Let Me Start with Kaori

I refrained from posting anything about Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso because I really wanted to see the end first. No thanks to the fucker that spoiled the ending to me just a few days ago, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it because Kaori is ultimately a boring, if not even a bad character.

Miyazono Kaori
How to troll MRAs

In the beginning Miyazono Kaori is presented to us as this manic pixie girl who drops in to save the protagonist from the colorless everyday. I actually liked her back then because she sort of reminded me of the titular character from Nodame Cantabile, but things quickly took a turn for the worse. We learn Kousei has some serious mommy issues, in dealing with which Kaori plays the role of the surrogate mother. Both female characters were selfish in character, pushy, even abusive, although to be fair Kaori’s was meant to be taken lightly. These parallels bugged the hell out me. Why was the show baiting Kousei into an unhealthy relationship with a girl that reminded him of his mother? This was one of the first reasons that made me question the writing. I wanted to take it seriously, but in the end I just couldn’t. Let me explain.

The show quickly presents us the source of Kousei’s trauma. Her mother, a failed musician, tries to make his kid into a world-class pianist at a very young age, but she achieves this by regular beatings and emotional manipulation. Before she dies, she curses Kousei over letting out his pent-up frustrations. She dies and Kousei feels guilty over it, so much so he stops hearing the notes he produces with the piano. Eventually he stops playing altogether. A normal person would think his condition has to be a manifestation of a kind of trauma, with the mother’s abuse being a central component to it. However, his friends insist he should just man the fuck up and stop making excuses for himself. The show wasn’t humble enough to stop there. Hiroko suggests that quite possibly the manifestation of Kousei’s trauma was in fact a superpower and that Saki beat him regularly in order to straighten him up, in turn thinking of her son’s future during all of it. But my favorite comes from Kousei himself, when he self-consciously proclaims overcoming his musical deafness will be a good challenge to him, a game. In the end, Kousei cures himself through an almost twisted act of forgiveness, thanking his mother for all the wonderful things she had given him, when in fact the reality in front of those rose-tinted glasses was anything but.

All of these points make it clear the show demonstrated ignorance on the subject of abuse and emotional trauma. By reducing Kousei’s trauma to its manifestation and the manifestation to a game he had to beat made me lose all hope for any kind of serious treatise. While it’s clear to me that this attitude mostly comes down to ignorance on the mangaka’s part, some suggested cultural perceptions might be in play. Someone close to the Japanese perspective commented Kousei is just playing along the lines of his culture’s expectations regarding the subject. Apparently, Japanese kids need to stay composed after facing abuse and not cry about it. The comment wasn’t confrontational or anything, but the hidden sentiment basically amounted to me being culturally insensitive because I pointed out the lack of condemnation of Saki’s abusive behavior on the show’s part.

I needed to get this out of the way because it was one of the parallels that Kaori shared with Kousei’s mother. In a way, Kaori is not really her own self. She borrows Saki’s role to inhibit Kousei’s world and she unfortunately remains in that role until the very end. Her defining characteristics are mundane girly stereotypes that don’t really make her special. As for the disease, the show quickly establishes Kousei needs to metaphorically kill characters to be able to advance his musical prowess. In other words, this notion makes Kaori into Kousei’s foil for most of the show. Only at the very end do we learn she does have agency of her own, that despite being the main heroine she had her wishes and aspirations, even though Kousei was sort of in the middle of them all. In short, there just weren’t enough incentives for me to really care about her. At least she had one thing going for her–she was gorgeous.

If the show started revealing what it had crammed into the last episode earlier, my opinion of her would be different. As things stand, the last episode left me cold. No tears, no longing for more. Right now everybody is giving the show masterpiece status when in fact it was just good. A couple of cheap tricks in the last episode can’t fix a pile of character settings that lent themselves to shitty writing. I believe it was either episode four or episode six when I predicted the parallels between Saki and Kaori wouldn’t work well. It took way too long to close them out. The show’s strengths lie in its directing, the music performances, and a couple of key cut scenes where the animation came close to god-tier. Ishiguro Kyouhei is a madman director and I want to see more of him. Knowing that what I was watching was effectively a tear-jerker, he still managed to squeeze me dry at times against my will.

That the show is taking off on MAL doesn’t surprise me though. Otaku like their girls in various stages of dying.

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2 thoughts on “Let Me Start with Kaori

  1. As terrible as it makes me, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who suffered through this shlock while seeing it for what it was. I almost wish I could just enjoy it on the superficial base emotional level that most people seemed to enjoy it on… but I can’t. Especially since I have to deal with people who live this stuff every day in my profession. It makes me sad that people out there might take the messages in this anime to heart instead of learning how twisted the perspectives truly are. Heck, for all it faults at least the characters in Nodame made sense as people after you got to know them.

    1. I’m a lot more worried that Japan’s cultural expectations might really be that bad when it comes to it. When Fukushima happened the public was prompted to get psychological help, so I thought that people keeping mental health issues to themselves was just a stereotype. But when I think about it, the prompt wasn’t so much a wish for people to get better but rather an order to exercise public responsibility. I honestly don’t know how people deal with emotional trauma in Japan, but it’s terrible if they deal with it themselves just like in the show. If questioning cultural norms on this subject makes me culturally insensitive, then I don’t know anymore.

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