The 24-episode anime spanning 2 seasons, with the first season focusing on the discovery of the genius pianist Kai Ichinose while the second season focusing on their journey during the international competition.
In the first half of the series, a shy Shuhei Amamiya hits bottleneck in his piano training, and is trying to get Sosuke Ajino to teach him. During the period, he gets to know an enthusiastic Kai Ichinose who often plays an abandoned piano in the middle of the forest. The abandoned piano is the remnants of the story of Sosuke Ajino, a previously famous pianist who had an accident and is no longer able to play. The piano in the forest connects the 3 pianists together in a journey to discover themselves.
As Kai explores more on the musical journey, he falls further in love with the piano, determining that he will pursue a career in music and bail his family out from the red-light district. Ajino takes on Kai as his student, imparting his knowledge & guiding the young genius to his own world of piano. On the other hand, Shuhei decides to study overseas to expand his knowledge in music and to grow out of Kai’s shadow.
When they next meet, it is an international competition for pianists. More characters are introduced, including Pang Wei a pianist from China and Lech Szymanowski from Poland, each a genius with their story to be told. The series ends with Kai placing first in the competition.
Characters & Their Journeys
Shuhei comes from a privileged background, his father being a famous pianist. A sensitive soul, he faces pressure since young to meet expectations and pushes himself in his journey to find his “piano”. This contrasts significantly with Kai’s background. Kai is born in the red-light district, but has a Midas’ touch on the piano. Very mature for his age, he has a carefree attitude and is the adult in his relationship with his often drunk mother.
Each has their journey to find their own piano & music. Shuhei struggles to understand that the competition is not with Kai but his ownself, while Kai finds his own music through his own exploration. I thought that Kai’s journey is quite smooth-sailing and I believe it is also due to his own personality – carefree and persistence.
Sosuke Ajino on the other hand, has lived a totally different life as a famous pianist, until an accident took the life of his partner & incapacitated him, unable to play piano as before. He teaches music in the school, but feels almost nothing, with very little exciting him. Until he meets Kai, and realizes perhaps he is the guide for Kai.
The other characters are a little less interesting, an exception for Pang Wei. The character is quite a sad one, whereby he is picked out in the village to be a pianist and goes through violent abuses to be where he is. The fact that Ajino’s piano-playing resonates with him, inspires him to get to where he is. But a proud pianist, he refuses to acknowledge the similarity in the playing style – until he meets Ajino in person. Ajino’s praise and input that his playing style will still evolve evokes the appreciation Pang Wei has, changing his perspective of things.
The anime series focuses exclusively on Chopin pieces. At the beginning, the series really inspires, making me really wanting to learn at least one of the pieces. And the 1st season of the series is well-executed when it comes to the storyline. The children’s discovery of the beauty in the tunes and their curiosity provides great fodder for the series. However, the 2nd season is solely focused on the competition, mainly relying on flashback during the performance of the pianist. I find the story-telling lacking, and it does not help that the selection of the tunes inserted as the background did not evoke much excitement.
Of all the characters, I thought that Kai represents the natural prodigy (nature) while Shuhei the hardworking but insecure prodigy (nurture). Ajino represents the original master while Pang Wei represents the innovation to the original.
My key takeaway – no matter what is the level of expertise, a music lover pursues his own journey. It can simply be appreciation, simple play for own enjoyment, full pursuit of perfection in a musical career – to each their own.
Personally, I think the background story is very interesting. However, it is very unfortunate the series takes on a mundane & flat (and boring) story-telling style in the anime. It doesn’t inspire, and the pick of the background music doesn’t help at all. Seriously, 1/3 of the series, I lost interest.
Unless you are a serious Chopin lover, the anime may not be of interest to you. Now, let me go and learn to play Chopin’s Waltz No. 14 in D Major at a definite slower beat. 😛