Unpopular Opinion: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso

When I look back at my top two favorite shows and strip them done to the most universally applicable elements of their story and presentation, I find that two things that any show can do which really impress are huge, incredible endings and the ability to get better or stay just as good every time I rewatch it.  Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso is decidedly not a show that falls into either of these categories.  I won’t go so far to say it’s outright bad because I don’t think that’s true, but it was much worse the second time I watched it and I don’t think it’s ever going to get better.  There will be spoilers ahead you’ve been warned.

After meditating on why it is that Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso was such a lesser experience the second time around I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem is mainly Kaori and the show’s assumption that you the viewer are invested in her as the main romantic interest.  This works the first time around because it’s not until well after Arima starts really falling for her that we find out she’s horribly sick and will eventually die by the end of the season.  That way we can get invested in the romance and then get hit by the big feels later on.  But if you go in knowing exactly what’s going to happen to Arima and Kaori this dynamic totally falls apart, well if you’re like me at least.  To me there’s something weird and almost underhanded about the way Kaori goes about getting Arima’s affection: So get this, her plan is pretend to date Arima’s best friend (I don’t think it’s ever made clear why she knows those two were best friends or that the best friend is a total player who dates a bunch of girls at once, conveniently allowing her to go on quasi-dates with Arima but whatever I’ll buy it), so that she can hang out with Arima and get him back into piano, and so she can date him without going out with him.  She has to enact this plan because she’s friends with Arima’s childhood friend and that childhood friend is in love with him.

I get that because she knows she’s not in good health she doesn’t want to fight openly with the childhood friend for Arima’s affection and then cause a whole bunch of problems for everyone by potentially winning and then dying on her new boyfriend.  But her approach is hardly better because she stills wins Arima’s affection anyway and then devastates him by dying.  Her plan is only good insofar as it gets Arima back to playing the piano.  Now I know that finale is this big moment where after getting so depressed at Kaori’s rapidly approaching death Arima overcomes his sorrow and plays the best concert of his life with all these romantic and artsy visuals of him playing with Kaori which cements their tragic romance and visualizes for the invested audience the emotional crescendo of the narrative.  And credit where it’s due it was a good final performance and the first time around I think it worked.  But what it made clear to me the second time around was that this was not the scene I got most emotional over, because even that first time around I knew one other scene which rivaled the ending and with a new perspective that scene surpassed the ending.  I’m talking about the duet performance in episode 18.

Shortly after Kaori gets sick and Arima plays at her event by himself and really gets going on his piano, he ends up teaching this middle school girl piano.  The girl is already good at piano but she wants to get better so that she can reignite the passions of her big brother, her big brother being arguably the best pianist of his age group in Japan since Arima had his huge emotional breakdown over his mother’s death before episode one and stopped playing piano.  This brother, Aizawa Takeshi considered Arima a huge rival back when they were younger and with Arima gone for a few years, and without someone else to fill the void he left, Takeshi is losing his passion.  So his little sister trains with Arima and Arima’s coach for like a month, culminating in a duet performance at the school music festival.  This duet performance is beautiful because Arima pushes this girl to her limits during this performance, and because she’s trained with him she rises to the occasion, has the best performance of her life and reignites her brother’s passion just like she wanted to.  It’s an amazing performance that relies on the music and character’s soliloquies to communicate the emotional climax this performance represents, and to me that was so much better than having the crazy artsy visuals of Kaori and Arima playing together in the finale.  To me the duet performance had far emotional impact because I like the little sister more than Kaori, I like how more character’s perspectives were expressed during that performance, and I like that ended on a big moment of hope, instead of one of crushing sadness.

Now the narrative says that Arima really improves his music when exposed to sorrow, so his mother’s death and Kaori’s death are supposed to shoot him forward, which makes Kaori and her death more important.  However it also shows that in the process of teaching the little sister for the duet performance, Arima improves.  To me it would’ve been a much stronger message to have Arima surpass his limits with the duet performance, to throw away the idea that he can only really improve with sadness.  The way I see it this reliance on sorrow as the driving force of his talent limits Arima, which is a huge blunder to me because he’s a teenager, right now he has more potential to change and reshape himself than ever before.  If Arima were older and could only advance via sorrow, like some kind of piano equivalent of Edgar Allen Poe, then this characterization would be stronger.  But given his youth, if Arima can only really grow due to sorrow he’s either going to hit a wall soon or he’ll have to keep having bad things happen to him which honestly might make him suicidal.  That’s a weak narrative to me, especially when the duet performance showed he could grow while still experiencing joy and hope.

Setting aside the narrative there a few other things that bothered me.  I just generally don’t like most of the characters we see the most of.  Arima is fine but the best friend is mostly a waste of time, the childhood friend is annoying, and Kaori doesn’t appeal to me at all for the reasons described above.  I’d also like to note that I think the story is weakened by the fact that Arima basically undergoes the same character arc twice because his mom and Kaori both get him going on the piano and then die, leaving him temporarily heartbroken and unable to play before he grows and can play again, and that was pretty boring.  Similarly the early performances with Kaori were hard for me to watch, I just hate watching people who are supposed to be good fail horribly, it causes me to cringe a lot and want to skip the scene.  By comparison the duet arc showed a lot more potential for character growth.  To me the best characters are the other pianists and Arima’s teacher, because they had better designs, more concretely defined backstories and clear motivations and because all the best scenes revolved around the piano performances.  Also Emi is way way way hotter than Kaori.  And to reiterate one more time the best emotional scene was the duet performance with the little sister, which had a much bigger impact on the other pianists and the teacher than Arima’s school friends.

A few other thing that bother me was how Kaori knew about Arima’s strong emotional connections to Love’s Sorrow (I think that was the song title), the piece he performs at Kaori’s performance that she misses.  It’s hugely important to Arima getting past the ghost of his mother and coming into his own but it’s not explained why she knows that this particular song is so important to him in any satisfactory way.  Also having Kaori literally have and die of the same disease as Arima’s mom is bad move to me.  It traps Arima’s story in the past, when the whole point of the Love’s Sorrow performance was him breaking free of the past to move on and grow, an idea that was built on with the duet performance arc.  But by having Kaori die in same way as his mom and having the same effect on Arima, albeit for a much shorter span of time, robs Arima and his story of their forward momentum.  The final performance is basically a elegy in piano form, and sure it’s a beautiful elegy, but it’s weird to end a high school story on that note, because high school is about growth and becoming the person you will be as an adult.  By entombing the story in Kaori’s death and Arima’s elegy, they’ve created a moment that’s beautiful when frozen in time, but becomes significantly less so when you think about the implications it has for Arima’s future.  Again the duet performance bypasses all of this because it shows that not only has Arima broken free of his past traumas but that he’s actively pursuing his future.

At the end of the day I don’t think Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso is a bad show, but it’s not a particularly good one either.  I think the ending scene, while strong, is neither the best scene in the show nor the direction the narrative should have taken.  And because so much of this show’s story relies on you being invested in Kaori, when I found Emi far more interesting as a character and far hotter, if you ever stop being invested in Kaori this story loses a ton of it’s emotional impact, which was the primary draw of the show.  If you’ve never seen it before feel free to give it a whirl, but honestly I think this one of those shows that is way overrated because it tries to be really sad and dramatic and artsy, and for most people that’s enough to appear really top tier.  As discussed before, I’m not most people and thanks to my second viewing, I’m not impressed.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

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