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

By:Mark Thomas
Review Date: Monday, October 06, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008

With the deadline for the Spring Piano Recital fast approaching, Miu’s constant uncertainties are crushing any confidence she may have had. The time has come for her to make some difficult decisions that will ultimately decide whether she stops or moves forward.

What They Say
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.

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 group picture of all the main characters walking through a grove of cherry blossoms that have been filtered through a purple lens, which creates an interesting contrast between foreground and back. Wrapping around the group 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 tri-fold booklet with some production notes and a two side stories, which are similar to an entry in Miu’s diary. These are good to read last, as they contain 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 closing; character bios for Mr. Shirakawa and Ms. Yuunagi; and a line art gallery. There are also Visual Monologues three & four, which are roughly five minutes apiece. These are essentially just audio diaries by Miu, discussing recent events and her interpretation of them; while talking, there is some random footage from episodes interspersed with live footage of Ayako Kawasumi wandering around various parks and looking introspective. They are fairly neat to watch and add some perspective as they get a little more intimate with Miu’s thoughts than the show does. These actually appear after episodes eight and ten when watching the regular show, but can be accessed in the bonus menu as well.

Content:  (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The final volume of Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl’s Heart gives us the last three episodes of what has been a great series, one that has the distinction for me of being too short and just long enough at the same time, if that makes sense. Everything wraps up neatly into a somewhat open, but still satisfactory, conclusion.

The last disc ended with Miu having her first extended conversation with Takahashi as they walked home together after a Christmas party, and her promising him that the next time she played the piano, she would play something with feeling for him. The result saw her calling Mr. Shirakawa to formally accept his invitation to play at the Spring Piano Recital.

However, now that she has come down from her elation at speaking with Takahashi, she is finding that she has a creative block, and cannot find the motivation to complete her composition. All at once, her insecurities begin pressing on her. Yuuki and Takizawa’s insistence that she follow up with Takahashi does not make it easier on her.

Through his frustration, Mr. Shirakawa continues to try and break through Miu’s melancholy and release the creative genius in her that he has seen glimpses of. However, each of his attempts continue to fail, and Miu sinks further into her despondence. But when she begins to suggest that everything might be made right if she were to just quit playing all together, she experiences everybody in her life rally around her in a way she has seen before. Now she just has to be willing to accept their help.

There is really not a whole lot I can say about Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl’s Heart, as I thought it was a great series. These last three episodes do a great job of wrapping up all the uncertainties in Miu’s life and pushing her to a point where she is finally comfortable with herself. Portions of the story are left open, but that works well in this context, as slice-of-life is just that: we are getting a glimpse into a part of these people’s lives. Leaving some parts open suggests that they will continue on from this point; so in that sense, the conclusion is gratifying.

I also found that the music theme worked well with this, especially since they worked with the piano. I really liked how they played with the idea that Miu’s abilities were enhanced or lessened depending on her mood. As any musician will tell you, true music comes from the inside, and as an on again/off again piano player myself, I notice a difference in my playing depending on my mood. I thought that was explored really well in this title, and the music was gorgeous.

With the end of Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl’s Heart, I find that all of my expectations going in were met, and some were even exceeded. This is, in essence, a coming of age story. The plot moves fairly slowly, but it is paced well for the type of show that it is. Everything here builds quite simply, but it is all the more profound for that simplicity. While light hearted, there is nothing wacky or out of the ordinary to ruin the effect, and that is a welcome change sometimes in anime.

In Summary:
Piano: The Melody of a Young Girl’s Heart was a beautiful little series. The way that they intertwined Miu’s coming of age along with her love of the piano played out really well. At only ten episodes, it is a short series, but it was the perfect length for what it was attempting to do. Being a slow paced, down-to-earth title, not everybody will find the entertainment out of it that I did, but fans of slice-of-life will find a lot here to like. Since Right Stuf has recently dropped all three volumes to $9.99 each, the entire series can be picked up pretty cheap. Recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Closing, Character Bios, Visual Monologues

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