“Watashi no Uso” analysis

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.

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*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.

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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.

Your Lie in April

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.

*SPOILERS AHEAD.*

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.

The Music of Your Name.

How RADWIMPS’ soundtrack was a pivotal part in the film’s success and resonance.

One of the vital parts of this film is how music plays an enormous role in evoking emotion. Earlier this week, I mention how one such moment is the entire segment set to RADWIMPS’ “Sparkle”. In fact, somewhere I read that your name. was directed and produced in tandem with RADWIMPS’ soundtrack; the entire epilogue section wasn’t even storyboarded until “Nandemonaiya” was finished.

At any rate, I don’t believe this film would have done nearly as well without the music. RADWIMPS managed to create a soundtrack that is so masterfully done both in its subtlety and its bold statements, and the following are just some things that I really appreciated. I won’t be going in-depth into all of the soundtrack, as many tracks are more inconsequential background music (like “Itomori High School” or “Library”) and don’t stand out nearly as much as others.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

The tracks we’ll be looking at today are (in their English-listed names, found here) “Dream Lantern”; “Zenzenzense”; “Date”, “Date 2”, and “Theme Of Mitsuha”; “Katawaredoki”; “Sparkle”; and “Nandemonaiya”. The last time I did a soundtrack analysis I went pretty far into music theory, but this time it’s more of a conceptual discussion. In most cases these tracks will be paired with their respective scenes.

First up is “Dream Lantern”, or “Yume Tourou” in Romaji. This song serves as the opening, and is played against a fairly typical anime-style montage, taking some scenes from the film itself and some others that only appear here. What’s interesting here is how the song and its visuals catch the audience slightly off-guard; all sorts of marketing at this point really push towards the body switching as a central issue or conflict, yet so far up to this point all we’ve seen are two people separately expressing the emptiness and pain they feel on a daily basis. The song itself is somewhat vague in its tonality, neither joyous or depressing, giving off a sort of melancholic vibe. It’s not enough to completely fake out the viewers, especially because the real meat of the film starts off quite comedic and more in the vein of the trailers, but it serves as a hint of the emotional roller coaster to come.

Next up we have “Zenzenzense”, which plays as Taki and Mitsuha try to get a grip on the situation (and explain it to us, the audience). The fast tempo and definitively major key makes us all but forget about any sort of heartache (if any) produced by the beginning of the film, though if you were to pay attention to the lyrics you’d find them to be surprisingly mournful and yearning. It’s a good fit, as we’re introduced to the funny parts of Your Name. in preparation for the emotional gutting that would come later, while the song’s theme and lyrics fit the vision of the film.

Now here we have “Date”, “Date 2”, and “Theme Of Mitsuha”. These three tracks are masterfully done, in my opinion. Note how all three share the same melodic line. Further note how while “Date” and “Date 2” technically play during Taki’s meetups with Okudera, yet they share the same melodic line as “Theme Of Mitsuha”. I really like the subtlety here. First of all, I see it as Taki finally being aware of his interest shifting away from Okudera and towards Mitsuha. Second of all, both “Date” and “Date 2” have subtle differences between each other. “Date 2” has an extra major seventh thrown in (music theory), creating a little bit more tension and representing Okudera’s engagement and Taki’s emptiness. On first view through the film, you may not really notice these subtleties since their similarities make them seem as normal background tracks, but the minute differences that become apparent through subsequent views and listens make the film all the more magical.

“Katawaredoki” is in a similar vein to the previous discussion, where its melodic line and chord progression are very close to “Dream Lantern”. The eponymous scene is perhaps the most tender in the entire film, as Taki and Mitsuha meet for the first and only time (with their memories intact). The stripped down, sensitive soundtrack is perfect despite its “four chords” progression (Am – F – C – G), and the way it throws back to the beginning of the movie and ties the prologue to the events of the film brings on a sense of closure, even as there are still 20-30 minutes left in the film.

Finally, we’ve reached “Sparkle”, which I consider to be one of the most masterfully crafted pieces of film music I’ve ever heard. This song has four sections: 1) the opening, melancholic, running line; 2) the triumphant march-like section; 3) the more retrospective and glorious section; and 4) the quiet bridge. I would love to get into this song more theoretically and technically, but for now let’s talk about how it perfectly matches the climax of the film. First of all, the running piano line and the rising bass line contribute to a sense of simultaneous desperation and heartache, matching both Taki and Mitsuha’s respective situations as kataware-doki ends. The subsequent triumphant marches add to this desperation with their thickening of texture, and the way it keeps its lonely and minor tonality reminds us of how both Taki and Mitsuha will eventually go on their lives in pain for years. The sudden shift to the 4th section (matching Mitsuha’s heartfelt “I can’t remember your name with this”) is tender and heartbreaking, yet Mitsuha somehow finds her resolve and the song transitions back into the 3rd section and finishes out. This song always wrings my heart, no matter how many times I listen to it and no matter how much I try to intellectually decompose it.

The last song on our agenda is “Nandemonaiya”, which serves as our closing song. As I mentioned above, the epilogue was storyboarded after “Nandemonaiya” was written; it’s more like the visuals were written for the song than the other way around. It’s especially evident if you watch this scene again, noting how faster sections correspond to Taki and Mitsuha racing to find each other while the more introspective sections correspond to the “What am I doing” scene on the stairs. I’m personally not an enormous fan of this track as a standalone song, but I cannot deny its effectiveness as a film soundtrack.

In closure, Your Name. is perhaps one of my all-time favorite films, even among creations like Fury or Star Wars. I strongly think that a large part of this is due to its music, especially in relation with its visuals. RADWIMPS did a spectacular job in scoring the film, bringing out laughs and tears alike, and though there will always be a hole in my heart from watching this film I thank them for their contribution in creating an unforgettable experience.

Your Name: flaws

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.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

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.

Aldnoah.Zero

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.

*Spoilers ahead*

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.

Girls und Panzer der Film

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.