway…which is the “beautiful lie.” You jump off that bridge, because it could change your life, while staying still won’t change anything. It’s a simple message: as much as you can, while you can, live life to the fullest.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 06

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This week’s Uso showed me something: that it didn’t need a rousing central musical performance to earn a 10. In fact, this episode made the music look like glorified window dressing; icing on the cake: sweet but ultimately unnecessary. What takes center stage here is character and relationships. We start with dual aftermaths of jumping from that bridge; first in the past, when Tsubaki carried Kousei home even though she was injured herself…

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…to Kousei inviting Kaori to his house to dry off and change. Just as she wriggled her way into his heart, she does the same into his home, and proves just as positively disruptive; relieving his piano of all the books and boxes and dust that had accumulated on it. Ever the breath of fresh air; the new bright beacon of redemption.

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Then Kaori throws open the window to reveal Tsubaki next door, and, well…what the heck is Tsubaki supposed to think, considering how she feels about both Kousei and Kaori? One is the guy who’s always been with her and vice versa; the other is the girl who seems well on the way to snatching him away. This is why early, straightforward confessions are so important…but in reality, they’re far harder to get out.

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Kaori’s invasion extends far beyong Kousei’s heart and home; she’s all about fully restoring him to the stature he once had, only this time, not simply for his mother’s sake, but because it’s what he wants to do. To that end, she enters him into a prestigious competition with Chopin as the set piece, and essentially coaches and bullies him to prepare for it.

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Ever so gradually, the music comes back to Kousei. It’s not that good yet; it still sounds like his greatness is submerged in a deep sea, but to see Tsubaki’s serene, relieved face listening next door is a beautiful moment…but so it Kaori nodding off in the music room as Kousei practices.

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Things are not looking good for Tsubaki, especially when Kaori shrugs off her devotion and care towards him as simply “looking out for a hopeless kid brother.” Tsubaki saw how they looked at each other; she knows it must be more than that. Feeling desperately alone, when Saitou calls her, she suggests they go out.

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Meanwhile, as if to confirm Tsubaki’s suspicions, Kaori turns right around and heads back to school where Kousei is still working. She takes what Tsubaki said about Kousei suffering through it all, and tearfully begs his forgiveness for pushing him so hard so fast. Kousei’s reaction surprises her, even though she told Tsubaki the best music is derived from exposure of one’s innermost emotions: he’s grateful Kaori dusted off his piano and threw open the shutters.

He knows he has a long way to go, and he may look like he’s suffering, but such is to be expected when crossing “uncharted waters”. But he’s also suffering because he loves the girl his best friend likes…and clearly Kaori isn’t merely looking out for a little brother.

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I know I say this every other episode…but “Poor Tsubaki!” She tries, damnit! She tries so hard not to feel this way about Kousei, to move on to someone more attainable and uncomplicated, like Saitou. But it just isn’t there. Talking with him, she always comes back to talking about Kousei. Seeing him cheer her on with the angelic Kaori beside him is enough to totally break her focus in a crucial softball game, trying for an inside-the-parker when she only had a triple, and being tagged out at the plate by a foot.

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While it’s generally a pretty good episode for Kousei, it’s The Worst for Tsubaki, but not all is lost, as she finds when walking home from her defeat. Kousei is waiting for her, and knows just where to kick her to necessitate him carrying her on her shoulders, mirroring the cold open’s flashback. He knows because he knows her, as she knows him. Music may make words seem trivial, inadequate, or mundane, but the time and the memories they’ve shared over so many years trump both music and words, at least on this night.

As terrible she feels about losing the game and as present as the threat of Kaori taking him will remain tomorrow, in this moment on this night, on Kousei’s warm back dampened by her own tears, Tsubaki wants nothing else than for time to stand still right there.

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So do we, Tsubaki, so do we. Don’t get me wrong, Kousei and Kaori’s romance is compelling as all-get-out, but so is Tsubaki and Kousei’s. Heck, even the weakest romance, that of Ryouta and Kaori, is still stronger than most because we know Ryouta to be a decent guy and…well, just look at the two, they look like the ideal Representatives of Earth. As for Kousei’s return to the world of music, a couple of rivals who have been waiting for that return are sharpening their teeth. Even in uncharted waters, one can chance upon acquaintances. It’s a small world.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 07

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Kaori loses her violin competition. Tsubaki loses her softball game. Even the chick-magnet-“nice jock” Ryouta loses his soccer game. None of the three are happy about it. After all, they gave it everything they had and still came up short. It wasn’t the first time they lost, and it won’t be the last. But, hey, it would be nice if someone in the quartet achieved victory, which the other three could relish vicariously. The only someone that can be at this point…is Kousei.

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Kousei isn’t certain that he can win. It doesn’t help that there’s a pushy cat with a familiar voice in his mind’s eye asking him deep questions like “Who are you?” and “Where are you?” and when Kousei doesn’t have an answer, is all like “See? You suck.” Still, Kousei studies the music and practices tirelessly, getting so immersed he skips meals and collapses in P.E.

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After being supplied with ample egg sandwiches by Tsubaki, Kousei is visited in the infirmary by Kaori. As they walk home, they come upon a stray black cat not unlike the one in his mind. For he once had a cat, Chelsea. One day the cat scratched his hand, He stood there in his mother’s shadow as she took Chelsea away and abandoned her, which was the pragmatic but hardly humane thing to do, for either the cat or Kousei.

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Kousei’s doubts about who he is and why anything matters is put to rest by Kaori, his dazzling sun, who tells him to relax; she knows who he is…he’s Arima Fucking Kousei. She also tosses out an apt quote from Charlie Brown of all people, then joins her delicate hand with his knobby pianist’s, and notes how she can feel just how much that hand is itching to play piano. That hand was frikkin’ born to play the piano…as was the boy it’s attached to. That’s who he is.

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Whoa there, Kaori. You don’t want to be telescoping your spine!

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The day of the competition arrives, and the four arrive at the fancy glass concert venue. Little does Kousei know he’s walking into an ambush: Aiza Takeshi (Kaji Yuki) and Igawa Emi (the excellent Hayami Saori) are there for blood, and we learn why as the episode gives us more of their story.

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For more than two years, Takeshi and Emi have worked to become better pianists, motivated, if you will, by Kousei. It isn’t quite right to call them rivals as Kousei wasn’t even aware of their existence at the time. A human metronome has no use for human relationships, after all. And even though Takeshi and Emi somewhat pitied Kousei, the fact remains they felt scorned and are now seeking revenge.

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As the other three settle into their seats, Kaori remarks about how Kousei’s fame is more of an infamy. Playing a piece exactly the way it was written is a skill to envy, but that was all Kousei did, and it was, to Kaori and many others, a dead end. Kousei had and has the skill to take the music further, but didn’t. Instead, he arrived at the competitions, beat the everloving stuffing out of everyone, and left without a word or a glance at the results. Why look at the results? There’s no way he’d ever not win!

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One look at Kousei from Emi, and Kousei’s somewhat guilty confession he doesn’t quite remember her or Aiza, convinces her that “he hasn’t changed a bit”, and she’s resolved to destroy him. But having been around him and witnessed his past and present suffering, we know he has changed. He’s not someone who’s sure to win, for one thing, but he’s also not someone to put in a soulless, non-resonant performance. Not after seeing Kaori play.

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Also, he seemed to be too far under his mother’s heel to worry about human emotions like fear, but now he has fear in spades and feels it, because everyone is scared to take that stage (or that diamond, or that pitch), and lose. Just like Takeshi, who wretches in the bathroom prior to his turn even though he won last year. Last year means nothing to him; he’ll prove he deserved to win last year by beating Kousei this year.

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I’ll be honest: the music I heard Kousei playing in the practice room probably isn’t going to cut it against the likes of Takeshi and Emi, and it seems a little early in this 22-episode run to give Kousei a legitimate win…but who knows? Maybe Kousei won’t embarrass himself! This episode ends on a freeze-frame of Takeshi about to hit the ivories; so…To Be Continued.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 08

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My goal isn’t to go overseas, or to play in the Chopin competition. My goal is Arima Kousei.

Aiza’s instructor Takayanagi bristles when he says this — Kousei never shows up, and Aiza’s ready for bigger better venues — but he understands well where Aiza is coming from. Kousei is what has driven Aiza to work tirelessly to catch up to and even surpass Kousei. Kousei is a rival, and squaring off with a rival, even if Kousei is neither present or aware of that rivalry, has made him grow faster than any teaching Takayanagi could have done.

A strong will enabling him to stand up to his fears. An unswerving fortitude at his core.

Aiza Takeshi possesses these things, but he must first throw up before the performance, and he’s almost giddy with relief when it’s over; his hands tremble afterwards. But when seated at the piano, remembering Kousei is here, today, and watching him, is all the motivation he needs to turn out a brilliant, crowd-hooking performance that puts everyone before him to shame.

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Kousei does watch (from monitors in the waiting room with Emi, who makes it clear to Kousei that Takeshi is here, and he played as wonderfully as he did, because of him. When Kousei asks if she feels the same way about him, she tells him not to make her laugh, but she’s not being honest with Kousei. Takeshi, on the other hand, is super-stoked by Kousei’s praise. It’s not so much that he knows he beat Kousei or even caught up to him; the fact that he moved him is the most important thing.

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Now that he’s admired Kaori in a similar way, Kousei understands a little more about the influence his mere existence had over Takeshi and Emi since they were little squirts. Meanwhile, Takayanagi is glad he indulged his student’s desire to face his rival; so glad, in fact, he gloats about how good he was to Emi’s instructor Ochiai, and remarks how far Emi has fallen recently and how she has no chance against the performance they just witnessed.

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Frankly, I myself was a little skeptical it could be topped, but that was me being a FOOL, as Takayanagi was being. While he carelessly threw down the gauntlet, Ochiai accepts his challenge. It’s true: Emi can be erratic and hard to motivate, and the littlest thing in the world could throw her off her game. But things are different today. She has all the motivation she needs: Kousei.

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Emi plays her cards close in her dealings with Kousei this week, but when she takes the stage, there can be no doubt about how much he means to her. Kousei is her goal, too. Emi first encountered Kousei when she was in the audience of his very first performance in front of a crowd. He was a bundle of nerves, but the performance caused an explosion of emotions in the young Emi, and she decided to become a pianist right then and there.

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Just as Emi made clear to Kousei what Takeshi meant to him, Takeshi tells Kousei that Emi, despite her hard edge, has actually ‘had a thing for him’ for a long while. And while Takeshi stood up to his inherent fear of performing, an act of pushing in, Emi’s situation is a little different: she must organize and redirect the storms of emotions flowing out of her upon those 88 blacks and whites.

She had a tasty scone that morning, she looks fantastic in her dress, she’s having a good hair day, and Kousei is listening, so the conditions are perfect for her to belt out the most gorgeous and enthralling piano performances of the show, easily surpassing the one Takeshi just played. (The piece is Etude Op. 25 No. 11 in A minor, “Winter Wind.” by Chopin, which…seems kinda hard to play.)

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Like Kaori, she pours those powerful emotions — her soul — into the notes, moving everyone listening and even creating an otherworldly synesthesic environment where her emotions take on color: red for anger, but also yellow for loneliness. She fashions a horn of her piano: a horn she compels to ring out. Not simply in anger or rejection, but in hope of reaching the Kousei who made her a pianist and compel him to come back.

Like Takeshi, she’s only there for him. It’s not about winning or besting him, it’s about using their music to bring him back. Even if Kousei ends up besting them both (which I maintain is doubtful this early in the run, but hardly impossible), it will be a victory for them as well. It will mean an injustice has been righted, and mark Arima Kousei’s official return to Music with a capital M.

What else starts with M? Masterpiece. This was another one. Your turn, Kousei!

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 09

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Let’s dig right in, shall we? First of all, I was not expecting the cold open return to the middle of Emi’s performance, and some of it was simply elaborating upon things that were already made clear last week. That being said, the extra attention paid to Emi, and in particular her childhood, provide a baseline with which to compare the very, erm…different childhood Kousei experienced. The modern arrangement of the Chopin matches her past self’s bright-eyed outlook nicely.

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More on that later. I do like how Emi storms off the stage, grabs Kousei by the scruff, and is on the cusp of saying…something important to him, but almost seems to chicken out and runs off to change, disappointing Takeshi. Still, her mission was accomplished; Kousei did hear her, and he was moved to the very core.

Meanwhile…damn, Kaori takes a lot of drugs! Did you put that scene in there to remind us she’s a very sick girl who’s going to die just when Kousei loves and needs her the most? Is the titular “lie” ultimately the lie that everything will turn out just fine? You’re a cruel show, Uso.

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Cruel, perhaps, but also the king of building tension and anticipation to the point our stomachs hurt right along with Tsubaki. Takeshi and Emi may be disappointed in the relatively ‘simple’ Chopin piece Kousei will play (chosen at random by Kaori) but even they’re smacking their lips at the opportunity to see him play again for the first time in years. His slow walk to the stage is full of triumph, as Kousei’s heart and soul and musical will all seem to have been jump-started by the other performances.

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But those of you who thought this would be the day Kousei shook off all of his past trauma regarding the piano thanks to both his friends and admirers…well, you were probably disappointed, but tough noogies. Shame on you anyway; we’re not even halfway through the series; it’s way to early for Kousei to be getting over anything.

There’s an interesting symmetry that further supports why Emi’s story occupied the cold open: Emi was a little girl in the crowd who got extremely inspired by Kousei in the past. Kousei spots a little girl in the crowd and gets extremely rattled in the present. Nice!

But long before Kousei saw the girl with the cat I knew Kousei was going to have a rough time this week. There’s no doubt that Takeshi, Emi and Kaori have moved him deeply, but in the blinding light of their awesomeness, he only temporarily forgot about the darkness lurking even deeper in his psyche that kept him away from the piano in the first place.

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Far from a tale of how Kousei gets his groove back, this episode intercuts Kousei’s initially competent but emotionless performance with scenes of his past when he was abused by his ailing mother (note the same ridiculous pile of drugs Kaori had).

And let’s not beat around the bush here: Kousei was and remains a victim of brutal, unyielding physical and emotional child abuse, and his mother was a coward and a brute undeserving of such a loving, devoted son. Maybe she knew that herself, and so worked so intently on beating that love out of him.

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Takeshi and Emi’s stories of how they got so good at the piano were full of envy, resentment, and longing, but they had it way easier than poor Kousei. And they were embracing music as a means to better themselves (so they could stand on the same level as Kousei), while Kousei purely played to make his mother better, a notion borne from emotion, which his mom hated above all else.

To her, emotion could only corrupt composer’s intended notes. The sheet music had to be followed precisely without the slightest error or embellishment.

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She finally succeeded in making Kousei snap. After a public performance she attended that he had been looking forward to making her happy with, she has nothing but scorn and cane blows for him, and he tells her to just die already. And so complete was her abuse, Kousei blamed himself and those words for her ultimate death shortly thereafter.

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Initially, he kept practicing like nothing was amiss, but one day his ‘punishment’ arrives in the form of his mother’s ghost, taking away his ability to hear the notes and plunging him into the sea. That is again where he finds himself during his attempted comeback.

It’s all in his head; it’s all scar tissue built up by his awful mom, but as long as he blames himself for her death, as long a part of him believes he deserves this punishment, no amount of inspiring peer performances will help him recover what he’s lost. We saw both Kaori and his mother in possession of pharmaceutical galaxies, but it might be Kousei who’s most in need of medication…not to mention therapy.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 10

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Well, let’s just get this out of the way: Kousei’s performance STINKS. He’s literally all over the shop; shifting wildly from the same old soulless human metronome, to banging on the piano like a child wailing in pain, to stopping completely. But none of that matters. This was still a HUGE leap forward for Kousei; life-changingly huge. And it all came down to Kaori.

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The ‘ghost’ of Kousei’s mom kept going on about his “punishment” for rejecting her and her dreams, but more than before, the cuts of her and the deep dark sea are interspersed with cuts of Kaori. She’s in his head more and more as the performance goes on, all but replacing Mom. He keeps his head up, looks at the lights as if they were the shining stars, and tries to finish the performance, even if he can’t be proud of it.

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It’s still a struggle, but after he stops, he again remembers Kaori turning around and saying “Again!” At this point he’s lost the audience completely and disqualified himself from the competition, but his pause in the music is a crucial ‘reboot’ of sorts for his psyche. He fell, but he gets back up and gets back to the ivories, with Kaori constantly in his heart.

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Once he’s playing again, albeit very badly, it occurs to him that Kaori and only Kaori is the one he’s playing for; the only one he wants to reach, just as she reached him so powerfully, both through her performances, but also simply by being there for him, guiding him out of the dark. He starts to channel those emotions through the piano, and his notes ‘shimmer’ as he begins to project to the crowd the imagery of the practice room as Kaori softly dozes.

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Again, his playing changes. It’s not enough to make everyone forget the ugliness before, but it’s still plenty compelling, which is a lot to say for a pianist with a reputation for sticking to the sheet music. Everyone has this priceless “Huh? WTF is going on?” look on their faces, except for the few in the crowd who matter.

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Now that he’s found something to replace the ragged gaping hole in his heart his mother left, Kousei can play with confidence and passion, although perhaps still too raw to make any headway with the judges. But again, that doesn’t matter: this was never about Kousei jumping right back into contention; that’s still a ways off. It was about breaking free, severing his puppet strings, and going his own way, for the sake of the girl he loves.

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It would appear his music did in fact reach Kaori, who is moved to tears along with the little girl with the cat. Heck, even his Mom seems to be proud of him moving on in the end. After all, the villainess in Kousei’s mind was a ghost of his own making, forged from guilt and regret over how things with her. That ghost wasn’t something to be defeated, but rather transformed, as Kousei transformed himself this week.

It doesn’t do justice to say he’s merely ‘back’; thanks to Kaori, he’s been reborn; better than ever. Births may be messy and harrowing, as his performance was, but both herald the start of something new, amazing, and full of possibilities. As long as Kaori remains alive.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 11

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We’re still in the middle of our journey.

That’s true, both for Kousei, and for us, as this is the eleventh in a 22-episode series. It’s right where we want to be, too: Kousei has, by ‘defiling the sacred garden of competition’, found himself, but he still sucks at the piano right now. He is, in the parlance of Whisper of the Heart, a rough stone that needs polishing to become a gem. That polishing will take time, blood, sweat, and tears…far more than he’s already expended to this point!

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In a shock to precisely no one, Kousei didn’t even make it through the preliminaries; his performance was a train wreck after all, and he stopped in the middle. But he doesn’t care…and that’s what vexes Takeshi so…at first. Tak had always seen Kousei as his HERO; someone who always took the stage alone, never gave up, did amazing things, then left the stage alone. This new, ‘human-like’ Kousei is strange and foreign to him, but in the end, it’s better that he is the way he is now.

Emi certainly sees this as an improvement. As bad as Kousei played, she could hear clearly that he was playing FOR something, or someone, that there was a purpose to him being on that stage beyond playing the sheet music perfectly like a robot. She liked the mischievous Kousei that peeked his head out from behind the curtain, and wants to hear more. And I’m sure she will!

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On the way home from his own loss, Kousei puts on a brave and stoic face, knowing he did his best. But just as Ryouta and Tsubaki did before him, the pang of defeat catches up to him and he has no choice but to run screaming as the train passes. It’s a cheesy scene, but a powerful one, and well-earned.

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Summer approacheth, but Kaori isn’t going to let Kousei rest on his moral laurels. There’s a concert gala at Towa Hall, and they’re going to play together again; this time, Kreisler’s Liebeleid (and I noticed and enjoyed Kaori breaking into German now and then)

Kousei’s mother’s (and, really, his) friend Seto Hiroko, Japan’s top pianist, is an interesting and welcome addition to the cast. Hiroko is super-cool and just happened to be present for Kousei’s self-finding experiment. She’s surprised he went back to the piano, and he tells her about the weird violinist who brought him back into the musician fold, Hiroko was clearly heartened.

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In the flashback, we see a non-evil Kousei’s mom who wasn’t going to make Kousei into a pianist at all “if she could help it”, but it was Hiroko who noticed he had a special gift and insisted his mom nurture it. We know what happened after that. Now, two years later, Kousei’s come out of limbo and wants her to teach him how to play properly again. He owes it to Kaori.

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That brings us to the episode’s climax and the true middle point of the show, in which Kousei finally tells Kaori directly (in a field of fireflies) that it was her that gave him the power and the strength to play. As she had probably gathered, he was playing only for her; sought only her approval and endorsement. This isn’t one of those romantic scenes where the two throw themselves into each others’ arms and kiss, but it was still pretty damn rousing.

So ephemeral and weak. But it’s shining with all its might.

That being said, the show is determined to rain on its own parade by reiterating that NO, Kaori will NOT be around forever for Kousei to lean on. She led him back to the world of music, but no doubt her health won’t allow her to stay on the same path as him much longer. As much as I hate to say it, I just don’t see Kaori lasting until the end of this show.

Which begs the question: how will he deal with her inevitable demise? What or whom will he choose to replace what now seems utterly irreplaceable?

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 12

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With only a week until the big gala concert, Kousei is having trouble with the piece Kaori is making him play: Fritz Kreisler’s “Love’s Sorrow”, a piece he has vivid memories of his (healthy) mother playing as he napped under the piano or hummed as a lullaby. Practically any other piece would have been easier for him to pick up.

Hiroko tells him not to brood about the fact he’s guilty about trying to forget about Saki. She also suspects he can’t hear the notes because they’re being drowned out by all the powerful emotions and memories stewing within him, that he has yet to figure out how to use to his advantage. It’s a gift, not a curse. Use it.

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This episode is replete with the joy and sorrow of love, starting with Hiroko’s insistence Kousei’s mom was proud of him. In that moment, his mother felt the joy of watching her son grow up, and the sorrow of watching him drift away, of ‘leaving the nest’.

Kousei also experiences the joy of his love for Kaori, as they bicker incessantly in between practices, then ride home on his bike under a starry Summer sky. The brief pause between the last episode and this gave me some time to ponder whether Kaori has been Kousei’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl so far. Consider:

  • Fairly static character with eccentric personality quirks
  • The romantic interest for a brooding, depressed male protagonist
  • In the words of the late Roger Ebert, she’s “completely available” and “absolutely desirable”
  • Only seems interested in the happiness (and growth) of Kousei
  • Does not (outwardly, at least) deal with any complex issues of her own

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Of course, as soon as those points are listed, one can start to punch holes in them. She’s not ‘completely’ available nor only ‘for’ Kousei, but ostensibly Ryouta’s girl, even though the connection between those two mostly centers on the fact they’re both attractive. Secondly, we have seen Kaori struggle, and use Kaori as a means for her to push forward with her music, even if she’s not pushing forward anywhere else in her life. She flat-out tells Kashiwagi she’s not thinking about her future, though that could also be due to her health.

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Third, we finally meet Kaori’s folks, and they’re awesome! Turns out they’re longtime fans of Kousei too, and stoked to meet him and stuff him with pastries. He impresses them with his manners (as they probably assumed he was still the awkward automaton of his earlier years), to the point where they may be looking at him as a potential match for their Kaori.

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Meeting the Parents is a big step in a relationship, so it’s a bit disappointing when the gang assembles at the school pool to play with fireworks, Kousei sees Kaori with Ryouta and starts to recede into Friend A territory. Dude, she’s clearly interested in you on a far deeper level than Ryouta, and Ryouta has given you his blessing. Man the fuck up.

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Kousei doesn’t have time to be worried about crap like this, even if he isn’t as aware of it as we are, having heard Kaori’s internal monologue about her not always being around. As if to punctuate that point, her dazzling sparkler suddenly goes out. Kaori is that sparkler. Her supply of fuel is not limitless.

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Tsubaki notices Kousei staring at the perfect couple, gets jealous, and launches a bottle rocket attack, sending Ryouta and Kousei into the pool. It turns out to be a boon for Kousei because here, in an approximation of the deep dark sea where he’s always ended up during performances, and with Hiroko’s advice in mind he figures things out. He’s technically proficient enough to not hear the notes, so why try? Instead, channel his memories of the music and feel it, and he should do fine. Probably!

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He’s underwater a bit too long though, and ends up losing consciousness. Ryouta brings him back, but Tsubaki reverts to Little Kid Childhood Friend Mode and cries with worry. I love how Tsubaki cannot hold in her love and responsibility for the kid who seemed lost for so long, even if he’s found a new muse in the present. And while she gets along fine with Kaori, she clearly can’t stand the fact that Kaori has come between her and the boy she can’t help but love above all others.

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On the big day of the gala concert, Emi attempts to attend incognito, but her instructor outs her. Emi reacts by denying she’s there to hear Kousei, even though she’s definitely there to hear Kousei. What kind of behavior is this, again? Ah yes..tsundere behavior. Even so, I’ve become so fond of Emi (and her seiyu Hayami Saori) so much that I don’t mind her at all as the third love interest. Emi has musical connection with Kousei that Tsubaki doesn’t, and the show has made it plain that we shouldn’t expect Kaori to be around forever.

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Indeed, Kaori totally flakes out on the concert! Her phone rings off the hook in her room, and her parents’ pastry shop appears to be closed, which is a bad sign; more a ‘Kaori has been hospitalized again’ sign than a ‘Kaori overslept’ sign. Sure, there’s every possibility this was meant to be another test for Kousei, but I can’t help but fear something out of Kaori’s control is respoinsible for her absence.

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Hiroko tries to get an arrogant little punk of a kid to move his performance up so Kousei and Kaori can play last, but he refuses, having heard all the buzz about Kaori in the lobby and philosophically opposed to her style of play. This concert his his moment of triumph, and he doesn’t let Kousei forget it.

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Kousei and Kaori’s playing time arrives, and Kaori is not there, so Kousei has to make another unprecedented move that outrages the conservative judge (even though there is no judging at gala concerts) by daring to play the piece alone. Kousei’s worries about Kaori flaking out on him and not being able to do it without her was replaced by pride and determination, thanks in no small part to that prodigy jerk’s little tirade. Worrying about why Kaori is pointless; she’s not there. The show must go on anyway.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 13

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Kousei achieved many victories this week: victory over his own inability to hear the notes, which Hiroko surmised might actually be a gift; success in making the crowd not only hear but feel him, as his peers had done before; and most importantly, saying goodbye to his mother by playing the song she once played for him as a lullaby.

After a rough start during which he’s mostly just pissed about Miike badmouthing Kaori, he sounds great. So why did this episode that had so much Win still feel like it had a dark pall cast over it? Simple: Kousei grows and moves forward through the persistent experience of sorrow. And as good as his performance is, the fact remains, Kaori is nowhere to be seen, and that’s a constant concern.

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We know what motivated Takeshi and Emi: Kousei. We can also deduce that Kaori is driven by the desire to play as much and as hard as she can in the little time she has left on this world. But Kousei derives his strength not from idolization or urgency, but form suffering. It’s something Hiroko comes to realize as she listens to Kousei play.

She also reveals that it was she who persuaded his mother Saki to teach him to be a pianist. As Saki grew more ill, she too felt an increasing sense of urgency and desperation that turned her into an abusive wretch. Ironically, it was her love and intense worry for Kousei’s future without her that led to that transformation.

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Ultimately, it wasn’t just Saki’s death that pushed Kousei forward; it was Saki dying after Kousei told her she should die, and all the psychological damage and long dormant period that led to it. He was broken down to virtually nothing, so that someone like Kaori could enter his life and put him back together piece by piece.

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This is a performance episode, and the performance is suitably awesome. I mentioned Kousei starts off rough (more crude than ferocious, Ochiai tsks), but once he realizes he can hear the music within him, particularly the way his mother used to play, he suddenly shifts to that style, a flowerly, highly technical yet gorgeous style that enthralls the audience, friend and stranger alike.

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EMI’S FIRED UP. So were we. Kousei comes into his own, even without Kaori there to support him. I for one hope Emi gets to interact more with Kousei, either musically or personally, because Emi is great.

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For Kousei, it’s one of the more emotionally taxing performances of the series, to the point that after finishing, bowing to an audience stunned into silence until it gradually remembers to applaud, Kousei’s knees give out off-stage, and after receiving a direct hit from a Koharu Missile, is embraced by Hiroko and lets it all out. His performance was brilliant, but anyone, musically trained or no, could sense the pain and longing that fueled it.

Hell, even the punk kid Miike was so moved, his performance softened into something more to please his own mother than to knock the crowd’s socks off or mark his territory.

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As he exits the hall, Tsubaki starts to approach Kousei, but finds herself unable to speak or act normally around him. Her heart beats extremely loudly and when Kousei acknowledges her and expresses his hope she’d praise him, she can barely hold back tears, be they of relief or disappointment.

Whatever the tears were really for, it’s clear Tsubaki is as in love with Kousei as ever, and this performance only amplified those feelings, as proud and relieved as she is by his victory.

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But back to sorrow: Kousei can’t catch a break. No surprise; Kaori was a no-show because she was hospitalized. When Kousei rushes to the hospital and sees her, she doesn’t look well at all, bandaged and pale; her smile fooling no one. Interspersed with this heartbreaking reunion that makes it painfully apparent Kousei is likely about to watch another woman he loves wither away and die before him, Hiroko suspects, despairingly, that this may simply be the life the universe has chosen for Arima Kousei, Musician.

Without loss, grief and sorrow, Arima Kousei, Musician would not exist. I can’t help but look forward to what looks like the very near future in which Kaori is no more, how Kousei will deal, and who if anyone could step in to fill that new gaping hole in his heart. Yes, as much as I love Kaori, the fact that her imminent demise is such a foregone conclusion means she may be holding Kousei back, along with the show itself.

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