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 – 15

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In a show with so many pleasing sounds, it’s distressing that the most noticeable sound this week was the sound of wheels spinning. With one frankly head-scratching exception, all of the key events of this episode were merely rehashing points that have already been made, with little in the way of new insights, and delivered with a distressing abundance of melancholy.

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First up in this Pity Party is Tsubaki, whose problem remains the same as last week’s, but now she diagnoses herself as standing still in life as everyone else moves on. It was one thing for Kousei to be taken away by music in the form of Kaori; now there’s talk of him going abroad. The timing couldn’t be worse, as she’s just realizing these feelings when he’s about to ship off.

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Tsubaki has also been totally phoning it in with Saito, and with his crush on her long gone, he’s the one to dump her, which he tries to laugh off as the two simply being too much alike. Obviously, it’s for the best. I was no more invested or comfortable with this pairing than Tsubaki was!

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Tsubaki waits for Kousei in the practice room, and he listens to her tale of being dumped as he plays Clair de Lune. But sorry, Uso: I won’t get fooled again; this is a pretty scene, but it accomplishes nothing that hasn’t been already well-well-well-established.

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Kousei can say he’ll “stay by her side” freely, but I’m not sure why, beyond trying to half-heartedly comfort her. She knows you’re moving away, dude. You can’t say you’ll stay by someone’s side and then move away. That’s the opposite of staying by someone’s side. Saying something like that makes you a liar, which is, incidentally, the title of this episode.

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The episode doesn’t spend all its time reiterating and embellishing the slo-mo train wreck that is Tsubaki and Kousei’s relationship, but dances from place to place. Kousei keeps hesitating to visit Kaori in the hospital. Emi is killing it in competition, with Kousei as her muse, while Takeshi is only wounding it.

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The most inexplicable development is the pint-sized Aizoto Nagi falling out of a tree into Kousei’s lap. He takes her to Hiroko’s, where she wakes up and reveals she’s a top piano student at a prodigious school, and begs Hiroko to be her teacher. After hearing Nagi play the same Etude Kousei played in the competition (harshly, but very well for her age), Hiroko agrees to bring her on.

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Nagi tearfully rejoices, but those tears were faked by eyedrops; this is all clearly some kind of scheme. But the joke may be on her, as Hiroko delegates her training to Kousei. You know what they say: “Those who can’t [hear the notes], teach.”

I’m not quite sure what to make of Nagi’s introduction (hence the head-scratching), except that it’s kinda late in the game to be introducing a moe misfit. The check-ins with Emi and Takeshi reminded me the show doesn’t have enough time to do all the characters it already has justice.

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Then, the cherry on top of this Cake of Despair is Kaori, who was pushed to the sidelines for the whole episode due to her being in hospital and Kousei refused to see her. He comes close once, but hears Ryouta laughing with her in her room and scurries away.

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It’s not enough that we know Kaori has some undisclosed illness that requires ridiculous of meds and intermittent, interminable hospital stays. We also have to watch in horror as her legs suddenly give out beneath her, in the dark corridor of a hospital where apparently no one is on duty. Pretty dang morbid.

I’m sure someone will find her, and she’ll be put back in bed, and Kousei will visit her and she’ll simply laugh and smack him in a stylized comic burst and basically tell him everything but the truth.

Everyone is suffering in Uso right now (except Saito, but who cares about him?), and I’m starting to suffer right alongside them. Would it kill somebody to tell another what they’re really thinking? For gosh sakes, the destroyer girls did it in their third episode!

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 14

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Tsubaki is in a pinch. At the start of the episode, she’s still in denial about her romantic feelings for Kousei. Case in point: way she watches him race off the moment she tells him Kaori’s in hospital is not the way a ‘big sister’ looks at her ‘little brother’.

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Kousei is also in a pinch. Before Tsubaki told him, he had no idea what had become of her; he doesn’t even have her phone number. He knows a little about her, but there are vast gaps, gaps she won’t fill, preferring to hide behind smiles when anyone can clearly see she’s not well at all. She even goes so far as to stop her I.V. while they’re gone. I do not buy her claim of “simple tests”, no siree.

Neither should Kousei…yet despite the overwhelming evidence before him that history may be about to repeat itself in the form of another loved one leaving him, he chooses to believe Kaori will be back at school and with him in the music room soon.

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Kaori’s brave front is probably so she won’t hurt Kousei and the others, but her sudden death will certainly hurt them even more. In matters of love, Tsubaki is also too scared of losing what she has with Kousei if she tries to go for more. She tries to dull the pain of this ‘limbo’ is causing with Saito, but her past crush was just a crush; she can’t feel anything for him. Yet she keeps strings him along.

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Kaori, Kousei and Tsubaki are all trying to fight back potential or certain, that lies just beyond the horizon, and all are paying a price, both for themselves, and the ones they love. Kaori sees in Kousei’s face the pain her omissions and can’t hold back tears. Kousei clings so tightly to a positive prognosis for Kaori, he’s ignoring Tsubaki at a crucial time in her romantic life, causing her to hurt Saito in turn.

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Kousei and Kaori’s situation is quickly eclipsed this week by a Tsubaki emphasis, the first in a while, and notable in the fact she’s not a musician at all. In fact, the sad dark truth is that she’s always hated music, because it seems to be the one thing always keeping her and Kousei apart. Things are even more complicated now that music has a face, a voice. How can she step over a girl in the hospital to get to Kousei? I understand, but you don’t decide who you love. This isn’t some passing fancy.

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Kashiwagi, whom I swear wasn’t in the first cour more than a few minutes total (if at all…unless she has Stealth Mode like Kato!), and Ryouta are the only two neither hurting nor being hurt. Ryouta seems to have all but ceded Kaori to Kousei seeing their greater connection.

When Kashiwagi tells him about Tsubaki and Kousei and Saito, Ryouta isn’t interested in breaking it to Tsubaki, knowing how bristly she can be. It falls to Kashiwagi, who makes her realize she’s hurting Saito by continuing what is clearly a charade.

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In a nice bit of timing, just when Tsubaki gets off the phone with Kashiwagi, Kousei comes racing to her side on queue, having been told by Ryouta that she was in some kind of trouble. It’s the opposite of what happened at the beginning of the episode, and for the moment, it makes Tsubaki’s day. We watch her following behind, talking and laughing with Kousei, as naturally as she looked forced and out of place beside Saito.

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Here, she doesn’t have to check herself from telling stories about Kousei, because he’s right there, ready to come back with stories about her. Everything that’s happened in the last few months, including Kousei getting back to the piano, made Tsubaki’s feelings shift from those of a doting big sister, to those of a woman in love with a man who got taller than her and whose feet got bigger without her even noticing.

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But as Kashiwagi warned Ryouta, leaving her to realize it for herself, here and now, turns out to be too late…though not by much! Ironically, it’s when Tsubaki echoes Kaori’s words about Kousei being a rare and special artist capable of transcribing his very memories to notes, that Kousei lets her know he’s planning to go to a high school with a musical course, out of town, thus separating them for the first time…ever.

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Tsubaki can’t hold back tears any more than Kaori could, and runs off into the night, still barefoot from the beach where just a couple minutes ago she was on cloud nine, humming “Claire de Lune” along with him (having heard it so much next door). Now alone, her feelings for Tsubaki sink in fully, along with the bitter realization that music has once again taken her Kousei away from her….perhaps this time for good.

The question is, will she let it? And will Kousei let Kaori go quietly into the night?

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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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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 10 (Fin)

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Hey, endings are tough; no doubt. But there’s nothing worse than an ending that has you constantly thinking ‘Gee, this really feels like they just realized this is the last episode, and they’re rushing as fast as they can to end it.’ That’s even more disappointing considering Chaika got a second season, albeit a shortened one, to craft a satisfying, well-paced ending.

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Well, it failed. That thought above, that’s something that takes you right out of the fantasy world and into the harsh realities of anime production. I can’t imagine why the producers decided to throw all this stuff into one breathlessly-hasty, plot-stuffed episode, with practically no time to spare for characters, beyond the basic idea that Tooru and Chaika kinda like each other maybe, and that’s why they fight.

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Meanwhile, you have the same huge amount of side characters milling around, needing something to fight, so Gaz has Black Chaika, the Twins, and the other Chaika Dolls deal with Akari, Red Chaika, Vivi, etc. These battles are meaningless and over so quickly they inspire only a faint shrug. Same goes with Tooru’s sudden decision to contract with Fedrica and defeat Shin; it all happens so much there’s no time to care.

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But, yes, in case you were still unaware, Black Chaika has a nice body. Most egregious, however, is the treatment of Gaz, who is a villain so aloof and emotionless it’s easy to forget how powerful he was built up to be. He’s also so wooden in his half-assed monologues about anger, hate and love driving humanity that even Tooru tells him more than once, “Just shut up already, nobody’s listening!”

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Yup, after five hundred years and all the trouble he went through to use the Chaikas to resurrect himself and rebuild his empire, it takes less than five minutes to eliminate him, far shorter a time than Layla and her compatriots last year, who at least had some personality and edge to them. I’m really not surprised Niva abruptly abandons Gaz and flies over to Chaika so she can use her to kill him. The last we see of the Great and Powerful Gaz is him going “Huh? What?” as his Gundo splits. He can’t even muster a loud outburst.

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The ‘cost’ of defeating Gaz is kind of artificially created when Chaika uses all of her ammo randomly shooting at Gaz’s castle, even after Tooru was allowed access. Because of this, Niva has to draw from Chaika’s memories for magical fuel.

This means it’s her turn to make funny noises, then is rendered unconscious and feared dead (or worse, a vegetable) by the time Tooru gets to her, but again, there’s no time for anything to sink in; we’re shoved right into the epilogue starting with a final scene of the GIllette Corps that’s as dull as ever. And no, Vivi doesn’t get a chance to say anything to Gillette.

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The show apparently does have time for one last ‘Akari love loves her Brother’ joke, and we both her and Red Chaika in peacetime garb. As for Chaika…she’s fine…I guess? A bit weak, and she doesn’t call Tooru by name, but not dead. How much of her memory was lost? We’re not really told enough. Doesn’t Fredrica want to fight Tooru to the death? Ah, never mind.

They just stare at a blooming tree and the show cuts to the same ol’ credits as the previous nine episodes. There isn’t even so much as a ‘Thanks for Watching!’ card. I’m almost sorry I did. This was not a good ending.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 09

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Things are a little more focused this week (though there was no way it was going to be as jumbled as last week’s), as we finally build up to the great culmination of all of Arthur Gaz’s designs: his resurrection by Black Chaika, using the parts collected by the others.

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It’s a scene the show’s been building towards for two seasons. So why did it feel a little…flat? Why was I only half-invested in all of this? ‘Chaika Fatigue’, perhaps. Also, Penultimate Episode Syndrome, where the second-to-last episode is either better or worse than the last. As our heroes mostly stand around and gawk at the mustache-twirling bad guys as the shit hits the fan, it seems like the latter.

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That’s not to say this episode was a failure on all counts. For one thing, it succeeded greatly in destroying pretty much all hope of White Chaika performing a funeral for her father, and not just because he’s not her father and he’s no longer dead. There’s also something so very wrong about Black Chaika birthing the reincarnation of her father beneath her skirts while making moaning and wailing in apparent…arousal.

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Final Fantasy-style final chapter cutscenes are notorious for the rambling speeches and grotesque transformations of the Big Bad(s) as the good guys stew in the corner with clenched fists. In that regard, this episode succeeds admirably. Before you start fighting the final boss, the game wants to make sure you hate him as much as possible, but also learn his twisted worldview. And the simple reveal of Young Gaz — who looks a lot like Guy, not accidentally — had an understated awe about it.

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Speaking of awe, Neo-Gaz wastes no time killing Hartgen (with a casual but lethal one-word incantation — “Pierce”). Harty was just a pawn, after all, whose power, clout, and charisma were used to gather both the Chaikas and the masses of bloodthirsty warriors. War only appeals to Gaz in that it is the state of civilization that nets him the most powerful emotions and memories which make the magic he feasts upon. He’s less a megalomaniac and more a force of nature at this point: an all-consuming storm.

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And Chaika? Not only was she never his daughter (he has none), but “Chaika” is merely the term for the magical technique he used to resurrect himself. Pawn, tool, technique, doormat — however Chaika wishes to call it, as far as Gaz is concerned her task is complete.

After destroying the flying fortress Red Herring with his personal Gundo Niva Lada, he uses her to activate a heretofore dormant fortress in orbit. Space Fortress. Now we’re talking. Where the heck to the good guys go from here? I don’t know, but the fact Gaz and his underlings are too arrogant to bother killing them all immediately proves they have a chance.

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Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – 02

They may lack emotion, but they still know to pretend to be a Good Samaritan to get some alone time with dinner
They may lack emotion, but they still know to pretend to be a Good Samaritan to get some alone time with dinner

Humans think they’re real hot shit, don’t they? Even a quiet, mild-mannered, normal kid like Izumi Shinichi is utterly convinced the inviolability of human life is absolute, and that the grisly murders of people by “things” like his right hand must be opposed and the things responsible stopped. But his hand, which names itself “Migi”, doesn’t see a problem: his brethren are eating; that’s all.

It definitely a plus that Shinichi's love interest is Hana-Kana
It definitely a plus that Shinichi’s love interest is Hana-Kana

At least you know where evil and hatred stand, but there is no evil or hatred in the parasites; they’re merely carrying out their natural biological process. Humans just happen to be on the wrong end of the fork. Now they know how cows, pigs, and a multitude of other animals feel. But still, Shinichi thinks it’s different.

"YOU WON'T LIKE ME WHEN I'M ANGRY", or "MEIN FUHRER, I CAN WALK!"? How about both
“YOU WON’T LIKE ME WHEN I’M ANGRY”, or “MEIN FUHRER, I CAN WALK!”? How about both

And, of course, it is different. Humanity’s belief in its own primacy may well be just a matter of chemistry and biology itself, but like Shinichi, we are humans and so seeing so many of us turned into mincemeat, no matter how flawed they might be, its unsettling and just plain not okay. Especially when the next victim could be someone you care about.

Don't cross me, Shinichi. Don't ever cross me.
Don’t cross me, Shinichi. Don’t ever cross me.

For Shinichi, that someone is Murano Satomi (Hanazawa Kana), and she happens to like him to. After Migi sinks a half-court shot on the court, she formally forgives him and asks him out for pancakes. I’m really enjoying their fumbling yet tender courtship, and of the high school milieu in general; even in the midst of such grisly murders; it speaks to how mass media and the internet have desensitized us as a society to the horrors in the world.

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The sounds Migi makes when morphing are best described as…skin-crawling

But Shinichi’s interactions with Murano underscore to him and us just how much he stands to lose if he leaves the mincemeat murderers be. That all threatens to become moot when a full-body parasite encounters and corners him, then invites Migi to “transfer” to his body and share his host, which will enable them to live longer. Again, Shinichi comes just an inch away from dying. He may not look it, but he’s livin’ on the edge.

"Hop on, there's room for two!"
“Hop on, there’s room for two!”

And that right there is the first sign that these things have a semblance of community, even if they lack empathy for other life. Because they value their own lives, and joining forces will lengthen their lives, logic dictates that they should join forces; there’s no need for emotional input. Migi declines and instead kills his brethren, explaining he didn’t know the transfer would be successful, and stating once more: “I value my own life.”

Migi NOT saving Shinichi's life, only saving his own life...and Shinichi's too
Migi NOT saving Shinichi’s life, only saving his own life…and Shinichi’s too

While one could argue that a little of Shinichi’s empathy is seeping into Migi and a kind of rudimentary emotional bond is forming, we also can’t rule out that Migi will only continue to protect Shinichi as long as it serves his purposes. The enemy remains within as well as without, and as I said, it’s an enemy with no hatred or fear. Or anything. The parasites can’t very well be the “demons” Shinichi labels them without those things.

So pleasant...how long can it last
So pleasant…how long can it last

It’s really humans, or at least a lot of them, (or even everyone, at moments) who are the closest thing to demons, says Migi. Shinichi’s Adorable Pancake Date with Murano takes a dark turn when the encounter youths trying to hit a cat they buried in the sand with rocks. I couldn’t help but think Shinichi was thinking “Ya see? It’s little shits like you give our species a bad name!” before scaring them off and rescuing the cat in front of the animal-loving Murano.

Just go get eaten, punks!
Just go get eaten, punks!

Here’s the thing: the parasites aren’t punishing people for misdeeds; their targets are random. This isn’t karma, it’s merely nature. Even so, Shinichi wants to use Migi’s power to protect as much life as he can. He isn’t someone who can just stand by when he might have the power to do something. Migi is dubious; no doubt because of the risks involved.

For all the gross twisting and meshing of body parts, the show can still pull off something sweet like Shinichi and Murano holding hands for the first time with aplomb
For all the gross twisting and meshing of body parts, the show can still pull off something sweet like Shinichi and Murano holding hands for the first time with aplomb

Both after the basketball shot and after this incident with the rock throwers, Murano is warm and affectionate, but she also seems to need Shinichi to say he really is Shinichi. And to a casual observer, it would appear like he’s under the influence of some kind of love potion. She’s not used to him being so…capable, though it’s not as if she doesn’t like this new side of him.

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“I’m going to switch to your left hand, if you don’t mind. That okay?”

Two episodes in and I’ve now seen the show consistently excel at delivering both skin-crawling body horror (with philosophical subtext) and charming, realistic, but probably doomed romance. For all the gross stuff it does with body parts. The soundtrack also continues to distinguish itself, in that it always seems to bring the right music for the situation. I even heard a bit of Vangelis inspiration in there. It’s as quirky and eclectic as the rest of the show.

No...HUMAN BEING...makes love like this.
No…HUMAN BEING…would make love like this.

The final scene where to full-body parasites—a man and a woman—stand naked in the moonlight, about to perform a human mating ritual. It will be completely devoid of love (or any emotion at all), but they’re probably doing it in an effort to better emulate human behavior. In other words, if Shinichi wants to put a stop to them, he’d better hustle!

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Space Dandy – 13 (Fin)

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Between Data, Bender, Johnny 5, WALL-E, and any number of other shows and films featuring sentient robots, we’ve been conditioned to treat them just as we would any other characters. Matters are made easier by the fact that both QT and (Coffee) Maker have human voices, and easier still by the fact that Maker is voiced by yet another excellent Space Dandy guest seiyu: Hirano Aya in a particularly cute, pleasant, and sincere performance.

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Like Dandy in the Adele episode and Meow in his family episode, this episode was a chance to focus on QT and show us another side of him. That seems to be Space Dandy’s sweet spot, as these three “personal” episodes are three of its best. QT had always struck us as the analytical, scolding nerd to Dandy’s hapless Casanova and Meow’s slob/sloth acts; the least interesting of the trio (though not to say he wasn’t funny. We also thought for a while that “he” was a she, due to the high-pitched voice.

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But this week QT gets to fall in love, like WALL-E, to a very sweet, shapely and adorable coffee maker (who bares a slight resemblance to EVE), and we find ourselves rooting for him at every turn. QT’s progression from magical first encounter to admiring from afar to gathering the courage to talk to Maker and even take her out for a night on the town, is a familiar romantic arc, but like all of Space Dandy’s dabbles into genre, the all about the presentation and execution, which is fantastic here.

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Of course, if you haven’t watched or dislike films like WALL-E, you may not so easily warm to it, but we were invested and moved throughout, and thought this kind of story was a no-brainer and a perfect way to get us to like and care about QT more. We also like how the standard romantic story takes a turn towards the damsel-in-distress story when Maker (and her good friend and colleague Register) are taken from the cafe and sent to “Dream Island.”

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Determined to save her, QT hitches a ride to the island of misfit appliances that have gained emotions, and finds an entire Utopian society of sentient robots dancing the night away to EDM. When he discerns that Maker and Register are an item, he’s disheartened, as are we, though isn’t as if we thought Maker would be joining the crew of the Aloha Oe. When Register joins the more bitter robots’ revolution against living things, QT breaks out the heroics, going the extra mile (and benefiting from another Dr. Gel experiment gone awry) so Maker wouldn’t have to cry.

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The chase and ensuing between a gigantized QT and the giant deathbot provides one final stunning visual setpiece for the show’s first season (there will be a second come July), and the episode-long count of days without QT drinking coffee ends in typically Space Dandyesque scene of ironic comedy: as human as this episode made him, liquids will still cause him to short-circuit. Space Dandy has shown us a little bit of everything, but we have no doubt that what it has yet to show us could fill an entire second season; minus a dud or two.9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 12 (Fin)

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Consumed with rage, an out-of-control Kongou has transformed into a massive sphere that destroys the entire American Fog fleet, then turns on I-401. When she disables the concept communication system, Iona volunteers to make direct contact with Kongou. When Iona arrives on her deck, Kongou fights her with everything she has, but the power of Iona’s will is enough to neutralize her onslaught. Finally, Kongou gives in, the sphere is dismantled, and the battle ends with Iona warmly embracing her. The I-401 arrives in Hawaii to successfully deliver the warhead.

When it all came down to it, Kongou whipped up a storm of anger not because she hated Iona or the other converted Fog ships, but because she was afraid. She didn’t know what was happening to her, and didn’t like it; she was fine with everything the way it was before, and wanted things to stay that way. When things continued to thoroughly not go her way, she lashed out—she is a weapon, after all; it was an extension of her purpose, multiplied 512 times. And we have to say, as final bosses go, she is a doozy; we’re slightly surprised the I-401 wasn’t blown to smithereens in the first five minutes. But that’s the thing: as much as she may fear it, change has come, and no amount of torpedoes, missiles or supergravity lasers can blow it up.

Iona realizes the best way to make that clear to Kongou is by going there in person in a truly badass gambit, hopping from missile to missile. She takes a beating, but ultimately Kongou’s cold (and now confused and unfocused) orthodoxy is no match for Iona’s awesome will. Gunzou’s order was only a formality; she came up with the idea on her own, which shows how far she’s come, and how futile Kongou’s attempts to deny it are. Still, we’re glad Kongou didn’t immediately join the gang, choosing to ply the seas alone and explore her new reality. And with the last Fog battleship converted, the show comes to a tidy yet satisfying close.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)
Final Cumulative Rating: 6.833
MyAnimeList Score 
(as of 12/23/13): 7.66

Stray Observations:

  • Some of the slickest battle CGI of the show happened here. Iona’s one nimble little minx, isn’t she?
  • Regarding Kongou’s tenuous state throughout the episode, remember that she did absorb (not merge) with Maya, destroying her in the process, and despite the fact Maya didn’t have a core, Kongou probably feels a bit guilty about that.
  • Takao gets her body back, and the first thing she does is pounce on Gunzou.
  • Meanwhile, Kirishima remains a teddy bear. WTF? It’s the end; give the poor girl her real body back!
  • The communique from Hawaii was in very good English, but it was still a little grating.
  • After all the emotion she unleashed in Kongou, we were kinda hoping for Iona to finally give her captain a kiss or a hug or something…but no love. Perhaps she’s merely abiding by the “non-fraternization with superior” reg…