Piano Vol. 1

Piano is a story without a story arc. A slice-of-life drama without any real drama, Piano is at once fascinating and dull. Piano is for the anime burnout victim, for those of us who've seen so much ridiculous garbage over the years that we don't mind spending a couple of hours with people who could live next door. There are other slice-of-life dramas in the anime canon, of course; several Ghibli films (like Only Yesterday, My Neighbors The Yamadas, and Whisper of the Heart) come to mind instantly. And yet each of those films has at least one, if not central, main points of dramatic tension. Piano doesn't. That doesn't mean that Piano is formless, only that its drama is so simplistic that it could be considered a study in the mundane. But is that so bad? I can't say so, because for not having all that much story, there was something amazingly enjoyable about the first volume of this show. It's a refreshing wind, indescribable and ephemeral but soothing nonetheless.

Piano revolves around Miu, a middle school girl whose time is divided between school, learning a musical piece by Chopin, and family. Her taller, athletic friend Yuuki likes to talk about boys and the crushes they can't exactly decide upon. The events in their lives aren't very exciting; beyond time trials for Yuuki and Miu's music lessons with the melancholy Mr. Shirakawa, life is simple. A cat getting out of the house or a nearly forgotten anniversary becomes the day's excitement. And yet, for a girl in-between the childishness of the past and the maturity of the future, a life filled with ordinary joys and sorrows isn't so bad after all.

Although the show's title refers to a particular instrument, the term "piano" also means "quietly" in musical terminology, and it applies to the whole show. The artwork isn't exactly in pastels, but the color palette is gentler and the lighting a little softer than other current anime. There isn't much animation, since there's hardly any action, but there's nothing distracting or out of place. The music, though quiet, is very good, and a welcome respite from typical J-Pop.

What can you say about a show that finds going out in the rain without an umbrella a trauma and the finding of a lost cat an intense moment? On the one hand, it means that Piano is not for everyone. Without even a hint of events becoming more exciting, for some Piano will be an exercise in boredom. Even bad anime has a lot more action that this. It's no shame to admit one's taste in anime lies in speeding mecha and girls with guns or samurai warriors or many of the genres within the art form that I also enjoy. And even classic "girls" fiction like Anne of Green Gables has a lot more pathos and plot development. If a drama about a young middle school girl sounds as fun as watching paint dry, skip it.

If you haven't stopped reading, then I encourage you to watch Piano. Why? Because it's solidly enjoyable. At the end of a busy day, watching an episode of Piano turned out to be a calming respite. Miu and Yuuki are sweet girls; their tiny achievements seem so little, but in their worlds are quite a lot. They aren't over the top with excitement or passion or giggliness. There is a realization, though, that their everyday lives hold meaning and purpose. When each episode was over, I was always surprised; for not accomplishing much in the sense of a typical plot, I never checked the clock.

What I appreciate so much about this title is that there is room to breathe and room to be alive. After watching recently the conclusion of Shadow Star Narutaru and the intense, disturbing cruelty of middle school children to other children, Piano restores a bit of my sanity. My friends over at THEM Anime Reviews have scorned Piano as being a program with nothing but "normal" stamped all over it. Well, what's wrong with that? There is something undeniably enjoyable to me in watching a show without all the expectations of modern society thrust upon it. So what if there are no great loves, no great catastrophes, no great worlds conquered, or disasters averted? Piano is a window into a young girl's life where she realizes that the little touches in life do matter. And perhaps it reminded me of that a little, too.

Piano is not going to please everyone, especially not the anime fan expecting high art, high drama, or high adventure. It will likely appeal to those young enough to benefit from the show's perspective on early teen life and those old enough to appreciate the beauty of the uncomplicated. Do I hope that future volumes might have a little more forward momentum? Yes. But I still recommend the first volume of Piano as a wonderful example of anime for the whole family that proves that anime can indeed handle the small moments of life well.

Piano Vol. 1 -- nothing objectionable -- A-