I think we’re back on track now. (With an emphasis on “I think”)
After the up and down ride we’ve had over the first eight episodes, I’m hesitant to ever declare Shigatsu either completely fixed or irreparably broken. The show has worked a lot of its kinks out although some annoyances still remain. I think the goofy/cartoonish-ly violent moments are just something that I have to accept is going to happen and not something the show will grow out of as it goes along. I can mostly compartmentalize those but there are times when they act a huge momentum killers when they break my immersion in a show that, when it’s on its game, can be a very compelling show when you’re immersed in it.
The big difference between the last couple episodes and what came before is the high points of the show are much higher than they were in previous episodes. Most of this is thanks to the introduction of Kousei’s two rivals: Vegeta Takeshi and Emi. I find the conflict between them and Kousei to be much more interesting than what we saw between Kousei and Kaori in the first few episodes. Starting with Takeshi, I find the way that Kousei’s presence has driven him to such lengths to be a compelling dynamic. His teacher comments that “a rival can make you grow far faster than being taught by someone” and it’s interesting to wonder how much of his amazing run of winning competitions is due to his relentless drive to be better than Kousei. He hates Kousei but at the same time he probably owes a great deal of his success to Kousei. I do still think some of his comments about Kousei feel a bit overwrought at times but that’s becoming less of an annoyance as we see more of his character.
The more interesting one, in my mind, is Emi. In contrast to Takeshi’s single-minded hatred of Kousei, Emi has much more complex feelings towards him. She first fell in love with the piano thanks to one of his performances, but then she saw him slowly transform into an unthinking piano-playing machine due to his mother’s influence. That change from somebody who played because he loved the instrument and somebody who merely followed what was on the sheet at his mother’s urging deeply scarred Emi. She of course wants to beat Kousei, but at the same time she also wants to see him return to his old self. The result is a swirling concoctions of emotions that combines admiration, resentment, and maybe a little bit of affection as well. She’s obviously outwardly hostile to Kousei, but I think she also has some feelings for him that we could see manifest once Kousei figures things out on his end. We see this mess of contradictory feelings come out in her outstanding piano performance this week. Takeshi’s performance was great, at least for the animation, but the combination of visual flair and intense emotion in Emi’s performance really stole the show for me.
Another topic the show explored this week is the idea of teachers or parents trying to live out their failed dreams through their students or children. I really liked the scene where Emi talked to her teacher about how Kousei originally inspired her and the transformation he underwent due to his mother’s influence. Emi’s teacher acknowledges the mistakes that Kousei’s mother made in trying to get her son to live out her past ambitions, but at the same time Emi’s teacher realizes that she’s not immune to those instincts. Her conversation with Takeshi’s teacher is also very telling as the competition between Takeshi and Emi is clearly a proxy for competition between the two of them who no longer have the time or skill to compete themselves. I really like this new dynamic of the failures of a previous generation being forced into a new generation of performers and I hope they keep looking at the show from this angle.
One other thing I thought was notable was the way Kaori reacted to seeing Emi’s performance. Emi obviously shares the desire to restore Kousei to his old self with Tsubaki, but it also seems like her style of performance resonated with Kaori in a way the others’ hadn’t. Based on her teacher’s description of how her level of performance fluctuates wildly based on how she’s feeling at the time, I think that she might have quite a bit in common with Kaori as well. I could definitely see her emerging as yet another rival for Kousei down the road. I suppose there’s the matter of Ryouta, who seems to have a thing for Emi, but he has a thing for almost everybody and is the most boring member of the cast for my money so we’ll just ignore him. Anyway, the show’s move away from purely focusing on the Kaori/Kousei dynamic has been a good one and I think the show is much better for it. I’m actually looking forward to Shigatsu next week for the first time in a while.