I don’t remember the first time I “met” our piano, but I do remember having a love/hate relationship with it, growing up. I adored it as a kid, hated practising on it, hated lessons, loved hearing my brothers play, and these days, it soothes me to even just practise scales on it. But I do know that despite growing up with it, I didn’t know how much I liked classical piano until Nodame Cantabile. I saw the drama when it came out, and when I was working part-time as a library page for Japan Foundation Library, I ended up reading through the manga during my breaks. Loved it. Loved the music. One of my best memories is walking aimlessly around Yurakucho with nothing but Mozart piano concertos on my mp3 player, and then walking into this building and taking an earbud off to find that the same music was playing in it – it was an exhibition inspired by Nodame Cantabile! (I’m still sad that I was too broke, and had left my dorm with only enough money for lunch, to get some sort of souvenir from that day.) I want to go back, thinking about it now. I also want all my music back – I don’t know where and why, but I’ve lost most of my music library over the years. And I’m going off-topic again.
Nodame was a starting point of sorts, to me, and when I saw Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April) being described as “Nodame Cantabile in middle school” it made me think, this is something I should check out. And then Wei Teck, my colleague and fellow geek, recommended it to me, and I’ve never been disappointed with any of his recommendations before. So this weekend I watched the first five episodes. And was frustrated that I had to wait for the sixth. I went to get the manga, but could only get up to the sixth volume, surpassing the anime, sure, but I know there’s at least ten volumes published so far, with the next one due next May.
Unlike Nodame, it’s more of a drama than a comedy, which I both prefer (Nodame’s cute but sometimes too cute) and dread (because there were many hints that things will end in tragedy in future volumes). The main character is Kousei, a middle schooler with no distinguishable qualities. He was the quiet type that liked to be alone, but he was best friends with two jocks – Tsubaki, his childhood friend who was in the school’s softball team, and Watari, who was the cheerful playboy sort, and captain of the soccer team. Compared to their “colourful” youth, Kousei appeared to be colourless, or in his words, “monotone.” The thing about Kousei, though, was that he used to be a prodigy. At a young age, he had won so many competitions and awards that the other Japanese musicians of his generation knew his name. But when his mother passed away, he just stopped. He found that he could no longer hear his own piano playing, although he could hear everything else just fine. This may be psychological, of course, but because of the relationship he had with his mother (she was strict to the point of being abusive, when it came to his training) he was convinced that it was a sort of curse or punishment from her.
At the beginning of his last year of middle school, because of Tsubaki and Watari, he met Kaori, a “weird violinist”. If Kousei’s piano playing was robotic, methodical and precise, without the slightest deviation from the score, then Kaori’s would be the complete opposite – chaotic, surprising, and very much alive. She would take any piece and make it her own, sometimes to the point of seeming irreverent or disrespectful to the original composers, at least in the eyes of purists. This didn’t exactly endear her to judges at competitions, but unlike Kousei, she didn’t play to win. She played to be seen, and to be remembered. She played because to her, music was a way to communicate, to show the audience who she really was. She was unsympathetic when she heard about his inability to hear himself – so play the way Beethoven did, she would tell him. She said that if one had no arms, there were still feet to play with, and with no feet, then there’s the nose (a reference to this anecdote on Mozart and Haydn). Her passion would inspire him to stand back up and learn to be a “weird pianist”, but he had been gone from the music scene for two years. He had a lot to catch up on and relearn, while there were others that had seen his performances as a child, that had grown to be incredible musicians in their own right, waiting for his return.
I didn’t quite like how Kousei’s relationship with his mother was handled. It was definitely abuse, and yet he saw himself as her “ally”, even as he was trying to get away from that. I don’t exactly blame him, because it happens in abusive relationships, but when one of her close friends commented, “is there a mother that could hate her child?” or something to that effect, that just bugged me. Because the answer is YES, and I didn’t like how the manga just left the question hanging as if no answer was needed, that everyone knew that there was no way. This was the sort of thing that made it hard for some people to talk about abuse, that everyone else just rationalises everything and assume that all mothers must love and want the best for their children, no matter what, so it’s impossible that there could have been abuse. This passing comment was followed with a flashback of Kousei’s mother referring to her infant (Kousei) as her precious treasure, which totally jarred with how she was in Kousei’s flashback. I know that it showed that there’s more to the story, and that the mother was more complex than some cold woman who abused her kid, BUT you know what, I don’t want a redemption arc for the mother, because no matter what her intentions, it didn’t take away what she did to him. I guess we’ll see, and at least for now, I’m liking the mother’s friend despite her role in Kousei’s childhood, and that makes me somewhat uncomfortable.
In these volumes Kousei would try his best – with mixed results – to be the kind of pianist he wanted to be, even as he tried to figure out what exactly is the kind of pianist he wanted to be. The flashbacks would show how he had grown as a person and as a musician, but in shojo fashion (despite this being a shonen manga), I thought that sometimes the angst factor was just too much. Good thing the manga had enough humour to balance it out – as well as the complicated love stories, if one could call it that, between the characters: Watari liked Kaori, who liked Watari, but Watari liked a lot of girls and didn’t see that as a problem – perhaps fortunately, neither did Kaori, at this point in the story. Tsubaki was sort of dating her senior, but was falling for Kousei, even though she claimed to only see him as a brother/childhood friend. And Kousei definitely had a lot of affection of Tsubaki, but was falling for Kaori. The latter volumes added two characters, Emi and Takeshi, who were both obsessed with Kousei as a musician, and it was hinted that Emi might end up liking him romantically. So we’re left with one huge mess, which is probably realistic considering the ages of these kids, and most of their feelings were that of first crushes and strong admiration. Love squares/pentagons (please no hexagons in the future, just – no) aside, I loved the dynamics between all these characters, and would love to see Kousei interact more with Emi and Takeshi in particular. What I really want to see more of in the future volumes, though, is Kousei’s development as a pianist. More Kousei! More piano! Kinokuniya doesn’t have volume 7 in stock, and ordering would take me two weeks at least. In two weeks I’ll be in Tokyo anyway, so I guess I’ll wait and buy it there. Unless one of my friends send me raws. *evil grin*
In the mean time, shall I start on reading The Power of Three, or Piano no Mori?