So the February tradition continues into this new year. One would think that I would at some point run out of something to talk about with regards to relationships and love in anime, but I am proved wrong time and again. But anyway, onto the review of this forgotten little gem…..
Piano the Melody of a Young Girl’s Heart (November 2002-January 2003 TV Series, 10 episodes)
Director: Norihiko Sudo
Script: Mami Watanabe and Ryunosuke Kingetsu
So stop me if you have heard this before: A young girl falls out of a musical instrument that she used to play, but had a falling out with it only to revisit while on the cusp of growing up into a young woman. Oh, and she deals with some romantic tension with regards to the men in her life. If you mention Sound Euphonium as the first thing that comes to mind, you are close but not quite. This type of story was tackled over a decade prior, from the mind of none other than Kosuke Fujishima, creator of Ah My Goddess and You’re Under Arrest. He came up with the original concept of the series, with OLM and others coming in to refine the concept.
Piano tells the story of Miu Nomura, a shy introvert who plays piano outside her usual school and home life. She used to love it as a child, but recently hit a bit of a slump in her interest. Granted she has one friend, Yuuki, who is on the track team and a bit contrasted: more tomboyish and extroverted then Miu. She currently takes lessons with Mr. Shirakawa, a stern faced and emotionally distant teacher who finds her a bit unbearable due to her awkwardness and reluctance towards playing the piano. Meanwhile, Miu is dealing with her growing feelings towards boys as well as helping out Yuuki with a similar predicament. The impetus of the story kicks in when Shirakawa sensei gets Miu to take part in a piano recital, playing a piece she wore herself. Will she be able to get that done in time?
That is about it when it comes to Piano’s story. It is a simple but well-executed slice of life story with elements of romantic drama thrown in for good measure. It moves at a very casual pace yet at the same time it didn’t seem to be wasting time or lingering on things for too long. Even at 10 episodes, it doesn’t feel too bloated or spread out too thin as to be unremarkable and watching the show is akin to doing a casual walk.
I got to say the character work is good for such a short series. I really felt for Miu struggling with her piano playing, which could be a metaphor for her growing up and coming to terms with what that entails. The central conflict of Piano is more on Miu overcoming her own anxiety and doubt. She thinks that she will fail at playing the piano when she doesn’t feel like putting in the effort. But, with growing up, you learn that failure may come but it is the greatest teacher. Its through making mistakes that one can truly improve and get better at, something that Miu’s teacher, Mr. Shirakawa, tries implicitly to impart with Miu. But in parallel, Miu has to deal with blossoming love for herself and her best friend, the tomboyish Yuuki which serves as a nice addition to this rather laidback slice of life story. Fujishima’s strength I find, just here as in his other stories like Ah My Goddess and You’re Under Arrest, lies in his character work and relationships and how that moves the story along. Granted the story just ends a bit abruptly, but with just 10 episodes it’s fine.
That being said, the visual presentation of Piano reflects the laidback comfortable nature of the piece. Now, OLM is Oriental Light and Magic, a long time production company best known for Pokemon. Well that’s only partly correct, as Piano was handled by OLM production group Team Iguchi who did some work on Pokemon but more known for their work on shows like Berserk, Comic Party and To Heart 2 among others. Now, Fujishima’s visual stamp on the show is clear in the character design work, though one can see the Hidenori Matsubara influence that would be more evident with the Ah my Goddess TV series. The art and animation is rather subdued in its movement but it still holds up well enough even 15 years later. It lacks the technical finesse of what Sound Euphonium managed to pull off greatly, but it is a commendable effort.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music, as it is a key part of the series. Both the opening and ending songs are nice, soft, cozy with a lilting piano quality to them. They also use a lot of classical pieces, from the likes of Beethoven and Chopin among a few that lend to the cozy and comfy atmosphere Piano strives for. Its quite the delight to listen to the music which helps to set the mood of Piano quite nicely.
The English dub is nice and pleasant, if a bit understated in terms of performance. NYAV Post helmed this dub with perennial director Michael Sinterniklaas and an adapted script by Stephanie Sheh. They, along with Headline Studios, were the two NY dub studios that did a considerably better jobs then some of the others NY groups in my opinion. The dub features Rebecca Soler, Marc Diraison, Sean Schemmel, Veronica Taylor, among others. The dub is rather casual and understated and in my opinion well worth a listen to.
Overall, Piano The Melody of A Young Girl’s Heart is a nice, cozy little show. It got an intimate story that just about anyone could relate to; the coming of age experience and the pains/joys that can bring to you. Fujishima might be more well known for Ah My Goddess, but this little obscure gem is worth a look to see more of what Fujishima has to offer as a creative artist, both in terms of character work and art design. It is quite the bummer Fujishima has faded from creative work largely, besides character design work for the ‘Tales of…’ video game series. Perhaps in light of some other older shows/series getting remade this past few years, maybe his stuff can get a revival as well. AH well, a man can dream. The first two episodes are on Nozomi Entertainment’s youtube channel and you can probably find the series on DVD singles or the DVD boxset which is what I got from a bargain store about a year ago.
Next month, I am taking a look at a story involving a certain Electric Princess…..
Til next time dear readers