Release date: 4-23-04
Friendships. Unfulfillment. Obsession. Love. Misery. Hatred. Jealousy. In the prime of their youth and at the height of their talent, several budding musicians must reluctantly begin to travel through the thorn-filled path of adulthood, whether it tears them apart, or allows them to grow.
Music is perhaps the most competitive, expressive, and exquisite art form in the world, with the bitterest of defeats and the most triumphant successes, and to be appreciated as truly a rare talent is the highest of all compliments, the pinnacle of perfection thousands all over the world tirelessly seek to achieve. Every March 17th, this passionate struggle between hopes and dreams cumulates within a single competition held exclusively for string quartets, where ninety-six young men and women strive for absolute glory and recognition, presenting to an audience of only the finest conductors and performers, bringing to the stage not just their music, but their very hearts and souls.
Each year, Magnolia Conservatorium selects just two quartets to send to the finals, judging against twenty-two others of the best and brightest, but there is only a single group chosen in the end. With the reward of eternal fame promised to the victors, heartache and tears await anyone bold enough to try realizing their wildest ambitions, and forced to confront their worst fears.
What initially appears to be a simplistic romance soon takes on a bittersweet complexity, as each route ventures deeper into layers of unflattering emotions, tangled motives, and inherently flawed characters in all their selfish, pitiful, and ultimately genuine, humanity. Every one of them makes mistakes, and they are forced to deal with the inflicted damage, while others must struggle to make amends with their past regrets. And although they are looking towards the future, the outcomes are not always as kind, as simple contentment in itself can be an insurmountable goal. This is not a story of tidy conclusions and packaged saccharine endings: these characters live realistic lives, wherein not everyone is rewarded, and indeed, many are left still burdened and unsatisfied, denied another chance at happiness.
But, in spite of these hardships and unfairness, there is also the joys and pleasures that all of life has to offer. First loves are gradually unfolded with tenderness, friendships are developed, and an unbreakable sense of companionship forms amongst the heroes and heroines. While some might find the lack of perfect resolutions unforgiveable, it must be accepted that not everything can turn out just as desired, and to have such an accurate portrayal of reality is a masterful achievement in itself. It warms the heart as much as it breaks it.
“To be able to stand on the same stage as professionals, and perform in front of a huge audience, let’s give it our best shot!”
Carefree and enthusiastic, he has an erratic but earnest style of playing, with the ability to compose amazing improvisations and seamlessly blend it into a piece of music. While lacking formal training, he is invited to Magnolia Conservatorium to play second violin. Through patience and kindness, he draws together the remaining adrift members of the quartet, always willing to offer encouragement and give support when a situation is at its most dire.
“For me, playing music has always meant suffering. It’s the only reason I am worth anything…”
Once renowned as a child prodigy on the violin, she is gifted with talent and creativity, considered one of the top three students at Magnolia Conservatorium. However, growing up in a stifling environment has left deep scars, as she struggles with confidence issues, never being able to truly enjoy the music she produces. Frustrated with her own perceived lack of ability and growth, jealous of those whose musical abilities appear to be effortless, she vents her anger out on those around her. While initially hostile, she cares deeply for her friends and treasures what few positive relationships she has.
“People’s emotions aren’t as simple as that. Even when they’re happy, they can be sad. And even when they’re having fun, they can feel as though something is missing.”
A cheerful and lighthearted girl, she is the comic relief of the quartet, always untroubled and unhurried; no obstacle is so large that it cannot simply be laughed away, and no problem is so pressing that it’s worth needlessly fretting over. Indeed, to many her jovial sense of humor and zealous nature often mistakenly gives the impression of there being little thought behind her actions. However, at times her constant joking comes across as inappropriate, masking her conflicted emotions, none of which are as simple as she appears to be.
“I’d like to go far away. So far away, that I could forget about everything.”
Polite but impersonal, kind yet seldom speaking, her withdrawn personality is often problematic, causing her difficulties in even the most casual of social situations. She appears to be content in her solitude, rarely showing any genuine emotion, even to other members of the quartet. Privately, she suffers from a sense of dread and isolation, believing their peaceful days together will soon come to an end.
“Sir―you were the one who brought meaning to my world. That’s more than enough. With that alone, I can withstand anything.”
A quiet and somber girl, she has the tendency to keep her emotions bottled up, channeled only through music. Once the center of the quartet, her decision to quit classes has left her friendship with Charlotte in shambles.
A tragic example of idolization turning to ruination, Sophie is consumed with love for her teacher, willing to go to any lengths in order to please him. While her actions are inexplicable to those around her, she refuses to look towards any alternatives, instead remaining unwaveringly devoted to the self-destructive path she has chosen for herself.
“I don’t care if no one understands me. I’ll do things my own way.”
Juni’s twin sister, she is stubbornly opinionated, sharp-tongued, and ferociously protective of her family. She plays the first violin in the rival quartet, and despite her youth, has already gained massive popularity for her unrivalled skill: recognized by celebrities, offered contracts, often featured in newspaper articles. However, she cares little for the benefits fame might bring her, refusing to leave her quartet if it means abandoning her fellow musicians and teammates.
“To see you in such poor, miserable, cold, tragic conditions, I cannot bear to watch!”
Childhood friends with Shuhua, she is a charming, loveable young lady born into nobility and wealth. Although she is unmatched in terms of talent on the cello, in exchange, she lacks even the most rudimentary common sense and often has stars in her eyes, easily infatuated and amazed at the smallest things.
“You’re an idiot. A real idiotic idiot. A supreme idiot who’s beyond salvation, but…you’re one of us.”
A coy young woman, she plays viola in the rival quartet. She has no ill will towards the other quartet, treating them as close allies rather than opponents. Yet despite her genuine friendliness, she is not above bending the rules in order to gain an advantage.
“This is probably my last chance for me to become everyone’s equal, rather than their burden or their fool.”
A good friend of Phill’s in spite of belonging to the rival quartet, he is a lively young man with an endless passion for music. Unfortunately, for all his hard work, not once has he ever been accepted in any of the numerous auditions he attends. He comes from a poor family and works at a local restaurant in order to scrape together enough for his tuition fees.
“For profit, I would sacrifice anything, and make use of all that can be used.”
A ruthless man motivated purely by greed, he is capable of shattering his students’ dreams just as easily as he can nurture them. He views talented, beautiful musicians as no more than objects to possess, capturing many unfortunate hearts with his charisma. While praised widely for his brilliance as a maestro, his music is without substance or beauty, instead swarming with corruption. His only lessons are harsh reality and disappointment, for kind words and sentimentality are merely a means to an end for him.
Delicately sketched and painted in vibrant watercolor, everything is intricately detailed, down to the most diminutive elements, treating the audience to splendors such as authentic scenery and extensive wardrobes. Presented through a series of dynamic panels, the word-bubble format and absence of uniform paper dolls make for a wholly unique and delightful reading. Unrestrained by the number of expressions and poses given per sprite, characters have an infinite amount of movement, capturing volumes of body language and subtle expressions, those visual clues speaking more than a word of dialogue could ever convey.
Further enhancing the lovely art is a string quartet, masterfully portraying the entire range of human emotions in all its grand variety, whether through the deep, somber tones of a complimenting cello or the bittersweet sting of a violin solo, capturing the humble joys of life to the depths of misery, doubt, and self-loathing. It enthralls, delights, even devastates its audience, as a combination of undefinable masterpieces in the classical genre, thrumming up the blood in the most passive observer, lingering long after a piece is finished. Beautiful, inescapable, perfect. Voice acting is entirely unneeded in this crowning achievement.
Perhaps the most obvious of processes marking the transition into adulthood, the erotic events are gradually paced, portrayed not as an essential occurrence, but as a natural development in a relationship. However, while such pure-hearted scenes are often offered as form of comfort or a tender affirmation of feelings, not all of them are so simplistic. Intimacy can also be deceptive, whether as a cruel method to assert control, or to illustrate the destructive depths of blind loyalty.