Anime Review: Your Lie in April

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How exactly can I talk about this series? How do I convey the feelings the story has for a precious friendship from a time when so many of us feel angst? How can I show the very sounds, colors, and expressions that flow like poetry?

I have critiqued many things in the past couple weeks with a lot to say, but this time I don’t believe that words alone will do justice to this series. So bear with me for now, but do watch the series for yourself if these are the feelings they convey, and don’t forget your tissues. It’s so emotional, even Eijun Sawamura of Ace of the Diamond cried!

Eijun Sawamura

But… that’s for a different review!

Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso) brings us into the life of Kousei Arima, a middle school student who was once a piano prodigy. But since his mother passed away, he had not played for about two years. Kousei lived in a dull, colorless world, until he met the violinist, Kaori Miyazono.

At first glance, Kaori is a pushy, energetic girl who doesn’t seem to know what tact is. She immediately identifies Kousei as “Friend A,” the sidekick to his athletic friend, Ryouta Watari. But as Kousei learns to let Kaori into his life, color comes back to his world.

Color

The way Kousei plays is like a day in Spring.

Part of why I cannot express my feelings with words alone is how the animation presents itself. Unlike the manga it’s based on, we can see the contrast of colors. Kousei’s thoughts are often dreary when he thinks about the past or the pressure of having to play the piano, which we can see visibly with duller visuals. In contrast, his thoughts of happiness and warmth are extremely bright, and give the series a tone that black and white pages can’t quite capture to their fullest.

Don’t get me wrong. While I can’t speak for myself, those who have read the manga have told me that the anime stays faithful to the story. And if that’s true, then that story is just as incredible. The thoughts and expressions of every character, from Kousei and Kaori, to their friends, rivals, and mentors spoke poetically about the little moments in life. Little things that seem so simple to us are captured with every bit of dialogue, reminding us how precious this brief moment in time is for our characters.

The dialogue is so simply poetic, Kaori even quotes nostalgically from the American comic strip Peanuts.

Peanuts

Who knew Charlie Brown was a philosopher?

Kaori’s quote from Peanuts above reminds us that when we feel depressed, our physical body feels the effects of it. So when we are, give our hands something to do. “Hands like to feel useful.”

Kousei finds himself to be depressed a lot, so Kaori finds ways to cheer him up. While she has ulterior motives to help him, namely that she wants him to perform at his best as a piano player worthy of her, her actions speak volumes of the feelings she has for Kousei.

I admit I talk a lot about visual and literary qualities when I discuss anime, but one other thing I can’t ignore for this series is how sound is used to set certain moods.

Kaori Miyazono

Kaori’s not your average violinist.

I admit I don’t really have an ear for music, but even I can tell that the energy Kaori brings to her recital is nothing like a real recital. Kaori is stubborn, but she’s also creative. And when violins are treated like calming instruments in classical music, Kaori plays hers noisily, as if it were on fire! Any recital competition judge knows that Kaori’s originality is in bad form, but Kaori has a reason for playing with gusto.

Kaori is diagnosed with a heart condition, and every day she has to fight for her life. No classical composer will confine her feelings!

But the sounds from musical compositions aren’t the only thing that’s worthy of expressing the emotions that run through this series. The absence of sound also plays a crucial role.

Kousei Arima

What does music sound like to Kousei?

Since his mother’s passing, Kousei always feels like he is drowning whenever he plays the piano. While the depths of the ocean itself is visually stimulating, capturing the very sound of a faint piano is also no easy tasks. We hear the banging of keys, but the hammers on the other side don’t strike cords as they would in open air, so they all produce the same monotonous thump. What we hear in these scenes is what Kousei hears when he plays his own music: an experience that is unpleasing to many of us.

What more feelings of agony can Kousei feel when it comes to the piano?

But Kaori isn’t the only one trying to cheer up Kousei. The middle school years are full of angst for many people, including me. But it does always help to have good friends and mentors around to get through it. Kousei’s athletic friends Ryouta Watari and Tsubaki Sawabe are always in support of Kousei throughout his musical journey, as is Kashiwagi.

Friends

But it is occasionally awkward for them to be there.

The story tends to focus more on Kousei and Kaori’s budding relationship, but it does briefly acknowledge some of Kousei’s rivals when it comes to music. Much like anything else, recitals can get very competitive, especially when the top three pianists of Kousei’s age group are the same people, growing up together from afar!

But even then, the series acknowledges not necessarily the pain of having to put up with them, but the sense of unity that musicians have in trying to put on a good show for such a brief moment in time for performance. And while they do go at it in music, Kousei and his rivals Takeshi and Emi can’t let him grieve forever either, or they will lose their touch, too!

Rivals

See? They’re not so bad!

But I think that all the feelings conveyed in Your Lie in April aren’t so much feelings of grief and sorrow. I’ll admit it is depressing, and a lot of folks cried because that depression is constantly lurking. But to capture all the expressions of this series to only one kind of emotion fails to recognize the beauty of why depressing feelings matter.

For me, Your Lie in April is an expression of feeling alive. The pain and suffering doesn’t feel great, but it helps us know we are alive because we feel like we must move ahead and overcome something much bigger. Without that struggle, we would feel like simpletons just trying to comply to the sounds a previous composer tried to convey. Those are their feelings, not ours!

Such is the struggle Kousei experiences from beginning to end, trying to overcome the loss of his mother, and ultimately, trying to break the cycle of feeling like he will lose all of the most important people in his life.

Stage

But maybe he just needs a new perspective.

But as Kousei learns, as we do, he isn’t the only one trying to overcome something so painful. As the title of this anime suggests, Kaori told Kousei a big lie, since she first met him on that spring day.

I believe it’s inevitable that we know Kaori isn’t going to make it to the end of this series, but what is more meaningful to me is not that she died, but that she lived. And as a girl who’s on the brink of death, feeling alive isn’t just about getting everything she wants. She has to struggle for it!

Kousei always admits in his poetic thoughts that Kaori brought color to his world, but in truth, it was Kousei who brought color to hers. Inspired by the pianist prodigy, Kaori gave up piano as a child to learn how to play violin, so that one day she could play with him.

shigatsu-lieI don’t want to spoil what specifically that lie was that Kaori said from the start of this drama, but it was a necessary lie that brought Kousei out from his grief for so long. Who knows what Kousei’s life would have been like if it weren’t for Kaori? I’m sure a lot of us might have pondered how essential Kousei’s life is to Kaori and vice versa, but the truth is, that’s just how it happened. And once again, those connections with others are the things that we make essential, not the beings themselves in some cosmic power.

How does Kousei and Kaori live? I’m sure many of us who have watched this can agree: in vibrant colors, strong feelings shared with others, and the will to always put on a good performance. That seems very much alive to me.

PerformanceSo if you like a tear-jerking anime that brings about feelings of grief and sorrow, but also hope and tenderness, watch Your Lie in April. I hope you have enjoyed my performance of reviewing so far. My next one will be the last full-anime review… until after Anime Expo!

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