Senryuu Shoujo – 01 (First Impressions) – Five by Five, With Seven in Between

Senryuu Shoujo is a tonic for a long, stressful day. Its heroine Yukishiro Nanako is also the antithesis of the non-studying Ao-chan, the first episode of which was most notable for its catchy OP. Rather than assume the worst of anyone, Nanako embraces her classmate Busujima Eiji, a nice book with a rough cover, as a fellow devotee of senryuu, a kind of haiku.

Unlike Eiji, Nanako doesn’t talk. We hear Hanazawa Kana’s voice, but it’s only in Nanako’s head. She communicates with senryuu, gestures, and body language…and gets by pretty well! The idea of someone developing senryuu as a means of organizing one’s thoughts and expressing them with a manageable, reliable structure, is an enticing one.

But more than that, Nanako is just adorable as all get out, and her unlikely friendship with a former delinquent—who got his scary face bandage from his cute little sister—is most endearing. And at an economical twelve minutes, we may have a lightweight slice-of-life keeper here.

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Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 01 (First Impressions)

Tamaki Mari (voiced by a nicely toned-down Minase Inori) is restless. It’s her second year of high school and she hasn’t done anything to celebrate her youth. She sleeps in too late and keeps a messy room. One day, she decides no more—she’ll skip school, change out of her uni at the train station, go on a trip without a plan.

But the same thing befalls her that always befalls her when attempting to undertake bold endeavors: she chickens out at the last second, blaming the rain for squashing her Tokyo trip, along with the possibility of planes crashing or trains exploding.

In reality, the culprit was a simple and understandable fear of facing the unknown alone; fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and not being able to return. Her classmate and friend Megumi (Kanemoto Hisako) doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad trait to have, but Mari hates that part of herself. She feels it’s stifling her youth.

Then something strange and auspicious and wonderful is set into motion when Mari sees a beautiful raven-haired girl wearing her school uniform running past her on the train platform. In her haste, the girl drops something: an envelope containing ONE MILLION YEN (about $8800).

The next day, Mari tells Megumi about the giant wad of cash and enlists her aid in locating the raven-haired maiden with the memorable conditioner. Mari spots her entering the bathroom, stuffing herself into a stall, bashing its walls, and quietly sobbing “one million…one million.”

When the girl (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) opens the stall door, Mari presents her with the cash, and after momentary suspicion, the girl has a paroxysm of relief and gratitude, embracing Mari like an old friend. Finding the cash was chance.

Returning every last Fukuzawa to their rightful owner was a choice, and it was the right one, for this strange, expressive girl, who Mari learns is named Kobuchizawa Shirase, is using the cash to do what Mari longs to do: go on a journey.

Shirase’s destination? Antarctica, to find her mother who went missing there after an expedition. Every single peer and adult to hears of her plans all believe the same thing: she’s off her rocker. She spends all non-school time working part-time and saving money instead of having fun with friends.

You could say Shirase is deferring her youth to a later time and a more incredible place (i.e. Antarctica). But girls at school call her “Antarctica”, and some even try to bully her into lending them some of her hard-earned savings.

Enter Mari, who saves Shirase from the bullies and offers her encouragement and excitement over the journey she’s about to undertake, and wants to help in any way she can. Shirase comes right out with it, asking Mari if she’d like to come along.

Mari very much wants to, and prepares to meet up with her at the station, where a train will take them to the icebreaker that will eventually take them to Antarctica, the titular “place further than the universe”, 14,000 km from Japan and the universe Mari knows.

This time, Mari doesn’t chicken out at the last second, and Shirase’s look of elation tells you everything you need to know about how many who claimed to support her backed out at the last second, as Mari was once wont to do. But Mari is committed, inspired as she is by the sheer audacity and dedication Shirase has exhibited. Very soon, they’ll be off, and from the look of the OP, they’ll be joined by two others.

This show was a pleasant surprise for me; I knew nothing but the one-sentence synopsis on MAL when checking it out…that and the fact it was a Madhouse show and that it’s absolutely stacked with voice talent.

Throughout the episode there’s the feeling of a great wave of adventure about to crest, or as Mari puts it, an isolated pool of seawater suddenly breaching and bursting forth, like her youth. As soon as we see the ship, things start to feel real.

Not only that, but both Mari and Shirase exhibit an infectious exuberance that really comes through in their diverse facial expressions and the always-welcome vocal chords of Hanazawa and Minase. I’m looking forward to watching their adventure unfold!

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 08

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My goal isn’t to go overseas, or to play in the Chopin competition. My goal is Arima Kousei.

Aiza’s instructor Takayanagi bristles when he says this — Kousei never shows up, and Aiza’s ready for bigger better venues — but he understands well where Aiza is coming from. Kousei is what has driven Aiza to work tirelessly to catch up to and even surpass Kousei. Kousei is a rival, and squaring off with a rival, even if Kousei is neither present or aware of that rivalry, has made him grow faster than any teaching Takayanagi could have done.

A strong will enabling him to stand up to his fears. An unswerving fortitude at his core.

Aiza Takeshi possesses these things, but he must first throw up before the performance, and he’s almost giddy with relief when it’s over; his hands tremble afterwards. But when seated at the piano, remembering Kousei is here, today, and watching him, is all the motivation he needs to turn out a brilliant, crowd-hooking performance that puts everyone before him to shame.

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Kousei does watch (from monitors in the waiting room with Emi, who makes it clear to Kousei that Takeshi is here, and he played as wonderfully as he did, because of him. When Kousei asks if she feels the same way about him, she tells him not to make her laugh, but she’s not being honest with Kousei. Takeshi, on the other hand, is super-stoked by Kousei’s praise. It’s not so much that he knows he beat Kousei or even caught up to him; the fact that he moved him is the most important thing.

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Now that he’s admired Kaori in a similar way, Kousei understands a little more about the influence his mere existence had over Takeshi and Emi since they were little squirts. Meanwhile, Takayanagi is glad he indulged his student’s desire to face his rival; so glad, in fact, he gloats about how good he was to Emi’s instructor Ochiai, and remarks how far Emi has fallen recently and how she has no chance against the performance they just witnessed.

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Frankly, I myself was a little skeptical it could be topped, but that was me being a FOOL, as Takayanagi was being. While he carelessly threw down the gauntlet, Ochiai accepts his challenge. It’s true: Emi can be erratic and hard to motivate, and the littlest thing in the world could throw her off her game. But things are different today. She has all the motivation she needs: Kousei.

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Emi plays her cards close in her dealings with Kousei this week, but when she takes the stage, there can be no doubt about how much he means to her. Kousei is her goal, too. Emi first encountered Kousei when she was in the audience of his very first performance in front of a crowd. He was a bundle of nerves, but the performance caused an explosion of emotions in the young Emi, and she decided to become a pianist right then and there.

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Just as Emi made clear to Kousei what Takeshi meant to him, Takeshi tells Kousei that Emi, despite her hard edge, has actually ‘had a thing for him’ for a long while. And while Takeshi stood up to his inherent fear of performing, an act of pushing in, Emi’s situation is a little different: she must organize and redirect the storms of emotions flowing out of her upon those 88 blacks and whites.

She had a tasty scone that morning, she looks fantastic in her dress, she’s having a good hair day, and Kousei is listening, so the conditions are perfect for her to belt out the most gorgeous and enthralling piano performances of the show, easily surpassing the one Takeshi just played. (The piece is Etude Op. 25 No. 11 in A minor, “Winter Wind.” by Chopin, which…seems kinda hard to play.)

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Like Kaori, she pours those powerful emotions — her soul — into the notes, moving everyone listening and even creating an otherworldly synesthesic environment where her emotions take on color: red for anger, but also yellow for loneliness. She fashions a horn of her piano: a horn she compels to ring out. Not simply in anger or rejection, but in hope of reaching the Kousei who made her a pianist and compel him to come back.

Like Takeshi, she’s only there for him. It’s not about winning or besting him, it’s about using their music to bring him back. Even if Kousei ends up besting them both (which I maintain is doubtful this early in the run, but hardly impossible), it will be a victory for them as well. It will mean an injustice has been righted, and mark Arima Kousei’s official return to Music with a capital M.

What else starts with M? Masterpiece. This was another one. Your turn, Kousei!

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 07

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Kaori loses her violin competition. Tsubaki loses her softball game. Even the chick-magnet-“nice jock” Ryouta loses his soccer game. None of the three are happy about it. After all, they gave it everything they had and still came up short. It wasn’t the first time they lost, and it won’t be the last. But, hey, it would be nice if someone in the quartet achieved victory, which the other three could relish vicariously. The only someone that can be at this point…is Kousei.

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Kousei isn’t certain that he can win. It doesn’t help that there’s a pushy cat with a familiar voice in his mind’s eye asking him deep questions like “Who are you?” and “Where are you?” and when Kousei doesn’t have an answer, is all like “See? You suck.” Still, Kousei studies the music and practices tirelessly, getting so immersed he skips meals and collapses in P.E.

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After being supplied with ample egg sandwiches by Tsubaki, Kousei is visited in the infirmary by Kaori. As they walk home, they come upon a stray black cat not unlike the one in his mind. For he once had a cat, Chelsea. One day the cat scratched his hand, He stood there in his mother’s shadow as she took Chelsea away and abandoned her, which was the pragmatic but hardly humane thing to do, for either the cat or Kousei.

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Kousei’s doubts about who he is and why anything matters is put to rest by Kaori, his dazzling sun, who tells him to relax; she knows who he is…he’s Arima Fucking Kousei. She also tosses out an apt quote from Charlie Brown of all people, then joins her delicate hand with his knobby pianist’s, and notes how she can feel just how much that hand is itching to play piano. That hand was frikkin’ born to play the piano…as was the boy it’s attached to. That’s who he is.

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Whoa there, Kaori. You don’t want to be telescoping your spine!

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The day of the competition arrives, and the four arrive at the fancy glass concert venue. Little does Kousei know he’s walking into an ambush: Aiza Takeshi (Kaji Yuki) and Igawa Emi (the excellent Hayami Saori) are there for blood, and we learn why as the episode gives us more of their story.

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For more than two years, Takeshi and Emi have worked to become better pianists, motivated, if you will, by Kousei. It isn’t quite right to call them rivals as Kousei wasn’t even aware of their existence at the time. A human metronome has no use for human relationships, after all. And even though Takeshi and Emi somewhat pitied Kousei, the fact remains they felt scorned and are now seeking revenge.

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As the other three settle into their seats, Kaori remarks about how Kousei’s fame is more of an infamy. Playing a piece exactly the way it was written is a skill to envy, but that was all Kousei did, and it was, to Kaori and many others, a dead end. Kousei had and has the skill to take the music further, but didn’t. Instead, he arrived at the competitions, beat the everloving stuffing out of everyone, and left without a word or a glance at the results. Why look at the results? There’s no way he’d ever not win!

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One look at Kousei from Emi, and Kousei’s somewhat guilty confession he doesn’t quite remember her or Aiza, convinces her that “he hasn’t changed a bit”, and she’s resolved to destroy him. But having been around him and witnessed his past and present suffering, we know he has changed. He’s not someone who’s sure to win, for one thing, but he’s also not someone to put in a soulless, non-resonant performance. Not after seeing Kaori play.

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Also, he seemed to be too far under his mother’s heel to worry about human emotions like fear, but now he has fear in spades and feels it, because everyone is scared to take that stage (or that diamond, or that pitch), and lose. Just like Takeshi, who wretches in the bathroom prior to his turn even though he won last year. Last year means nothing to him; he’ll prove he deserved to win last year by beating Kousei this year.

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I’ll be honest: the music I heard Kousei playing in the practice room probably isn’t going to cut it against the likes of Takeshi and Emi, and it seems a little early in this 22-episode run to give Kousei a legitimate win…but who knows? Maybe Kousei won’t embarrass himself! This episode ends on a freeze-frame of Takeshi about to hit the ivories; so…To Be Continued.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 06

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This week’s Uso showed me something: that it didn’t need a rousing central musical performance to earn a 10. In fact, this episode made the music look like glorified window dressing; icing on the cake: sweet but ultimately unnecessary. What takes center stage here is character and relationships. We start with dual aftermaths of jumping from that bridge; first in the past, when Tsubaki carried Kousei home even though she was injured herself…

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…to Kousei inviting Kaori to his house to dry off and change. Just as she wriggled her way into his heart, she does the same into his home, and proves just as positively disruptive; relieving his piano of all the books and boxes and dust that had accumulated on it. Ever the breath of fresh air; the new bright beacon of redemption.

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Then Kaori throws open the window to reveal Tsubaki next door, and, well…what the heck is Tsubaki supposed to think, considering how she feels about both Kousei and Kaori? One is the guy who’s always been with her and vice versa; the other is the girl who seems well on the way to snatching him away. This is why early, straightforward confessions are so important…but in reality, they’re far harder to get out.

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Kaori’s invasion extends far beyong Kousei’s heart and home; she’s all about fully restoring him to the stature he once had, only this time, not simply for his mother’s sake, but because it’s what he wants to do. To that end, she enters him into a prestigious competition with Chopin as the set piece, and essentially coaches and bullies him to prepare for it.

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Ever so gradually, the music comes back to Kousei. It’s not that good yet; it still sounds like his greatness is submerged in a deep sea, but to see Tsubaki’s serene, relieved face listening next door is a beautiful moment…but so it Kaori nodding off in the music room as Kousei practices.

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Things are not looking good for Tsubaki, especially when Kaori shrugs off her devotion and care towards him as simply “looking out for a hopeless kid brother.” Tsubaki saw how they looked at each other; she knows it must be more than that. Feeling desperately alone, when Saitou calls her, she suggests they go out.

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Meanwhile, as if to confirm Tsubaki’s suspicions, Kaori turns right around and heads back to school where Kousei is still working. She takes what Tsubaki said about Kousei suffering through it all, and tearfully begs his forgiveness for pushing him so hard so fast. Kousei’s reaction surprises her, even though she told Tsubaki the best music is derived from exposure of one’s innermost emotions: he’s grateful Kaori dusted off his piano and threw open the shutters.

He knows he has a long way to go, and he may look like he’s suffering, but such is to be expected when crossing “uncharted waters”. But he’s also suffering because he loves the girl his best friend likes…and clearly Kaori isn’t merely looking out for a little brother.

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I know I say this every other episode…but “Poor Tsubaki!” She tries, damnit! She tries so hard not to feel this way about Kousei, to move on to someone more attainable and uncomplicated, like Saitou. But it just isn’t there. Talking with him, she always comes back to talking about Kousei. Seeing him cheer her on with the angelic Kaori beside him is enough to totally break her focus in a crucial softball game, trying for an inside-the-parker when she only had a triple, and being tagged out at the plate by a foot.

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While it’s generally a pretty good episode for Kousei, it’s The Worst for Tsubaki, but not all is lost, as she finds when walking home from her defeat. Kousei is waiting for her, and knows just where to kick her to necessitate him carrying her on her shoulders, mirroring the cold open’s flashback. He knows because he knows her, as she knows him. Music may make words seem trivial, inadequate, or mundane, but the time and the memories they’ve shared over so many years trump both music and words, at least on this night.

As terrible she feels about losing the game and as present as the threat of Kaori taking him will remain tomorrow, in this moment on this night, on Kousei’s warm back dampened by her own tears, Tsubaki wants nothing else than for time to stand still right there.

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So do we, Tsubaki, so do we. Don’t get me wrong, Kousei and Kaori’s romance is compelling as all-get-out, but so is Tsubaki and Kousei’s. Heck, even the weakest romance, that of Ryouta and Kaori, is still stronger than most because we know Ryouta to be a decent guy and…well, just look at the two, they look like the ideal Representatives of Earth. As for Kousei’s return to the world of music, a couple of rivals who have been waiting for that return are sharpening their teeth. Even in uncharted waters, one can chance upon acquaintances. It’s a small world.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 05

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It was going to be hard to follow up an episode like last week’s, which moved me so much I invented a World Heritage List for it. This week was further hampered by lacking a musical performance centerpiece (though this show was never going to be able to, not should it, do one a week). But this week followed it’s own theme and comported itself well. That theme began with a flashback to when Kousei, Tsubaki and Ryouta were rugrats: Even if you’re uncertain or afraid, dive in anyway.

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I was wondering how the show was going to proceed after leaving Kaori sprawled out unconscious on the stage. We jump forward to when she’s been admitted to the hospital, where she assures her friends it’s “the first time” she’s fainted like that, and it was probably due to baka-Kousei making her work so hard to get him to accompany her, anyway.

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Let’s not kid ourselves, shall we? There’s no way that was the first time, and there’s no way there won’t be another. You don’t put a girl in the hospital like that and never put her there again. But let’s leave that aside for now. Seeing her in the hospital only makes Kousei guilty he caused Kaori to be disqualified and wash out of the competition. He doesn’t realize: Kaori knew what she was doing.

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Holy crap, was this a gray, cloudy episode! Today, in fact, was just this dark and gray and cloudy! It’s the gray of doubt and uncertainty, following Kaori’s incident, but also in terms of what Kousei thinks it meant to her. Didn’t she just Kousei him for accompaniment? Ryouta is her betrothed after all. Yet when Kousei tells Ryouta to go on ahead, Ryouta tells Kousei not to worry about the percieved mismatch, but to dive in with him. Ryouta saw how Kousei and Kaori played together. He’s not setting aside his friendship because of a girl. This is a fair fight; may the best man win.

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Rejection and awkwardness isn’t all Kousei fears, though. While Kaori did lean on him, she also ended up supporting him, by bringing music back into his life as a positive force. He was supported by her just as much as she him, which is what made her collapse on stage so devastating to him. He used to equate obsessive practice and flawless play with his mother recovering from her illness. When she died, he blamed himself. Even if Ryouta is right and Kousei has a chance with Kaori, history could repeat itself, with Kousei being powerless to save someone he loves.

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As for Poor Tsubaki, knowing the score between Kousei and Kaori (no pun intended) doesn’t change her feelings for Kaori. Even if she can’t verbalize the positive qualities he possesses other than playin’ the pianny real good, she’s keenly attuned to those qualities, and they draw her to him still. She was once in love with Saito, the hot, dependable baseball captain a year above her, but time passed and so did those feelings. Saito’s late, sudden confession doesn’t move her, because despite the possibility he’s a lost cause, she’s in love with Kousei now.

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When Kousei spots a discharged Kaori in the school hallway, he hides, and misses his chance when Ryouta starts flirting with her. But then fate brings the two together on that bridge Tsubaki essentially threw him off years ago. Not coincidentally, the sky is a lot more bright and dazzling, now that Kaori is out of the hospital. Wise beyond their fourteen years, Kaori tells him it’s okay to be afraid.

Everyone is. Afraid of failure, pain, rejection, despair. But you go out on the stage and play your damn heart out anyway…which is the “beautiful lie.” You jump off that bridge, because it could change your life, while staying still won’t change anything. It’s a simple message: as much as you can, while you can, live life to the fullest.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 04

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I think I’m still in shock. Happy shock. My heart is still racing. What the hell just happened? What did I watch? What did I just experience? I’ll tell you what that was: It was far more than a violin competition entry with piano accompaniment, play-by-play, and color commentary. That was a frikkin’ journey with no clear destination. That was nothing less than one of the finest and most riveting episodes of anime I’ve ever seen.

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Perhaps so strong a reaction is a product of having sat through most of half hour with almost no dialogue whatsoever, aside from the occasional comment from a stunned onlooker. We’re in that audience along with them, in this vast dark, dusty chamber that’s only a room until someone picks up an instrument and starts to wield a kind of wordless magic.

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That pure sound emanating from piano and violin taps into our most fundamental emotions of joy and pain. The silence is a canvas; Kaori and Kousei are charged with filling it. And fill it they do. But first, the buildup. Oh, God, the build-up before the Big Game. Once off that bike and miming the sheet music, things start to get real for Kousei, and he starts to get lost in that black and white.

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Kaori headbutts him, even a little harder than she intended; she’s nervous too! But neither of them are going out there alone. They’re going to play together, and she belives the two of them can do it together. She leaves no room for protest as she grabs his hand and leads him to the stage. We, and Kousei, don’t know it, but this is the moment of departure on the journey Kaori takes him on. He says she’s “freedom itself,” out loud. “I’m not,” she rebuts. “Music is Freedom.”

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With that, they take the stage, and Kousei endlessly adjusts his bench as some in the crowd starts to recognize him. They’re voices he can hear; they sound similar to the voices he heard when he was a prodigy, when his mother had essentially placed him in a hermetic prison with musical bars he could not hope to bend. But back then, just as now, he does not blame his mother. He felt honored to be the recipient of her wisdom and guidance; whatever pain he felt, it was the price of being able to bear that greatness.

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Trying to remember Kaori’s words — music isn’t a prison, it’s freedom — the two begin, and Kaori goes easy on him at first. Her initially docile play gives him time to find his bearings. Almost like riding a bike, his body remembers what to do, and the fact he can hear his own notes encourages him. Then Kaori gives him a look, and he knows she’s about to turn off the main road of their journey and enter some dense brush. He can keep up like she knows he can, or he can get lost.

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I knew as soon as the started playing that things could go south at any time without warning, like they did at the cafe, so I watched with a lump in my throat and a slight weight in my chest. The brilliance of the episode is its depiction of Kousei getting lost back in his deep sea, the water and darkness washing around him and us. The gradual and increasing distortion of the music is as emotionally effective as it is technically impressive.

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Eventually, things get so bad for Kousei, he can barely hear anything at all, and he stops, worried he’ll ruin Kaori’s playing. Then Kaori stops too. When they both stop, everything from a competition standpoint is over. But this isn’t about a competition, it’s about Kaori and Kousei’s journey. He’s tripped and fallen and can’t – or won’t get up, but Kaori isn’t going to leave him behind. She doesn’t want to continue on alone.

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But wait…we’re only a little over halfway through the episode. Things are bleak, but a comeback is still possible! Lest we forget, a tearful Kaori begged Kousei to help her prove she could do this, that they could do this. She’s not annoyed Kousei stopped; she’s scared. He has to get up and they have to keep going. “Again,” she says. They start playing again, but Kousei is still in the trippy sea, the currents choking the notes.

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Then Kousei remembers his mother singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” during a happier time. He remembers her telling him “The Piano Is You.” Caress it like an infant and it coos; bang its keys and it roars. Kousei digs deep and changes his strategy: he’ll stop worrying about hearing the notes and merely imagine them, playing with his whole body.

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He starts playing like a man possessed; like a man one with the piano, and he even starts getting into it with Kaori, as he stops being her accompanist and morphs into her opponent. He’s back on his feet and racing ahead; and she’s more than game to chase him!

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He’s no longer behind the musical bars. Kaori, and the music, has sprung him, and sprung him righteously. He’s no longer looking down, he’s looking up, looking at Kaori, smiling, full of joy, and Kaori’s looking right back at him, no less overjoyed that they’ve recovered so splendidly. This is what she saw in him.

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POOR TSUBAKI!!! T_T

And as they get lost in each other’s eyes and music, they put the whole of the audience under a spell. Tsubaki, who jumped up and cheered when he started playing again, adopts a pained, defeated expression when she realizes what’s going on between the two. Next to her, Ryouta becomes ever more lovestruck with Kaori.

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The episode realizes that just because they’re both musicians doesn’t mean this performance makes them a couple now. She even still calls him “Friend A” up there, though at this point it could just be an ironic pet name. It’s not as if Ryouta is done; in fact, he still probably has the inside line. A harrowing love rhombus has been built this day.

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But that doesn’t matter to Kaori or Kousei right now; Spring has Sprung and they’re on Cloud Nine; the change of Kousei’s scenery effectively illustrates that point. Things are getting brighter and more saturated until they finally bring the piece to a stirring close, bringing the house down…

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But the performance, which was perhaps as long and energy-draining a performance as she ever gave, brings Kaori down as well. She left nothing left in her tank. Kousei got bloodied while dismounting from Tsubaki’s bike, which provided a measure of symmetry to this closing shot, But while that was a joke, this isn’t. It suddenly, ruthlessly imparts the episode’s title – “Departure” – with unspeakable dread and foreboding. The episode plummets from the dizziest heights to the lowest depths. Not again, Kousei may be thinking; God, don’t do this to me again.

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P.S. That up there is a 1,158-word review. When I really like something, I tend to ramble.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 03

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Kaori knows about Kousei. Of course she does; any musician worth their salt knows of the “human metronome” who played with a symphony at eight. He’s a celebrity, but he’s one you always talk about like “Well…yeah…shame about that guy…he was really going places.”

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We open this episode with Kousei a bit annoyed he’s gone from “extra” to “substitute”, but he has no idea of Kaori’s true interest in him, though he probably has an inkling that she knows who he is…or rather was. But we see firsthand along with her just how deep and dark an ocean he’s fallen to the bottom of, where a mental block suddenly kicks in, depriving him of color and hearing his own music just when he’s getting into it.

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It’s a cruel affliction, but Kaori isn’t interested in attending his pity party: she’s on a mission of rehabilitation, not commiseration. Arima Kousei fell into the deep, but she’s come to pull him out. He’s gotten too comfortable in that darkness, to the point painful emergence is inevitable. But Kaori has faith there’s still a brilliant pianist in there, which is why she decides to make a bold decision: to choose Kousei as her accompaniment in the second round of her competition.

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Kousei refuses vehemently, and his reasons are many; insufficient training for accompaniment; inadequate time to rehearse; rustiness; inability to hear the piano…but it all comes down to fear…not even necessarily fear that he won’t be able to do it (of which he’s not at all confident anyway), but because he’ll be leaving that deep dark sea where he’s grown so…accustomed. It will be so bright and loud and scary out there…it will be different.

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But again, from Kaori’s perspective, that’s the point. That sea is a kind of limbo, where he constantly bathes in currents of self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-pity. Kaori means to wean him off those currents. The tactics she takes frankly border on the excessive, and she and Tsubaki kill a forest’s worth of paper plastering all of the walls in Kousei’s life with the sheet music for the competition: Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. (I’m sure there’s probably some symbolism in that choice of music, but I”m gonna play my musical tourist card at this juncture.)

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As Kaori sees Tsubaki put everything into trying to get Kousei to agree to play, she also sees the feelings Tsubaki plainly has for him, though she says she considers him more of a little brother (just like he considers her a big sister) than a romantic interest, the fact remains, she loves him. She’s doing this for selfish reasons…for “family” reasons: she doesn’t want to see her kid brother continuing to “live life halfway.” So you’re he’s Beethoven. So what? Beethoven’s a baseline. Play it backwards, upside-down; with a frikkin’ distortion pedal. Stop hiding. Stop running. Start playing.

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What neither Tsubaki nor Kousei know, however, is that Kaori isn’t asking him to play just for his sake, but her’s as well. No matter what crappy stuff has showed up in her life, she’s always kept playing…it’s how they (musicians) survive. On the rooftop, where she finds a Kousei frustrated she’s still pressing the issue, Kaori finally tells Kousei: she’s in a moment where she’s about to lose heart, just as he did so publically and brutally years ago. She needs his support now as badly as he needs to be saved from his sea of silent darkness.

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We close with a heartwarming, Ghibli-esque scene of youthful energy on display in the heart of Spring

It’s there, when she shows that heretofore unseen side of herself, where Kousei realizes Ryouta was right: ‘the girl will let you know.’ He realizes maybe what he thought was impossible wasn’t. He won’t be alone on that stage, Kaori will be right there with him. Alone, they probably wouldn’t have a chance. But together, perhaps they can pull out a performance that may not be perfect, but will propel them into that big bright scary unknown where they both must go to keep surviving.

I. Cannot. Wait to see it.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 02

"He's tapping his fingers...I knew he'd like being back here."
“He’s tapping his fingers…I knew he’d like being back here.”

I should have known this show had every intention of surpassing its already excellent first episode in pure win with its second, showing us just how powerless Arima is to Miyazono Kaori’s charms. He was smitten enough—as I was—before we heard her play. And then we heard her play, and goddamn, that was the best musical performance I’ve seen in an anime since Kids on the Slope; mayyybe a bit better. A truly spellbinding scene that almost seemed to transcend time.

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First I like both the feeling and the characters’ observaiton that the inside of Tama Hall almost feels like they stepped into another dimension. The world of classical music appears small, insular, and passionate. The set piece for the competition is Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 (Kreutzer), and the winner gets to play a rare Guarneri in a recital. We see as the competition progresses that this is a hall that can put you to sleep, but it can also be a place where light and magic springs forth from the hands of the musicians.

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The latter is what happens when it’s Kaori’s turn. She seems to utter a small incantation before not slavishly playing the composer’s piece, but feinting, lunging, and parrying the Sonata as if it were a fencing opponent. One of the more conservative judges calls her play blasphemy, accusing her of “picking a fight” with Beethoven. But I’m not sure he wouldn’t have enjoyed such a rousing version, which sounded nothing like the other players. (Note that I know jack about music, but I know what I like, as does the audience, who chooses Kaori.)

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Not only does Kaori bring the half-full hall to its feet in sustained applause usually reserved for formal concerts, but also tightens her grip on Arima’s heart. Tsubaki surprised him into coming, as this was once a venue where he was all but forced to perform at the highest level to achieve first place at any cost for his mother; in other words, he’s understandably edgy at first. But Kaori simultaneously calms him and sets his heart ablaze.

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After her performance, Kaori intently seeks Arima’s opinion, her hands shaking with anticipation…does she know about him and his past, or does she simply sense it (or neither)? Arima, speechless as he is, is still able to convey how he felt about it: it was the kind of performance that compelled perfect strangers to buy her flowers. I also like how he describes watching Kaori like some kind of movie. He could have also said it was the kind of performance to make someone fall in love, but the reality is she’s on a date with Watari, and he’s designated “Friend A” and nothing more.

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But from the way Kaori acts towards him, it’s bound not to stay that way. Watari, preeminent ladies’ man, senses Arima is crushing on her, but far from warning him to stay away from his girl, he advises him not to be so hasty in accepting defeat or believing he has no chance. He knows from experience, people fall in love not because the ones they fall for are obtainable, but because they sparkle in your eyes; it’s not rational. And its also not just up to Arima: Watari tells him the girl will let him know.

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Last week we had a Castle in the Sky reference, but the introduction of the violin is pure Whisper of the Heart

That’s quite the evolved sensibility from Watari; he seems the kind of guy who wouldn’t take a girl his friend formed a closer bond to. But again, it’s ultimately up to Arima to fight for her, and up to Kaori to decide who she likes. There are indications she’s leaning Arima’s way, judging by how seriously she valued his opinion and the fact she let his lie about Watari practicing slide because it was his way of professing his desire to walk her home, and promotes him from Friend A to Substitute Watari. Progress!

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Poor Tsubaki! She looked like a perfectly acceptable choice for Arima for most of last week’s episode right up until Arima met Kaori. But now, Arima settling for her, as cute and loyal and fun and close as she is, could only feel like defeat at this point. Kaori is rapidly restoring Arima’s passion for music and sweeping away all the bile that had amassing in him from his mother’s negative influence. But in setting up this fateful double date, Tsubaki may have handed her beloved Arima to another.

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Two episodes in, and this show is hitting on all cylinders, with few if any flaws. The animation during Kaori’s performance was fantastic, and while we have Beethoven to partially thank for elevating the scene, we have whomever put such a provocative, avant-garde spin on his Sonata for elevating it even more. I want a musical performance in every episode. And I want to watch Kaori and Arima to play together…like soon. Bra-fucking-vo. Encore! Buick Encore!!

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 01

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Don’t look now, but I’ve got myself another contender for top Fall pick in the romance/comedy/drama genres, with this show easily eclipsing InoBato’s more shallow charms, while eschewing the gut-punchy twists of Waremete. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April) is off to a superbly gorgeous, heartfelt start, and it gets there by sticking to the fundamentals of anime as a medium: sights and sounds.

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Cutting from a blonde girl chasing a cat around a town in full Spring bloom to the flashback of a piano prodigy absolutely killing it at a recital (playing Beethoven’s appropriately relentless Piano Sonata No. 14 – Presto Agitato) but the piano abruptly cuts to silence and the present day, when he’s transcribing pop music for work, but writing and playing none of his own. This is our bespectacled protagonist, Arima Kousei (Hanae Natsuki).

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His work is interrupted by the cute, lively, tomboyish Sawabe Tsubaki (Sakura Ayane) in the form of a baseball through the window of the music room into his face. It’s almost a fated ball, since in addition to being his neighbor and childhood friend (who attended that recital years ago), she also seems to harbor pretty strong feelings towards him, which aren’t really returned in the way she’d like; Kousei considers her a sister.

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The episode spends a good amount of time establishing these two as an all but ideal married couple, despite their differing views on the relationship, creating a kind of holding pattern. They may be very different people, but proximity and time have made Tsubaki grow fond of Kousei, though she remarks that he was cooler back when he played the piano.

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About that: it’s not that Kousei doesn’t play piano because of some kind of magic spell: his ill mother was obsessed with molding him into a world-class pianist, and she was quite emotionally and physically abusive to him. That took its toll, with him coming to believe becoming great would help her get recover, but then she died before his first big recital. For that he blames and hates the piano, and himself…but still clings to it, because without the piano…he’s “empty”.

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The visual medium is exploited to its fullest to express moods and states of mind. Despite his lush, arresting environs, Kousei sees the world in stark monotone, like sheet music or piano keys. But he’s in his fourteenth spring, and his last in middle school, and all around him people are pairing off into lovey-dovey couples, as the season is full of young love. He and Tsubaki are never far from one another, but he doesn’t see her that way.

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It’s only when Tsubaki makes him join her for a weekend double date with their handsome, athletic mutual friend Watari Ryouta (Ohsaka Ryouta) and a girl who likes him that things change. The others are seemingly late, but he finds suspicious pair of shoes and tights, and is suddenly led to a playground where a gorgeous barefoot girl is playing Hisaishi’s uplifting “A Morning in the Slag Ravine” from Castle in the Sky on the melodica, accompanying a trio of little kids who want to attract pigeons like Pazu.

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The sound of the music, and the sight of the girl playing so beautifully, suddenly switches on all the light and color in Kousei’s world, like he was shot with a diamond, and he experiences exactly what Tsubaki’s friend Miwa described as the moment she found love. It’s such a lovely scene, Kousei breaks out his cameraphone to capture it…just when a stiff breeze lifts the girl’s skirt, which is the moment she realizes he’s there, and she shows her violent side.

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Tsubaki and Ryouta arrive and introductions are made: the blonde girl is Miyazono Kaori (Taneda Risa); Tsubaki introduces her to Kousei as “Friend A.” As Tsubaki predicted, Kaori and Ryouta start flirting with each other immediately, like the pair of perfect human specimens they are, while Kousei and Tsubaki look on. Then Kousei learns Kaori is a violinist. When she invites everyone to hear her perform, he declines and turns to leave, but she catches his hand and insists: he’s coming with.

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That shows that despite their somewhat rough start, Kaori is receptive to starting anew, making friends, and sharing more of her musical talent with him. Little does she know that in doing so she may be touching old wounds he bears, but also showing him that music need not be a nemesis; it can also heal, inspire, and bring people together. And so it begins.

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