On paper, there’s a lot to like about Kimiuso. As a burnt-out musician myself, I can relate to Kousei’s struggles. The concert scenes are particularly beautiful. But the anime is torn between being a teen melodrama and a silly romcom, and second-time director Kyohei Ishiguro can’t seem to pull off the right balance.
The biggest problem with the directing is that it lacks restraint. It’s clear that Ishiguro understands the basics of his craft, but he makes the common inexperienced director’s mistake of using these techniques in a heavy-handed way without understanding their deeper purpose. Kimiuso piles on the artistic effects in every single scene, regardless of their actual narrative weight, to the extent that it comes off as a distraction.
Now, I’m no expert when it comes to direction, cinematography, photography and all the other tricks of the visual trade. Deadlight knows a lot more than I do. That’s why this post is a collaborative effort. The two of us thought it would be a great idea to discuss how visual direction can alter the mood of an adaptation.
Most importantly, we both agree that the animation is detailed and there is a lot about the visuals that is beautiful on the surface level, but underneath that, the direction is messy and Ishiguro doesn’t seem to understand what sort of story he is trying to convey.
Anime versus Manga
I’ve read the Kimiuso manga, and to be honest, I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of that either. The common criticisms levelled at the anime (such as weak characterisation and manipulative drama) are reflective of the source material. But Naoshi Arakawa understands the art of manga very well and he is particularly good at framing and pacing, so the story comes across as remarkably different.
Some things are very simple, like how the size of the panels affects the reader’s perception of the importance of a scene. Take the below image for an example:
Reading from right-to-left, the first image is the most striking. The closeups of Kousei and Kaori are also given a lot of weight, while the silly humour and deformed faces take up a miniscule panel. As a result, it’s a lot less annoying in the manga as opposed to the anime.
I understand the presentation of the jokes is a common problem in many manga -> anime adaptations. But I think Ishiguro handled it particularly poorly. In the anime, the chibi scenes draw particular attention to themselves for two reasons:
1) The music. This is symptomatic of Ishiguro’s more general urge to have a soundtrack blaring in every scene.
2) The chibi scenes make use of limited animation. It’s in clear contrast to the rest of the animation work. The camera angle is also very fixed during the anime chibi portions and makes use of only one or two shots. Because the contrast is so ungraceful, these scenes tend to stick out more, and more weight is placed on what should be offhand jokes.
I wonder if the insistence upon a copy-and-paste adaptation in these scenes is a sign of Ishiguro’s lack of confidence in handling the humorous aspects of the source material. He seems to be much more at home with dramatic scenes, given his willingness to inject his own artistic touches.
The whole dramatic confession scene followed by a train zooming past is a nice romantic moment – only it doesn’t match the manga at all. In the manga, it all happened over the phone. Arakawa was trying to mute the confession scene, to portray its sheer ordinariness. This is to emphasise something we are later told (in both the anime and the manga): the confession does not excite Tsubaki as much as it should.
Another difference the anime has compared to the manga is the colouring. And here, again, we see Ishiguro’s tendency to go overboard and remove the nuance of the manga.
The colouring of the scenes is overly bright, especially in the earlier episodes. This, I believe, is Ishiguro’s attempt at portraying a romanticised setting of “youth”, where everything is seemingly bright and colourful. And that is one of the main themes of the story, so I don’t disagree with the intent. The problem is that in his eagerness to portray bright colours everywhere, Ishiguro ignores the context of the very drama he is attempting to portray.
I’ll leave it to Deadlight to cover the specifics behind this.
Deadlight: For a series dealing with domestic abuse and bullying, many of the artistic decisions initially struck me as incompetent direction. A “tone deaf” series with no real visions to convey.
The color palettes are loud and flamboyant; scenes are doused in bright cheesy light. It was always troubling, tasteless even, to see Kaori tormenting Kousei in comedic tones, keenly emphasizing the moments with exaggerated comical facial features and embossed floral designs.
However, under further analysis, I’d even go far enough to say the bright color palette trivializes Kousei’s “monochrome” outlook. Remember that this is a guy who was physically and mentally abused by his mother at a young age. Outside of a few key scenes, we aren’t actually shown the world through Kousei’s point of view – we are only shown the romanticised world Kaori wants to drag him into.
We don’t see a lot of these gorgeous shots where the colors are murky and subdued.
Instead we have an over abundance of lurid scenery shots.
Bloom lighting that’s always disturbingly working against Kousei’s favor.
While working in Kaori’s favor, highlighting her “angelic” personality.
Even when emotional levels are low, Kousei is often shot in bland unreasonable close-ups…
…while Kaori’s framing fluctuate between strong seductive mid-level shots…
…tight, deliberate close-ups…
…and mise en scenes of good act towards little children.
This does more than just cheapen Kousei’s character journey. There is something far more insidious about the show’s artistic glorification. Take note of the shading too.
This is meant to be a serious, angst-ridden moment, but the cheery colours clashes with the overall mood. In fact, the whole rooftop scene in episode 3 is a very egregious example of this director’s worst impulses. The colours are blindingly bright, with minimal attempts at shading. It’s somewhat painful to look at, even disregarding how unfitting it is in context.
Kaori’s lack of shading is not unintentional on the rooftop. Kousei’s close-up is shrouded with much heavier shading, yet his ordeal is taking place right on the rooftop. This could be because Kousei is under the shade while Kaori is right out in the sun but I would argue that these character positions are strategic choices.
There’s an additional close-up where the backdrop has been replaced with pitch blackness.
Look at how Kaori stands up tall while Kousei kneels on the ground. The shot is framed in a deadpan manner, putting Kaori in the center and Kousei slightly off-balance. Shooting from behind Kousei emphasizes Kaori’s dominance.
This is distressing with context, because in this scene Kaori is belittling Kousei for choosing not to become her accompanist. There’s a bunch of horse shit about how Kousei needs to just “let go of his past” (because it’s always that easy for a victim of heavy trauma, right?) and the scene is shot in such a manner that antagonizes Kousei.
Regardless of place, position and time, you can see throughout the series that Kousei is often shaded, opposing Kaori’s righteous worldview.
But it’s really episode 5, the most troubling episode, that cements Kousei as an antagonist. Time and weather are dramatic elements manipulated by the creator’s hand to sync emotional moments. Episode five takes place in the dreary rain and marks this as the first episode not doused in cheery flamboyant colors. This is a deliberate choice because we saw Kaori collapse on stage last episode. The series is taking on such a drastic change of colors because for once, Kaori’s world has been shattered by Kousei’s “ignorance” and “stubbornness”. For once, Kaori has found herself in a state of severe depression and by the change of colors, the director is subconsciously getting the viewers to further empathize with Kaori’s dilemma. Cheap.
Kousei feels guilty for screwing up the big recital and it’s not until he finally admits that it was his fault for Kaori’s health that the rain begins to dissipate, the color regain their vividness and the beautiful nature shots creep in again.
Frog-kun: What Deadlight has been getting at is that the visual language of this series supports the subtext of emotional abuse a number of viewers have been decrying. In fact, the issue was such a concern the series was dropped at Random Curiosity.
As a manga reader, I was curious about why the anime would bring up such concerns when the manga did not. The problematic elements did not strike me as much when I read the manga. I could think of a couple of reasons for this.
The reader controls their own pace when reading a manga. And given how the manga itself downplays its more tasteless jokes, it’s very natural for the reader’s eye to simply flit over that stuff. Framing and pacing is much more difficult to fine tune in an anime, and I suspect no matter how skilfully this material was presented, the core narrative problems in Kimiuso would still be more obvious in anime form.
But, as we have argued here, the director really didn’t know what he was doing in this case. He made deliberate choices that undercut the intent of the narrative. It’s easier to support the interpretation that the story is victim blaming Kousei when the colours depict his perspective in a deprecating light while simultaneously romanticising Kaori. I personally choose not to interpret the story that way, although I can certainly empathise with those who do.
In the end, it’s all very beautiful imagery, but it’s also very hollow and used very clumsily. I don’t think it’s malicious. I like what the series tries to do, even if it fails. I would put down most of the glaring problems to inexperience and I look forward to seeing how Ishiguro grows as a director. But Kimiuso is too much, too overbearing, and I hope you can understand why I am not a fan of this particular series.
(Note: Deadlight will be reading the comments of this post, so if you have any particular questions aimed at him, feel free to ask!)