When you meet someone like this, you’ll know they’re not the same as anyone you’ve met before.
When I was in my second year of high school, there was a senior I admired. He had a beautiful tenor voice with a vibrato that was unmatched by anyone else in the choir, a face that was almost pretty, slim wrists that would shape what I wanted from my own, and movements touched with a sort of quiet dignity that whispered of a confidence unlike the brashness and loudness I was used to seeing from other boys. There were other things, too, details that at the time fascinated me, illuminated in the halo of admiration I cast around him and embarrassing to utter in their minutiae. He may have been the first role model that I found myself inexplicably drawn to. Certainly, I idolized him.
Later I would find out, as one often does with idols, that he was more human than I wanted him to be. But I still remember my admiration for him—and for his singing—and, even though I didn’t really know how or why it happened, my desire to somehow draw closer to him.
Would that I had possessed the courage of Ririka Kenzaki.
Introduced with an endearing pa!, Ririka’s pursuit of a moment of the single-minded Mizore’s time and attention throughout the first half of Liz and the Blue Bird is on the surface little more than a quirky, moe articulation of a younger student’s desire to be around an older member of the band: notice me senpai, desu. But as time goes on and she continues to gently press Mizore, trying different strategies along the way, a deeper yet simpler desire begins to shine through.
As with all things in Liz, it’s a slow unraveling.
Rirka’s second scene after Mizore’s initial rejection of her invitation to the double reed party features the famous boiled egg gift, but the concerns she offers up to Nozomi beforehand illuminate somewhat that Ririka isn’t simply interested in talking to Mizore for the sake of bolstering the double reed players’ social ranks—there’s a personal element at play. It’s making me think that maybe I’ve gotten on her bad side, she says of Mizore’s seemingly cool responses.
Fortunately, Ririka is irrepressible, even if not immune to feelings of disappointment, and her efforts bear fruit in stages. First, a one-to-one conversation with Mizore in the classroom that doesn’t immediately fizzle out. Then, an invitation to another double reed party that’s met with excuses from Mizore rather than outright rejection. Then, an offer of help from Mizore. Waa~ ureshii desu~
And it’s that show of initiative in the relationship from Mizore, an uncharacteristically assertive movement for her, that seems to unlock the next door along the hallway toward the heart of Ririka’s interest in her oboe-playing senior. The bright horns of the “doublelead,girls” motif are replaced by the fragile notes of a music box as Ririka cries, audition failed and—more importantly—a one-time opportunity lost.
There’s not much to follow this small moment of vulnerability; in Ririka’s remaining scene, which once again occurs at the same two desks in the same classroom, she’s back to her familiar cheerful self.
She has good reason to be. In the scene that separates Ririka’s tears from the return of her smile, Mizore once again displays an unusual level of assertiveness in asking Nozomi if Ririka can join them and their friends on a trip to the pool. Perhaps spurred to action by the honesty of Ririka’s moment of tearful vulnerability, she acts. But even if Ririka is eager enough to take up an invitation that requires her to brave even the intimidating waters of a trip populated by upperclassmen, that’s still not what she truly wants.
What is it, then? As the final four shots in which Ririka appears show so simply and so beautifully: it’s merely to play with her idol.
Ririka did what I could not. The smile she displays in her very final moment on screen radiates the peace and fulfillment of sharing music with someone who does things you find so wondrous they seem almost impossible to achieve yourself. But by playing alongside them, you can touch it for a moment, feel the glow of what they are to you all around. It must be bliss.
The closest I got to my idol was late in final months of our overlapping time. He was playing a major role in the school musical. I was in the chorus. But one day he wasn’t at rehearsal—and someone needed to sing his part. So I did. I didn’t sing perfectly. My voice probably broke on the highest notes. But I can still remember the praise our director gave me. I can still remember what it felt like to touch the barest hint of that wind. Yes, it was something like bliss.
The best I could do was to write a letter for my idol when he graduated at the end of the school year, pouring out into words what I could not put into actions. I wonder if those feelings were hard for him to accept.
Why did I do it? Why does Ririka try so hard to be close to Mizore? Perhaps it is not a universal experience to notice it, but there is, I think, an aura that surrounds those who have talent. Hard work can take you far, it’s true, but talent can give a person a lift like they have wings made of music or paint and send them soaring in the light of the sun. It can also be like a monster, a beast so fierce that mere proximity to it causes weakness and despair at its formidable existence.
The elephant in the room in Liz and the Blue Bird is Mizore Yoroizuka’s talent. It is barely spoken of, instead hinted at and brushed across the frame until it takes flight in the film’s climactic scene, soaring away like a bird or like a dragon. For Nozomi, someone who has always been close to Mizore, it is more the latter—a terrifying change in her understanding of someone who had always been the same to her. But for Ririka, and for me, from afar perhaps talent looks like something wonderful. Like something worth being anxious about.
Like something you want to be near.
For this moment, Ririka Kenzaki is my favorite character in Liz and the Blue Bird.