A Heart of Song

This post is the twelfth and final of my 12 essays for the 2016 edition of 12 Days of Anime, a joint project between many anibloggers. For more info about the project, check out appropriant’s introductory post here, and check out the full blog spreadsheet here if you’re interested in the work of everyone participating!

Spoilers for all of Sora no Woto, Hibike! Euphonium 2 episode 9 (Asuka’s arc), and The iDOLM@STER episode 20 (Chihaya’s arc). Each show is available for free on Crunchyroll, and specific episodes are linked with timestamps listed for the moments being referenced – I highly recommend watching these moments alongside the post.

The language of music is one that all understand. Backing tracks and OSTs for shows and movies of all types help create atmospheres ranging from lighthearted and fun to tense and anxious. Both soaring, epic melodies and quiet, subtle harmonies paint color and feeling across landscapes, adding a new dimension to images we see with our eyes and words we hear with our ears. And when we lack the words to express how we feel, music and song help us to communicate and share our emotion with other and with the world.

In this regard, anime is no different than any other medium, letting whole sequences be guided by insert songs or setting the tone of a scene with backing tracks ranging from quiet pianos to driving electronic melodies. But anime stands out for its key advantage in creating highly emotional scenes – through visual framing and storyboarding only possible in a drawn medium, or with voice acting and character animation that expresses deep feelings ranging from joy to anger to sorrow. These scenes are scattered amongst mainstream favorites and hidden gems, within acclaimed series and shows with only mixed reviews. In many of these sequences, our emotions are guided by song – along quiet, hallowed paths or flying high above in the sky. And theough these scenes we can hear and feel thoughts and memories and and ideas and emotions better than could ever be expressed in words alone.

 

A Song of Peace – “Amazing Grace”, Sora no Woto (episode 12, ~18:15)

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now I’m found / was blind, but now I see.”

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Sora no Woto is a story about war, of its horrors and the pain and guilt that it inflicts on all who are involved. It is a tale of life at the edge of the world – on the eve of a second conflict following a catastrophic first fight, and at the boundary between the life of what remained and the death of what was destroyed. And it is a symbol for what it means to stand for peace, for understanding, and for reconciliation.

The war that these soldiers fight has no meaning other than destruction: it has left the world decaying, and it has broken them mentally and emotionally with the guilt of the catastrophe formed by their hands. And yet they are made to continue their battle – despite a bugle call from Kanata Sorami to cease fighting, and with their hope waning in a war of mutually-assured destruction. In the bleakest of moments, Kanata will not stand down, and so she plays the piece “Amazing Grace” as a last-ditch effort to halt the fighting.

As sun streaks across the war-torn landscape, the melody from Kanata’s song resonates with both forces in front of her. Her tune is not one of anger that would resonate with imminent fighting, or of sadness that would match the devastated landscape – it is a song of peace and a song of grace. Though the words of the song are excluded by her instrumental performance, Kanata’s song conveys the mercy and forgiveness present in those lyrics for the soldiers who have committed many sins in their war duties. It is a call for calm and for reconciliation, for forgiveness for the soldiers on the enemy line. Kanata’s soaring melody of peace accepts all and rejects none, and though this peace is nearly shattered if not for the timely arrival of a peace contingent, it is successful in reaching to the hearts of the men fighting and offering shelter from the horrors of the reality around them, if only for just a moment.

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A Song of Love – Asuka’s euphonium solo, Hibike! Euphonium 2 (episode 9, ~21:30)

“I think I was in first grade. It showed up by mail one day. A tattered notebook and a letter. And a euphonium.” – Asuka Tanaka

“That morning at band camp, you were playing by yourself, weren’t you? When I heard you play that piece, I thought to myself that I loved your sound. […] I love that piece! It’s so warm, and it’s strangely kind. I want to listen to it forever. So much that I want to hear you play it now!” – Kumiko Oumae

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All Asuka Tanaka wanted was to play euphonium. Maybe one day, her father who gave her her instrument along with a solo just for her would be able to hear her play. But for now, that euphonium was the one thing that connected him to her, the one way she could become closer to the father cut out of her life for so long. And so she chose to embrace that instrument, looking forward to the day where she might be able to meet her father once again.

With the approach of Nationals, Asuka finds out that her father will be a judge at the competition, and it amplifies her drive to help her band reach the National Competition. But in her enthusiasm for band, her grades slip and her strict mother heavily pressures Asuka to quit band. For Asuka, this result is devastating – but she also treats it as justice for wanting something she couldn’t have, rebuffing the attempts of the band to bring her and her leadership back to rehearsal by any means necessary. But her fellow euphonium Kumiko Oumae fights to bring her back for her own reason: her time in concert band with Asuka has endeared her to Asuka’s playing, and she laments how she loves hearing and playing with Asuka and would miss her if she was no longer present. Asuka is touched by her words, commenting on how Kumiko “sure [is] a euphonium” because of her support of those around her (just as a euphonium supports the ensemble). And so Asuka grants Kumiko’s request, and plays her father’s solo for her.

The warmth that Kumiko identifies and feels in Asuka’s solo is love. Asuka’s father’s love for her is written into every note, each melody and rhythm of a piece precious to Asuka. And Asuka’s playing reflects a melancholic longing for her father, in her desire to play for him and that she might one day be able to have a relationship with her father once more. The melodies of the piece are reserved, but carry a fullness to them that show the feeling that Asuka puts into each and every note. It is a piece meant as a personal message, as a note of affection and of love. And just as Asuka’s father shared it with her, so too does Asuka choose to share that love with Kumiko as well.

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A Song of Life – “Yakusoku” (Promise), The iDOLM@STER (episode 20, ~18:30)

“Let’s walk / the never-ending path

Let’s sing / and reach past the sky

I hope my feelings will reach you

I promise to move forward

Thank you for smile”

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Chihaya Kisaragi always thought her reason for being an idol was to sing. She felt that the only way for her to atone for watching her brother die was to live out his memory through the singing that he loved so much. The tabloids slandering her role in Yuu’s death only confirmed her fears – that she was solely responsible for the tragedy that tore apart her family, that it was her inaction and indifference that had cost her brother his life. Chihaya’s quiet melancholy becomes full despair as she is robbed of her voice, as the one thing that allowed her to remember her brother is taken from her. She steps away from 765-Pro, and silently questions her own reasons for continuing forward in the solitary prison of her apartment.

But Haruka Amami and the rest of 765-Pro refuse to let her collapse alone, even as they question how to reach Chihaya through her grief. Through learning that Chihaya’s brother loved her smile as much as her singing, the idols of 765-Pro work together to compose a piece for Chihaya to sing along with them at their upcoming concert. Chihaya feels drawn to attend by their efforts, and is lifted and encouraged by her friends and fellow idols upon her late arrival. Even as Chihaya steps out on stage still lacking her voice, her fellow idols step out on stage with her and sing their words to her. Through their love, and their support, Chihaya is finally able to understand and forgive herself for all the pain and sorrow burdening her for years.

And then, in that moment, Chihaya finally finds her voice again.

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“Yakusoku” culminates all of the weight of Chihaya’s moment into one stunning sequence. All of the quiet sorrows and loneliness threaten to bring Chihaya’s return to a halt, but the persistence of Haruka and the others ensure that her song is able to continue forward. Their soft voices through the chorus are formed out of their love for Chihaya, for how she has been such a critical part of their lives, and for how they love her for her smile as well as her voice. Their song is one of healing for Chihaya, for her to look back and see all of what she meant to her brother, and what he meant to her. And as Chihaya’s own song resounds, these feelings of hope for the future are lifted to the heavens.

There are emotions in Chihaya’s triumphant return that are simply unable to be conveyed through words. It is a moment of reconciliation, of some type of joy for Chihaya’s powerful voice lifting her words once more. And yet it is also a moment of acceptance, of a final sorrow for the memories and burdens she has carried alone for so long. But more than all else, Chihaya’s melody carries her once more into light, alive and free to smile and laugh and cry once more. “Yakusoku” is Chihaya’s song of life, her melody for living alive and with a light that only her voice and her smile can share with the world.

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Music connects us. Songs bind us together. Melodies convey emotion that can be so hard to express on our own. These things are so precious and valuable and important, and through songs in anime and other mediums we can learn to appreciate and embrace those things a little bit more every day. So sing a song of peace, of love, of life; and be a part of making the world a brighter, kinder, more compassionate place.

From my heart to yours, have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. – Zubat

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