How the music reflects the character
As per request, this is an analysis of “Watashi no Uso” from the anime Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, otherwise known as Your Lie in April and henceforth referred to as Shigatsu. Now as I’ve covered before, Shigatsu is quite sad. If you were to take the story sans writing – that is, consider only the plot without the slapstick comedy – it becomes a fairly depressing – if fulfilling – story about a boy trying to discover what it means to play music from the heart rather than from the brain. As one character remarks, Kousei appears to only make musical progress through personal loss; at the same time, Kaori has her own personal struggles of her illness and impending death, as well as her own admiration and affection of Kousei and the knowledge or premonition that she may never be able to explore that bond properly.
This track, then, represents all that. Its title translates to “My Lie”, but the “I” used is feminine. In other words, this is effectively Kaori’s personal track. It’s delicate, sensitive, and ultimately unfulfilling yet resolute. In a way, it acts as a sort of melancholic waltz – in fact, one character (I don’t remember which) said to the other something along the lines of “I want to waltz with you”. Now yes, I realize that not everything in ¾ time is a waltz, but there is still something floaty and active about the way the piece plays. That being said, it’s also not a piece that two people would dance to; rather, it is something for Kaori and Kaori alone.
With that, let’s move into the analysis itself.
*I realize that I mix syntax a little bit in my scores, but hopefully it all makes sense.
The first thing we have is a setup of the main theme, accompanied with chords moving ever so slightly down from F to Em. The circled note in the melody is the main chord tone, while the turn in the right hand emphasizes it, briefly tonicizing it by going down to the C#.
In the next section, we move up from Dm7 diatonically through to the chord in measure 7. Now I wasn’t really sure what this chord was. As you can see in my writing, on paper it can be either an F function or a C function. Listening to this composition did not yield any definitive results; I could hear it as both, especially because the next chord sits on an F in the bass until the end of the section. That, and there aren’t really any other chord tones apart from F and C; this is a main feature of this piece, where the function of the chords is more heard than it is seen on paper. As a result, all the chord written on the score are what I think they function as based on my own personal interpretation. You’ll notice I circled the C in the right hand. This note I determined to be the main focus of the repeated descending line, though I’ve also circled some melody notes later on. The repeated descending line is also not consistent; it makes three different variations, breaking expectations and making the timing feel uncertain. In fact, some piano scores I’ve seen have this part written in a different time signature. At the end of the section we play on the tonic and dominant scale degrees of G while sitting on an F in the bass, making this section feel open and inconclusive.
The next section goes until measure 25. This quieter section is introspective and reflective, the large intervals between the bass and melody creating beautifully resonant harmonies. It provides a break from the musical themes thus far, letting the next section be far more impactful.
Which it does, centering on an Em chord with moving lines and massive leaps. The shift from quarter notes and dotted half notes in the previous section to eighth notes here creates a sense of urgency and movement, and we finish the section outlining an Em7, harkening back to the end of the previous section.
From here, we repeat the main theme. It’s busier and more passionate, the momentum driven by the quarter note pattern in the left hand. The chords are fleshed out more, adding an additional layer of fullness and intensity. The descending line seen at the beginning of the piece is hinted at with a new, similar three-note descending line, but instead of fading away from this section we dig into it anew, as the inverted E7 tonicizes Am, the ascending chords taking us higher and higher as the music seems to scream louder and louder, until we hit one final, cathartic repetition of the theme, with even fuller chords and in a higher octave. From here, we pull back a little, as the additional voices drop out and the rhythm becomes similar, until we end on a lone C in the melody. This is the first time we actually find the tonic of the piece; all throughout, the chords seem to dance around it, yet every time the melody goes to the C it seems to be voiced with an Am that never seems fulfilling. This C, in measure 64, is the first, true tonic chord. It represents a sense of acceptance of the turmoil that this piece represented up until now, and as the embers die down we finish on variants of Bb major.
As stated above, this piece is entirely Kaori’s. In the final episode, it is revealed that Kaori was aware of her limited time left, that her lifelong wish was to have Kousei accompany her, and that she faked liking Watari to get closer to him. In a way, “Watashi no Uso” is a summary of her life. The main theme becomes more agonized each time through additional voicings and use of a higher register, while the sections in between move from retrospective to desperate and pained. In fact, though the show focuses on Kousei’s own struggles with loss and what it means to play music, it may have been Kaori in a comparable amount of pain: knowing of her early death, being so close to Kousei yet too shy to approach him, and even after getting close to him discovering his inability to play piano. Kaori’s wish, unfortunately, never fully comes true; she is only able to play a partial duet on top of Kousei’s final Chopin performance, and even then did not truly perform to a full audience. Despite this, her dream self appears to be happy with this arrangement, apparently content with Kousei’s rediscovery of himself. This is perhaps reflected in “Watashi no Uso”, as the piece concludes with an open and reconciled Bb.
“Watashi no Uso”, then, is a reflection of Kaori’s turmoil that is never quite in the limelight. We see hints of her troubles throughout the second half of the show as Kousei is slowly made aware of her growing despair, but we see very little of her life before middle school. It is only through inferences and the letter in the last episode that we realize how Kaori felt all throughout her life. “Watashi no Uso” may refer to the lie that sets the entire show into motion, but the track is a representation of her entire life. On the surface, it’s quaint and melancholic if fairly simplistic, but a little more reading into it reveals a level of hidden complexity – and really, that’s what music is.
Music is emotion. Emotion is human.
What a beautifully done show. As I write this I finished the last episode some ten, fifteen minutes ago, and I watched the first episode little over 24 hours ago. My eyes are killing me, staring at a computer screen now without bias lighting, but I’d like to finish this while the memories are still fresh.
Your Lie in April was recommended to me by a friend about a year and a half ago; in fact, it may have been one of our first conversation topics ever. She calls it Shigatsu, which is how I will refer to it here on out. Its premise is sweet, poignant, and…sad. It is entirely an emotional show, using music as a way to enhance its story and ways of conveying different feelings. In fact, it’s emotional on both sides of the spectrum; there are many uses of slapstick, physical comedy, likely as a foil to the dark and deep themes explored by the show and to prevent everything from becoming too depressing.
For the show is quite depressing. It is, at its core, a love story. Specifically, two love stories. The overarching tale of Kousei and Kaori exploring their love/hate, uniquely close, pestering relationship with each other is present throughout the entire series, but I believe the familial love through loss and suffering present throughout the first half of the series to be more powerful. I will admit, Kousei’s farewell performance to his mother moved me to tears, exacerbated and immensely supported by the masterful matching of poignant scenes to climaxes in the music. Every single performance in the show meant something, and every single performance was – at its core – a love letter. The gorgeous art style, reminiscent to me of the beauty in your name. (I saw your name. before Shigatsu; sue me), was instrumental in really evoking those feelings of pain, suffering, love, and resolution, and the brilliant color pallet allowed the audience to see the world in color.
Shigatsu‘s strongest part, though, in my opinion, must be the entire Kousei-Kaori dynamic developed throughout the show’s runtime, even past the love story and even when the characters are separated. We hear from multiple characters how Kousei’s first performance onstage inspired them to start music, creating friends/rivals for life, yet for much of the 22 episodes we see Kaori being a leader figure to Kousei, drawing him out from his self-loathing and out from his mother’s shadow, allowing him to feel the music instead of merely playing it. We see Kaori’s outward strength hiding an inner desire of being remembered, and of Kousei’s development into an emotional musician, drawing on his memories – good and bad – to perform sincerely straight from the heart. We see how both characters rely on each other for support – sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally – and how both develop into strong individuals, yet with parts of each other permanently inside them. The development is painful, but at the end of the show both shine brightly, as Chopin’s Ballad no. 1 plays while Kousei performs one final, farewell duet with an apparition of Kaori. I believe this is the real moment the show truly ends, even though Kousei converses with Kaori’s memory in the second half of the final episode. I think this dream-like performance is Kousei’s true goodbye to Kaori, acknowledging the growth they shared together.
Of course, in being emotional such a show needs to take things at the right pace. Sometimes that means getting down and specific with details, allowing the character to grow and flourish. Unfortunately, this sometimes has the somewhat negative effect of bogging down the pacing. Shigatsu, in trying to drive home Kousei’s self-tormenting in reliving the worst memories with his mother – and later finding support in repeating all of Kaori’s good ones – is fairly heavy-handed with recaps and memories, even jumping all over the timeline if it means expanding on a character’s backstory. Perhaps such an effect was intended, allowing us to stand in Kousei’s shoes as his story went on, but there were times where I felt the emotional impact was marred slightly by this redundancy.
Ultimately, though, such times were short-lived (though the ~5-episode long piano competition in the middle really could have been shorter), and the show ended gorgeously, as Kousei and Kaori perform their first – and last – proper duet together, in a scene of great beauty, resolved to the pain of death and loss even as all that emotion is poured into one final, soulful performance. I notice how the show effectively ends there, despite having ten more minutes or so, with Kousei freely crying at the end of his farewell onstage. Emi and Takeshi do not make a final appearance, the competition results are not revealed, and nothing is mentioned of the middle schoolers’ futures. We don’t even get to see the audience’s reaction. I take this to mean that such trivial things are unimportant; the lifeblood of Shigatsu is emotion, and Kousei’s final performance was cathartic as he processed his own, performing for the people that mean everything to him.
For music is emotion. Music is the universal language, for it does not need to be translated to be understood. Music transcends human speech, connecting two human hearts directly through the instinctive understanding of emotion conveyed through melody and harmony. Music is emotion.
And emotion is human.
Turning a blind eye to advance the story
Today, I saw Your Name. again, this time in cinema (I didn’t plan on seeing it today; I just happened to see it listed in the paper). With my first viewing being what I think may be a bootlegged version on KissAnime, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Shinkai’s vision on the big screen. Having lauded it and its way of greatly emotionally impacting its viewers before, I decided this time to focus on the film’s flaws; namely, the plot holes that were required to drive the story forward. The following are what I believe to be the two devices to achieve the emotional impact that this film had.
Now the saddest part of Your Name. is easily the climax of the film, set to RADWIMPS’ “Sparkle”, where both Taki and Mitsuha forget the other’s name while Mitsuha desperately tries to save Itomori. However, to achieve this heart-wrenching moment, several things had to happen. Firstly and most importantly, neither Taki nor Mitsuha wrote the other’s name anywhere else. The film never reveals whether or not their contact information remains in their smartphones (though it’s possible they disappeared along with Taki’s memos, or Mitsuha’s phone was destroyed). Moreover, each character’s interaction with their friends and family must have left some impression (in fact, it’s repeatedly shown that they become completely different people); how hard would it have been, for example, for Taki to tell Mitsuha’s grandmother his name on the final day? Or anyone else? All it would take is for someone to remember the name.
Secondly, both Taki and Mitsuha had to be oblivious. Since both were high school students in their respective timelines, both likely had the date written at some point. Had one of them noticed the incorrect date, perhaps some arrangement could have been made (though Mitsuha would have died in the original timeline anyway). Taki is also a complete idiot, apparently deciding that being smooth trumped actually reminding Mitsuha of his name.
Your Name., then, has two interpretations: 1, a more analytical interpretation of the plot and how parts of it seem stupid or suffer from lack of foresight, or 2, accepting the plot for what it is and turning a blind eye to the flaws and plot holes – after all, neither of the devices listed above are impossible. Of course, with much of the film going unexplained – while you can wipe a character’s memory, you can’t wipe the audience’s memory, for example – it’s difficult to tell exactly what Shinkai wanted to come across. Regardless, though, Your Name. remains my top animated film – and one of my top films of all time.
Yuribait. So much yuribait.
This week was the end of Sound! Euphonium 2, which I shall abbreviate as H!E (for its Japanese name, Hibike! Euphonium).
Now the first season is perhaps the first “proper” anime I’ve ever seen (I don’t really count the Cartoon Network ones), since it was released during my high school senior spring. This is important, because I had started band in fifth grade and had actively continued with it up through twelfth grade; and when I say active, I mean active. I was in jazz band every year, I was section leader, I attended honor bands, etc. When I came to university, however, I realized that the wind ensemble was…garbage, to put it nicely. Throughout the summer H!E had been on my radar, but I started watching it once I realized how much my university’s wind ensemble sucked and how much I missed being part of a great band.
And I enjoyed the series. The beautiful animation, the choice of music (“Orpheus” [the one with the can-can] was one of our competition pieces one year), and the premise of building up a garbage concert band into a nationally recognized one (again, see: terrible university wind ensemble). The yuribaiting between Kumiko and Reina was an annoying tease, and much of the drama was overblown and overacted, sometimes eye-rollingly so, yet I found myself really enjoying the show as it progressed. Once the band accepted Taki as the adviser and really started working towards the Nationals, I found myself being reminded of my own adventures in band; in particular, the international competition we attended in my sophomore year. I remembered the months of hard work, the numerous extra rehearsals, and the beautiful resonance of the hall as we ultimately took home the championship and a cash prize. As the first season closed with Kitauji taking home gold at the Regionals I was excited to see the band grow into season 2.
Unfortunately, the second season did not deliver quite as well as the first. The series diverted away from the actual music and focused more on the interpersonal connections; a logical direction for production, as non-music fans may not want to listen to the same pieces more than once, but I feel as if the series lost a lot of its charm. However, the second season seemed to set the actual competition as an afterthought; much of the season was split between three or four overarching plot arcs, making the entire season as a whole seem a little incoherent. Combined with the overdone drama carried over from the first season, I had less patience for this season than the first; Hazuki and Midori’s absence from the main cast of four also led to this season feeling hollow to me. The animation was still enjoyable, though, and I loved what little music there was , but I feel like something was lost in the time between the first and second seasons.
Also, no KumiRei. C’mon, gimme that KumiRei. >:L
Mars Aeternum. …wait…
I promise, I’ll get back to gaming.
I watched Aldnoah.Zero because there was a shitpost of the first episode. Then I read through the premise and thought what the hell, it looks cool, so I watched it.
One of the things that the West tends to stereotype anime (and Japan in general) with is giant mechs. Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of mech fighting for whatever reason, but I decided to give Aldnoah a shot.
Anyway, its premise is fairly simple. Humans have settled on Mars, discovering an ancient technology called Aldnoah. They break off and form the Vers Empire, and try to conquer Earth (Mars Aeternum, anyone?. In giant mechs powered by said Aldnoah. It’s pretty cut and dried; not much to it.
Now I did enjoy watching this series. I’ve been playing a lot of War Thunder lately (41 hours in two weeks…send help ;-;), and so I’ve become fairly interested in heavy armor. I enjoyed watching how protagonist Kaizuka Inaho’s personal mech (a trainer as opposed to a standard issue, in classic “unique character” tropes) grew and adapted to suit the different situations; they even helpfully call his loadout in the last episode the “final showdown loadout”. I liked watching Inaho defeat the technologically superior Martian mechs with careful analysis and precise execution, and felt deep satisfaction when this ability was compounded by the cybernetic eye he receives in the second season.
Its writing is also fairly compelling, if a little outlandish at times. One of the main points that Aldnoah drives home is Earth’s severe militaristic disadvantages. The series opens with landing castles essentially acting as drop pods from outside the atmosphere; each landing castle lands with the energy of what is effective a nuclear bomb. Moreover, the power that each Martian mech receives from Aldnoah makes it nigh impossible for anyone (except Inaho, because smartness. And plot armor) to engage the Martians without suffering catastrophic losses. By the sixth or seventh time “most” of the Terran units are killed before the Martian is defeated, you go from wondering if there really is any risk at all to the Martian battle plan to wondering if there’s any risk at all Earth.
Which, apparently, there isn’t. At least, not as much as the first season would have you think. When the second season starts, you’re led to believe that the war had been ongoing for nineteen months. That’s to say, somehow the Martians have either managed to be held back by the Terrans or have been holding themselves back for the entirety of nineteen months. The Earth’s surface doesn’t even really look all that tarnished at this point. Moreover, the second season appears to spend far less time on the more fine points of storytelling; none of the supporting characters are really fleshed out further than they were in season 1 and I’m not entirely sure what the Martians’ ultimate motives are.
Whatever, though. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a less important point when you’re really just here for the mech fights. That being said, this series may have been made by the deuteragonist/antagonist.
Slaine Troyard. What a tragic character. As his story is slowly revealed and expanded over the course of the series, you end up feeling more and more sorry for him. In fact, you soon realize that the giant mechs are almost given a backseat to his fall from grace, particularly during the second season. Even as he becomes the antagonist, by the end of the series his hopes and spirit are so broken it becomes almost impossible to hate him. Personally, among the two arcs of Inaho’s rise and Slaine’s fall, I found Slaine’s story to be more compelling.
One of my friends mentioned to me that he tends to be wary around A-1 productions because they don’t really deal with endings that well. I’ve noticed the same in Gate, but since I’m fairly new to anime as a whole I can’t really comment on that. The only other A-1 series I’ve watched is Valkyria Chronicles, and I found that ending to be satisfying and conclusive. At any rate, Aldnoah.Zero was an enjoyable watch. It’s one to turn to more for action and giant mech battles that don’t always turn out the logical way than it is for a deep, meaningful experience, but sometimes that’s all you need.
Tanks and anime girls; what more do you need?
So today I saw Girls und Panzer der Film. Again, that is; a local cinema was playing it, and since it was a Sunday afternoon I thought, well why the hell not.
Except I forgot to read the fine print. Turns out it was a dubbed version, not the original. I suppose that makes sense, considering the inconvenience of putting subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Then again, I’m from Hong Kong, where traditional Chinese subtitles are actually the norm in cinema.
Either way, I was very surprised to hear the English voices. All in all, they weren’t too bad, though there’s a certain charm to having very cute, timid characters drive tanks that’s kind of lost when Nishizumi’s English voice is a little more go-getter. Also, hearing the English VA say, “Panzer vor!” was…cringe-worthy.
Anyway, Girls und Panzer. There’s really nothing to say; it’s quite literally just completely ridiculous. My friends and I joke about GuP moments happening in War Thunder, or even in Rocket League (for example, when me bumping into my teammate gives him a speed boost). I think everybody should go watch the show because it’s just chaotic, dumb fun.