It’s been many long months since I’ve been able to watch anime and write how I feel about them. I usually take a while – days – to write each review, so when things get hectic, I can’t manage to get anything out. Luckily, things are finally winding down, giving me more time to do things for myself and I was able to catch a few shows on Netflix, like this one. So, here are my thoughts (with spoilers) on ‘Your Lie in April’.
Your Lie in April took me by surprise. I’ve seen it on several anime recommendation lists before and I’ve been slapped with spoilers here and there, until I actually had a rather good understanding of how the story was going to unfold. I didn’t love the story and I wouldn’t say that it’s anywhere near the best thing I’ve ever watched but still, it surprised me. Maybe I expected it to be far more mediocre than it was and while I wasn’t moved or gripped by it, I could see why many would be.
The story itself isn’t ground-breaking. Arima Kousei finds himself bereft of the passion and inspiration that once drove him to play the piano and he finds it again through Kaori, a vivacious and brilliant violinist. It’s a simple plot from every angle. The story-telling, however, elevates the plot, focussing on emotions and artfully using sounds and colours to create something memorable.
It’s a very sentimental narrative, without the melodrama loaded with tearful screams or passionate heroic dialogues. It’s rather down-to-earth actually, and that makes it easier to connect with these characters. Kousei is riddled with guilt over his relationship with his mother before her death and his regret runs so deep that he loses his ability to hear the sounds of the piano. The visuals create a powerful metaphor – he is utterly alone, drowning.
Death is a central theme in this story and it looms over our main character. The story explores the psychological impacts of falling ill and facing certain death. We see how Kousei’s mother transformed from a loving caregiver to a tyrannical taskmaster, and how Kaori threw caution to the wind and decided to live as she willed. They are both remembered but in starkly different lights. Much of the story focuses on Kousei trying to deal with their illnesses and impeding deaths, once as a child and then again as a teenager. It’s natural that he wanted to please his mother because he loved the person she was, and that he felt immense guilt for loathing what she had become. As vile as she was, his mother was his only family and although the show slips in that he has a father holed away somewhere, we don’t see him. As far as I’m concerned, there is no other parent. His experience with Kaori after she falls ill is equally painful but for different reasons. We see how Kousei has changed and matured, and we see how dynamic relationships can be.
Given the circumstances, it’s good that the story doesn’t rush through Kousei’s emotions. It takes time for him to forgive his mother (and himself) and to gain back his love for the music. I was hoping that meeting Kaori and being strong-armed into playing the piano for her would be an immediate cure for him, but on hindsight, I’m glad that it didn’t; grief and guilt rarely have instant cures.
Kaori does manage to help him find his way out eventually. I liked her characterisation. She’s brought into the story with a burst of colour and I’ve always been fond of vibrant and cheerful characters. There’s more to her though, as we see her hopes and insecurities surface together with her mysterious debilitating illness. The revelation that she didn’t come out of nowhere and that she had always been there at the periphery – a member of the audience, a schoolmate, an admirer – was a very smart move on the part of the writer. Before, she seemed like a convenient heroine sent by some higher power to save Kousei. After, she is shown to be someone with agency, who set out to change the way she lived and bring herself closer to the boy she liked.
It’s a good twist but I wish it had been revealed before her death. Learning how much they’ve influenced each other would have made their relationship a lot more meaningful. As it stands, I wasn’t too invested in their romance. I also didn’t understand the whole lie about Kaori being in love with Kousei’s buddy instead of him the entire time. I guess teen love triangles just don’t grip me. I’ve always preferred romance as a part of adventure and action, so a story that uses romance as a vehicle to navigate the trauma of disease and death simply didn’t appeal to me as much.
In fact, I was far more interested in the competitions than the relationships (probably a side effect of all the sports anime that I’ve watched and loved). I was excited to learn about Kousei’s rivals and was looking forward to him crushing them into oblivion with his reacquired skills. It didn’t really happen like that, but I could understand and accept this turn of events. His rivals are easy to empathise with and they are quite likeable too (maybe even more than him).
I also didn’t feel much for the classical music that encompassed a significant portion of the story. The pieces were nice in their own way but I couldn’t see more than that. There were these moments when members of the audience would visualise flowers or colours and comment about the music reflecting the individuality of the pianist but I absolutely couldn’t sense it. If the music is played the way it’s meant to be played, doesn’t that mean that it should sound more or less the same? Maybe I just don’t have the ear for it. They are all expert pianists so I can’t even tell what sets them apart.
So, at the end of it all, was Your Lie in April worth watching? Does it deserve its generally positive reviews? I think so. While I wasn’t carried away by the emotion and the love story, I wasn’t bored by the story at any point. It’s a beautifully narrated story, with lovely scenes accompanied by fitting music and the right dose of sentiment. I’ve never been interested in romance as a genre but even I could tell that this was pretty good. Like I said at the start, it surprised me.