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?

9_ses

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.

9_ses

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.

8_ses

Amagi Brilliant Park – 13 (Fin)

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Zane here, first-time ABP writer, long-time watcher (I’m actually watching it a second time around, it’s so good), just sticking my head in to offer some thoughts on the final episode. Oigakkosan will be along with his assessment.

I can sum up this episode with the phrase “Tricen makes a PV (promotional video) for the park.” No evil wizard redux; no new park crisis. It’s essentially a means for the excellent sprawling cast to take a curtain call.

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As both Kanie and Moffle note verbatim (proving that like minds often spar), Tricen can’t help but project his own bland personality onto the initial video. Kanie puts Sento in charge of helping Tri spice the video up, which they attempt to do by asking for everyone’s suggestions about what to put in the video.

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Moffle wants more explosions and action, Macaron wants better music, Tiramie wants more female skin (from his collection of covert skinpics), Koboli wants more male skin, Muse wants water, and Salama offers footage of Salama sleeping.

Tricen throws all this stuff into the video without any effort to mesh the wildly varying themes. Even as an art film, it’s a bit awkward. Then Latifah suggests he add video of the lower-tier cast members’ hobbies…and things get a bit weird:

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Whoa. (For the record, I couldn’t stop laughing at this scene. Who would’ve thought the mute dogu would be the most visionary of the bunch?)

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From Ashe’s skydive ironing, to Dornell’s dam enthusiast club video (and there are pictures of dams on the wall of his hideout way back in episode 5; nice continuity!), to Adachi’s footage of a horse giving birth, everything Tricen is given is put in, with no regard whatsoever for coherence.

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Predictably, Kanie is appalled by the resulting ‘masterpiece’ even as Sento weeps from the emotional impact. Frankly, Kanie should have remembered that while he’s softened her edges somewhat, Sento is still an imperial guard, and the wrong choice to assist Tricen. Not that there was a better alternative!

Kanie goes with Tricen’s original milquetoast cut, which underwhelms the cast, who is miffed their suggestions weren’t included. But Tricen gets the last laugh when he tells Kanie he uploaded the ‘unofficial remix’ to the web, where it went viral.

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There was thankfully no more Evil Wizard this week, but the possible negative fallout from the PV can’t be considered real conflict in this, the final episode. ABP seems to be running smoothly with Kanie at the helm and Sento by his side.

No, this was more a final check-in with the characters, who brought us to the table in the first place and kept us there with rapt attention as they worked their way through various dilemmas. I personally enjoyed this inconsequential but still entertaining epilogue.

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Amagi Brilliant Park – 12

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ABP comes to a satisfying, if not a fairly typical storybook ending this week. Except I don’t believe this is the final episode, which means next week is going to be an interesting experiment in how to end a show, after you’ve ended a show…

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The Summary: with time running out, everyone at the park whips out their phones and calls everyone they can think of. Muse gets her grandmother, Tiramie gets a ton of angry husbands and wives, Sylphy gets her weird internet fans and Kanie-kun gets the girls who are still angry at him from the previous high school fiasco. Even a pizza guy is called, just to get him through the turnstile. With the three little boys who hunger fiercely for Sento, the park crosses the 500,000 mark and the day is won!

Then love wins out (or something) and Latifah doesn’t forget who she is and Kanie-kun decides to stay. We even learn the evil Developer was actually the evil wizard in disguise all this time!

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The GoodABP knows we wanted a happy ending and it gave it to us. And it gave it to us clean, without any magic tricks our nonsense pulled out of the hat. Everyone has friends and, in a pinch, those friends came through. It was a good feeling.

Moreover, the reveal that the parcel of land that the park must sell to the south is going to a major grocery chain (‘Moll Mart’) that will provide great synergy to the park for years to come was a lovely, un-silly cherry on top.

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The episode doesn’t forget any of the small details either. The three pervert boys are an obvious addition, but I love that the boy who always asks his mom about adult content and gets told to ignore it was in the background too.

And that’s nothing compared to the delightfully silly mute-statue that some how moves around the park. When the going got tough, even he called someone on the phone…except he doesn’t talk so they keep asking who’s called them!

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The not as goods – Well… that evil wizard plot came out of nowhere a few weeks back and the sudden reveal that the blonde developer was the wizard all along felt even more out of left field. Underdeveloped, abrupt, and poorly integrated with the story.

I guess ABP avoids a major problem with it only because the story is so tangential and on the sidelines. So, at least his evil laugh (and plot) was mere seconds long and then we were done with it.

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The Verdict – This was a lovely feel-good resolution that felt earned by a big cast of characters I’ve fallen in love with. Yes, I don’t care about the princess nor the wizard and yes, her love triangle with Sento hasn’t gone anywhere, but none of those elements were really the point of the show.

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My only concern is for next week. Next week will either focus on the evil wizard, who’s plot was never part of the story in a meaningful way OR it will just be happy after the facts and no conflict.

In either case, it risks feeling tacked on and irrelevant. Who knows though, ABP is a fantastic show and I look forward to being proved wrong.

9_ogk

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?

9_ses

Amagi Brilliant Park – 11

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ABP is a little gem of a show that doesn’t quite make it into my book of best-ever anime. However, it remains the most consistent and (consistently excellent) show of the season.

This week is no exception and gave us a text-book perfect final push before next week’s conclusion. No time was wasted, the characters we love and know double their efforts, and a final kink blocks their path to victory.

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The Summary: Kanie-kun’s final play is to invite a real-world soccer team to use the abandoned stadium on the final day of the season. It’s a near guaranteed 50,000 bump to the park’s guests counter and, with the help of some magic and mole people, it’s well within their grasp to get it done.

The lines are long, the guests are constant and, exhausted or not, the cast pounds through show after show. But, as the last bus of soccer fans walks through the gates, the park is short a few hundred of their goal. With three hours to go, it’s panic time!

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The Good – while Kanie-kun’s psychic power has gone a bit under utilized this season, I appreciate that it didn’t get over used either and this week uses it just enough to bend the rules in the park’s favor.

I also appreciated that 500,000 guests may not be practical for the park even at the best of times. Sweat by the bucket and fatigue aside, the high volume of guests bring with them long and slow moving lines. Amagi just doesn’t have enough content for that many people all at the same time.

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However, the single best element of the episode was the closing, where the cast is so close yet we have no idea (and they have no idea) how the gap will get closed. This is exactly what the lead up to a finally needs.

No new threats from left field, no distractions, just hard work from your cast and the thrill of seeing how they defeat the long challenge they’ve faced all season.

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The not as goods – I have no real gripes this week. Rather, season-long issues. I remain …tepid?… about Latifah. She’s not a very interesting character and I think the show runners know this. (since they haven’t given her all that much screen time, relatively speaking)

Likewise, it’s been weeks since we’ve seen the dream-girl-trio. They were so well integrated for the two episodes immediately after their mid-season introduction but now? If they turn into a fix-all at the end, it will feel too hand-wavy and if they don’t appear at all? Well… then why were they introduced in the first place?

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The Verdict – Another 9. Honestly, if you liked what this show has done leading up to now, you will like what it did here. It’s ramped up the tension, without losing its focus.

It remains to be seen if it can pull it all off in the finale. I’m confident it can — even confident that it may finally land a perfect 10 but, there’s always a potential for surprise… in the other direction!

9_ogk

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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Amagi Brilliant Park – 10

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Late season episodes always run the risk of dragging out the pre-finale tension too much and, while no major revelations came to ABP this week, its tenth episode was way more successful than most other shows’.

This shouldn’t be that surprising, really. ABP’s brightly colored, wacky characters of many shapes and sizes, its lush environment, and it’s finely crafted sense of humor are naturally a pleasure to watch. That said, I was a little nervous after the faerie quartet’s rather silly, plot unproductive outing last week…

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The Summary: The park’s cast and attractions have hit their stride. Some cast members are even trying new things to make themselves more interactive: Macaron has a head-banging rock show, Tirame’s flowers try to eat people, and Moffle’s old light gun challenge has been replaced by airsoft and mech fighting. The park is even open at night now.

Attendance is not only up but everyone is happy and excited about what is going on. Everyone except Seiya Kanie-kun, who’s losing his pleasant edge over the stress of doing so well, but falling short of their goal.

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Unfortunately, the princess is still barely holding herself together and Kanie-kun is finally told why: she was cursed when her father betrayed a mage and she requires a large quantity of human joy to survive. Worse, even if she survives, Latifah loses her memory (and physical growth) of the previous 12 months at the beginning of August each year.

Kanie also remembers that he met her before and tried to cheer her up, but failed. It’s safe to assume he hasn’t remembered everything yet, either, since the show has implied his fear of heights and falling also stem from that same encounter…

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The GoodABP knows how to keep it’s characters developing. Kanie and Moffle have grown closer (maybe even to a point where they respect each other now) over their mutual support of the princess. The side cast too continues to shine and the double-whammy of the princess dying if the park closes AND not remembering anyone even if she survives sets the stakes quite nicely.

As for smaller details, the whole opening segment with Macaron’s rock show and the schoolgirls being super-happy to play-fight the Orcs in the dungeon attraction were super cute. It does what all the best fantasy shows do: it makes you wish you could go there and join in on the fun.

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The not as goods – my only notable criticism is that Latifah’s story isn’t that interesting. Rather, she’s been a side character for most of the show, with no episode-to-episode presence. It certainly works as a second binder to hold the ‘save the park’ plot together, but, as cute and lovely a little girl as Latifah is, and as much as we’ve seen Kanie come to care for her, all the other relationships are more interesting.

The only other item of note is the lack of Kanie’s fake-harem trio. I appreciated that they were integrated in the Pirate and Body Swap episodes, and not really forced into the foreground but… they need to be in the show at least a little or risk becoming extraneous.

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The Verdict – I really enjoy this show and I’ve even broken the will of my fellow reviewers to the point where they not only excitedly watch the show too but aggressively hunt me down when I’ve been slow to review it each week. It’s surprisingly good, each and every week and even more so when you compare it to the rest of the top 5.

Sure, with one exception, I don’t see ABP as a perfect score kinda show but it’s so very reliable, I may well consider it my favorite show of the fall season regardless. Episode 10 just continues that… so you should probably be watching this show?

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We’re entering the final run. Next week will pick up with the Triceratops telling Kanie that he found The Thing, and finally let us know what that thing is and how it will save the park from being closed.

I have my guesses but this isn’t the kind of show where narrative surprises do the heavy lifting. That’s done by the characters themselves, their drama, and a witty (and very Western) sense of comedic timing. Kudos!

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Girl Friend BETA – 03

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Oddly enough, we begin with Murakami Fumio examining a book of nudes by “Gilbert Royal Thorpe,” who Fumio knows is her friend Mochizuki Erena’s favorite photographer. Those who know Fumio are a bit surprised Fumio is friends with someone like Erena, and Erena’s friends are surprised she’s friends with Fumio. After all, the energetic, gregarious, impulsive Erena and the solitary, quiet, bookish Fumio look on the surface like complete opposites.

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In this case, opposites attract, as we go back and learn precisely why Fumio and Erena aren’t just friends, but good friends at that. It all started when an initial encounter on the subway got Erena to notice Fumio, who tends to keep to herself and read. Erena, a photog-in-training, is enchanted by Fumio’s quiet good looks, and appoints her as her muse.

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Erena asks Fumio to be her model for an upcoming contest, but Fumio never really gets a clear response out, and gets caught up in Erena’s rhythm. This could be construed as a form of stalking and voyeurism if it wasn’t being done by the innocent, well-meaning Erena, who’s oblivious to the possibility Fumio has something to say but just can’t say it. The communication logjam gets so back, Fumio ends up smacking Erena’s camera away and the wrong words come out.

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Things are a little awkward for a while, and Erena considers giving up on the contest  now that her muse has rejected her. But when she invites Fumio on a cake date, the truth comes out: it isn’t that Fumio didn’t want to be her model; it’s that she thought she wouldn’t be good enough, since she’s always seen herself as plain, inexpressive, cool. All Erena has to do is show her a photo she took just a moment ago to see how wrong she is. Erena isn’t interested in fake smiles or poses, but genuine, candid emotion.

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Wait…there are GUYS in this school?!

Fumio has more of that than she ever imagined, and Erena was the one who helped her clear up a misconception about herself. Fumio changes her mind about being her model, and Erena ends up wining the contest. And because the rest of the school sees a warm and joyful side of Fumio they’d never seen before, she ends up meeting more friends as a result. This isn’t exceedingly complex stuff, but it hit some solid emotional notes about art, inspiration, and friendship that resonated with me.

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Aku no Hana – 01

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The bookish Kasuga Takao is engrossed Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), but also nursing a hard crush on Saeki Nanaki, the top student in his class. One day he forgets the book in the classroom and runs back to pick it up. He also finds Saeki’s gym uniform on the floor.

Uh oh…an anime that leans heavily on literature we’ve never read…but seriously, just what the hell was this? It looked totally different from everything else this season, or year, for that matter; using real-life actors and rotoscoping them. The result is a totally different visual language from what we’re used to, which is more than a little jarring. So many anime are escapist; this recalls and even amplifies the reality of a humdrum existence. Every building is dingy; every piece of metal is a little rusty, and every sky is not quite blue enough to be happy. It draws us in, but not entirely because that’s what we want.

We can’t help but feel like the realistic movement of the characters and their natural way of conversing together, combined with the overall bleakness of the show’s palette, all conspire to unnerve and unsettle us. We’re talking about a kid who likes The Flowers of Evil, and while we don’t know much about it, we do know it was written in a time when huge changes were happening in society, including the nature of beauty. While the show may want us to pity Kasuga and his dull existence, we’re not meant to particularly like the guy, either, and…we don’t! He kinda creeps us out. But we also kinda want to know what will happen to him, so we’ll keep watching…for now.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Un-Go – 01

At a formal soiree intended to gain support for his case, embattled tycoon Kanou is suddenly murdered. A gaggle of detectives are on hand to begin investigating immediately, among them the “defeated detective”, Shinjurou Yuuki, and his companion/boss Inga. With his deductive skills and her power to make someone answer a single question, they solve the case, revealing Kanou’s wife as the murderer.

A cool, confident start to what looks to be one of the cooler, more confident series this fall. This is a noitaminA piece, which means only eleven episodes; and we’re hoping it turns out better than the last one, No. 6, which just flat out ran out of time. If it can stick to a case-a-week format, it should be able to tell a lot within its alotted time. This episode didn’t waste any time at all, throwing us right into the mix, introducing a huge case of characters, and wrapping up the case with a neat little bow.

Animation is above-average, the OP and ED are both phenomenal, and while we kinda just did the detective and funky muse thing, we’re looking forward to some clever mysteries, and also to learning a little more about this funky Inga character. Like Dantalian, there’s a supernatural element to this show, and it also takes place in a postwar world, albeit in the future. The director’s also done good work (Gundam 00, Fullmetal Alchemist, Eureka seveN, Eva), so I’m expecting more of same. The game’s afoot!


Rating: 3.5