Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl's Heart Vol. #3 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, September 17, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What They Say
Unlock the music within your heart!

New Year's has arrived, but the seasonal festivities don't seem to be lifting Miu's spirits at all. With the spring recital fast approaching, Miu is under a lot of pressure to complete her piano composition in time, but she's having trouble finding any inspiration. To make matters worse, when she returns to school, Miu learns that Takahashi has pushed himself too hard studying over the break, and has become very ill. Distracted by everything that's going on and lacking any motivation to finish the song, Miu is dreading having to face Mr. Shirakawa with the piece still not completed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shirakawa is continuing to push Miu towards the spring recital. Will his unrelenting drive finally cause her to give up the piano altogether?

Contains episodes 8-10.

PLUS! DVD 3 includes an exclusive booklet containing Piano Side Story #4: "The Cyclamen Message" and Piano Side Story #5: "The Cherry Blossom Concerto".

The Review!
The series draws to a close as the recital looms and the pressure of junior high school life goes on.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix for the show is pretty decent but outside of the music it's not one that has all that much to really offer in that form. It's a very dialogue driven show for the bulk of it and that comes across clean and clear but the music is where the fullness really comes through and much of the piano work sounds great. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with either language track in terms of dropouts or distortions.

Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. With this being a series that's focused on the real world and taking place in the city, it's very earthy at times with its street and building colors but it's also well balanced with the glitzy signs and lights at night and nicely done outfits that avoid being just school uniforms but also a good range of casual wear outfits. The range of colors here look good and maintain a solid feel as well as avoiding over saturation or bleeding. There's a touch of aliasing going on with some of the long range character shot scenes but they're few and far between here that it's just a momentary problem. This is overall a good looking transfer that keeps the attention on the program itself.

The front cover moves away from the pairings for the last volume and has a very full shot of the main cast of characters walking down through a path of cherry blossom trees. The soft colors of the background just makes the foreground characters stand out all the more and it's just a cute and appropriate cover for the close of things. The back cover plays up the music note aspect and provides one down the side underneath a few shots of various characters. The summary of the shows premise cover a couple of good paragraphs that talk about it nicely and the discs features are all clearly listed. The technical grid along the bottom does a solid job of containing all that information easily so that it's quick to find and easy to understand. The insert replicates the front cover nicely while it opens to a two panel spread; one panel covers the production notes for this volume and the other has the final short story with a shot of the audience at Miu's recital. The reverse side of the cover is a full color piece as well, with the left side showcasing a couple of pieces from the show and some character artwork while the right side has the same artwork as the front cover but in its original form.

The menu layout uses the style set forth by the cover artwork and has part of that here mixed in with a letterbox style done in purples that is set to a small piece of the piano music from the show. It's simple and understated and fits perfectly with the material. The navigation along the left is nicely laid out and quick to access and load times are nice and fast. The disc correctly read our players' language preset accurately but picked up the wrong subtitle track as the first English track is just the signs and song subtitles.

Mirroring the previous volumes, Piano has had a rather solid round of extras across its release. The main one is the visual monologues and the final two pieces are here and provided both in their place after the episodes and available in the extras section. They mix in animation from the show and thoughts of the characters and has live action pieces of the actresses walking around parts of town and similar settings, sort of a way of saying that the show could be done as a live action piece as well but more so to just let the fans enjoy the voice actresses more. The standard character bio section is included and some of the other standards are here such the art gallery and textless closing sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In watching so many series over the years, some of the hardest ones at times to get into are the ones with odd pacing. Piano isn't exactly odd paced but it's not often we see a ten episode series with a very set storyline being told like this. The show has been light on what you'd typically call filler as all the little pieces are meant to expand upon the kind of life the lead character has. With the last three episodes here it brings a certain part of her life to a close as she grows up and matures just a little bit in the way most of us; without really realizing it at first and without a clear reason why.

Since agreeing to be part of the recital and producing an original composition, Miu's been having a hard time making real progress on her piece. She hasn't had class for a bit because of the various end of year holiday's but the time is coming up when she'll be back under Shirakawa's gaze and won't have produced anything and it's eating away at her. At the same time, she learns upon her return to regular school classes that Takizawa came down with a serious case of the flu over the vacation period and pushed himself too far by still taking practice classes and exams right through it. He's aiming high for his high school entrance exams and is paying the price for it.

This brings Miu around to the problem that she has in that she's worried a lot about him but isn't able to express it. Her worry has her mind so detached from other things that she's making worse progress on her recital and Shirakawa is as he's always been which is just near cold and uncaring about her situation. One of the other teachers tries to intervene and even talks to Miu's mother but they're not sure what the right solution should be other than letting Miu figure her life out for herself. Miu does try talking to her mother in the oblique way that kids do with their parents as she tries to get her mother to tell her how she would deal if her father was having a bad time at work but there was nothing she could do. In essence, I think it's legitimate to say that Miu cares too much but not so much that it's really bad mentally for her but just to a level where she needs to learn how to manage it and what to do with that worry.

In essence, she needs to be able to live her life without being constantly worried about others and realize that others do worry about her as well and have their hopes for her that she needs to build upon. These revelations take a long time in coming as things go through cycles and she contemplates giving up the piano entirely but it's a natural evolution and the kind of realization of what you need to do that just sort of hits you at the strangest of places. What works nicely is that as it is done this way, it's really accentuated by those around her in the little things they say and do. All of these external forces on her life are what allows her to realize what she really needs to do and it gives her the confidence and the faith in herself to do it since she knows who is standing behind her.

The series overall is really nicely paced for what it's trying to get across in this time in a young girls life and how she has to deal with it and the normal school life things. It's not fast, there are no outlandish characters and it's not filled with tons of buxom beauties trying to woo a single guy. Its focus on music is also a real strong plus for it especially in the fact that it's not like 99% of other music related shows as it deals with, obviously, a piano. A look at most music based shows are typically much more pop related or part of a sense of rock and power behind it but this one goes for a much more relaxed and simpler feel with its music and it's a very welcome change.

In Summary:
The Piano certainly won't light up fandom as the next big thing but this is one of those series, as short as it is, that is very well scripted, well paced and with interesting realistic characters that shows a part of the range of anime that's simply rarely covered anymore. With no big gags or hooks beyond what the characters bring to the plate it's something that makes it harder to really get someone to understand why it's such a good show but for those that do pick it up and continue, they've found something that on some level either resonates strongly with them or is simply enjoyable for its innocence and near purity. I won't say this is the kind of show that reinvigorates my love of anime and what it can do but it certainly is a show that will be referenced a lot as to what more anime should be like when doing slice of life material.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Character Bios, Line Art Gallery, Visual Monologues #3 and #4, Textless Closing, Piano Side Stories #4 and #5, English Production Notes

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl's Heart