Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl's Heart Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Mark Thomas
Review Date: Thursday, October 02, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008

For as long as she can remember, Miu has loved the piano, and her abilities are nothing short of prodigious; however, growing up can be difficult, and the turmoil she feels inside threatens to destroy that love. Can she recover it?

What They Say
Unlock the music within your heart!

Miu Nomura once loved to play the piano. As a little girl, the music made her heart soar and she eagerly shared her songs with all of those around her. Now an introverted teenager, Miu has become too shy to express her feelings - even through her music. Her playing has suffered and her piano teacher, the moody Mr. Shirakawa, has become impatient with her inability to reach the next level.

When Miu develops a crush on upperclassman Takahashi, her best friend Yuuki is the first to notice. Unfortunately, Yuuki's too distracted with her own emotional troubles - she's fallen hard for third year track star Takizawa! However, Mr. Shirakawa has also noticed something... a sudden and remarkable change in Miu's playing. Can he help her rediscover the joy of the piano and find the courage to share her heart and music once more?

Contains episodes 1-3.

The Review!
For this viewing, I listened to the English dub, which is offered in 2.0. The Japanese track is in 2.0 as well. The mix is pretty basic, but as this series is low key and based on dialogue, it works just fine. The music in particular is really pretty and fits the mood really well. Of course, I am a big fan of piano music, and if it is not obvious by the title, the piano is a main component of much of the music. That said, even the non-piano music is great.

The design for this title matches the subject matter of the show. It uses a lot of simple designs, earthy tones, and subtle shading, which all work really well for a slice-of-life series such as this. Each character has his or her own distinctive look, and I found those looks appealing. Technically, there are no flaws to speak of; the transfer came through nicely. This is just a beautifully put together anime.

I like the design of the packaging for this release. The cover has a picture of Miu and Yuuki lounging together in a hammock with the ground behind them filtered through a pink lens which creates an interesting contrast between foreground and back. Wrapping around the two is a staff of notes from a piano score. Along the top is the series title, which in a nice touch is also laid across a staff, while the volume title (called a movement instead of a volume) is on the bottom. The back has a couple of screen shots along with a volume summary, special features, and technical details. The background continues the pink motif, with a large G-Clef running from top to bottom along the left. I liked how they mixed in the music theme to the overall design.

The case itself is clear as the cover is dual sided. Not really reversible, as there is no title information on the other side, the interior does have some other original art, including the cover image in proper full color. Also inside the case is a two page booklet with some production notes and a side story, which is similar to an entry in Miu’s diary. This is good to read last, as it contains some minor spoilers, and really only makes sense after seeing the episodes. The booklet is not really that necessary, but I like it when companies make that extra effort.

I have always thought that Nozomi/Right Stuf create some of the nicest menus, and this one is no exception. The menu’s for this release keep the music theme going, as they repeat the image from the front cover, and set it on a musical score. The selections are written in script along the left hand side with a G-Clef acting as the cursor. The opening music plays while on the main menu. The submenus have a similar look and feel. It is a simple design that fits the theme of the show well.

There are a few nice extras on this release. As fairly normal extras, there is a textless opening; character bios for Miu, Yuuki, Takizawa, and Takahashi; and original character sketches. There is also a “Special Epilogue 1”, which is essentially a nine minute interview with Ayako Kawasumi, who voices Miu in the Japanese version and performs all the piano pieces. In this conversation, she discusses the composition of the piano scores and the connection she feels with Miu as their lives were similar. It is an interesting look at a VA who gets to have a little more involvement in the production of the series.

Content:  (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As a fan of slice-of-life series, Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl’s Heart is a title that I have been interested in checking out for a while, and one that Right Stuf has recently dropped the price on. Originally released in Japan in 2002, this is a fairly short series, clocking in at only ten episodes. This volume contains the first three episodes of the show, and nicely sets up what promises to be a fairly sweet series with enough lighthearted moments to balance the otherwise somber nature of the main character, Miu.

When she was little, Miu Nomura discovered a love for the piano, and through the guidance of her teacher, Mr. Shirakawa, that love has cultivated an ability far surpassing that of most fourteen year olds. However, Miu is going through a problem time, one that everybody her age has to get past: no longer a child, but not yet an adult, she is now dealing with feelings, ideas, and emotions for which she is unprepared. As such, she turns inwards, unable to express her thoughts, and it is beginning to affect her passion for the piano.

It does not help that Mr. Shirakawa is more of an introvert than she is. He is continually frustrated by her recent reticence to push her skills farther, but can only express this frustration with coldness. As such, Miu is afraid to voice her fears to him, and the problem continues to get worse.

On the bright side, Miu is lucky to have the friendship of Yuuki. Yuuki is a fellow second year middle-schooler and is every bit the peppy extrovert that Miu is not. No matter how down Miu gets, Yuuki is always able to cheer her up. Despite all of their differences, Miu and Yuuki could not be any closer.

Yuuki is a member of the school track team, and Miu likes to go watch her practice when she has the time. From frequent visits to track practice, Miu has started to notice Takahashi, a stand out among the third years and develops a small crush on him. When Yuuki finds this out, she makes sure to introduce the two of them, and Miu’s affection deepens. As this is the first time that Miu has truly liked a boy, she is confused by these feelings, and they seem to be the root of her insecurities; these insecurities only deepen when Yuuki reveals that she likes Takizawa, another third year track teammate.

These first three episodes are mostly given over to establishing the characters and all of their relationships, in particular how they relate to Miu. Miu’s family is fairly typical. She lives with her hard working father and loving mother. Her father, Seiji, works long hours, and missed many family events, but he is a devoted family man, and her mother, Hitomi, understands the growing pains that Miu is currently experiencing but does not hesitate to playfully tweak Miu a bit to embarrass her. Miu also has an older sister, Akiko, though she has not yet made an appearance as she is an international tour guide and spends most of her time out of the country.

However, most of the time is spent developing the friendship between Miu and Yuuki, and the student/teacher relationship between Miu and Mr. Shirakawa. Miu and Yuuki are virtually inseparable, and though Yuuki appears to be the dominant of the pair, she is continually apologetic as she feels that Miu always does so much for her.

With Mr. Shirakawa, Miu is confused. He is a demanding teacher: most times he is quiet and cold, and has more than once sent students away crying, however he is quick to praise if he feels she has done a good job. Unfortunately recently, praise has been scarce. It is obvious that both Yuuki and Shirakawa will play major roles in Miu’s ultimate development.

What I am really interested in seeing is how well they play out the idea of Miu’s abilities being affected by her mood. As a confused, fourteen year old, I imagine that she will experience some significant emotional changes, and I’d really like to see that play out in her music. While I doubt that they will explore the more dramatic mood swings that can happen at that age (Miu just does not seem the type), there will still be turbulent times approaching. I want to see how that effects her performance with the piano.

In Summary:
As with many slice of life series, Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl’s Heart is given over to copious amounts of introspection, and as such it is a title that will not appeal to everybody. So far, both the plot and characterization are strong, and the musical score does a great job of adding to the atmosphere. These three episodes were an absolute joy to watch. I look forward to the last two volumes. Recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Character Bios, Special Epilogue 1

Review Equipment
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System)

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
MSRP: 9.99
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2