AICO – 07 – The Truth Carbon Nano-Hurts

When we last left our friends they were between a rock and a hard place—or rather between a Matter-clogged tunnel and a CAAC assault squad. They’ve come for Aiko, and when Yuuya refuses, saying he has to keep going and that they would never understand, they fire shots at the Matter.

That turns out to be a bad move, as the squad leader is nabbed by some human-form Matter, throwing the rest of the squad into chaos as they try in vain to retreat. Our team learns from their sacrifice that the Matter is attracted to light, and uses flares to draw the Matter out of the tunnel, clearing their path forward.

That’s far from the only danger the team faces, as the Beetle is nearly swallowed up and the Evidence system proves too far behind the curve to keep up with the new Matter forms they encounter. It’s straight-up dicey out there, leaving Aiko to voice her concerns about putting the Divers in further danger for her sake and her family’s.

In a slight change from his colder manner towards her back at the rest stop, Yuuya assures her that compared to her, everyone else is expendable. But he’s wrong that they knew what they signed up for, because they don’t know Aiko is walking talking Matter bait. Thanks to a hot mic, one of them learns this, but keeps it to herself.

There’s a brief check-in with the three college friends. Nanbara loses contact with her squad, Isazu once again commits to saving his daughter, and Kurose learns with the help of a hacker friend that Isazu’s daughter is somehow connected to the Matter.

The Team gets through another guillotine gate by the skin of their teeth, but it isn’t long before they’re under attack, and as Yuuya is delivering ammo to the Divers, the Matter seeps into the Beetle, nabs Aiko, and places her in a fluid-filled cocoon.

Thankfully, it took a weapon with her, and she uses it to bust out, but she’s buried by the crystallized matter that trapped her, and by the time she’s dug out, all of the Divers see her for what she is: a composite being: human in mind, but artificial in body.

They’ve been traveling deeper into more and more hazardous territory with Matter bait. Will this revelation give them second thoughts about supporting her and Yuuya’s cockamamie plan? I doubt it. I don’t see Kazuki abandoning her, while Kaede is just happy to have the opportunity to fight in a place few humans have been.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 17

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Well, it’s happened: Shirayuki has been whisked away once more, just when I was content with all the easygoing slice-of-court life and looking forward to the ball. But hey, sometimes you gotta let a show take you out of its comfort zone. This isn’t just about romance and daily life, it’s about action and adventure, and for some reason the bishounen Kazuki thinks he knows better where Shirayuki “belongs.”

The entire capture scene is fraught with danger and unpredictability, in the brief period when one could suspend the notion that the abductors would definitely succeed. That’s due to Obi showing us his stuff; to Kazuki’s shock he can fight evenly with his partner Itoya, who is clearly no slouch in the combat department.

But Itoya manages to land a knockout blow to Obi, and he and Kazuki make off with Shirayuki, whom they sedated for easier transport. In the process, Zen’s watch comes loose and falls to the floor, breaking it. Not a good omen for what’s to come at all.

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Obi arguably loses because he’s distracted when Eugena and Rona enter Shirayuki’s room in the middle of the fracas, and Itoya takes advantage of his momentary distraction. But when they come to apologize, Obi doesn’t blame them. From his perspective, they alone shouldn’t have been enough to let Itoya get one over on him.

As Zen races to Tanbarun, and a very lost and distraught Raj plays the song he was to dance to with Shirayuki, a furious Obi decides to hunt down the kidnappers alone. He’s pissed, just as much at himself as the at the kidnappers. After all, he had one job to do: keep Shirayuki safe. He doesn’t want to look at Zen until he gets her back. But beyond all that, Shirayuki is important to him. This cannot stand.

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Raj fully expects to be chewed out or worse by Zen when he arrives, but to his shock, Zen is apologetic for not keeping him informed of the threats against Shirayuki’s safety. Raj apologizes anyway, since it was his duty to protect his guest. When Zen learns Shirayuki was enjoying her stay, he’s glad. Good to see there’s no prince-on-prince bickering holding back the rescue.

Zen does have to report to Raj’s father, the King of Tanbarun, however, to be given leave to move freely within his kingdom for the purpose of retrieving Shirayuki. The king gives him permission, as long as he’s discrete. This is similar to Izana’s warning to Zen that he’d better not draw him or sully his position, or Shirayuki, even if he gets her back, is out.

When Zen, Mitsu, and Kiki prepare to go, Raj sheepishly, then firmly asks that he accompany them; after all. He remember’s Shirayuki’s words about wanting to hear from his people that he’s a good prince, and a good prince doesn’t hide in his castle while others fix problems that occurred on his watch. His valor surprises even his father, but I knew he’d tag along, adding a neat dynamic to the rescue party.

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As two of the three lads who like Shirayuki just starting their mission, the third had a big head start, and is able to catch up to Itoya and Kazuki thanks to his Mad Ninja-Equivalent Skillz. With no distractions and a full head of steam, he has no trouble neutralizing Itoya, but he’s too late: Kazuki and Shirayuki are gone (we knew it wasn’t Obi Kazuki saw, since there were horse hooves, not footsteps).

That’s right: in an interesting twist, Shirayuki is kidnapped from her kidnappers. It sounds ridiculous on its surface, but when considering Kazuki was acting independently after defecting from the Claw of the Sea, and simply got re-captured by them, it’s not that strange. He had “the goods”, now they do. And by “they”, I mean the badass pirate captain Umihebi.

With cooly merciless eyes, she stares right at Shirayuki and tells her straight up “You can’t go home anymore.” Whatever she has in store for her (using her as a bargaining chip for some men in the mountains), it just can’t be good. So now her former kidnapper Kazuki and her are in the same boat: prisoners needing to escape before they’re taken out to sea, just as Itoya and Obi now have the same objective: find Kazuki and Shirayuki. Things are looking good.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 16

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Throughout the duration of Shirayuki’s visit to Tanbarun, the prevailing issue hasn’t been whether Shirayuki would fall for Raj (she just doesn’t see him that way, and in any case is already in love with Zen) or whether Raj would keep her here against her will (he owes his growth as a prince and a person to her, and the present Raj would never do that). Nor is it whether Obi will fall for Shirayuki (he seems to be, but doesn’t want to).

No, the issue that casts a shadow over this entire Tanbarun trip has been not if, but when those who are after Shirayuki will get their hands on her. Because we knew that when that happened, neither Zen nor Raj nor even Obi would be able to protect her, because if any of them did, because this is Akagami no Shirayuki-hime,which is Japanese for “She’s Getting Kidnapped.”

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That being said, until the night of her abduction arrives, life goes on, and it’s still great to see Raj putting in a very Beauty & the Beast (Disney Version) awkward effort into her sorta-not-quite-courtship. He’s even got a rose and a ginormous and awesome library that would even make Mirepoc Finedel gawk with awe.

Initially cute but quickly wearing out their welcome? Raj’s siblings Rona (who can’t help but meedle for Raj’s sake) and Eugena (too passive to stop the force of nature that is Rona). He’s a big boy, Rona. Let him sort this out for himself. Heck, she doesn’t even have the whole picture, wrongly assuming her heart belongs to Obi, which she “confirms” by shoving Shirayuki into him.

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When left to his own devices, Raj is slowly groping his way in the dark shadows of his selfish upbringing, and gradually starting to see the light of what an equitable interpersonal relationship is. Sure, he cheats a bit with notes, but he’s making the effort, which counts. And there’s no subterfuge in his lovely violin playing – at least this guy knows how to do something!

No amount of notes on general knowledge or violin playing, however, will convince Shirayuki to stay in Tanbarun any longer than originally planned, at least not if she’s not specifically asked to and given a good argument for why she should. She misses Zen terribly, which Obi can see when the two inadvertantly meet on their adjacent balconies.

When Obi said goodnight and went in first, staring at the hand that arrested Shirayuki’s fall in the library, as if thinking “I will never wash this hand again!”,  I was more than 50% sure his hand-staring would be interrupted by a scream indicating Shirayuki had finally been captured. After all, when Obi’s mind is staying to thoughts of impossible romance, his efficacy as a bodyguard is diminished.

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But no, the hammer doesn’t drop until the night of the ball, when Shirayuki gets dolled up in a gorgeously flowing pale green gown that makes her hair pop. Obi is telling her all the ways Raj is making the ball as painless and enjoyable as possible for her, before receiving a letter from Zen warning about Kazuki and an accomplice are on their way to Tanbarun.

How did Kazuki know which room Shirayuki would be in? How did he scale the castle walls without detection? Why the heck is he so gung-ho about kidnapping Shirayuki in the first place? These are all questions for which the answers lie ahead. All we know is, this season’s pleasant extended “honeymoon” is over.

Speaking of honeymoons, Zen, in demanding to go to Tanbarun to rescue Shirayuki, tells his brother he wishes to marry her. And Izana warns Zen if anything happens that requires him to bail him out, he can forget about bringing Shirayuki back to the castle. Yikes…everything is on the line now.

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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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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 13

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Kousei achieved many victories this week: victory over his own inability to hear the notes, which Hiroko surmised might actually be a gift; success in making the crowd not only hear but feel him, as his peers had done before; and most importantly, saying goodbye to his mother by playing the song she once played for him as a lullaby.

After a rough start during which he’s mostly just pissed about Miike badmouthing Kaori, he sounds great. So why did this episode that had so much Win still feel like it had a dark pall cast over it? Simple: Kousei grows and moves forward through the persistent experience of sorrow. And as good as his performance is, the fact remains, Kaori is nowhere to be seen, and that’s a constant concern.

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We know what motivated Takeshi and Emi: Kousei. We can also deduce that Kaori is driven by the desire to play as much and as hard as she can in the little time she has left on this world. But Kousei derives his strength not from idolization or urgency, but form suffering. It’s something Hiroko comes to realize as she listens to Kousei play.

She also reveals that it was she who persuaded his mother Saki to teach him to be a pianist. As Saki grew more ill, she too felt an increasing sense of urgency and desperation that turned her into an abusive wretch. Ironically, it was her love and intense worry for Kousei’s future without her that led to that transformation.

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Ultimately, it wasn’t just Saki’s death that pushed Kousei forward; it was Saki dying after Kousei told her she should die, and all the psychological damage and long dormant period that led to it. He was broken down to virtually nothing, so that someone like Kaori could enter his life and put him back together piece by piece.

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This is a performance episode, and the performance is suitably awesome. I mentioned Kousei starts off rough (more crude than ferocious, Ochiai tsks), but once he realizes he can hear the music within him, particularly the way his mother used to play, he suddenly shifts to that style, a flowerly, highly technical yet gorgeous style that enthralls the audience, friend and stranger alike.

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EMI’S FIRED UP. So were we. Kousei comes into his own, even without Kaori there to support him. I for one hope Emi gets to interact more with Kousei, either musically or personally, because Emi is great.

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For Kousei, it’s one of the more emotionally taxing performances of the series, to the point that after finishing, bowing to an audience stunned into silence until it gradually remembers to applaud, Kousei’s knees give out off-stage, and after receiving a direct hit from a Koharu Missile, is embraced by Hiroko and lets it all out. His performance was brilliant, but anyone, musically trained or no, could sense the pain and longing that fueled it.

Hell, even the punk kid Miike was so moved, his performance softened into something more to please his own mother than to knock the crowd’s socks off or mark his territory.

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As he exits the hall, Tsubaki starts to approach Kousei, but finds herself unable to speak or act normally around him. Her heart beats extremely loudly and when Kousei acknowledges her and expresses his hope she’d praise him, she can barely hold back tears, be they of relief or disappointment.

Whatever the tears were really for, it’s clear Tsubaki is as in love with Kousei as ever, and this performance only amplified those feelings, as proud and relieved as she is by his victory.

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But back to sorrow: Kousei can’t catch a break. No surprise; Kaori was a no-show because she was hospitalized. When Kousei rushes to the hospital and sees her, she doesn’t look well at all, bandaged and pale; her smile fooling no one. Interspersed with this heartbreaking reunion that makes it painfully apparent Kousei is likely about to watch another woman he loves wither away and die before him, Hiroko suspects, despairingly, that this may simply be the life the universe has chosen for Arima Kousei, Musician.

Without loss, grief and sorrow, Arima Kousei, Musician would not exist. I can’t help but look forward to what looks like the very near future in which Kaori is no more, how Kousei will deal, and who if anyone could step in to fill that new gaping hole in his heart. Yes, as much as I love Kaori, the fact that her imminent demise is such a foregone conclusion means she may be holding Kousei back, along with the show itself.

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