Japanese Title: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 22 episodes, 1 OVA
- The protagonist’s arc and conflicts.
- Balance of humour and drama.
- Gorgeous music in both audio and visuals.
- Love interest lacks a dimension.
- Finale climax isn’t as strong as the mid-point.
Your Lie in April was the fan darling of the fall/autumn 2014 and winter 2015 seasons and though I avoided discussions, morsels still fell off the grapevine to inform me of its heavy emotional content. I feared another Clannad. But after several requests for review, it was time to step up.
Since the death of his mother, former piano prodigy Kousei can no longer ‘hear his music.’ The world is monotone in his eyes. Along comes Kaori, his opposite, a violinist with energy, colour, and humour he has never had. Her exuberance forces him back onto the stage to play a duet with her in a contest. She sees the potential to revive his passion.
Your Lie in April shows its strengths within minutes. First, I love the humour, which punctuates the drama to avoid depressing the audience – “The school shouldn’t be standing in the ball’s path!” Kousei’s childhood friend says after she smashed a baseball through a classroom window. In contrast, we have the foreshadowing, hinting of the sobriety and weight that is to come. The absence of his mother, the abuse he received by her cane, his lifeless view of the world, and his lack of joy are excellent foreshadowing. This is how you do dramatic storytelling – not by suddenly throwing it in for the final act.
As Kousei’s backstory unravels and his arc progresses, we see April’s most brilliant quality – the love-hate relationship between Kousei and his mother. The writer could have left the backstory at child abuse or even just having a dead mother, but this delves so much deeper. Boy abused by his mother – that’s the basic level. Boy abused by his mother, who wants him to be the prodigy she couldn’t be after illness claimed her motor functions – interesting. Boy abused by his voyeuristic mother, whom he still loves and wants to impress despite an awareness of the abuse – now you have my full attention. And she affects him more in death than in life? I can only be so engaged! Remember, this is just one thread in his arc.
The way the narrative shows this internal drama is spectacular. The spectre of his mother leering over his shoulder during a performance conveys all we need to know in a single image. That said, his inner monologue could do with trimming in parts.
Where Your Lie in April stumbles is in Kaori. If someone has recommended this anime to you, they have most likely done so by focusing on her and her arc as the best aspects. However, Kaori lacks the dimensions seen in Kousei. Earlier, I talked of the several layers in Kousei’s conflict with his mother, but for Kaori, she stops at the first level. She’s a girl with a serious illness. And that’s it for her conflict layers. By no means does this make her a bad character, yet for someone that is near equal protagonist to Kousei, it isn’t enough. Having a tragic circumstance doesn’t make a character deep – that way lies emotional manipulation.
Her main purpose is to be Kousei’s opposite as she brings him back to life, which she does excellently. The problem dwells in the two-way exchange. Because her own conflict is only surface deep, Kousei does not have much to help with in exchange. She complements him, but he doesn’t complement her with even a tenth of the effectiveness. For a great example of her role done right, look to Kimi ga Nozomu Ein, where the love interest also has to bring the protagonist back to life. The difference between Kaori and Nozomu’s girl is that the latter has her own intangible weakness to interfere with her good qualities. She’s helpful and kind, but also selfish, never mind the seed of resentment buried deep within her towards the protagonist’s previous girlfriend, who was also her best friend (drama!). This gives the protagonist an angle to help the love interest in return. Kaori is kind – no but. Yes, she’s sick, though as mentioned earlier, that doesn’t automatically give emotional flaws. Now, if the illness made her bitter or some such, then we’d be talking.
Kaori’s design problems also result in her finale having half the impact of Kousei’s dramatic high note at the mid-point. If their relationship had had more give and take, her finale would have struck better. The finale is still good regardless because of his perspective on the events and the spectacular final performance (bloody hell that is beautiful).
Also, she’s too whimsical. Her introduction has her dancing and playing music atop a kids’ igloo, tears in her eyes, as birds fly around her. I know her liveliness is to juxtapose his introduction – the episode is titled ‘Monotone/Colourful’ after all – but this is so whimsical that a flock of tweety birds now serenade me awake every morning and bring me my slippers.
Again, I want to stress that Kaori is not a bad character. She is plenty of fun and complements Kousei well, but is average beyond this and not the reason to watch Your Lie in April.
I wish I had more space to explore the childhood friend’s arc – my word count is already high – so a quick note, since it’s worth mention. She realises she has feelings for Kousei only once he takes an interest in Kaori. She was there for him through the worst and now…he’s turning away. This is an effective subplot in showing another consequence of Kousei’s actions. I feel so sorry for her.
Well, here we are, the end of an anime I both looked forward to and dreaded. Your Lie in April turned out much better than I anticipated (Kousei’s arc, honestly, brilliant) and I would recommend it to most viewers.
Art – High
Colourful and vibrant art makes this anime leap off the screen, especially in the spectacular final performance. Full animation when playing music is great to see and they mask the CG well.
Sound – Very High
Piano and violin? You truly are trying to make me love you, aren’t you? The VO is great in both languages, as should be expected these days.
Story – High
An aimless pianist has colour injected back into his life when a girl his opposite forces him to tickle ivory again. Your Lie in April has one of anime’s greatest character arcs in its multi-layered protagonist, but the love interest, who should by all right be his match in quality, doesn’t leave his shadow.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. Your Lie in April is a great anime, worth it for the protagonist alone. Even viewers averse to heavy drama will find the humour enough to stave off depression after the story’s darkest moments.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)