Now that we’ve reached the end of this series, Kosei continues to flounder with why he plays piano and Kaori goes through the surgery that may save her life.
In a way, I’m glad this series ended on a bittersweet note. It’s sad, heartwarming, a bit inspiring, and if they dragged it out for even one more panel, it would have been ruined. I’ll avoid spoilers but if you’re into music, want your heartstrings tugged, like soft, flowing art, and earnest characters, this isn’t a bad read. I give the series overall a 3.5 out of 5.
As the qualifiers for the East Japan Competition begin, Kaori’s condition worsens despite her renewed dedication to fight so she can perform with Kosei again. Kosei’s best friend, Tsubaki, finally confesses her feelings and Kosei not only puts a name to his feelings for Kaori but makes friends of his rivals in the competition.
It was nice to see Kaori stop brooding and really try to live. Seeing her act in such a way so blatantly in contrast to how bubbly and spontaneous as she was in the first few volumes became tiresome and downright annoying.
Watching Kosei try to deal with how out of control things are around him is heartbreaking. He wanted to save his mom, he wants to save Kaori, he’s this all around decent, hard working kid having to deal with all these hardships and pressures that many adults would fold under. I did kinda feel like this volume didn’t move the plot forward enough (only one kid did his performance for the competition) I did enjoy reading it.
With Kaori’s offer to kill himself with her still on his mind, Kosei is still tying to focus on teaching Nagi and prepping to perform with her at a school festival. But Nagi is feeling the pressure of so many people around her expecting perfection.
The pressure on these kids is just heartbreaking and the fact that so few adults are as supportive as they could be drives me crazy. Even Nagi’s mother just sort of clutches her pearls and says “Gee, I hope she’s not pushing herself too hard.” Yeah, but don’t DO or SAY anything to her. She’s just your kid. UGH!! But despite the pressure and stress, just playing makes Kosei and Nagi happy and that was awesome.
But Kaori? Fucking really, kid!? “Hey, come die with me! LOL JK!” I wanted to smack her. I really wish Kosei would tell her about his mom so she won’t make jokes like that. Kosei needs supportive friends who can help him deal with that pain; not suicide jokes. I hope Kosei continues to move forward but I am still not too happy with Kaori.
A girl literally falls out of a tree onto Kosei and asks Hiroko to teach her piano. Her name is Nagi Aizato, a middle school student and another on the growing list of people who want to mess with Kosei. Hiroko sees right through the cute innocent girl facade and has Kosei teach her instead. Meanwhile, Kaori is back in the hospital with no sign of leaving anytime soon. There’s an aside with Tsubaki’s feelings for Kosei again but since it doesn’t seem to go anywhere, it’s more of a distraction than anything else.
Kaori is obviously dying of something but the story won’t let us know what it is. She hasn’t told Kosei but by the end of this volume she’s all “Hey, wanna commit double suicide with me?”
That made me dislike her a bit. “You’re my buddy despite the fact I browbeat you in to getting back into music, I clearly enjoy your company and admire your talent, so wanna die with me before I even tell you why I’m sick and want to die?” The hell? And right when Kosei is getting his feet under him again? That seems really messed up to me. It will be hard enough for him to deal with Kaori being sick because of his mom but to tease around the information seems cruel; even if Kaori has no clue about what Kosei’s mother did to him.
After Kosei’s amazing yet still uneven performance, he is able to process some of his conflicting feelings about his deceased mother. But he was playing alone! What happened to Kaori?
We also get some backstory on Kosei’s best friend, Tsubaki. I have to ashamedly say I’d been so focused on Kosei and his struggle that Tsubaki’s changing feelings for her friend went totally under the radar for me! I feel bad because she’s a cool character. I like her! Hopefully, she will have more of a presence as we go along.
And Kaori ended up in the hospital! I knew she was too happy and quirky not to be ill in some sort of way. We don’t find out yet but when that ball finally drops, I’m sure it will derail all the progress Kosei has made.
Kaori receives an invitation to play at a gala concert to celebrate the winners of the competition where they didn’t manage to advance. Seizing this chance, Kaori chooses the song she and Kosei will perform and begins the grueling practice immediately. But the piece Kaori picked is the dame song Kosei’s mother used to play all the time and Kosei, understandably, has difficulty staying focused and motivated. With his mother’s friend, Hiroko, mentoring him, Kosei will once again attempt to take the stage and make that piano sing.
Kosei is still working through his pain and anger and, while I would like to see this kid get some real therapy; stepping up to face his fears is admirable and inspiring. Major props to his character. This is definitely a story about working through loss bit by bit and coming back into life through sadness instead of letting it consume you or keep you from living to the fullest. I am really enjoying this journey.
Kosei, mid performance, sees the phantom of his mother and can’t keep playing; effectively ruining his chances of winning. When his rivals seem him stop, gather himself, and continue without a stitch of regret, they begin to see a flash of the young boy who played with such passion in the past.
Right now the story is all about Kosei rediscovering playing music because he loves it and not because he’s trying to make his mother happy. He still can’t get though an entire performance on stage without freezing up but his friends are still there to support him; including Hiroko Seto: Japan’s leading pianist and a former friend and classmate of Kosei’s mother. Hiroko saw what Kosei was going through under his mother’s heel and offers to help him out. It’s great to see this character making these small steps in coming to terms with his past for the sake of his future.
In this volume, the competition continues and we meet Emi Igawa and Takeshi Aiza who have been waiting for Kosei to return to the stage. We learn that the boy once known as the Human Metronome inspired these other two to take up piano in the first place! Watching a person they admire freeze on stage fuels their intense performances and when Kosei takes the stage, at first he seems ok. But before their eyes, the same freeze happens again. They say in the book that he can’t hear the music so, what does he hear? His deceased mother’s voice berating him for his failures. We learn how abusive she was to Kosei when he was playing as a child and it’s no wonder he freezes when playing.
One thing that annoyed me a little is how Kosei has friends but he never tells anyone that the last thing he told his mother (after she finished beating him with her cane) was he wished she would just die. That’s a pretty damn good reason to not want to play or have flashbacks of how she treated him while he’s playing. So, with people around him completely unaware of what he went through, it seems empty for them to tell him “Oh just believe in yourself! Play for who you want to play for!” It’s much more complicated than that. I hope Kosei at least tells his closest friends, as honestly, it’s none of the judge’s or other competitor’s business. But man, am I ever rooting fo him.
Kaori has challenged Kosei to return to competitive playing. She saw how Kosei reacted to playing as her accompaniment during her violin performance and wants to see him continue. As the performers begin, we see some unexpected rivals who are determined to beat Kosei now that he’s back. We also see some romantic interest in Kosei from his childhood friend, Tsubaki.
Hopefully, the pressure won’t get to Kosei this time. He spends this volume practicing and it’s looking like he’ll be able to play as he is focusing less on being perfect and more on enjoying the act of making music. However, his problems aren’t pre-show jitters or stage fright, he freezes during his performances because he remembers how horrible his mother was. And of course, there’s always the chance the new rivals will try to mess with him. Since this volume ends on a cliffhanger, we’ll have to find out in the next one.
Kosei and Kaori take the stage in Kosei’s first outing playing in public since his mother died and he began to freeze on stage. Not to spoil what happens too badly but I’m glad Kosei didn’t get everything perfect on the first try. That would have been way too contrived. But afterward, Kaori faints and ends up in the hospital. She appears to come out fine but as I read through this volume, without knowing any spoilers or clues for the following volumes (including cover images) I found myself thinking: “Aww, Kaori is pretty awesome! Shit, she’s gonna die or something, isn’t she…”
I have a feeling I’m right. Kaori is too wistful and fearless. I’m getting a strong “Bridge to Terabithia” vibe from her.