Sakura’s a wonderfully kind person, and so it comes as no surprise she’d go to the pediatric ward to read to children. I also think she intrinsically understands she has a tremendously entertaining voice, and it would be a shame not to show it off once in a while!
Tomoyo is coming to film the event (of course), and Sakura manages to recruit both Akiho to help her read and Syaoran to accompany them with piano. She achieves this by knocking both their HP levels to zero with her thoroughly persuasive glare.
Syaoran checks in with Wei for help with scoring the book (and denies his four doting sisters’ request to see him on video mode), while Akiho studies the storybook and marks in a notepad all the places she’ll have to be careful (Japanese not being her first language an all).
After being given simple yet elegant tunics and caps, the two read the story of the Fox and the Mittens to the assembled children, all while Syaoran plays the organ, an upgrade from the piano.
It’s a delicate and beautiful presentation, an interesting departure from the usual formula of the show. This is also an episode in which Sakura doesn’t capture a card, and doesn’t even say her trademark “Hoe” once!
When the crowd gets riled up at a perilous point in the story, he quiets them with a flourishing solo, allowing the girls to get back on track. All in all it’s a tremendous success, and the group of kids come away not only entertained but impressed with the skills of the storytellers and organist.
Tomoyo caught everything on tape, but Sakura managed to stealthily release her Record card. Unfortunately, the footage it took is from over thirty years in the past! Sakura is disappointed; she must’ve “done it wrong.”
Upon seeing this, Kero-chan finds an excuse to rush to Yue’s place and inform him of what she did. Sakura has become far more powerful than either of them could have imagined, to the point it has become imperative they inform Eriol, of whom we’ve only gotten the slightest glimpses so far.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
P.S. That up there is a 1,158-word review. When I really like something, I tend to ramble.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.