Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 19

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Don’t let that petulant mug staring down a phone fool you: Arima is in one way or another a hero to many in this episode, which makes us realize he’s been that hero to many all along.

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This week is full of optimism in the face of doom. Nobody is moping in the corner feeling sorry for themselves; they’re doing something about it; moving forward to attain what they desire. Yes, even Tsubaki! Her love for and devotion to her next-door-neighbor pianist is driving the career jock to excel at her studies for the first time in her scholastic career, and the hard work and determination look good on her.

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With her negative prognosis and deteriorating frame, Kaori was in an even worse way. But Kousei manages to pay her back for rousing him from his deep sea slumber with his love and devotion, bringing color to her greyed heart and shaking her out of her bed of only-half-joking suicide threats and into the rehabilitation room.

She also asks for a risky surgery that may give her a little more time, because every little bit of time on this earth, with Kousei, will be worth it. Kousei makes her remember how bright and sparkling she was on that stage. Now she’s working to get back on it with him.

I’ll just say both Kousei’s interactions with Kaori’s parents and Kaori’s speech to the surgeon were both tearjerking moments, which I’m enough of a katsudon-eating real man to admit!

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Tsubaki still has problems asserting herself within Kousei’s life as an object of romance, but that doesn’t stop her from taking Kashiwagi’s advice and visiting Kousei, both to support him during his fierce all-night practicing for the upcoming compeition (which is, for him, as important as acing final exams).

For all the people he’s able to inspire, including Tsubaki, Kousei remains someone who needs caring for. Tsubaki whips out some scissors and cuts his disheveled hair, something we have to thank her for. And while it doesn’t look much different the next day, the fact that Tsubaki is there, in a way, “marking her man”, is definite progress, which I hope will continue.

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When the day of the preliminaries arrive, Kousei is able to disarm both a ravenous Emi and and a post-vomiting Takeshi with delicious free-range egg salad sandwiches, which he happens to have three of. Seeing these three rivals sitting together shooting the breeze is an unexpected delight, and a show of their splendid chemsitry.

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Flashbacks show that these three really have a lot of history sitting together, eating, and waiting to see which one of them will be best that day. It was always Kousei before, but his unrelenting competency drove both of his rivals to become the major talents they are today, and did so again by training Takeshi’s sister, provoking him to come out of “retirement.” We also see that Emi always enjoyed sitting beside Kousei. In a show without Kaori or Tsubaki, they’d have made a great pianist power couple themselves.

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Most of the second half is about Takeshi’s comeback, and about how enemies in music not only benefit from the support of one another, but require it. Takeshi and Emi wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for Kousei, and one another, while Kousei wouldn’t be there without Kaori.

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But today, Takeshi takes the first step towards leaving his hero Kousei’s shadow and starting on his own path; beyond replicating or surpassing him is not needing him anymore, like a fledgling finally flying off from the nest. As such, his Chopin performance is so stirring, there were moments when I wished all the various parties watching, along with his internal monologue, would cease so I could listen in peace!

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It’s only the first of two pieces Takeshi is scheduled to play in the preliminaries; but Takeshi plays like his life depends on, and ends up “making Chopin smile” along with bringing down the house. He’s back from his self-imposed exile; a musician among musicians; among enemys who are also his friends and his fuel, who fully intend to respond to his brilliant performances with some of their own. I can’t wait to hear ’em.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 18

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Uso’s primary strength, and what sets it apart from anything else this Winter (that I’m watching, anyway) is its bravura musical performances, accompanied by both play-by-play and color commentary from members of the audience. This week continues that trend of really nailing that strength.

The performances aren’t just wonderful to listen to; they’re a crucial means of delivering catharsis or proving the mental and physical mettle of the performers. They’re also meant as messages: Kousei is on that stage to give Kaori a musical kick in the pants; Nagi is there to scream out “Here I Am!” to her big brother.

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For the first time on Uso, there’s two people at the piano, and while Kousei does go a little off script with the bass, wanting to turn off the sound of the notes and merely feel them, where he’s at his best, but it doesn’t derail things. Rather, Nagi realizes she’s being goaded, and it’s up to her to realize her potential and fight back.

It becomes a battle on the blacks and whites, but not an all-out brawl; more like a friendly game of table tennis. And with Ryouta relaying the performance to Kaori via speakerphone, Kaori soon joins in from her hospital room, first standing up, and then playing air violin. It worked!

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Due in large part to her adorable but not over-the-top design and Kayano Ai’s similarly restrained little-sister voice, Nagi has more than grown on me; she’s become a vital part of Kousei’s growth. Hiroko wanted him to see the joy of watching someone learn and grow and become something great, just as she saw with him; the unique perspective of the teacher.

Meanwhile, once Takeshi gets over his outrage that Kousei seduced his sister (and wasn’t even aware she was his sister; doesn’t even remember his name, in fact!) he too shows signs that Nagi’s music reached him. He vows to defeat Kousei at the next major competition, essentially ending his brief retirement.

As he runs off Nagi recognizes the spring in his step from when he was a little kid singing the praises of the “robotic” Kousei. With his help, she made him hear and notice her, and now he’s back in the game.

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On the hospital roof, Kaori calls Kousei a cruel jackass for subjecting someone who can’t play the violin to music that made her want to play more than anything. And though there’s hardly any color in poor Kaori, the consuming darkness of her hospital room has been replaced by an endless blazing blue sky.

But Kousei won’t commit double suicide with her, and he won’t let her go gentle into that good night. He wants her by his side, playing violin one last time, in a performance neither they nor anyone else will forget. That should be some performance. But this one with Nagi wasn’t bad either, because it made that possible.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 17

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To Uso’s credit, Kaori’s suggestion of suicide isn’t laughed away with a sudden comedic stab. She was only really half-joking, because as she puts it, straight and honest, “it doesn’t look good” for her. In that hospital bed, her armor is all sheared away. We see the same insecurity and fear she exhibited when Kousei was waffling about accompanying her for the first time.

Only this time it’s more raw and profound, because this isn’t about a competition or concert; it’s her life, and she feels awful to be putting Kousei through this, going so far as to suggest maybe it would have been better for him if they’d never met. Which…just…c’mahn, Kaori!

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After Kaori’s suicide line, you can see Kousei’s legs being kicked out from under him, and almost the precise moment his heart breaks in two. Denial is his first thought, and why not? He’s already been through this. For it to happen again is, like I said last week, just the universe kicking a man when he’s down.

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At school, Kousei puts his head down and recedes. Tsubaki is secretly relieved. She’s studying to get into a top high school near Kousei’s, because “he can’t take care of himself.” That may be true, but it’s also that Tsubaki doesn’t want to take care of anyone else.

Tsubaki’s gotten on my nerves of late, but I liked this little basketball shooting scene with Kashiwagi (Her?). She’s finally taking steps to get what she wants, even if she feels “terrible” for doing it. Nothing worth gaining is acquired without hardship.

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It’s Lil’ Nagi of all people who is able to cheer Kousei up somewhat, sent out into the night by Hiroko for that exact purpose, and doing so by putting on her ruthless pragmatist girl act. Speaking from recent experience, Kousei points out the importance of playing for someone, since once one can do so, they’ve become a good musician. Right on cue, she dismisses his words as cliche, and they kinda are, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

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Back at school Ryouta confronts Kousei about not seeing Kaori, and things get the most heated they’ve ever been between these two. Yet again, Ryouta shows why he’s one of the best male sidekick characters in a long time. Sure, he’s been all-but-betrothed to Kaori for most of the show’s run, but he’s known (as I have) for some time now that he’s not the one for Kaori, and not only graciously steps aside, but nudges Kousei into going to visit her again, which is what he thinks she wants the most.

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Kousei’s visit actually surprises Kaori, who maybe thought she’d caused enough heartache and grief to scare him away for good, for what she deems to be his own sake. She keeps lobbing self-deprecating slogans at him until he gets fed up and munches all the caneles he brought for her, telling her they’d be wasted on a “cranky whiner.” He storms out, but gives Kaori a good laugh, but also shows her he’s not going away quietly.

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Still, Kousei is crushed with guilt at not being able to do anything for Kaori in her time of need when she did so much for him in his. Then it dawns on the yutz: he can play music for her. He can make her proud, and glad she pushed him so hard. So he asks Nagi if he can perform at her middle school festival, even though he knows she’ll probably refuse and possibly hit him for even asking.

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But she doesn’t. Nagi zooms past her romantic and social assets at school like Mario with time running out, and races to her lessons with Kousei, in preparation for her—now their—school festival performance. She likes how bold her enemy has suddenly become, and is game for an ivory brawl at her home field.

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But as the festival nears, the buzz about her performance—both positive, negative, and tentative—swells exponentially. Let’s not forget while Nagi is immensely talented, she’s also thirteen frikkin’ years old, and this stuff gets to adults. It’s perfectly reasonable for her to become so overwhelmed by the expectations that she ends up slumped over Hiroko’s toilet.

But Hiroko won’t let Nagi melt down like Kousei did. All that fear and apprehension Nagi has? It’s natural, and she’s no less of a musician for feeling it. Hirko tosses a few cliches of her own at the kid, and in her present emotional state, they’re actually a comfort.

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The day arrives, and the crowd at the festival not only includes Kousei’s friends (sans Kaori), but Nagi’s brother Takeshi as well; the one she’s trying to reach. For his part, Takeshi, who’s only been in the background this whole time, is relieved Nagi may have gotten over her big brother complex. Little does he know she’s playing for him…and maybe a little bit for her “enemy” Kousei as well.

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And thanks to Ryouta (who, awesome bastard that he is, agrees to do it for Kousei, before he even hears what “it” is), Kaori will be able to listen to Kousei and Nagi’s performance. Kousei will have to prove that taking on a student didn’t impede his own progress, and that it may have even improved it.

But he also has to prove to Kaori that he would never, in a million years, consider trading the times and indelible memories, happy and sad, he had with her, in exchange for a lighter heart. That a violinist who can’t hold a bow isn’t pointless; not to him. That is truly what he can do for her, and he’s the only one who can do it.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 16

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Uso stops being evasive this week, as the curtain of “everything’s okay” begins to dissolve. Kaori’s collapse in the hospital was a repeat of the incident that put her there: her legs suddenly giving out beneath her, and hitting her head hard. Kaori’s plight was telegraphed from several parsecs away, but to see it in all its unblinking horror is pretty dang heartrending.

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All in all, this episode was a great improvement over last week. Sure, it introduced new character dynamics I wasn’t exactly waiting for with bated breath, but those elements are there, and there’s no point in moping about them. I’m talking mostly about Nagi, who replaces Tsubaki from last week as the general focus of the episode, and is all the better for it because, unlike Tsubaki, there’s a lot I still don’t know about her, and was willing to hear her out.

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Things also go very differently from my cynical predictions regarding what would happen after Kaori’s latest fall in the hospital, for which I’m glad; I was hoping to be proven wrong, and I was. Kousei is shocked to find Kaori outside of the hospital, wearing her school uniform. She asks him where Watari is, but that’s just teasing at this point; she was out there waiting for Kousei, who is taking any sign (like her uniform) he can to convince himself she’s alright and he’s worrying too much.

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Kousei tags along as Kaori shops (hopefully not until she drops), missing that day’s lesson with Nagi, who is throwing out all kinds of weird vibes that compel Hiroko to go so far as to threaten to kill her if she hurts Kousei. Nagi’s reaction is neutral expression and the realization that Kousei is, indeed loved. But he’s still her target, and she aims to destroy him. Why? Simple: so her big brother Takeshi (he too of the yellow hair) will turn his gaze onto her. Music may be Tsubaki’s nemesis, but Kousei is Nagi’s.

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Kousei and Kaori continue to have a lovely, ideal day and night, which was kind of Kaori’s plan all along. She wore the uniform and pretended to forget her bag at school, but of course, she didn’t go to school, and she was only allowed out of hospital for the day.

She didn’t want to forget the school she’d been away from so long, nor does she want Kousei to forget her, so she tried to give him as memorable and joyful time as possible, right up to illegally riding double on a bike under the stars. Since this may be the last day and night of this kind she ever experiences with Kousei, Kaori can’t hold back tears; tears Kousei doesn’t understand…yet.

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Kousei’s overly-harsh training technique (as well as doing what she deems to be showing off) causes Nagi to flee from his lesson. He finds her sulking on the steps of a shrine, and offers an apology and a sweet potato. The two bond right then and there, with Nagi opening up to him about what’s eating her from the inside out, in spite of herself (though she doesn’t mention she’s Takeshi’s sister).

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We see more of the side of Kaori’s life she doesn’t want anyone else to see, as doctors tell her and her parents her prognosis (which doesn’t look good), and she’s unable to even hold her violin bow. This is a devastating series of gut punches, delivered without regard for our emotional well-being. Even if Kaori survives whatever her affliction is, if she can’t play music anymore, she is going to be utterly miserable, and her life may not even feel like a life to her.

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When everyone visits her in the hospital, she has her armor up, but it’s very thin and depleted, to the point that when Kashiwagi informs the others that Kousei has a pretty new student, Kaori gets upset. Not because she’s jealous (okay, maybe a little), but because teaching a student will sap valuable practice time for Kousei.

She goes off on a tirade with him, one he can’t keep up with, and then the tears come again, and for once, not everything is deflated with a silly comedic stab. The awkwardness and the pain is able to linger, and perhaps Kousei gets a slightly better idea of what’s going on here.

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Meanwhile, Nagi’s vendetta is not necessarily fair to Kousei, but she deems it a necessary sacrifice for her happiness, while she deems Kousei choosing friendship with Watari over love for Kaori “cliche” by comparison. She also considers his piano playing disrespectful to the composers, and by extension his refusal to fully commit himself to his own happiness a sign of weakness.

But it’s a choice she herself faced and faces. What eats Nagi most of all is that Kousei is a mirror; they’re not that different. But I like how her friends notice she’s playing piano more happily since starting lessons with him, so it’s not like she isn’t conflicted. And whatever Nagi’s intentions are, Hiroko wants Kousei to teach her so he can “feel something other than sorrow for once.”

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When Kousei visits Kaori alone later that night, he’s seen and heard enough of the truth to start fearing that she’s on the same path as his mother. He tells himself again and again Kaori and his mother are nothing alike, but that’s a lie. One can’t dismiss the similarities to the two situations; only lament the universe that let such a horrible ordeal repeat itself in one young man’s life.

In the episode’s final chilling moments, Kaori, aware the jig is starting to be up in terms of pretending everything’s alright, quotes from the Masahiro Mita novel Ichigo Doumi she’s been reading (another story in a guy’s best friend introduces her to a sickly girl and they gradually grow closer): “Want to commit double suicide?” While it’s a quote from the book, she may not be messing around.

Honestly, I have no idea what she means by these words, or where the show goes from this dark place; only theories. All I know is I’m exceedingly anxious to find out.

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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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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 – 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 – 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 – 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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24 Blondes of Fall ’14

Note: This isn’t every blonde in Fall, but it is most of them. If someone you like was cruelly left off this list, let us have it in the comments.

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1. Fuka Yuki

Ai Tenchi Muyo! – Leader of the Junai High Science Club and a ‘mad-scientist/inventor’ type who is constantly battling the ‘oppressive’ Student Council for resources. The ‘eyes’ in her large glasses mimic her moods.

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2. Leone

Akame ga Kill! – Sure, those boobs don’t seem possible for that waist, but google ‘human barbie’ and you’ll see there are living humans who look kinda like this! In any case, they can’t transform into half-beasts with ridiculous healing powers.

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3. Run

Akame ga Kill! – Baby-faced sandy-blonde Run hasn’t done much in AGK! other than observe from on high with his angel wings, but I imagine that will change soon in the last three episodes.

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4. Latifa Fleuranza

Amagi Brilliant Park – Latifa (or Latifah) is the park’s manager, and also the princess of Maple Land, whose subjects depend on the happy energy of people to survive. She also possesses magical powers that she can bestow upon people by kissing them, which is what she does to Seiya, who is prophesied to be the park’s next manager. She’s named after Queen Latifah.

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5. Sylphy

Amagi Brilliant Park – Sylphy is an employee of the park working at the Elementario. She’s rather ditzy and a bit of an airhead. She’s also a wind fairy.

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6-7. Aino Minako & Tsukino Usagi

Sailor Moon Crystal – If you’re a newcomer like me to the franchise, you might wonder why they’d have two blonde Sailor guardians. After ten episodes, it makes perfect sense now. And it’s not like they’re impossible to tell apart. One has buns!

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8. Ange

Cross Ange – The first of the several blonde leading ladies on this list, Ange has also probably had the roughest character route thus far, having been exposed as a Norma, stripped of her royal and human status, and shipped to Arzenal to die fighting fearsome DRAGONs in skimpy flight suits with other girls of her ilk. But I don’t see her dying anytime soon; despite her delicate upbringing she knows how to fight and survive.

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9. Suzuki Kana

Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai – Positive, cheerful, fun-loving, and funny, Kana would make a great match for the protagonist Kyouraku…if there weren’t two or three other girls ahead of her in the harem order of precedence. She’s also classically been the clown of whatever group of friends she’s been in, but more by default than by choice.

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10. Tsunashi Kaoru

DannaNani – The wife who can’t understand what her husband is saying.

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11. Saber

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – A powerful legendary swordmaiden summoned to be Emiya Shirou’s ‘Servant’ in the newest iteration of the Holy Grail War, Saber is utterly devoted to, and patient with, her non-mage master.

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12. Alfonso Saint-Variante

GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – Heir both to the throne of his father’s kingdom and the armor of a Makai Knight, Alfonso was forced to flee the palace when the king’s advisor Mendoza started consolidating his power.

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13. Fredrica

Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – One of the heroes who slew Emperor Gaz and brought peace to the land, Fredrica is a dragoon that comes in many forms, including metal dragon, chibi girl, and fully grown lady knight, and the form above, that of an elementary or middle school-aged girl in a frilly dress.

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14. Himeki Chifuyu

Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de – The only member of the literature club still in grade school, Chifuyu possesses the terrifying power to create anything out of nothing, from matter to portals and dimensions. Like the other girls of the Lit Club, she’s in love with Jurai, but the others won’t consider her a real threat for a few years.

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15. Sata Kyoya

Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – The titular ‘black prince’, Kyoya is a bit of a sadist who agrees to pretend to be Erika’s boyfriend if he can treat her like his dog. Has intimacy and commitment issues probably stemming from his upbringing. Eventually he develops feelings for Erika to match hers for him, and they become a real couple. But both can still be jerks on occasion.

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16. Tachibana Marin

Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – A shallow, self-involved older/richer guy-crazy Ganguro without the tan on the surface, Marin and her friend Aki start out as the friends Erika chooses by default, and the entire reason she has to pretend Kyoya is her boyfriend. But Marin and Aki actually grow into legitimate friends who care about each other’s fortunes in life, albeit perhaps not as close as Erika’s childhood friend Ayumi.

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17. Wakasa

Orenchi no Furo Jijou – Wakasa is a handsome merman who takes up residence in the bathtub of Tatsumi, leaving his old home, a polluted river, behind.

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18. Karanomori Shion

PSYCHO-PASS 2 – An Enforcer in MWPSB’s Division 1 who spends virtually all of her time supporting the rest of the group from her own computer-filled office. She’s quietly maintained a physical and possibly romantic relationship with fellow enforcer Yayoi for some time.

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19. Aiza Takeshi

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – This Goku-haired bastard is a fellow gifted pianist and self-appointed rival of Arima Kousei, someone who didn’t even notice him when they competed in the past, but who was so inspired by Kousei’s greatness – and pissed-off by his aloofness — that he strove and grew into a great pianist in his own right.

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20. Miyazono Kaori

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – Kao-chan is a gorgeous and brilliant violinist with an avant-garde style that traditionalists despise but really lights crowd up. She also ends up lighting up the life of Arima Kousei, becoming the muse who pulls him out of a dark sea where he can’t hear the notes he plays. Kaori can also be prone to violence…as well as the occasional sudden and worrisome bout of health trouble.

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21. Jeanne d’Arc

Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis – Unlike many anime characters who share their name with the legendary warrior maiden, This Jeanne lives up to the name, a young woman from humble beginnings possessing awesome powers bestowed upon her from the heavens. Her trusty holy sword Maltet comes when she calls it! She may be humanity’s only hope against Bahamut. You’d think she’d act aloof, especially toward a rogue like Favaro, but she’s surprisingly genial and down-to-earth.

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22. Leafa (ALO)

Sword Art Online II – AKA Kirigaya Suguha or “Sugu”, Leafa is the name of her avatar in ALO, which is blonde instead of her real-life black hair, and slightly bustier (or perhaps it’s just a push-up outfit). She had cultivated feelings for her brother Kazuto, and though they’re not related by blood, he couldn’t return those feelings. But that was SAO I! In SAO II, she plays a far smaller role. But she is blonde, so here she is.

23-24. Inubouzaki Fuu & Inubouzaki Itsuki

Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru – Fuu is a third-year in middle school and the president of the Hero Club. She is the older sister of first-year Itsuki, who she has been looking after following the death of their parents. She is knowledgeable about the Divine Tree and Vertex and was the one who gave her fellow members the app needed to fight against the Vertex.

Fuu uses a large sword in her hero form and her familiar is Inugami. As a result of using her Mankai form, she loses vision in her left eye. Itsuki uses vines to attack her enemies in her hero form and her familiar is Kodama. As a result of using her Mankai form, she loses her voice. (Wikipedia)

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 – 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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