If The Pianist had been an anime, the entire room would suddenly light up with an unnatural sheen the instant Adrian Brody’s character started playing the piano. Glowing, golden balls then appeared out of nowhere and floated their way from the piano to the Nazi officer. The Nazi officer, with his mouth agape, couldn’t help but think, “IS DAT HIM?! IS DAT HIM?! If I don’t hold back, I think I’m going to cry! Hearing such straightforward emotions puts a pang in my heart.”
As for Brody’s character, we would literally get to see his thoughts. The movie would cut to images of some blonde girl — German, I’m sure ;v — that he’s in love with. We’ll also hear him think, “I can hear her soft breathing as she sleeps. Like a cat. A single petal that drifted into my life. Will it reach her. I hope it reaches her. Thank you! Thank you!”
Does all of the above sound ludicrous? Well, it should. Because adaptations like Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso take us for dummies. Either that or A-1 Pictures is cynical. Hopelessly, bitterly cynical about their audience. Y’see, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso claims to love music. It certainly claims that music represents freedom. It even claims that music can move our hearts, and bring us to tears. But…
…it won’t let music do its job. The adaptation refuses to let Kousei’s performance — blemishes and all — to speak for itself:
“His playing is changing yet again. The opening was a robotic as a computer… following the score to the note, dead-accurate… Then midway through, it was like a sobbing child pounding the keys… Three times, he transformed.”
But you can hear this. You can literally hear Kousei’s progression from a robotic, mechanical pianist to a traumatized victim of abuse, and the whole point behind adapting the manga. You play to your new medium’s strengths by letting us hear what we couldn’t hear when we were simply reading the manga. Now that we’re watching an anime adaptation, we also become a part of Kousei’s audience, so we don’t need to have the characters spell everything out to us. And frankly, this show isn’t even complicated, so why would you go and make the anime’s strengths redundant? Why would you detract from both the visuals and the audio by allowing the characters to drone on and on?
You see the lack of emotions on Kousei’s face, and you connect it to his spotless but equally emotionless music. You then see the frustration on his face, so you connect it to his erratic playing. Knowing what you know about his past, you come to the conclusion that his mother’s abuse has come back to haunt him. None of this is difficult. This is literally high school level reading. This isn’t even “The curtains are blue, which represents the sadness in her heart.” This is about as direct as you can get with your metaphors. As a result, the adaptation is just doing itself a disservice by letting the characters talk over the beautiful visuals and music. And again, it’s doing itself a disservice by mindlessly copying the manga. If I wanted the manga, I would’ve just read the manga.
Why oh why must this nobody judge — he’s a nobody ’cause he has no character — spell everything out for us? It’s because the adaptation doesn’t believe. It doesn’t think we can properly understand this powerful, poignant story that we’re watching. This adaptation is supposed to be about the magic of music, right? We’re supposed to be able to feel what Kousei feels from just his performance alone, right? But the show has no confidence in its own subject matter. It constantly undermines itself by having the characters talk over the piano. It claims to love music, but it can’t even believe in itself either. It doesn’t believe in music’s power to convey emotions, so the characters literally have to sit there and explain everything to the audience.
When Kousei finally manages to recover from his trauma, and as a result, his playing is no longer erratic. Instead, it becomes heartfelt and earnest. But there’s nothing heartfelt or earnest about stupid, magical balls of golden bullshit floating their way to the audience. They’re cheap and tacky, representative of nothing. I may as well hang Thomas Kinkade paintings all over the walls of my house. But why do we see these stupid, magical balls of golden bullshit? Because again, we’re apparently too stupid to understand just how magnificent Kousei’s performance has suddenly become. Because we can’t just sit here and listen with our ears. Because even though music itself is awesome, the adaptation doesn’t expect us to understand that anyway. “So here,” the anime might as well say, “Let me just hold your hand and guide you through this, because you’re a bunch of drooling dumbasses.”
Let the music speak for itself. Don’t just mindlessly copy everything from the manga when you adapt it. You’re supposed to also adapt to the strengths of the new medium. And this, by the way, means that you should also let the animation speak for itself. If the goddamn hero is smiling, you’re damn right he doesn’t feel any regret, so why are you telling me this? But seriously, believe in yourself, man. And believe in the audience. When you’ve got the best of production values, and the best of music, just let them shine. What are you afraid of? That the audience would come to the wrong conclusions? That the audience can’t keep up? That’s their problem. Not yours. But I bet if you’re actually willing to challenge people, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that they’re not as hopeless as you think they are.