“Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.” –Stevie Wonder
Cocoa and Rize’s quiet day at Rabbit House is interrupted when Maya and Megu carry a catatonic Chino in. As it turns out, Chino had been selected to perform the solo for her school’s choral concert. While Rize and Cocoa worry, Chino decides to go ahead with the performance and asks Rize to help her prepare for the part. Rize thus has Chino run through various exercises to boost her stamina, before giving her drills on voice training. It turns out that Chino’s inclination to perform the solo, despite her weakness in public speaking, was partly motivated by a desire to help Rabbit House become more popular. Later, Chiya hosts a karaoke night at Ama Usa An, and when Chino blanks out from nerves, Cocoa decides to encourage Sharo to perform. Under the influence of caffeine, Sharo delivers a spirited and energetic performance befitting of an idol. Chiya, on the other hand, performs an enka. The girls get fired up and sing for most of the evening, before having a short-lived fight as to which group Chino should sing for. Back at Rabbit House, Takahiro encourages Chino to simply perform her best and sing for those important to her. Chino looks at old photographs of her mother, who was once a Jazz singer in the same band that Takahiro and Rize’s father were in. Cocoa later sneaks off to prepare cheer implements for Chino with Chiya and Sharo. On the morning of the performance, Megu and Maya do their best to encourage a nervous Chino, whose spirits lift when she spots Cocoa and the others in the audience. She proceeds to deliver a performance that brings tears to Cocoa, Rize, Chiya and Sharo’s eyes. After the concert, she rushes off to Rabbit House to meet the others, only to find that the decorations Cocoa and the others had put up to root for her have only become gaudier and more outrageous. Later, Chino shares a moment with Tippy and expresses her happiness that things are so lively now, saying she enjoyed the concert. Announced a year ago, Sing For You is the second of the GochiUsa OVAs that saw a home release in late September and faithfully adapts the chapter eight of the fifth volume, bringing to life an arc that show’s Chino’s progression throughout GochiUsa. Sing For You runs for the length of a standard episode, but nonetheless has heart, successfully bringing the arc to life.
Character growth is the central strength in GochiUsa – the series made an impact with its unique setting, but over time, the characters became the centrepiece of the series. As Chino spends more time with Cocoa and her friends, she finds herself wishing she could one day smile and get along with others as well as Cocoa does. Gradually, Chino does become more outgoing, and while she may still find herself reluctant to partake in anything approaching that of a leading role in the performing arts, another part of her wants to take on the challenge and face them with a smile, the same way that Cocoa might. Sing For You thus comes to illustrate the extent of her growth: Chino takes the initiative to prepare for her solo in the concert, asking for Rize’s help and then coming to see that performing isn’t as difficult as she imagined. Further motivated by Takahiro’s words and her friends’ energy, Chino ultimately gives a highly moving song. Public performances and speaking is a skill that must be cultivated; only a quarter of people are naturally comfortable with public speaking, and Chino, who has been presented as taciturn and shy, does seem ill-prepared for the part. It is with stamina training, practising in a more familiar environment and encouragement from family and friends that allows her to overcome her initial fears – the sum of Chino’s training and support from those around her pay off in a big way in the end. Chino’s fears in Sing For You might be exaggerated for the sake of comedy, but her concerns are very much real, as are the methods that she uses to address her worries. For instance, I count myself as a weaker orator, which forms a part of the reason why I have remained in the realm of blogging as to reviewing anime in video format. However, while I may prefer writing to speaking, as a speaker, I have some experience, having given talks at conferences and defended a pair of thesis oral exams. My typical approach is unorthodox: my slideshows actually have no bullet-point text for me to read, and I write a script beforehand that I loosely follow when it comes time to give the presentation itself. The end result is that my presentations end up being more like improv conversations, and I am able to give a more fluid talk. This is helped by confidence in knowing my material, which allows me to recall both the contents of my talk and have faith in addressing any queries that follow. Like Chino discovers, there’s a method towards overcoming fear of public performance, and the results of taking this plunge can be quite rewarding.
When news of a GochiUsa OVA was announced, speculation suggested that music would be very much a major part of things. However, Dear My Sister did not have a substantial musical component, instead focusing on how Chino managed to summon the courage to invite everyone out to a summer festival and Cocoa’s return home for a visit with Mocha and her mother. Conversely, music is very prominent in Sing For You; despite its runtime being only a third of that of Dear My Sister, Sing For You features no fewer than five inset songs. Besides the choral piece Chino performs with her classmates, Sharo, Chiya, Cocoa and Rize sing a variety of songs in a karaoke party intended to help Chino practise, and the songs that Chino’s mother, Saki, performs, are also featured. From the elegant Jazz that Saki performs and Sharo’s delivery of an idol song, to Chiya’s enka, and even Cocoa’s nonsensical song about the joys of Rabbit House, music appears in many forms during the course of Sing For You, culminating in a gentle choral piece that showcases the cast’s versatility and talents for musical performance. Sing For You exemplifies the additional dimensionality that an animated adaptation can bring to a manga: whereas a manga leaves readers to imagine the songs being performed, anime can really bring different moments to life with movement and sound. The songs of GochiUsa are always lively, conveying a sense of joy and happiness that static images alone cannot convey. The end result is a large number of vocal pieces packed into a relatively short duration; while Sing For You might not have had the same opportunity for presenting visually impressive moments to viewers the same way Dear My Sister did with Cocoa’s hometown and the wood-framed town during a summer festival, it utilises aural elements in an incredibly effective manner that results in Sing For You being every bit as enjoyable as Dear My Sister. Coupled with the solid presentation of a relevant life lesson, Sing For You represents a triumphant inclusion in GochiUsa that I have no trouble recommending for anyone who enjoyed the first two seasons and the Dear My Sister OVA.
Screenshots and Commentary
- It’s a peaceful day at Rabbit House for Rize and Cocoa, who are sufficiently bored so that they are swaying their heads in unison to ward off the dullness. One of the more subtle themes of GochiUsa is that while tranquility is good, liveliness is better. However, if things remained this peaceful for the duration of Sing For You, then there wouldn’t be much for me to write about. This is definitely not the case, and with the events resulting, I have forty screenshots in this post, which remains the first and only proper English-language talk on Sing For You out on the internet. The lack of discussion on Sing For You is surprising considering the warm reception GochiUsa was met with, although I imagine it’s only a matter of time before more people check out this OVA.
- When Maya and Megu carry Chino into Rabbit House, Rize immediately supposes things resulted from enemy action, while Cocoa immediately fetches some coffee to revive Chino. Sing For You actually opens with a flashback to Chino’s childhood, when her mother, Saki, was still around: the manga drops readers straight to Rabbit House, while the OVA takes advantage of its run-time to create a more fleshed out and emotionally-powerful story.
- As it turns out, Chino was merely shocked from having earned the part of soloist in her school’s choral performance, and accepted the role. While she and the others consider turning it down, Chino decides to go through with it. Chino has long been presented as being uncomfortable with crowds and speaks in a gentle, quiet voice, so her decision to take on the solo role shows that a part of her does want to grow. It’s a subtle development that long-time viewers of GochiUsa will enjoy.
- In order to prepare for the performance, Chino asks Rize to help train her. I’m not a voice actor or singer by trade, but I am roughly aware that being able to project one’s voice does take training well beyond vocal practise and breathing. Rize’s exercises, while seemingly extraneous, are intended to develop stamina and endurance. The bunny-hopping that she has Chino do, for instance, is actually an exercise my dōjō uses to train lower body strength, and while it wipes out the younger students, I’ve been doing them long enough to make them look easy for the white and green belts.
- Whereas the manga only shows Chino as going through a few exercises, the OVA has Rize put Chino through exercises that would defeat almost the entire population save for professional athletes or individuals with extensive strength training. It is therefore unsurprising that Chino can’t actually complete the exercises, although I imagine that Rize is employing these means to push Chino further. The exaggerations also create a bit of visual humour.
- Those favoured with a keen memory will recall that the riverside park where Rize drills Chino is where the girls had gone to practise for various sports competitions and the like previously. In anime set in the high school setting, sports and culture festivals are often featured, but aside from brief mentions, GochiUsa has not done any sports festivals the same way Azumanga Daioh and K-On! have as of yet. Looking ahead, it looks like that both a sports event and culture festival will be shown: I forecast that the culture festival will make into season three.
- Rize compliments Chino on having a marked improvement in projecting her voice. This is a combination of the exercises that Chino’s done, and also from her overall improvement from the time that she’d first met Rize. In Dear My Sister, a flashback shows that Rize had previously worked with Chino to improve her voice using the same caffè latte caffè mocha cappuccino routine, and Dear My Sister transformed this into a spell when Cocoa dreamt about meeting Mahou Shoujo Chino. The shift in lighting here shows that Chino’s been training all day, attesting to both her determination and Rize’s grueling routines.
- After a day’s training, Chino and Rize return to Rabbit House, only to find a sign up front with a hand-drawn Chino that advertises her role in the upcoming choral performance. Chino immediately concludes that this was Cocoa’s doing, and upon entering Rabbit House itself, she finds the interior of Rabbit House decked out in decorations to celebrate Chino’s solo role. It turns out that even Takahiro is in on things, having given Cocoa and the others permission to spruce things up a little.
- This screenshot really shows the scope of the decorations, a consequence of Chino leaving Cocoa in charge wiht help from Megu and Maya. An exasperated Chino breaks out shouting, surprising everyone with the amplitude of her voice. Even when irate, Inori Minase’s delivery of Chino’s voice comes across as being incredibly adorable, and there have been multiple roles now where I hear Minase play a character and are immediately reminded of Chino.
- Rize’s training improves Chino’s form, but her nerves remain weak, as she is easily embarrassed. Feeling that Chino’s technique is solid, Rize suggests singing in front of others. At Ama Usa An, Chiya hosts a kareoke party, and everyone’s invited. Chino is initially asked to take the stage, but even in front of her friends, she’s unable to summon up the courage to put an introduction together. While this is doubtlessly adorable, stage fright is a very real phenomenon. K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama is similarly affected, overcoming it over the course of the series with support from her friends.
- While Ritsu suggested to Mio that she should imagine the audience as potatoes or similar, Cocoa suggests that Chino imagine her audience as bunnies to take her mind off things, but Chino feels this to be even more distracting. Aoyama inexplicably shows up, as well, although her editor, Rin, is noticeably absent from the proceedings. I’ve long felt that the characters of GochiUsa resemble rabbits in nature and mannerisms – this is a sentiment that others of the community also appear to share, and I think that with this in mind, it could be quite entertaining to write a mini-guide on rabbit temperaments as GochiUsa‘s third season draws nearer.
- Because Chino is unable to perform, Cocoa decides to take her off the stage and provide an example of how one might perform. She gives Sharo a coffee and then sends her to the front lines, where Sharo takes on the demeanour and energy of an idol. Sharo’s been said to be affected differently depending on the blend of coffee that she drinks, with some blends making her as carefree as Cocoa, while other blends bring her to tears. Insofar, no correlation has been provided as to what coffees have what effect on Sharo.
- For her song, Sharo performs Hi Hi High☆, a lively and upbeat song: Sing For You lives up to its name in that there is plenty of singing, and this is probably why the decision was made to adapt it as an OVA rather than a part of season three. GochiUsa typically has one inset song during its regular season, and while plenty of supplementary albums have been released over the past few years, dedicated songs for the anime is not something we’ve seen. The increased production time afforded by the OVA format means that more effort was directed towards the music, and the quality of the end product is quite apparent.
- After Sharo’s performance ends, Chiya takes centre stage and performs an enka. Being a Japanese ballad, enka is the fusion of traditional Japanese music with modern elements, and while their popularity declined in the early nineties as J-pop began gaining traction, the style continues to endure. Musical styles tend to cycle in popularity, although I note that contemporary pop music is pedestrian, unoriginal and jejune to the point of being unlistenable – all modern pop artists sound the same and favour repetitive elements to maximise catchiness at the expense of telling a good story or creating a particular atmosphere.
- The sort of music that I listen to is varied in nature, from the fluffy and adorable songs of GochiUsa and K-On! to DragonForce and Lord of the Rings soundtracks. All of them share the commonality of telling a story or evoking in my mind’s eye specific imagery. As such, I have no problem with the music that Petit Rabbits’ performs: it far outstrips the indie pop that is so widespread here, sounding a lot more genuine and having a great deal more heart than the manufactured drivel that dominates the music scene.
- Rize, Sharo, Cocoa and Chiya end up stealing the show when their enthusiasm for singing takes over, and the girls end up fighting over which group Chino should sing for. The original objective of helping Chino overcome her stage fright is quickly forgotten, showing just how quickly things can shift in GochiUsa. The changes never come across as being unexpected, but rather, happen quite naturally as a result of the girls’ propensity to live in the moment.
- Takahiro imparts some wisdom to Chino: her mother was once also nervous prior to any performance, but Saki would always remind herself that her singing would bring joy to those who were in the audience. Sometimes, it is these moments from family, even more so than friends, that can profoundly shift one’s perspective. With the promise of performing for him, Chino resolves to simply go into the performance and give it her best.
- Chino recalls memories of her mother when going through a photo album with her mother, who was a jazz performer with Takahiro and Rize’s father. GochiUsa presents the Kafuus and Tedezas as being quite close to one another: in the second season, a conversation between Takahiro and Rize’s father imply that they’d also been brothers-in-arms. This background has resulted in all sorts of fanciful speculation on the nature of GochiUsa‘s world, but upon scrutiny, these speculations only remain thus.
- Chino remarks that Saki was actually a lot more flamboyant in mannerism, being rather similar to Cocoa at times. Cocoa also reveals to Cocoa that she had wanted to turn down the part, but hearing Takahiro’s words and remembering her mother’s singing inspires her to at least give it a whirl to make him happy. From a technical perspective, Inori Minase is an excellent singer, being able to bring a variety of songs to life, but GochiUsa‘s setup means that she and the other voice actresses only really get to show off their singing in the opening and ending sequences, as well as supplementary albums.
- Cocoa can be heard singing a song of her own composition while she cleans, and later sings the song for Chino while they bathe, leading Chino to comment on the song’s odd lyrics. This song is titled “ラビットハウスへ行こうよ♪” のうた (The “Let’s Go To Rabbit House♪” Song) and is delivered with Ayane Sakura’s typical bubbly and joyful manner. While Chino may not particularly like it, Takahiro certainly does, singing it to his father’s annoyance.
- Once Chino falls asleep to rest up for the big performance, Cocoa sneaks off into the night and heads for Sharo’s place. The backyard behind Rabbit House is rarely shown, being last shown in the second season’s seventh episode, where the girls manually wash the sheets and laundry after Rabbit House’s washing machine malfunctions. One of the biggest joys about GochiUsa is simply seeing the different locations in the series brought to life, and while much of the wood-framed town is based off Colmar, France, the anime also makes use of other locations in Europe (the pool, for instance, was based off the Széchenyi thermal bath in Hungary), as well as seamlessly weaving in original locations where needed.
- An old aspect of GochiUsa returns as the girls prepare props to help cheer Chino on. Sharo fears that they won’t be able to finish everything in time for the morning, and finds herself exasperated when Cocoa and Chiya begin deviating from their tasks and consider increasingly irrelevant things that they could make for Chino. Around Cocoa and Chiya, Sharo shows more of her true personality, being very goal-oriented and proper, always looking to do things correctly and efficiently.
- Thanksgiving long weekend last year saw me travel out to Salmon Arm to see the salmon run. This two-day trip gave me a much-needed respite: after reaching the Adams River and watching salmon swimming about in droves, we arrived in Vernon. The second day was a journey back home, and we stopped at D. Dutchman Dairy just outside of Sicamous for ice cream. The ice cream was good enough for us to return just this summer, and overall, this was a much-needed break from the chaos of work, which was so hectic that I was contacted while in Vernon with the expectation that I resolve a newly posted work item immediately.
- It turns out the “bug” in question stemmed from the testers being on an outdated version of the project, and the latest version, a release candidate, had satisfactorily solved the issue. On the project in question, I wrapped up my tasks and did a submission to the App Store a week later. We’re actually nearing the one-year mark of that upload, and I am planning on writing about HBO’s Chernobyl, whose unnerving atmosphere, and themes about the cost of lies and complacency made the series a highly riveting one. Chernobyl seems far removed from the gentle atmosphere of GochiUsa, so for the present, I won’t go too much further into the details of this upcoming Chernobyl post.
- The schools in GochiUsa have ornate European architectural designs and look like private academies. This is the middle school that Chino, Megu and Maya attend: while the location’s been visited on a handful of occasions, starting with the day that Cocoa and Chiya met, there’s been precious few opportunities to actually check out the interior. Like Dear My Sister, Sing For You is produced by Production doA; they’ve done a phenomenal job with the artwork and animation, to the point where the two OVAs since the second season actually look and feel far better than the TV series.
- This has me excited to see what the third season will look like: at present, the only thing that is known of the third season is that it will come out somewhere in 2020. Back in Sing For You, I’ve opted to feature additional screenshots showcasing Chino’s school. It would appear that the performance is being held at a concert hall adjacent to the main campus: the students’ parents have already begun gathering.
- The performance venue itself is a surprisingly impressive one, resembling a professional concert hall. My old elementary, middle and high schools certainly never had a stage as ornate and elegant as the one found at Chino’s school – it was only the facilities at the university that approached this in scale and grandeur. I’ve attended a handful of performances and events at the Faculty of Art’s halls.
- While Chino’s quite nervous on the day of the event, Maya and Megu feel more relaxed and do their best to encourage Chino. They decide to hug Chino and imbibe her nerves before reassuring her that things will be fine, cracking a lighthearted joke in the process. Some of the girls’ classmates can be seen in the background: compared to Megu, Maya and Chino, they look rather more ordinary in design, giving the sense that Chino, Maya and Megu were intended to stand out from other students.
- Upon seeing the crowd, Chino begins to freeze, but in the corner of her eye, she spots Cocoa, Rize, Chiya and Sharo, decked out in rather flashy garb. Seeing their ludicrous appearance but equally ardent desire to support her, Chino realises that delivering her best now would make them happy. In effect, Chino now sees the performance as a chance to do her best for Cocoa and Takahiro. The latter is also in the audience with Rize’s father, but despite wearing the same jackets as Cocoa and the others, they are a lot more subtle in appearance and don’t stand out as much.
- Ultimately, Chino puts on a strong performance, singing with sincerity and joy. The song they perform is called 木もれび青春譜 (Hepburn kimore bi seishun fu, “Sun-dappled Youth”), a calming and poetic song about youth using nature as the metaphor. It’s quite unlike any of the spirited, upbeat songs that Petit Rabbit’s and Chimame-Tai sing. Sing For You definitely lives up to its title, which is well-chosen, being about Chino singing for those important to her. Dear My Sister was similarly named, referring to the letter that Mocha wrote to Cocoa. GochiUsa cycles between its different characters to liven the series up, which contributes to the series incredible success.
- Sing For You (and GochiUsa as a whole) is meant to be a gentle slice-of-life whose core message is showing how people gradually mature and develop from their time spent together through Cocoa, Chino, Chiya, Rize and Sharo. There is a misconception that shows like GochiUsa have a single lead character: some folks have erroneously assumed that Chino is GochiUsa‘s main protagonist whom people gravitate around, but the reality is that none of the characters can exist in a vacuum. Slice-of-life series depend on the sum of character interactions to make their message clear. Back in Sing For You, Chino’s singing is so moving that Tippy dissolves in tears.
- Being set entirely in the wood-framed town, Sing For You might not have the same sweeping panoramas and Southern France architecture of Cocoa’s hometown, but it does take the time to showcase the town in great detail, indicating that irrespective of the location, DoA is committed to maintaining a very high visual quality. This is especially encouraging, considering that there is going to be a third season: Chino and the others’ adventures will continue to be rendered in a consistently beautiful world.
- With the concert over, Chino rushes on home for Rabbit House, wondering what the others thought of her singing. The high saturation and depth of field’s focus on Chino is meant to show the elation of having finished something difficult, as well as finding enjoyment in the moment. Chino now understands why Saki was so immersed in singing, realising that it’s the ability to deliver emotions with the power of voices; music is one of those things that transcends linguistic barriers, and for my part, even though my Japanese is rudimentary, the emotions and feelings that Japanese songs convey are as clear to me as any Cantonese or English song, even if I do not understand the lyrics.
- In the aftermath of the performance, Chino is surprised that everyone’s gone ahead and begun planning on making Chino a star of sorts, having recorded her performance for posterity’s sake. Even Sharo gets into things, and seeing this drives Chino to yet another outburst, her third of the episode. This recurring joke shows viewers that despite her usual quiet nature, Chino can be quite noisy when provoked, which is another reminder that the characters of GochiUsa are much more than their base archetypes suggest.
- While Chino and the others are sharing a noisy, rambunctious moment together, Takahiro relaxes in the quiet of his quarters, listening to a record of Saki’s singing. The jazzy, bossa-nova music that she performs is very similar to the coffeehouse music that I listen to whenever I work. Saki’s voice is provided by Nana Mizuki, a veteran voice actress with roles in a vast range of anime, films and games.
- Saki’s ultimate fate in GochiUsa has not yet been explored within the anime: while her absence is especially noticeable now that we’ve seen the anime bring her to life, one must also commend Takahiro’s efforts in raising Chino despite the emotional challenges he faced. With Cocoa and the others present now, Takahiro must also be relieved that Chino’s found friends to share her youth with.
- On a sunny day some time after the concert, Chino speaks with her grandfather, reflecting on how her friends and father helped her to really seize the role. Chino’s grandfather remarks that he rather enjoys things this way, and asks Chino to pass this along to Cocoa and the others. The ending of Sing For You has Chino be the happiest I’ve seen her in the whole of GochiUsa, and she’s in a blue dress and sitting near some yellow flowers similar to the one seen in the OVA’s opening.
- Chino does look somewhat similar to CLANNAD‘s Kotomi Ichinose here, and she tells her mother that she’s got some wonderful friends before a gust of wind brings the OVA to a gentle close. This is Sing For You, which earns an A+ (9.5 of 10, or 4.0): like Dear My Sister, Sing For You is remarkably enjoyable and a welcome addition to GochiUsa. Besides a fun story about Chino overcoming her fear of performing in front of the crowd, Sing For You also bridges the gap between Dear My Sister and season three, giving fans something to watch and lessening the wait.
With Sing For You now in the books, I turn my attention towards the third season, which is scheduled for airing somewhere in 2020. The second season ended with volume four, and Dear My Sister covered the fifth volume’s second to fifth chapters. Recalling that Sing For You adapts the fifth volume’s seventh chapter, a third season will likely begin with the summer arc in volume five, which deals with the girls looking for ways to deal with the summer heat that ends in a test of courage, and everyone’s interest in Lapin, a popular character from a children’s show, after Sharo plays the character at Fleur de Lupin. The fifth volume also sees Chiya train with Rize so she can keep up for track and field day. After Chino’s concert, the girls visit a flea market in town and pick up magic tricks. Megu and Maya do orientations of the two high schools in town, with Maya struggling to decide where to go, and when Cocoa’s high school hosts their culture festival, Chiya is made the class president. Despite her worries, she successfully hosts a beer hall. Previously, one season encompassed two volumes of material, so season three will also adapt volume six’s materials. After Cocoa learns to play the accordion, Rize announces her intention to become an elementary school teacher, being inspired by Maya and Megu. The girls later must chase Aoyama through town as she attempts to elude her editor, Rin, and a deadline, before celebrating Halloween. As the colder weather sets in, the girls help Maya and Megu study, while Cocoa and Chiya deal with their roles with the student council. Volume six ends with the end of another year. Season three is therefore looking particularly lively, and while it is a bit early to be making a decision, I am considering doing an episodic discussion of the third season. While GochiUsa may prima facie appear to be an ordinary slice-of-life series, the unique combination of its setting and visceral animated adaptation means that the series has definitely provided plenty of topics worth considering and writing about. With this in mind, I am greatly looking forwards to season three and the chance to delve deeper into a world that has accompanied me for the past five years, providing consistently good laughs and a cathartic atmosphere that proved an effective tonic against the stresses of life.