A tranquil tale about two boys from very different upbringings. On one hand you have Kai, born as the son of a prostitute, who's been playing the abandoned piano in the forest near his home ever since he was young. And on the other you have Syuhei, practically breast-fed by the piano as the son of a family of prestigious pianists. Yet it is their common bond with the piano that eventually intertwines their paths in life.
I have no idea how to judge this, but do have a clear idea of it, so with the anime adaptation of both the Madhouse film and the completed manga itself, let's see what you get with the 1st half of this series while waiting for the 2nd cour to be set next Winter (at the time of this review).
As many would suggest, watching the film made by Madhouse in 2007 is a plus (or how I would interpret it as a MUST) because Gainax clearly rushed out of proportion, seeing that the manga made an extensive approach to cover the emotions felt by the
MCs-turned-rivals Kai Ichinose and Amamiya Shuuhei from children to grown-up, full-fledged pianists. And for manga readers like myself, it's a no-brainer with the most well-beloved pianist-turned-teacher, Sousuke Ajino, having an accident wreck his ability to play with teaching Kai to not surpass anyone, but to find his own voice, from the piano in the forest onto the big scene.
This 1st half covers pretty much the rushed film adaptation onwards to the Polish competition that came to an abrupt end with the 2nd cour left to go. And with music anime, it's a dime a dozen with hits (Your Lie In April etc.), and Piano no Mori falls few and far in between with these. It's a good adaptation, and pretty much still getting used to the CGI which helped in transition moments and such.
As of now, please watch Madhouse's film (which encompasses Episodes 1-4) and follow up on the rest when it comes soon, but for anime-onlys, this series is good if you want a music anime, only if it prefers to your tastes for competition-filled drama.
If there's one thing I wish this show did, it was to just cut off ALL dialogue and just let the BGM play. Unfortunately, like most music-based shows, that's never going to be the case, but one can hope.
Piano no Mori introduces us to two boys, Shuhei Amamiya and Kai Ichinose, each of whom play the piano with different upbringings towards the instrument. Shuhei is from the city and is taught by his father, who is a professional pianist and provides him with the formal training any aspiring pianist would dream of having. Kai on the other hand is from a place called 'Forest's Edge',
a slums that gets rotten looks by those that don't live there. After meeting in elementary school, the two embark on different paths in life with the pursuit of playing the piano, their goals differing as they grow and mature as pianists.
Based on a manga of the same name (and with a movie made prior), Piano no Mori is primarily a journey of Kai as he breaks the chains he has of his birth to become the pianist that he pursues and dreams of, chronicling his life as he slowly makes a name for himself. Shuhei tags along for the ride and does get many of the episodes featured about him and his struggles to become the pianist he wants despite having the best training, but never really gets the kind of attention to detail that Kai does. As a result, the two boys feel like they have an imbalance in focus, with one overpowering the other in screentime in any given episode or arc. By that same stretch, it seems as though despite the anime having MUCH more time compared to its movie counterpart, there still seems to be some missing details that are absent from the anime. This is mostly through word of mouth as I have not read the original manga myself, but there are a multitude of side characters featured in the middle to later sections of the anime that do feel like they serve no purpose, and that's probably where that dissonance occurs.
But despite that, the one thing that I can adore this show for is giving the piano and music in general the attention that it deserves. The show is always about the characters and their connection to the piano. Hardly any episodes go by without a classical piece being played, and it's such a delight to have an anime featuring music be about the music rather than solely focusing on the drama or anything else. (Looking at you, Haruchika.) Because of this, the plot always feels like it has a sense of purpose, and it always felt like it was pushing itself towards something rather than waste time.
That being said, Piano no Mori is still an unfinished adaptation. Its longer runtime is split into two seasons, so what we get here is a half-finished series with a little note tagged onto the end saying that the second season is coming. Personally, I think the note that they left on is very poorly timed, as we not only get introduced to new characters, but it doesn't even finish up an arc, so what we're left with instead is only barely part one of a two part sonata.
+ Very focused plot
+/- Decent pacing (floundered at times)
- Bad place to end
- Some skip over on arcs
Characters for Piano no Mori fall into two categories if their names are not Kai Ichinose or Shuhei Amamiya: Important and unimportant.
For Kai, what we get is an initially rowdy kid who over the course of the series grows in determination and willingness to fulfill the big shoes that he's put himself in as the only pupil of the famous, now retired professional pianist, Sousuke Ajino. As the only pianist who can bring out the sound of the Piano of the Forest (which is quite literally a piano in the forest), what we see in Kai is a natural genius who starts to come into his own only after the hardships he endures being a child born in the slums of 'Forest's Edge'. That's not to say that he's without flaws, as the show stagnates him once he's achieved a level of renown towards the middle of the series, making it seem like at face value that all we got with Kai prior is all we'll get.
Shuhei however is on the opposite end of the spectrum as his formal upbringing gives him less development early on, then whales on him later as his anxiety and crippling inferiority complex breaks the guy after hearing Kai play over and over again. The relationship he has with Kai is complex, as not only are the two are friends and rivals, but Shuhei spends much of his time in the spotlight trying to get out of the shadow he sees himself in when compared to his fellow pianist. The only issue here is how little he seems to change, or rather, how little the show focuses on him making that change. Shuhei isn't really in the show's focal point for most of it, which given how many struggles he has later on in the series, doesn't seem right given the imbalance in screentime. (Though I suppose that COULD be a metaphor.)
As for the side cast, what we have is split between the characters who act as the two boys' influences as family, mentors, and friends, and the other pianists who for the most part get shafted and/or aren't important cause we've known them for far less longer and as such don't really care about them. Characters like Kai's mother, Sousuke Ajino, and Shuhei's parents are prime examples of those that get attention put into them as they have minute forms of development alongside the boys, and everyone else really doesn't matter. Which is really a shame cause Takako, a girl who is also a budding pianist, had a lot of potential to round out a trio, but unfortunately doesn't contribute much to the story to warrant something like that to happen.
+ Two very well-made protagonists
- Focus and development of protagonists could've been better presented
- Most of the side cast doesn't matter
Produced by a branch of Studio Gainax called "Fukushima Gainax", Piano no Mori looks...bad. In a sense. I'll explain. The art for the series is primarily comprised of a lighter color palette that's could almost be completely white given how bright everything is, and the character designs for a majority of the characters have a nice simplicity to them that looks good. Because of this style, the backgrounds having an almost painting-like appearance to them and gave the show a nice sense of whimsy reflective of a show that's about showing how magical music can be.
On the flipside though, there're several aspects of the art that irk me. For one thing, lips. There're several characters with outright ugly designs, and this is primarily because some characters have horrendous lip designs that make them look ugly, either making a thick ring around a character's mouth, or drawing sideways threes around the mouth to symbolize thick lips.
On top of that, Piano no Mori heavily utilizes CG in its piano playing scenes. Now granted, this is a smart shortcut, as they save costs while getting amazing shots of fingers flying across the keys as the characters are playing. But from a visual perspective, this just doesn't look all that great. This is further proven because in doing research for comparisons, the movie version had drawn animation for the playing scenes, which looks infinitely better.
+ Nice, simple artwork
- Artwork however looks bad at times
- CG for playing looks terrible
I have been disappointed by music anime not delivering on the 'Sound' aspect before. Thankfully Piano no Mori is not in that category, or else I would've seriously had to reconsider my affection for music-based shows.
The opening is just a simple piano instrumental piece accompanied by a small orchestra behind it in order to give it that bit of grand flair. It's a short and sweet piece that honestly is a lot better than most OPs cause it not only fits the show it's attached to, but it has the unique quality of just being an orchestral piece compared to what most shows do by introducing the audience to a new J-pop piece. By contrast, we have Aoi Yuuki's "Kaeru Basho ga Aru to Iu Koto" which is...an interesting piece. It's a mystical piece with a mix of wonder, soft sounds, and an medium tempo that's cheerful with a recognizable beat but also really contrasts the OP which makes it seem like such a strange partner.
But the real star in the sound department are the numerous Chopin pieces and other classical works that are sprinkled throughout the show. Pieces that for all intents and purposes give truth to the 'Piano' part of the show's name.
+ Good tracks all around
As someone was trained in piano, this is a show that really resonated with me. Everything from Hanon in the first few episodes to trying to find your own style of playing the instrument was a weird nostalgia trip that I didn't see myself having. Not only that, but seeing the two protagonists grow into their own with the instrument was a joy to watch, albeit kind of depressing when you look at it from Shuhei's end.
Quite honestly though, I can't find myself mulling over any specifics over why I liked this show other than I liked it because it was a music show that was about the music and resonated with me personally as a person. I do feel like the plot started to dip in quality towards the end as an entire concert arc spanned several episodes and focused on introducing a bunch of rival characters that we've never heard of before, but it was still good enough to keep my interest.
If you're a fan of music-based shows, Piano no Mori has you covered. With dual protagonists who for the entirety of its runtime has an interesting rivalry about them as well as being a sort of coming of age story for these young pianists, Piano no Mori is an interesting and unique story that while gets cut in half because I assume production problems, does have its merits and compared to the movie, seems to be telling the whole story.
Piano no Mori anime, like the homonimous film, tells the story of Kai Ichinose, an incredibly talented pianist child, whose free style however fails to convince the strict judges of the competitions. Sôsuke Ajino, a former master pianist, takes him as his pupil and vows to make the world appreciate his talent.
If you saw the film, you already saw the best part of it. The problem of this anime is that after the first arc (which was already covered in the film version) the story suddently stops moving forward and keeps moving in circles around the two same ideas: Amamiya (Kai's friend-rival) is frustrated
about not reaching Kai's level, and the competition judges are a close-minded bunch who can't appreciate Kai's talent. Competitions become the end of the story and not just plot drives, to the point that the last 4 episodes have been a single competition. On top of that, there're no other plot lines to bring some fresh breeze into the story (as, for example, there were in Your Lie in April).
Unless you want to see some anime version of a piano competition, I can't recommend to watch it further than the childhood arc.
I've never been so bored binge-watching an anime before. I wanna get this review out of the way so I can ultimately forget about this show and move on with my life.
Story - 5
It's fine and leads to a few fun ideas throughout the show, but none of them are really developed interestingly. I think. Honestly, I don't remember. I literally am writing this review five minutes after binging the entirety of this show and its blandness has led me to forgetting everything about it. Also I'm still irritated about the fact that Kai is apparently "The Chosen One", but whatever.
Art - 7
Easily the most
interesting thing to talk about in this show is its blend of 2D with 3D animation, which I completely adored. The 3D animation was beautiful and worked amazingly into the story, but the big drawback was how stilted and awkward the 2D animation was. Points for trying to be different though.
Sound - 7
Plenty of beautiful piano pieces throughout the show, as one could assume. That being said the OST itself is rather bland and uninteresting. If you're a piano buff, you've probably heard most of the pieces in this show already, and if you're not, it'll all sound very same-y and it'll be hard to understand what the characters are getting so worked up about.
Character - 2
Kai is the only character that can even remotely be interesting, but most of the time he's boring along with the rest of the cast. The show continues to add more and more characters building up to a final piano showdown that falls completely flat, leaving the characters overall uninteresting and a total waste of time. Takako is especially shafted in this regard, which is disappointing because she had an actually interesting bond with Kai that's never brought to any sort of payoff. Easily the worst character in this entire show is Shuuhei, though. The show continuously tries to portray this self-centered and arrogant asshole as one of our main protagonists as he proves time and time again to be completely insufferable. He's either an extremely unlikeable protagonist, or an extremely boring antagonist, and the show can never seem to decide which.
Enjoyment - 4
Boring. This was very boring. I was interested for the first 3 or 4 episodes, but eventually it felt like the same five minute chunk of piano played over and over for the rest of the show. Every single episode feels like another shot of numbing novocaine injected straight into the wrist.
Overall - 4
I'm bored and wanna move on to more interesting projects. Watch the show if you want, but like, I can't say it'll be fun.