Your Lie in April: a classical love story
May 10, 2015 Leave a comment
Your Lie in April [Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso / KimiUso] is one of the four series that made the last winter season more memorable for me than any other in recent years. Part of the reason I loved it from the start would undoubtedly have to do with where I first encountered it: at the noitaminA cafe in Odaiba, Tokyo…straight after watching Psycho-Pass 2. For six weeks during the fall season, that’s the experience I sat through…and I often added to it by catching the noitaminA block on TV each Thursday night as well. The colourful springtime palette and youthful exuberance Your Lie in April emanated never failed to pick me up after the grim and dark 25 minutes that always came before.
|You come along, too!|
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to talk about this series without giving away some of the most important revelations, so if anyone who’s reading this wants to give the show a try without being spoiled, all I can really say is this:
Your Lie in April is a story about growing up, about first loves, about meetings and partings, and about finding reasons to keep going even in your darkest hour. If you’re a classical music lover, the musical set pieces will only add another layer of enjoyment (and if you aren’t, perhaps this series of analyses might add to the experience), and the animation in those scenes tops any other anime about music that I’ve ever seen. That said, if abuse and bullying are issues that have affected you in some way, then you may find the first half of the show incredibly difficult to sit through. It is meant to make you uncomfortable. Many people also complained that the slapstick humour was jarring because it seemed to trivialise this—my response to this would require quite a long essay, so I’ll leave the point for the moment. But if you can make it through to the end, and can also allow yourself to remember the days of your own youth, then this could be one of the most rewarding emotional rollarcoasters you’ll see this year.
|So, how do you feel now, Arima Kousei?|
For everyone else, here are my overall thoughts, spoilers and all.
Your Lie in April was one of those polarising series that viewers either loved, or hated. The key to which group you fall under is, in my view, whether you buy into the journey that Arima Kousei takes over his final year of Junior High in Japan. At the core of this journey are his relationships with the people in his life, be they family, good friends, rivals, or in a space marked by change. Let me talk about the three that left an impression on me.
The relationship that Kousei had with his mother was clearly shown to be a complex one. When we were first introduced to her through Kousei’s memories, we found out that she’d often beaten him for not playing ‘according to the score’, which ended up making him the ‘human metronome’ that many people in the music world had derided him for being. We find out later, however, that she had been a really loving mother, and that the abuse had started only after her illness had gotten much worse. But it’s not as if the mangaka had been trying to excuse her behaviour: it’s suggested that Saki knows that what she is doing is wrong, even though she can’t control herself. Rather, finding out about her reasons humanises her, as we learn of the strong feelings of regret that corrupted her love for her son.
I also don’t really understand the criticism that Kousei’s journey should have been one of learning that she’d been the one in the wrong, or one where he stops blaming himself for her death. I think he understood the former, or else he would never have exploded at her the last time they spoke. And even though the young Kousei had wanted to play well in the hope that it would make his mother better, I think that the Kousei we met had already recognised that there was nothing that he could have done, hence his regrets were about the last thing he’d said to her and his efforts to forget her (see ep.12). As such, I personally saw him learning to reconcile the bad memories that had stuck with him no matter how much he’d tried to forget, with the good times that he had buried deeper within himself. And I was glad to see him remember all of the things that she’d left him, and the love that they represented.
|Who was Saki, in the end? A monster, or a loving mother?|
Kousei’s bonds with his friends comprised another aspect of the series I appreciated, for they really got me thinking about how complex relationships can be. A lot of viewers pointed out that they were bullies—for example, in the way that Watari and Tsubaki forced him to join them in jumping off a high bridge into the water, or the way Kawori and Tsubaki pushed him into returning to classical music again by completely surrounding him in it. There were also complaints about the comic violence, which were argued to suggest that such behaviour was acceptable between ‘friends’. This message is dangerous because it can often amount to bullying: one of the scenes I still remember about the documentary Bully, has one victim speaking of other kids ‘teasing’ him shaped his view of how ‘normal’ friendships worked. This can happen even if the ‘aggressor’ really is just trying to be helpful or friendly. As quite a few renown anime bloggers have pointed it, instead of dismissing it as ‘horseplay between friends’, perhaps we should be questioning what our notions of ‘friendship’ are.
I do wonder, however, if there is also a danger of going too far: for example, in episode 5, Kousei was blaming himself for the messed up performance, rather than Kawori collapsing. What the others were trying to do was take his mind off that, by ‘blaming him’ for the latter instead, which they didn’t know was actually quite serious. My relationship with the people closest to me actually reflects this kind of ‘good-natured’ ribbing, so you can probably see the difficulty I have with the idea of drawing a clear line between what constitutes friendly teasing and what should be considered bullying.
Nevertheless, I think it’s important that a show does take a stand on whether something that might constitute bullying is bad, even if the outcome is shown to be a good one. And in fact, KimiUso does, with another mutual friend calling Tsubaki out on the bridge incident, albeit years after the fact. Kawori, too, apologised for all the times she’d abused Kousei. Overall, I think the show did pretty well balancing some of the complexities of real relationships with the recognition that bullying behaviour should not be glossed over just because it’s ‘what friends do to each other’.
|Nothing was quite as divisive as the ‘comic violence’…|
Finally, we come to what is arguably the key relationship in the show, Kousei’s bond with the girl that sweeps into his life with a burst of spring. Quickly dismissed as a ‘manic pixie girl’ who somehow weaves a spell of magic over our protagonist, Miyazono Kawori was really disliked by certain parts of the viewership because the show—and by extension, the mangka—seemed to give her a free pass to do a lot of really selfish things.
But to be frank, that’s a really superficial reading of Kawori and her relationship with Kousei. Whether you end up with a positive impression of Your Lie in April probably depends on how quickly you picked up on all the little clues that hinted at her personal goal. I do not wish to point out each detail that grabbed me as I was reading the manga or watching the anime, but this one from episode 18 was my favourite (partially because I didn’t actually read that chapter before I saw it in the anime):
|I thought that I was satisfied because my dream had come true…I’d told myself it was enough…|
|Did this moment arrest your attention as it did mine? What is the dream that Kawori was talking about? I’ll admit that I actually knew the answer by the time this episode aired in February, but I did also write this forum post back in December, when I hadn’t yet found out.|
The irony of this kind of storytelling is that, once you confirm the answer, you’ll probably want to go back to see if there’s anything else you missed. Even though I had a hunch quite early on, and thus knew what to look for, I’m still picking up on little details here and there with each episode I rewatch. But those who don’t pick up on it at all—and my estimate, based on bloggers and other active commentators, is that about one third to a half of the viewers who finished the series didn’t—aren’t likely to be open to going back to see how the ‘new knowledge’ changes the meaning behind what went on before.
Your Lie in April is far from perfect. The quality of the animation wasn’t consistent, which I felt was understandable, since they poured most of their resources into animating the musical set pieces. Even though some viewers compared A1 Pictures unfavourably to studios like Kyoto Animation, which I agree sets the standard for consistently smooth character movement, the very fact that the animators had to produce around twenty times the number of key frames as normal for each of Kawori’s performances meant that I was willing to give them some leeway on that. Nevertheless, the gap was quite disconcerting.
|Money shot! The violin key frames were all hand-drawn,
following still frames taken from video, whilst the piano was CGI.
|But that also meant that we got scenes like this. I would have liked to have seen Kousei and Emi’s eyes following Takeshi in this scene, rather than having them just stare at the opposite wall.|
Still, Your Lie in April is a show that I never grew tired of watching (a huge contrast to most of the shows I’ve tried this season…maybe I need to have another look at what’s out there!). The musical set pieces were fantastic, and I’ve gone through days when the entire classical playlist is what I tune into as I’m working. In short, Your Lie in April joins the list of shows that I’d be happy to watch again, even if I should really be trying to get through my huge—and growing—backlog!