Kiznaiver – 03

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Maki’s murder confession turns out to just be a sick joke, as she amends her self-introduction as someone with a “terrible personality”, which seems to be enough for Sonozaki. With that, there’s nothing left to do but go home and prepare for the school day. But someone—who from the OP is clearly the seventh Kiznaiver—is watching them, seemingly approvingly.

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Tenga decides the best place for him to crash is at Agatas, to make sure “random people don’t do random things” to him, which would now affect everyone. He’s surprised to learn not only are Agata’s parents away on business, but Chidori lives right next door to him.

As romantic a scenario as that might sound, especially after the two’s confessions, Chidori makes it plain (though not veyr convincingly) that her love for him was in the past.

Agata naturally finds a way to make her pity him by asking whether he should just forget she said anything, worried “unnecessary things” would make things awkward. While he made a smidgen of progress last week, this kid still has a long way to go as far as making connections.

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The entire day is marked by the Kiznaivers all feeling a sudden jolt of shared pain, but when they’re all together, they learn it’s the pain of the seventh, whom they’ve not yet met. Once they figure out there’s a seventh, Sonozaki assigns them their next mission: find him.

I’ll also say that just because all the Kizzys are connected through pain doesn’t make them suddenly best friends at schol. Yuta doesn’t like “weirdos” like Tenga, Nico, and even Chidori hanging around him, nor do his girlfriends. But this is all about adaptation. Yuta can like it or not, he’s in a different clique now.

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Through process of elimination, the six determine the seventh is Hisomu Yoshiharu, the only classmate not at school. They show up at his Ayanami Rei-style grimy apartment and use his own cries from their shared pain to flush him out. What follows is a breathless chase across town, with Tenga continuatlly punching Yuta so Hisomu will cry out and they can locate him.

When Chidori and Nico decide they’re tired of feeling the pain of others getting punched, they ask Tenga to hit them, but are stopped by the neighborhood watch ladies, allowing Hisomu to give them the slip. Agata, however, keeps following him, meets him on a bridge over a highway, and tells him he wants to “make a connection,” as Sonozaki assured him all humans wish to do.

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Hisomu responds by asking Agata to jump to his death. Agata and Tenga realize jumping is the only way they’ll keep him from running off again…but Tenga can’t do it, and Agata beats him to it. He ricochets off a box van and falls into a MINI convertible, bloodied and concussed, but alive.

All six other Kiznaivers felt his pain, including Hisomu, who we learn is a masochist who loves and gets off on pain, to the disgust of Maki and Yuta but the fascination of Nico. The mission is complete, and now all seven modern deadly sins (Hisomu’s being “immorality”) are now represented.

While at first I was fuzzy on why they drew out the intro of the seventh member to the third week, as the episode ended I acknowledged the fact that this guy reacts the opposite way to pain as everyone else, making him exceptional among exceptions.

Sonozaki declares in an address at the institute where she works that obtaining the “true connection” involves those “tripped up by sin” who “struggle in the darkness” and find the true power od their bonds…even if those bonds were artificially established.

I wonder what their next mission will be, beyond the overarching task of surviving the Summer. I’m also a little apprehensive that it’s implied that will be no cakewalk.

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Kiznaiver – 02

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As the Kiznaivers’ teachers deal with the guilt of allowing their precious students to be appropriated in such an extreme manner, Sonozaki assigns the Kiznaivers themselves their very first mission: self-introductions. And she’s not talking about giving your name, class, and blood type.

She wants the deepest, darkest secret each of them carry within them, for if they’re really going to be All for One and One for All, they need to grasp the essence of who one another are, as well, perhaps, to experience the catharsis of finally releasing that which has never been released in their lives.

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And no, they don’t get a choice in the matter. Dishonesty and incomplete answers result in penalties in the form of the continued shocking of Agata, who is still in the control room with Sonozaki.

When she sics a pair of attack dogs at “Mad Dog” Tenga, Tenga accidentally goes first when, in a fit of panic he confesses to being a cynophobe. The next trial involves demolishing the facility they currently occupy.

Meanwhile, Agata doubts he has anything he doesn’t want to say, because he “doesn’t know himself.” Sonozaki releases him, with what is sure to be a catch.

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When a countdown nears zero for the next confession after Tenga’s, it’s Niko’s turn to reveal her secret, or at least what she thinksis her secret: she’s a Phony Eccentric; she only dresses and moves and talks weird because she’s worried with her looks and smarts and wealth could cause more trouble for her and others.

Just as they do with Tenga, the others don’t see the confession as a big deal. In fact, they consider Niko eccentric simply because she thought it necessary to pretent to be eccentric rather than act in a more socially normal way.

Yuta is next, as Niko notices a poster with a smiling fat kid. That fat kid is Yuta, and his dark secret—that he was once round—was something he felt would cripple his school prince status. The thing is, plenty of princes were/are fat. Again, it’s no big deal to the others.

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That leaves Agata, Chidori, and Maki. Maki runs off rather than be the next one to confess, and ends up in a morgue where a female corpse in a school uniform calls out to her creepily. I must say, Sonozaki and the organization she works for really put a lot of effort into this house-of-horrors, considering it’s only necessary for this one mission.

The other Kizzies head to the roof, where Agata is hanging precariously in a gondola and will plummet to his death until the self-intros are complete. He attempts to give one by confessing he doesn’t care or feel anything about anyone, probably because he doesn’t care about himself.

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This doesn’t get a ding-ding, but it does prompt Chidori to climb over to Agata and begin a rant about how cool and cheerful he used to be, and how he used to take care of her and be there for her.

This culminates in a confession that she loved that Kacchon and wants him back more than anything; a confession we all knew was coming a mile away. All of us, that is, except for Agata, who never realized Chidori liked him even as she stayed by his side though all his struggles.

He amends his confession to state that he feels happy about how she felt/feels about him, and feels happy that he feels happy, and since becoming a Kiznaiver made that happen, maybe it’s not so bad, aside from all the danger games.

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And so there, after falling to their not-deaths onto a big landing cushion, Agata and Chidori and the other three all celebrate their catharses. Of course, there’s one more who needs to reveal her secret: Maki. And it’s what I expected when I saw her in that morgue: she murdered someone.

Now, clearly, being a murderer is, in the grand scheme of things, far worse than having been fat in their earlier years. But the fact everyone put the same weight and importance on their closest secrets, no matter how varied they were, is another important lesson about what it is to be Kiznaivers.

Before, they kept the most difficult things to say inside. Now the facades have fallen, those things have been said. The group was skeptical of being able to open up to virtual strangers, but no matter what else they were or are, they are a lot more than strangers now.

16rating_8

Kiznaiver – 01 (First Impressions)

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Hmmm…now this is more like it: a bold, brash, imaginative, absorbing counterstrike to the comparatively staid, restrained Kuromukuro. Space Patrol Luluco isn’t all Trigger is up to this Spring; in fact, that’s just an appetizer for this, the main course…KIZNAIVER.

Rather than beating around the bush, Kiz gets right down to brass tacks: this is a story about youth, pain, and the ability or inability to fell and share in it, as part of a larger plan to eliminate interpersonal conflict in the world, which has been around since we were in caves.

Rather than a literal cave, Agata Katsuhira inhabits an figurative one that protects him from physical pain at the cost of not feeling any emotional pain either, to the consternation of his friend and classmate Takashiro Chidori.

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His insulation from the work and from true bonds with other humans makes him a ripe target for bullies, since he offers no resistance to their blows or demands for money.

One such instance of this happens immediately after Chidori storms off (disgusted by Kocchan’s passivity) but another classmate, the Kamina-esque Tenga Hajime, steps in to rescue him unsolicited with the kind of stylish action Trigger is known for.

It’s here where Tenga learns Agata literally can’t feel pain, and starts having fun successfully testing that claim…when a striking, silver-haired class prez type appears.

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Agata comes to on a roof with the girl, one Sonozaki Noriko, who asks him if he’s heard of the Seven Deadly Sins. He has, of course, but she believes those sins have evolved along with humanity since their inception in biblical times.

Rather than pride, greed, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, and sloth, she names new-style sins such as “The Cunning Normal”, “High-and-Mighty”, “Goody-Two-Shoes”, “Eccentric Headcase”, “Musclehead Thug”, and “The Imbecile (g/udon)”.

These aren’t just “sins”, they’re the actual personalities of five other classmates: Yuta Tsughuhito, Maki Honoka, Chidori, Niiyama Niko, Tenga, and Agata himself. The show does not shy away from specific, elemental personality types because it is the uniting of those disparate types that is to be Kiznaiver’s core dynamic.

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“Everyone wants to carve their scares into someone else…connect with someone else,” says Sonozaki. Agata’s inability to do so to this is the reason he’s…the way he is, but that’s about to come to an end.

In Agata, Sonozaki has found the missing piece in her plan to make the union of personalities official. She does so by shoving Agata down a flight of steps, an act of violence he’ll likely feel, even with his formidable pain threshold.

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After the town mascot “Gomorins” wheel an injured Agata through a disco ball-festooned hospital, he awakes to find Sonozaki, along with all of the five “sinners” she “quickly and precisely secured” (i.e. kidnapped) and performed identical operations on, installing something called the “Kizuna System” into their bodies.

She goes on to inform the other six that Sugomori City has always been an experimental testbed for the system, but she is implimenting it for the first time here and now. Kizuna System allows separate people to share one another’s pain. She says Agata only survived his fall because the pain of the trauma was spread among the other five.

She hopes that if pain and wounds were divided evenly and everyone could feel the pain of others, it could lead to peace in a battle-ridden world. The six she’s assembled are the first step. Notably, it doesn’t seem like she’s a part of this union.

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The other five subjects take off, unwilling or unable to comprehend what Sonozaki has told them. But when Niko suggests she’s just having a weird dream, and Tenga threatens to grope her, she smacks him with all her might, and all six subjects feel the sting of her strike, including Niko herself. After a couple more tests, it’s clear: they are now sharing their pain. This is no dream. “All for one and one for all” is their new motto.

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Not only that, but Agata is feeling pain now, something a girl in the very red cold open told him would come to pass one day. That day has arrived, now that he and the other five have the Kizuna System within them, making them…KIZNAIVERS.

The combo of Trigger and Okada Mari is an auspicious one, it’s fun to hear Boom Boom Satellites score an OP again (their OP in Xam’d is still one of my favorites), and the cast is stacked with talent.

Brisk, funky,stylish, and full of beautiful lighting, settings, and animations, Kiznaiver is a top Spring pick out of the gate, and may well bump a couple shows off my list going forward.

16rating_9

Owarimonogatari – 06

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When it’s time to solve the mystery of how Oikura’s mom disappeared from a locked room, it’s not surprise that Ougi shows up to cramp Hanekawa’s style. For someone whose face is essentially a mask, she sure doesn’t mask her contempt for Hanekawa and her large boobs, which she feels are exclusively responsible for stealing Araragi away from her.

As usual, I’m not sure how much of what Ougi says is serious and comes from her heart, because I’m still not sure she has a heart, and isn’t some kind of strange construct or apparition, in contrast to all the flesh-and-blood girls in Araragi’s life. She says all the things a jealous underclassmen who likes him would say…but does she really mean them?

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I hope we’ll find out later. In the meantime, we have an arc to conclude! And conclude it does, with Hanekawa answering Ougi’s challenge and coming to the same conclusion as to what happened to Oikura’s mom. That leaves Araragi as the only one yet to realize the truth…and it’s a truth Hanekawa would rather Oikura never be told and never know for the rest of her days, not matter what immediate benefit could arise from telling her.

Still, she agrees with Ougi that it’s something Araragi must figure out for himself and make his own choice. They start offering subtle hints, and he keeps coming to the wrong conclusions, so they give him less subtle hints (over forty of them!) until he’s finally got it: Oikura’s mother starved herself to death, and for two years, Oikura took care of a corpse, until it eventually decomposed into nothing recognizable, giving the impression she disappeared, while she actually “evaporated”, like boiling water.

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It is indeed an awful truth, and one Araragi and the other have no idea how Oikura will react to. But Araragi decides he’s going to tell her. He’s through looking past/overlooking Oikura, as he has for the last six years, as she overlooked her dead mother for two. He’s going to see her, look her straight in the eye, and tell her the truth. It’s a long walk back to his apartment, and the sequence of camera shots in the intensifying sunset make that walk a beautiful occasion.

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Oikura takes the news far better than Araragi expected. More importantly, learning the truth (or perhaps, having it confirmed by someone else) made it that more real, and that much more releasing. Turns out Oikura is moving to a smaller municipal condo, and transferring out of Naoetsu High. But she went back to her class anyway when she knew Tetsujo was on leave, hoping something might change. In the end, Oikura is smiling, but not demonically, before the bright sunset. And the brightness isn’t hurting her.

Now that things avoided have been remembered, things at a standstill can move again. Because what was done with the truth was more important than discovering it, Ougi later concedes this particular case was her loss, also admitting she was wrong that Araragi would turn tail and run like he had in the past. But helping Oikura find change helped him to change too.

Oikura visited Senjougahara and they made up, and she left to start her new life. But not before taping an envelope under Araragi’s desk. This time, it had something in it: several pages. What exactly it was is kept a mystery (which I like), but whatever it is gives Araragi a laugh, so I like to think it’s a reversal of the message the earlier empty envelope sent.

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Owarimonogatari – 05

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Oikura knew Araragi’s parents were cops because they were the ones who got her out of her abusive home and had her live with them. Araragi can’t remember on his own, but that’s not entirely why Oikura despises him. As we learn during one of the more powerful sustained monologues in the Monogatari franchise, and a chance for Inoue Marina to remind us just how good she is when she sinks her teeth into a role.

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As hostile as she is to both Araragi and Hanekawa (throwing tea at the former, which the latter catches with her cat-like reflexes), she still seems to get a lot off her chest and be better for it. She also comes off like never before like a deeply wounded individual; a lost soul who has given up hope.

It’s already the end for her; after all the punishment she’s endured in her still short life—physical and emotional—she believes she’s too frail for happiness, so she despises it along with herself and everything else in the world.

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That punishment includes having to watch Araragi’s perfect family seem to “show off” in front of her. She’d glare at them in resentment, or for not knowing how different they regard “normal family life”; in other words, how much they take love for granted. Oikura was never given love. Her parents divorced, her mother became reclusive and never left her room, and Oikura had to take care of her, until one day she was just…gone.

After all that, Araragi forgetting all about her and giving her nothing in return for what she gave to him throughout their encounters, reveals itself as simply the tip of a very nasty, despairing iceberg. Inoue mixes dread and malice with tones of black humor and feigned happiness in Oikura’s delivery, heightening her aura of imbalance; a spinning top about to fall off a table.

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She made Araragi a villain despite his relatively small contribution to her wholesale suffering because she needed to blame and despise someone other than her parents (which neither she chose nor who chose her) or herself just to keep going on. Whenever she got near the happiness Araragi seems to ooze, it felt either too bright or heavy for her frail, scarred self to survive.

Happiness, she believes, will kill her just as efficiently as the emotions on the other end of the spectrum. So she’s settled for something a little more moderate on that scale, and it’s slowly dissolving her heart. Araragi tell her happiness can’t do that, and there are many kinds that would work for her. But Oikura lacks the ability to access them.

What she needs now, more than anything else, is to continue being heard, and being in the presence of others. When she kicks them out, Hanekawa says both she and Araragi will keep coming back, because “troubling those we care about is how we do things.” It’s pushy, but it’s also something Oikura needs to hear: someone cares about her; is fond of her; and she’s several decades too early to be talking about endings. 

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Owarimonogatari – 04

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Having thoroughly explored his past with Oikura in Sodachi Riddle, Sodachi Lost begins with Araragi describing Oshino Ougi as “Oshino Ougi.” She is she, and cannot be expressed by nothing else. In other words, the detective is the ultimate mystery, at least to Araragi: he’s learning more about himself, and she’s learning beside him…but he continues to know nothing about Ougi, other than she’s Ougi…and has the guts to lock horns with Hanekawa Tsubasa.

Tsubasa plays a much larger role this week, as she, not Ougi, accompanies Araragi to Oikura’s present home. As we learn about the origin of such an arrangement, it becomes clear Tsubasa is concerned about Ougi’s influence on Araragi these last three days. And whenever Tsubasa is concerned, I’m concerned. She’s with Araragi far more out of a desire to isolate him from Ougi and take the measure of him than she is to make Oikura more comfortable with the visit.

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It’s chilling how close she comes to losing Araragi to a day of non-revolving celebratory sushi with Ougi. From the way Tsubasa is acting, I couldn’t help but dread a scenario in which Araragi went with Ougi. This is partly because I know, like and trust Tsubasa a lot more than Ougi, and partly because I knew from the present events at the episode’s beginning that Tsubasa won this fight, which felt like a victory.

There’s also the fact that Tsubasa and I both see now that Ougi is influencing him in some way, and there’s a possessive predatory aura to her presence, like she’s the very “possessing spirit” she herself says she’ll be if she went to Oikura’s with him. When Tsubasa and Ougi face off, it’s like fire vs. water; warm vs. cool. And the close-ups are, as always, stupendous.

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Ougi isn’t letting anything Tsubasa says get to her, and it seems effortless. Tsubasa receives a surgical salvo of barely-veiled insults from Ougi, and you can see her blood start to boil. When Ougi speaks, the traffic behind her (exclusively Datsun 2000s, naturally) is stopped. When Tsubasa returns fire, the cars flow freely. The refinery belches more and more smoke into the reddening sky as their “coversation” heats up.

Finally, once Tsubasa has offered to go with Araragi, she and Ougi turn to Araragi himself to choose. He’s bombarded with reasonable arguments on both sides, but finally chooses Tsubasa when she offers to let him touch her boobs. Mind you, there’s a few beats when that punchline that ends the battle so decisively simply hangs out there, as if Araragi is really that shallow.

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Then Araragi dutifully clarifies in voiceover that he didn’t choose Tsubasa so he could touch her boobs, but because something was “highly unusual” about a situation in which Tsubasa would make such an offer. That he got that feeling, to me, means he hasn’t been totally “lost” to Ougi, whatever that entails. Though it’s funny that Tsubasa might’ve taken his choice of her as a literal sign he just wants to grope her.

Whatever Araragi’s motive(s) for picking her, I think he made the right choice, and this round goes to Tsubasa, while Ougi stands around alone (which would be sad if I was certain she wasn’t some kind of succubus). Also, Araragi has finally come to the door of the Oikura of today, who hasn’t come to school since their last encounter.

The door is open, only a crack, and within awaits darkness, and a girl who despises him so much she’d rather come to the door in pajamas—or naked—than bother dressing for him. Oh, and she knew about his parents’ job because as it turns out, they’ve known each other since grade school. I suspect this latest encounter is going to be very interesting.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 22 (Fin)

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BRAVO. Violin Girl had its ups and downs this cour, but really came through with a stirring and satisfying finale that looks back upon where Kousei has been, explore where he is in the present and what he’s become, and hints at where he’s poised to go, not long after a certain devastating yet inevitable development comes to pass.

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First of all, Kousei draws power from everyone who has helped him (most of whom are in the audience) and finds the sound within him, delivering by far his best performance. Entering a serene environment of still water and deep blue sky, the Kaori inside of him coalesces, not just to cheer him on, but to play violin along with him…one last time.

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It’s an exceedingly beautiful, sad, but ultimately uplifting performance, and to the show’s credit, everyone shuts up for a few minutes so we can simply listen and get lost in the wall of sublime sound. Now, if you’re not a Chopin fan, you’re probably not going to like this, but I’m just fine with him, and it was a transcendent sensory experience I hoped would never end.

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But at one point in the piece Kaori lowers her bow and begins to fade away, then light explodes violently from her core, to Kousei’s despair. Yet he doesn’t freeze. He keeps his head up and watches her disappear. He’s no longer playing with her, he’s playing for her, and for everyone else who got him to where he is: once again pouring his heart and soul into a Steinway.

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When the piece ends at the episode’s halfway point, there’s no delayed applause nor the usual post-performance victory fanfare. There’s only silence, and Kousei’s tears streaming down his face. He says goodbye.

And that’s it.

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When the B-part begins, there’s no mention of who won (probably Kousei), nor how Kaori’s operation went. The first scene is of cars trudging through the snow (something I’ll probably have to do tomorrow, despite the fact it’s the first day of Spring!). The second is Kousei in a graveyard with Koari’s parents. The operation didn’t work, and she has passed away.

Yet Kousei isn’t so overcome by grief that he cannot function as a person; he’s grown up. He also got to play with her one last time, if only in his head.

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Kaori’s folks give Kousei a letter from Kaori, affixed with the telling black cat sticker, her narration (and Kousei’s reaction) to which comprises the rest of the episode. This letter provides Kousei closure, but also fresh insight into his dearly departed love.

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Kaori first saw Kousei long before he spotted her in that playground. As a five-year-old, she was an aspiring pianist herself, who was affected so powerfully by lil’ Kousei’s performance, she ran straight home (Unattended five year olds! Japan!) and asked her parents to buy her a violin. Kousei was the reason she played a violin at all.

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Kaori continued to admire Kousei when they started attending the same school, but only from afar, as she was intimidated by the strong bond between him and Tsubaki. But the fact that Ryouta was beside them meant she’d have a chance to make Kousei notice her. To make that happen, she told the titular Lie In April: the lie that she liked Ryouta.

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Like the fact that she started playing violin so she could play beside Kousei, this lie comes as more of a confirmation rather than a surprise: it was clear pretty early on, despite all the teasing and flirting to the contrary, Kaori and Kousei had a lot more going for each other than Kaori and Ryouta, who was fun and nice and attractive, but not much more than that. Ryouta knew this too; he could never hold a candle to the power beyond words that music brings to the table.

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For all of the cursing of music for tearing Kousei’s mom away from him, or Kousei away from Tsubaki, or Kaori away from Kousei, Kousei doesn’t give up on music just because Kaori passes away. To do so would’ve meant he’d learned nothing from her. Instead, as we see, he’s grown into a cooler, more mature musician.

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In the end, music brought Kaori to him from the start; and though she was only “passing by”, she was able to bring him back to it, and it brought them together once more in his last performance with her. And as she wished, he will never forget her. If he does, she’ll haunt his ass.

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That brings us to Tsubaki, who isn’t sure how to approach Kousei after Kaori’s passing, knowing he loved her deeply. Kashiwagi, armed with 108 BL books’ (and zero boyfriends’) worth of romantic wisdom, tells Tsubaki to simply stop turning the gears in her head and simply listen to her heart and act the way she usually does with him.

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It works. In one last violent slapstick act that actually felt appropriate and earned, Tsubaki kicks Kousei in the shin and tells him in no uncertain terms that he’d better not ever think he’s alone ever again, because she’s never going to leave his side. Kousei is just fine with that, and so he should.

Kaori was the love that, rather than never was, was only a corporeal thing ever so briefly, like trees blossoming at the start of spring. Tsubaki was in his life before Kaori appeared, was there throughout his fleeting romance with Kaori and remains there for the long haul. I wish them both all the best.

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The show closes with a look at the random old photo Kaori included with her letter, of her posing with a friend. But it’s significant because a little Kousei is in the background walking past, with his mother’s stern foot just in the frame.

Ten years ago, this photo captured a moment when Koari and Kousei were so very close together, and both looking at the camera, and yet neither knew the other was in it, and in Kousei’s case, didn’t even know wouldn’t even formally meet the girl until ten years later. But not only did they meet, but she lifted him out of his deep soundless sea, he gave her a stirring sendoff and vowed to continue playing with everything he has as long as he has it.

Ill fate tore them apart too soon, but even if that photo and all other photos fade away with time, she’ll always live on in Kousei, the year or so they spent together and the music she made and helped him make etched eternally in his heart.

Once again: Bravo.

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Final Series Score: 9.05

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 21

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Uso’s second-to-last episode brought back the magic of its sublime first cour, left me bursting with emotions, and moved me to tears. And the cost-cutting we saw in earlier eps? A lot of that was so that we could have this. I’d call it a fair trade.

After Kaori’s latest turn for the worse, Kousei can’t do it anymore. He’s reverted back to the non-piano-playing state he started this show in. Just as Tsubaki cursed music for always taking Kousei away from her, Kousei curses music for taking both his mother and now Kaori, and no one can bring him out from under his cloud.

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No one, that is…but Kaori. On a lark, Ryouta visits the hospital and is able to relay a brief letter to Kousei from Kaori:

“I want caneles.”

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Kaori is back in her room and seems to be okay, but she’s still very unwell, and initially, Kousei’s spirits aren’t raised one bit by his presence there. Kaori’s casual, nonchalant description of the ICU is as heartbreaking as the increasingly desaturated way her character is colored. But she’s in no mood for Mopey Kousei, and demands he carry her to the rooftop to eat the caneles he brought.

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Up there, it’s snowing. Up there, Kousei tells her in his current state he’d need a miracle to be able to play well at the competition. Kaori stands up and gives him a miracle, playing air violin he can hear, which restores color to their colorless world, if only briefly. It’s an achingly gorgeous, bittersweet scene; one of the best the show has done.

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Up there, Kaori tells Kousei, who is worried about ending up along, how scared she is of ending up alone, and how much Arima has meant to her all this time, and how she’s only still alive and struggling as hard as she can because he made her. Nobody says I love you, but it’s hardly necessary; we’re dealing with soul mates here.

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Kaori’s words and actions get through to Kousei and the cloud lifts a bit. As she goes under for her risky surgery, he prepares to perform after Takeshi and Emi, who are genuinely concerned for their pale rival’s health, but understand when he repeats the mantra “Gotta play”—because he’s a goddamned Pianist.

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He takes the long walk, with all the anticipatory chatter in the crowd, takes his seat on the bench, and freezes, yet again. Is another meltdown in the cards for the Human Metronome? Hardly. He’s snapped back into coherence by a disturbance the most appropriate person.

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He’s brought back by Tsubaki’s accidental, and apparently very rude sneeze. That’s right, with all her swirling contempt towards music for keeping Kousei away from her, her body almost acts of its own volition in order to keep Kousei from another disqualification. She reached out to Hiroko (who is at wits’ end) to prevent history from repeating itself with Kousei, but that little sneeze did more than anything Hiroko could in that moment.

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Kousei realizes Tsubaki is there, as is Kashiwagi, and Ryouta, and Hiroko, and Nagi, and Miike, and Emi, and Takeshi. He’s not alone, and he’s not going to be alone. He’s up there on that stage thanks to them, as well as Kaori. Whether they’re in the music game or not, they all made their contributions.

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He owes those in the music game even more, perhaps, for pouring their goddamn souls out in order to inspire him to do the same. He can’t let them down. He can’t let us down, either; this is the second-to-last episode and we need a full musical performance, dangit! And we get one: perhaps the most powerful one since he first accompanied Kaori.

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It was a much, much better performance than that train wreck, too. This time, none of the commentators are making deductions in their minds or clucking disapproval with his handling of the sheet music. Everyone is simply in awe of the richness and gravitas and intense color and pure heart-exploding sorrow of his rendition of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23. And I was one of them.

Considering what he’s going through, nay, because of what he’s going through, this was the performance of his life. The fact no flaws were mentioned makes me confident about his chances to win this thing. In this performance he proved Hiroko right about the worst experiences in his life bringing out the best in his music.

But he also may have finally realized that even if he has to say goodbye to Kaori, he won’t suddenly be alone, nor will he suddenly stop being a pianist. And that as long as he’s alive, he’s gotta play.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 20

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Tsubaki’s grades continue to improve, thanks to her desire to study hard enough to get into whatever school she wants to, as long as it’s close to her Kousei. Just like years ago when her classmates were amazed the “gorilla” who wore shorts year-round was capable of catching a cold, they’re similarly intrigued that she’s capable of falling in love.

And hey, good for her; she’s not giving up on what she wants, even if she hasn’t figured quite out how to get his attention, or to get him to see her as a girl.

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Uso is capable of some seriously powerhouse heartstring-pulling when it wants to, but it also seems committed to drilling certain things into our heads through endless repetition. For instance, how are Watari and Kaori still a thing, while Kousei is the third wheel? How can Kousei look back on all his experiences with Kaori and not think she has some kind of feelings for him? I called Kousei practically everyone’s hero last week, but he seems tragically incapable of saving himself, even though it’s been a long time since Watari’s been anything resembling a threat.

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The flashbacks also tend to repeat themselves, though in different ways. Tsubaki always “looked out” for Kousei, but Kousei also looked out for her. It was a reciprocating kinda deal with them, in that whenever one of them was down the other would be ready with lemonade and solace.

Mind you, it’s tough enough believing these middle schoolers are capable of so much emotional complexity and eloquence in the description of their feelings in the present; some of what their grade school versions say to one another strains credulity even more.

Simply put, they’re too young to be talking and thinking like this. It’s more like writers in their twenties and thirties talking through young people, and it can feel hollow and…off.

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Uso mitigates those persistent issues with some good old-fashioned bombshells this week; two of ’em. First, Tsubaki finally works up the courage to confess…sorta…by insisting to Kousei that Kaori likes Watari, so he has “no choice” but to love her. Then she kicks him as hard as she can in the leg—maybe hoping to literally kickstart him—and runs off at top speed.

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Her intention with the love me remark is to make him not only see her as a girl, but to “suffer” just as she has, stuck in her limbo between family, friendship, and romance. For a second there, Kousei seems to react, but he later wonders if she was merely messing around, even if that’s not usually how Tsubaki messes around.

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In any case, Kousei is preoccupied with two other things; the upcoming finals that will determine his future, and Kaori, who he’s thinking about not visiting anymore, since she has Watari and all. She calls him to say he doesn’t need to visit, preferring if he’d focus on his music. This pisses him off, but he feels like he may finally have a legitimate way to walk away.

Then she calls him about a plane flying low at night—a plane he can see too, connecting them through the sky. He likens her to a cat; one of which sidles up to him just as Kaori calls him back. Kousei cancels his retreat. He’ll come to visit, because he wants to see her. Kaori, ever the enigma (to him at least), doesn’t respond to that.

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So here we are…again: Watari has known Kousei likes Kaori for quite a while now; Tsubaki knows Kousei likes Kaori for quite a while now; We’ve known Kousei has liked Kaori for quite a while now. Even so, Kousei feels the need to make it official by telling Watari what he and everyone else already knows.

Then Watari looks forward to duking it out with Kousei for Kaori’s heart…which, again, I thought had already taken place, and Watari had pretty much lost because he has nothing in common with Kaori besides good looks.

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And oh yeah, because The World Is Horrible, just as they’re joking about the fight for Kaori’s heart, they find Kaori fighting for her life among a phalanx of nurses, apparently having some kind of seizure. Kousei sees her hand go limp and fears the worst, but the boys are shooed away so the professionals can work on her.

With just two episodes left, no doubt Kaori will be in an even worse way next time Kousei sees her…if he sees her again at all. In any case, the chances of her performing with him have never looked bleaker.

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Oh, wait, and also because The World Is Even More Horrible-er Than All Thatthe black cat representing Kaori is hit by a car right in front of Kousei. Heck, it could’ve even been his cat Chelsea whom his mom threw out, still prowling the streets as a stray, somehow remembering her old friend. He rushes her to a vet, but there’s nothing they can do. And the tears flowed, because Dead Cat=Possibly Dead Kaori. Did I mention Where I Don’t Want To Live Anymore?

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Yikes. This is a lot for a bunch of eighth graders to go through, isn’t it? This Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso shit’s gettin’ way too dark. When is this show going to let someone be happy for more than a couple minutes before something croaks? We’ll see if the ultimate lesson of Uso will be “Whenever you spot a skinny blonde playing the recorder in a playground, run the other way and marry your childhood friend.”

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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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