Television

[Anime review] ‘Your Lie in April’ is a melancholic and thoughtful take on the pains of growing up

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I can’t quite place how I feel about this anime. It was really beautifully written. The cinematography–its colors and visuals–complements the entirety of the show. Each character, main or side ones, had his/her moment in the story. It was unexpectedly emotionally gratifying and very unpredictable. But, maybe, the thing I loved most from here is that very thoughtful ending: nostalgic, bittersweet, and full of hope. || Rating (How much I liked it/How I rate it): 9/10.

(NOTE: My reviews are filled with spoilers so read at your own expense.)

Song of the Day: Kirameki by Wacci (from Your Lie in April OST)

🌸🌸🌸
Your Lie in April
[Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso]
🌸🌸🌸

“I met the girl under full-bloomed cherry blossoms, and my fate has begun to change.”

Your Lie in April is a music-young adult-romance story that centers around a 14 year old piano prodigy, Kousei Arima who, after his mother’s death when he was 11, had lost the ability to hear the sound of his own playing, and thus has stopped since then. The story started with the typical introduction of characters, as well as a telling of what has been going on and what’s yet to happen. The pilot episode opens on an April morning, spring time in Japan, with a blonde girl chasing after a black cat, but we don’t find out yet who she is. Instead, we meet Kousei’s two closest friends, Ryota Watari and Tsubaki Sawabe. They’re both athletes–he’s a soccer player, and she’s a baseball player. Quite and odd trio, no?

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To cut the story short, Tsubaki invited Kousei to join her and Watari in meeting this girl who apparently has a crush on Watari. She did not want to feel left out during the blind date, and besides this girl plays the violin, so Kousei can probably help the meet-up less awkward (oh, honey, if you only knew). Kousei met the girl when he happened to arrive at the meeting point earlier than Tsubaki and Watari. She is introduced as Kaori Mizayono, and that day was apparently her competition day. For the first time after three years, Kousei will step foot in an auditorium. For the longest time, Kousei only sees the world in monochrome, and now, because of Kaori, he will start to see the world in different colors. He will finally get out of his dark shell.

Before I get into the discussion of the story itself, I want to commend this series first for its aesthetic elements. I am no expert in technical anime stuff as I have not seen a lot, but here in Your Lie in April, I can say that each character is very beautifully drawn–‘beautiful’ in my standard means they do not look like cut-out paper dolls to me. I especially love the way their hands and fingers are drawn because there were a lot of focus in them due to the fact that, well, they play instruments. The colors are also very, very gorgeous. I think it has to do with the fact that the series had a lot of moments in spring time and in autumn. Though I also think that it served as a great device for story-telling, especially with Kousei’s story because it emphasized the depth of what he’s going through in his life. His ascent back to the world is very well portrayed by the changes of the colors around him. And I don’t need to discuss any more about the music, because this one had a great soundtrack–ones that suck you in and make your heart race. If this anime is a person, it has great music taste.

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That looming image of the woman without a soul

As a fan of musical dramas, I kind of had an expectation about this one. I mean, of course, what other kind of elements would a musical drama have, right? Prodigies, a tragic past (because musicians are often associated with some kind of tragedy), friendship, and romance—all of these abound a story about kids just trying to live their lives the way they know. It’s a cliché, but there is always something in the way of execution that makes it a cut above the rest. In Your Lie in April, it is the thoughtfulness and the sincerity by which the story was written. It was in the way that it was grounded and tied tightly with Kousei and his music. It was a journey a boy who is drowning on his own, and even if he tries so hard to lift himself out of the water—even if the people around him try to help him out—there just seems to be a block that always weighs him down.

This block is his deceased mother. She was his piano teacher, who eventually became a tyrant to her own son in order to push him to be the best in the world of music. She, the perfectionist, would always beat him up if he happens to make just one mistake in the way that he plays. Kousei had lived through his childhood life incurring bruises, missing out all his chances to just play under the sun with his friends. I don’t think that the overused argument of parents’ only-wanting-what’s-best-for-my-child is ever an excuse for physical abuse. Oftentimes, this is even romanticized in series. But here, the depth in which Kousei’s relationship with his mom was handled was a meaningful one.

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I loved that there was a point in his life when he actually fought back, stomped his foot, and told her that he does not want music anymore. It is one of those rare moments that get through to a selfish and jaded person. It’s equally satisfying that when he said enough was enough, it was not the whinny kind, but just that it was filled with anger and a stand for himself.

It was the one he regretted the most though, because only a few days after that, his mom died. It was the regret that haunted him all these years because it was the looming image of his mother, with her eyes so effectively hidden to conceal her soul, that always breaks him off from hearing the sound of his own playing. And yet, it was the bridge that he had to cross if he were to play again. She was the person he was trying to reach—to just listen to his music—because when she was still alive, all she ever cared about was if he could play it as exactly as the original piece. This time, Kousei wanted to own it and carry it through to her.

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The girl that came with the spring

Everyone loved Kaori the instant that they met her. I did not. Though towards the last few episodes of the series, that’s where I found my ground with her. I like to describe her as manic pixie dream girl. Manic pixie dream girls are character archetype where a girl has a very bubbly nature, and she is often poised as the bright color that takes the lead guy out of his somber and dark world of pain and sadness.

Most people would think that a manic pixie dream girl help the guy out, but in truth, she really does not bring a development to this character because he is bound to rely on her all the time. And with Kaori and Kousei, it often felt this way. I think especially hated a couple of episodes where the entire 20 minutes, he’s basically repeatedly saying how much she changed his life, and how he fell in love with her, and stuff. Do not get me wrong here, I am not stripping Kaori of the kind of change she brought to our resident pessimist, but I have a pet peeve with romances like these: where the guy thinks of the girl as the one who fixed his life. It was as if the moment she’s gone, he could crumble any time because he believes her to be his only anchor to this world. News flash: she is not, and you should get a grip.

But, once again, this show never disappoints because it took time in developing Kousei’s character outside of that sphere with Kaori. People do come in life as lessons. Kaori came with the spring, and just like the season, she was not meant to stay. And yes, I wanted her to die. Does that make you hate me yet? Don’t. Because I think that it was noble thing—both as a plot device, and as reminder to us that the people that leaves such beautiful marks in our lives are not always the ones that were with us for the longest time, but often the ones who stayed just a moment. Kaori did not stay that long, but she definitely left something great behind for the people that will remember her.

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In spite of the fact that she was just so archetypal and personality-wise, unreal and all-too-perfect for me, her greatest journey in Your Lie in April is not exactly the way that she changed Kousei’s life. Because what I found beautiful in Kaori is her own story: the moments where she was in that hospital room, holding on for dear life because she still wanted to make a difference—to continue playing the music that kept her alive. She wanted to hold that violin again, and it was in that breakdown in the rooftop that I really found her courage and her bravado. She was strong, that girl. I may not like her ways sometimes, and I may not have connected to her the way other people did, but I have always admired the way that she gets through to Kousei.

See? Miracles can happen just like that. Her body had betrayed her, and even if she wills it to go back to the way it was before, it could not. But when it’s the soul and that pure and honest love for music fights back, there is nothing impossible. In her last moments, Kaori fought back. It was what made me love her and cheer for her. I wanted her to die, yes. It was how this whole plot felt midway. But I also wanted her to live, not to be the girl by Kousei’s side, but for her. I wanted her to live for herself. I wanted to see her onstage again, rebelliously striking those violin strings and creating her own music. She really was as colorful and gentle as the spring, and I believe that it’s not just one person that she can change, but a number of others.

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The girl as tough and vibrant as the autumn

Everyone did not like Tsubaki when they met her. I did. She is my favorite, and that’s because out of all these people, she was the most human—flawed, and real, and honest. For the most part of the pilot episode, I was wondering why she had the longest onscreen time. I was expecting a focus on Kaori because she’s the main lead, after all; but we did not see much of her until the last gap. But maybe that’s the point—to build up anticipation for her. It was different for me though, because the pilot episode, with Tsubaki’s long exposure, immediately cemented my love for her. She’s your ordinary friend—tomboyish, tough, and insistent that she only sees his best friend as a little brother. She’s your feisty sports girl, not minding the heat of the sun as she runs after a baseball. Above all, Tsubaki is a very dear friend who is there at every instant that Kousei needed her, even at the time that she can’t quite place what she really feels.

I find it baffling that most people would be against a romance between two childhood friends, when it could be the most organic and most realistic kind of romance. Life is all about encounters, you know. Contrary to the romanticized belief (that I admit I had with me for the longest time), the amount of time you spend with a person builds the foundation of your relationship. And with Tsubaki and Kousei whose friendship is has been tied tightly with so many highs and lows since they were young, it’s definitely not impossible for them to be together. For one, they have history. Second, they totally get each other. And last, though he has explicitly (and excessively) admitted that he’s in love with Kaori, Kousei’s always been ambiguous with his feelings. It might be true that he is fixated on Kaori because it’s the first time that he has actually felt something towards another girl, but it has always been clear to me that he has a very special place for Tsubaki in his heart; he just does not know it.

Kousei has not considered Tsubaki in a romantic way yet, but it’s not because he’d set the line between them—he just have not thought about it, but what if he does? He has this instinct to come running to her just at the instant that she needs him; he does not need to be told twice. When she kind of confessed to him and a few days after that they did not talk about it, he gets all flustered when he sees him. And in that moment in the tournament at the last episode, when Kousei cannot move his finger over the piano keys again—when he was weighed down and scared—it was Tsubaki’s sneeze that got him out of his trance. It was just a sneeze, and he could have thought that it came from a random person, but he knew that it was Tsubaki. That, in itself, says something about how deep into the core this relationship is.

“I may be a flaky kid brother, but I’m gonna try hard. I’m gonna try hard, so I want the happy Tsubaki to watch me. Because it would be too lame to ride on your shoulders forever.” (Kousei, episode 6)

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What I really loved most about Tsubaki is that she has her own struggle in understanding her own feelings. She may be involved in a love triangle, but she was never the meddling second lead because she struggled to get to know them on her own. I love that she went through confusion, which is again, what goes through in your life when you are suddenly feeling something different about your friend. She already felt a pang of jealousy when she saw Kaori in Kousei’s house, but she still tried to process it, like any normal girl would. But you can only go on suppressing something that has already been triggered. Tsubaki tried her best to not cross her line.

With her and Kousei, it had always been comfortable because they know each other to the core. She tried going out with another guy because she was probably thinking that he can get her out of this confusion. In friendships, you get confused precisely because of proximity. In that moment under the moonlight, when he and Kousei were walking, and he started talking about moving away to study in a high school for music, and she cried, I cried with her. Suddenly, she realized what she’s been feeling all along; suddenly, he is moving away.

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“I’m such an idiot, I had no idea about my own feelings. I wish I’d never realized, because I wanted things to go on just like this. But time keeps flowing. Both Watari and Kousei, even if they’re afraid, even if it’s painful, even if they can’t see ahead. Still seeking something, they take one step after another, mustering the courage to go on, inspiring each other, supporting each other, they try to move on. I’m the only one who can’t take that first step. Time does stop, doesn’t it? I’m the only one who’s frozen in time.” (Tsubaki, episode 14)

Tsubaki’s admission of selfishness and the fact that she feels like music is her enemy is that one beautiful flaw that I admire about her. It’s the very block that separates her from Kousei, but it is also something that she knows that lifts him up. It is through this that she face the problem that her own personal feelings to her, and it’s noble how she tries to get past it by setting it aside and instead studying hard in order to go to a school close to Kousei’s. See? She’s a very independent person, and she has the most human development, in my opinion.She’s strong-willed, and I think that’s what irks most people. But to me, the more flawed the character is, the more that s/he is more organic, and more interesting. She may not be as bright and energetic as Kaori, but she is constant and steady. She’s as bright and vibrant as the colors of the autumn.

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That ending, and some what-could-have-beens

Up to this day, I still have not gotten over that ending. It was very cathartic, and I really never expected it to turn out that way. I was on episode 13 when my brother spoiled me (lol), though I was not surprised that (SPOILER!) Kaori will die because I kind of felt it coming. It was not until the finale, though, that I really felt all kinds of emotions blending together, like it was aiming so squarely at my heart.It was a heartbreaking finale in that an important character had to die. I, personally, do not like having main characters killed off because they’re already very close to my heart that losing them leaves me wounded. However, Kaori’s death was actually a good resolution to this story (not that I am saying that someone so young should die at that age, okay?) because I think her entire purpose was to be a reminder to Kousei that everyone leaves this world, and that no one is exempted from the inevitable.

I love that our goodbye to Kaori was a goodbye to her soul: in that moment when Kousei was imagining having a duet with her during the competition. It was timely because she was undergoing an operation that might save her, but maybe at that time her soul was on a journey and before she left, she had to perform one last time with Kousei, even if it’s just a kind of epiphany. It was a beautiful send-off.

I liked all the side characters, though Emi was my favorite. She was a mass of contradiction. A girl who likes her own rival. A girl who pounds on those piano keys just to convey how she feels, and it was so intense. She was actually my second favorite after Tsubaki because she was that cool for me. It’s a shame that she was not given as much chance at development because she’s mostly just an archetypal rival. I do think, though, that her feelings toward Kousei is very interesting. It felt like it would explode any minute, and I loved that edge.

On the one hand, I am very disappointed with what they did with Watari’s character. He is one of the main leads, but he never really had a proper arc of his own. It’s a shame because it seemed like there are a lot of things that you can do with a bubbly character like his. I especially liked seeing a bit of depth and seriousness in him in this one instance that Tsubaki’s friend, Kashigawa, was talking to him about the love entanglement between the main three. He was very mature in that time, and it’s sad that they could not utilize it as much. I mean, you know, you could have tried to pair him with Emi!

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Your Lie in April is difficult to put into words precisely because it was a series that manipulated my emotions. I was just so into it, and it was just so dynamic. I guess my only complaint from it is the fact that these kids are 14-years-old. Oh my goodness, what great burden their dilemmas are for such a young age. I personally think that you get into those kinds of dilemma when you’re in the last two years of high school, or in college. I actually finished the series thinking to myself that they’re 19-years-old instead.

Nonetheless, this one was so beautiful, and I cannot find any reason why I couldn’t agree with the resolution. To me, even if Tsubaki is my bias, I would be fine if Kaori actually lived and became the endgame. But they’ve done the resolution so thoughtfully, and it was very consistent with the narrative since the start. You have also probably noticed that Tsubaki and Kousei’s romance arc was never lost midway, because I think if they’re not to be, that arc would have gotten killed in the middle and Tsubaki would have moved on and found her right match. Instead, this one stuck to what it started.

I guess my biggest takeaway from Your Lie in April is its idea of second chances. Life, no matter how absurd and indifferent, does give us always another chance to right our wrongs. Like Kaori, we learn that some people come to our lives not meant to stay, but to be remembered as lessons–a very fond memory that you will keep within your heart, like the memory of the spring. Somehow, along the journey of our lives, we lose some people and we leave behind a part of us that we cannot carry through, but it is through these chances that we learn to be more appreciative of what we have. We learn how to say goodbye with a smile, and we learn to open our hearts for the people that had always been there since the beginning and never left.

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2 thoughts on “[Anime review] ‘Your Lie in April’ is a melancholic and thoughtful take on the pains of growing up

  1. Nice entry, I really love this anime. Im a fan of yours actually, karamihan ng mga pinopost mo sa facebook acct mo na animes and drama ay napanood ko na or pinanood ko din kasi sabi mo nagandahan ka. Kudos Jyc!!!!

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