「友人A」 (Yūjin A)
Talk about stunning.
As a hobbyist musician, I’ve always believed in music as something beyond its mathematical and precise components. Yes, we rely on math and rhythm and technical knowledge to understand how to create it, but even the most exact performance can mean nothing if the musician doesn’t put some of themselves in the work. If everyone in the world performed music the exact same way, we would have no genius and personality, and music would be little more than clockwork sounds. Music is just as much emotion and soul as it is practice.
Of course, practice is incredibly important regardless; if you don’t know your piece inside out, how in the world can you embellish it, work with it, lovingly take it apart and see what makes it tick? Kaori couldn’t have performed as she did here if she didn’t know what she was doing. Unfortunately, contests like these aren’t really about showing off style and flair. They’re about the specifics of the piece, about having practiced it to point precision and seeing who can play it best as intended. Personally, I hate that aspect of music; no matter how much I’ve learned a piece, I can never do it as well under the pressure of grading. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important, and it’s pretty much blatant disrespect to the other contestants when someone like Kaori performs with her own style and interpretation.
Art is difficult like that; it is essentially human expression, but people need standards by which to interact with it. Kaori is a brilliant musician, but a contest like this is not the place to demonstrate that. But that also reveals another interesting observation about the nature of art: art is separate from the artist. Though people like the judges might feel downright offended by Kaori, she herself doesn’t really give a damn about following the rules. She does, however, care about how her music is perceived and enjoyed by her audience. It’s a scary thing to be a performer; you want people to love what you do, and it can be really hard to please or express yourself to them. And obviously, Kaori wants to impress some people, though not necessarily the judges.
For Arima, Kaori’s performance is the pivotal moment of his attitude to music. Kaori the individual is one thing; she’s turbulent, a bit full of herself, and temperamental. That’s what makes her who she is, a free-spirited young girl who loves music and just does whatever she wants. It also makes her the musician she is, and this is something Arima especially appreciates. He grew up with the most technical interpretation of music. His mother told him music was worthless unless perfect, and he was severely limited by her instruction. On the other hand, Kaori is all about the freedom and emotion of music, about reaching her audience, and that’s something that leaves an incredible impression on the heart of a broken 14 year old boy. So much so that he already feels the stirrings of attraction, and hates to hurt the eager feelings of a young girl in love.
Musical discourse aside, there’s very little to say about an episode this amazing. The contest is an awe-inspiring scene, not just for Kaori, but also in the way it manages to convey the atmosphere of a theater and the emotions of the audience and musicians. The music is beautiful and Kaori’s performance was without a doubt one of the most beautiful and striking scenes of the season, if not of the year. I’m very pleased with the way the anime is treating the manga, and I can only hope things continue to be this good throughout.