There’s no limit in anime to which an amazing story can be told, and Forest of Piano (The Forest Piano) capitalizes upon this. Written by Makoto Isshiki, she was inspired to write her manga (Piano no Mori: The Perfect World of Kai) after watching a documentary of the pianist Stanislav Bunin. Isshiki was so moved by Bunin’s playing and life, she created a world in which her story won Best Manga in 2008 during the Japan Media Arts Festival. Not a small feat, mind you.
Video provided by What’s on Netflix, Netflix, and NHK. (The Netflix series Forest of Piano is available in English)
The tale in which Makoto Isshiki brings to life is about two elementary school boys who love playing the piano for different reasons. The protagonist, Kai Ichinose is the son of a prostitute in the red-light district who discovers at a very young age a Grand piano left in the forest behind the brothel his mother works in. Kai immediately is entranced by this “broken” piano, making it his own, and learns to play it as he ages. He’s essentially what most call a child prodigy. Able to hear music just once, Kai can replicate it to perfection without hardly any effort.
The foil to Kai is Shūhei Amamiya. Raised in a wealthy home with a father who’s ranked as one of the top pianists in Japan, Amamiya has every available resource and tool at his disposal. Unlike Kai, however, Amamiya must work extremely hard to play the piano — dedicating every waking moment towards perfecting his skill.
The two boys meet by happenstance when Amamiya is transferred to the same Elementary school Kai attends. And no, the school isn’t in the red-light district. Amamiya is taken back by Kai’s natural abilities and the two boys immediately become good-natured rivals. The anime follows both characters as they continue to grow, with an emphasis clearly put on Kai Ichinose.
The Bad Parts of The Forest Piano
The Forest Piano doesn’t have an abundance of issues, but it does have a few noticeable problems. Being that it’s an anime, the use of CG in combination with 2D can be visually jarring at times. It’s not a huge issue, but it is one overlooked likely due to budget reasons. Which leaves one to question, why use the CG in the first place then?
Directed by Masayuki Kojima (best known for Monster and Made in Abyss), he doesn’t stick to a traditional anime format. I enjoyed the mashup between the two styles, however, there are many who find the use of CG in this manner to be “ugly.” The pan and rotating shots provided by this technology, however, add an additional depth to individual moments when combined with the music.
The most glaring issue with Forest of Piano is its lack of development towards side characters. The story is told through the eyes of Kai, however, there are several moments throughout the series in which a character will appear and then disappear. From a storytelling standpoint, I wanted to know more about Kai’s mother, his music teacher, and the other students competing against him.
It’s obvious the budget didn’t allow for such depth, but without this further exploration, the story seems to fall slightly short of its full potential. Perhaps the manga develops these characters further, but as an “anime only,” I was left longing for a bit more.
Everything Right About Forest Of Piano
The most stunning aspect of The Forest Piano is that of the music. From Wagner and Chopin to Bach and Mozart, the sounds emanating out of this series are gripping, melodic, and down-right beautiful. Providing the stunning musical arrangements throughout the series are pianists Vladimir Ashkenazy, Mariko Nogami, and Kentaro Hashimot. Ashkenazy also served as a Music Advisor to Forest of Piano, with Mario Klemens conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
In conjunction with the music is a superb coming-of-age story many classically trained musicians can relate to. The anime explores not only Kai and Amamiya’s struggles through the years — it also reveals an accurate glimpse of the behind-the-scenes look involving competitions and reputations. Those who haven’t lived this life might be confused by some of the terminology used or why the judges score the way they do, but it doesn’t take away from the anime. If anything, it’s surprisingly educational, leading the viewer to further investigate what was perhaps an unknown world prior to watching this series.
Forest of Piano is split into two seasons, with the second being released in Japan 2019. Hopefully, the second season will also make its way to Netflix in 2019, because the first ends on a slight cliffhanger.
Overall, I give The Forest Piano a 4.5 out of 5. Its story is relatable and gripping while the music is over-the-top majestic. The series also takes a deep dive into the classical music world in which many are unfamiliar with. Makoto Isshiki does a fantastic job of peeling away the layers in what a musician must go through while at the same time keeping a fluent and steady pace. In what at times feels like a documentary mashed with a coming-of-age story, Forest of Piano hits more notes than it misses.
Forest of Piano is available now on Netflix.