Your Lie in April Review

This is review number four hundred and ten. This anime is part of the Fall 2014 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Your Lie in April or Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. It’s a twenty two episode anime about a bunch of people playing music and stuff like that. This review is long, so let’s read on.

Story

One day in April, I met a really weird violinist. Totally outrageous, totally self-righteous but the way she smiles at the people she likes is angelic. When she managed to kick, punch, and drag me on stage again, i saw something that I’ve never seen up there before. I want to see that sight again with my own eyes one more time. That’s what I’d think….I’d like to become a really weird pianist.

– Kousei Arima

Taking the Pants Off

This anime kinda had a very “good vibe” to me, so I decided to let some bloggers hype me up for the show. Some of them undersold the anime though, but I kinda knew they were just holding back. Some people commented that the show is a solid 7, and I’d agree if we’re talking about the story alone. Oh no, focusing on the story is a great disservice to this anime, because the entire experience is a visual treat. Yes, a moving medium has utilized its most important aspect and delivered one hell of a visual experience. Some people that already saw the show might not be impressed, but this anime is flowing with visual subtext. It’s a powerful element of a moving medium that most anime doesn’t utilize. Some shows simply do not know how to utilize it, but Your Lie in April is an amazing show. The story is incredibly flawed though, and it breaks apart in the middle. It drags in some parts, and it has a lot of unnecessary subplots. The anime was primarily focused on one thing though, and it perfectly nailed that one important thing. This anime will send you home smiling, despite the bitter sweet chocolate that you ate beforehand. The emotion it presents will really pack a punch, and the experience is just a very special one for me. I just finished watching the anime as I write this review, and I honestly still can’t get over it. Apologies if I gush too much about the show. I just really love solid anime that hits me in the gut despite my years of being a cynical reviewer. This anime still got to me.

The show has a pretty loose story. It’s about this guy that stopped playing the piano. A big event in his past life traumatized him to the point that he can no longer play, and he’s given up ever since. One day though, he meets a girl playing a melodica at a playground. He was mesmerized, and he soon discovers that she is a violinist. Her performance captivated him, and she soon approached the guy asking him to play the piano again. For the upcoming violin competition, the girl wants the guy to be his accompanist. He is still badly traumatized though, but the girl grabbed his hand and promised to set out on a journey together. The show now follows the guy trying to go back into a world he ran out screaming from, and he soon realizes that he missed the music world as much as it misses him.

The story is honestly a bit hard to pin down. It’s a coming of age story, for sure, as we follow Kousei Arima try to conquer his past and move forward as an individual. This element is presented up front when his best friend claimed that they’re only fourteen years old, and they need to sparkle. The anime mostly focuses on Arima becoming a reliable person as we watch him struggle and succeed over the adversities that lie before him. Of course, a coming of age story is not complete without Romance, and that’s another strong element of the show. I mean, it’s a strong topic or theme for the show. Love is always a big motivation for the characters. They look up to each other, and they love one another but they’re too young to really know how to express that. As the story progress, the romance branches out to a lot of small subplots. Lastly, this anime is also a subtle drama. Going back to the line of them being fourteen years old and required to sparkle, it kinda hints on all three elements of the show. Kousei needs to sparkle in his quest to become a better person, the characters will sparkle while being in love and they’ll sparkle as they realize life is full of hardships. That one line in the show really stuck to me, because it was such a strong line with a lot of subtext. It was delivered with so much energy, as youth tends to do, but it just happily foreshadows a lot of things.

So I guess you can sum the anime up into one big theme: Youth. The characters are young, and they’re about to experience a lot of things moving forward. One element of the story that is a separate beast though, is the theme of music. Right out of the gate, Kousei is mesmerized by Kaori’s music. When she played the violin, something in him was triggered and he was just completely drawn into her soulful playing. As the anime progresses, the theme of music and how it influences people is heavily covered by the anime as well. The characters pointed out that music is a powerful way to convey your emotions. The way you play a piece, and the way it affects everyone that hears it, is a big aspect of the show. Kousei used music to convey his feelings, and you soon realized just how many people are touched by his own soulful playing. You often won’t just hear the characters describe the impact of music in their life though. Sometimes, you see it for yourself as it soon molds the individual. This is where the visuals really make the show amazing, because it really captures the emotion of a moment. Combined with the soulful playing, you often see the impact of the notes on the individual with their rich reaction and wonderful monologue. Music touches everyone, and the anime covers a big chunk of the story to explore how much it means to a lot of characters.

Okay, so the anime is a coming of age, a romance, a drama and a music type story. It looks messy when you put in on paper, but the show controls the chaos by utilizing the characters. The narrative is really an accompanist to the characters. The pacing of the show is masterfully handled by how it focuses on the characters. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. The anime is divided into four chapters, and it mostly follows Kousei’s journey to being a better individual. Each chapter is highlighted by a musical performance though, and it hammers the point that music impacts everyone. The audience will be impacted as well. The first chapter is about Kousei and Kaori practicing for her violin performance. Kaori is dragging Kousei out of the shadow so he can face his fears. It’s easier said than done though, because Kousei is really f*cked up. I don’t blame him too, because what he endured is pretty rough for a kid to experience. But with Kaori as his guiding light, Kousei tries his best to finally move forward. The first chapter pretty much lays the groundwork for the rest of the series. The dynamic of Kousei, Kaori and their two other friends is established, the struggles of Kousei and his dark past is explored, and his slow return to the musical life is setup as well. It’s a very busy first chapter, but the focus is always on the characters and how they are experiencing this new chapter of their life. It’s not just Kousei too, because the show also gives ample time to focus on how the other characters are experiencing things as well. This builds into a climax where Kousei and Kaori set out on a journey together.

The second chapter introduces new characters, but it mostly focuses more on Kousei’s trauma. As he recalls his dark past, we soon realize that his darkest days are the brightest to some people. This is in contrast to how Kousei remembers people hating him for his playing. He stood alone in a sea of murmurs full of hatred of him. Music is a powerful thing though, and we soon realize that Kousei greatly impacted a lot of people and they’ve since been waiting for his return. He was so focused on his trauma that he forgot that music connects people, and he soon learns to use it to be with others. The second chapter is pretty weird though, because it tries to widen the story. As I keep watching, I was fearful that the anime will not be able to cover everything in the manga. Since the new characters introduced seem to have their own thing going, I fear that we might get another ERASED ending where A-1 Pictures created a new ending that made the experience sour. Here’s the crazy part though: the anime is a near perfect adaptation of the original source. All forty four chapters were adapted into the anime, and I actually find that hard to believe. It’s very rare to see a near close adaptation of the manga, and I really didn’t expect anything like it for this anime. Rest assured though, everything in the show is precisely how the manga expresses it. This makes this anime adaptation a very rare one, and I’ll elaborate on that later on.

The third chapter is right at the second half of the show, and this is really where the anime dragged. The show focused heavily on Kousei’s childhood friend and her own crisis about the new things she is experiencing. Kousei kinda peaked at this moment, but the story did feel excruciatingly slow as we focus on the childhood friend come to the obvious realization regarding her problems. A new character is also introduced this late in the show, and it really felt like padding. Once you’ve reached the second half of the anime, you’re really only waiting for one thing to happen but the show is intentionally delaying it. I do understand the point of the third chapter though. It was really just building the tension, and reaching a good enough high point before the impending low point happens. Also, love is expressed in a lot of ways in the anime and the third chapter had, I think, five interpretations of it. Admiration, acknowledgement, gratitude, heart wrenching, puppy love, and hesitation were displayed as a form of love expressed by a lot of characters in the third chapter. It basks in the youthful energy of the cast, so the messy focus is still smartly presented.

The last chapter is the big one, and just know that I cried during this chapter. I cried a lot, actually, but I’ll avoid talking about the last chapter. Let’s talk about something else, and something that made this anime really special: the directing. Ok, I’ll be spamming a lot of pictures below but I want to point out just how wonderfully presented this piece of visual medium is. I was mostly awed by this scene:

Look at it. It’s just the two characters, and you aren’t even sure where they are in. It’s literally just a world for the two of them. If you add some dialogue:

The scene becomes a lot more powerful. The image above also displays the best thing about the show. It is loaded with a lot of subtext. I’m going to get technical here for a bit. Let’s explain what context and subtext is. Basically, context is the thing being said. Like “I’m hungry”. Subtext is the thing unsaid. Like “I’m hungry”, but I’m looking at a hot shirtless dude. The subtext is obviously sexual. I feel dirty using that example. The line “you’re only fourteen, and you should sparkle” is full of subtext. The line above is also loaded with subtext. “I’d be following you”? Why did he say such an odd line unless its means something deeper. This is the power of the subtext. The hidden meaning of a word sometimes means a lot more than the ones explicitly said. Here’s another favorite of mine:

pl5ggxv

There’s the sparkle line again. The subtext is very different though, and you just can’t help but smile at it. I mentioned though that I love the directing in this anime, and it’s mostly because of the visual subtexts. This show is loaded with a lot of them, and they’re just so powerfully told that they shout amazing things by themselves. This is my favorite:

Kousei is in his dark past while Kaori is trying to pull him out of it. Here’s another one:

His past is literally buried, untouched on purpose as Kaori looks on gravely concerned at what she’s looking at. I know it isn’t much, but this kind of attention to detail is something you’d rarely come by. It can be overdone, like in Flowers of Evil, and it can also drag, like most of Miyazaki’s work (although that is on purpose). For the director to really use striking imagery to tell the story is just incredible, and it really heightens the experience. This kind of strong visual storytelling is honestly so welcoming that I bet you’d enjoy the anime on multiple re-watch. There’s always something new to experience, because a lot of things are left unsaid. But the visuals don’t just shine on simple subtext. The story is also full of parallelisms. I think this part is pretty obvious, because a lot of things mirror similar scenes from before. We can start with this scene again:

A blue sky, just the two characters, and a world all for themselves. Here it is again:

This scene doesn’t just parallel the one above, but it also parallels the big climax of the first chapter. The scene is entirely different though, but the comparisons are intentionally laid out so you’d recall the past scenes. The show is rich with scenes like this. When the “bridge of courage” is first introduced, it featured Kousei afraid to jump. When it’s seen again, Kaori and Kousei is jumping off it. The two scenes are parallel each other, and the visual similarities evokes a strong emotion that the previous scene has setup and the latter scene completes. Take these scenes as well, the first introduction of “medicines”:

This came out of the bag of one character. It immediately parallels this scene:

Medicine now connects the two characters, and it sets up how visually similar the two are. The two characters with “medicine” are now parallel each other and the fun just gets better from here. But the anime doesn’t let the visuals speak for itself for long though. I noticed that the parallels are often spelled out by the characters, especially the medicine comparison. Soon enough, someone will point out the things the visuals are expressing. I guess it’s OK, since the anime isn’t really meant to overwhelm its audience. One sick character must connect to the other sick character in order for the show to really flourish. The strong parallels are really delivered in both the context and the subtext to soften the blow of the intimidating visual subtext. I’m fine with it, even though it does spoil some of the fun for me. Some things are better left unsaid, and I’d love an anime that challenges me. But then again, some people might not catch the subtexts immediately so I do think it’s all good.

But somethings are left unsaid though. This is the last great element of the visuals: the symbolism. This show is loaded with a lot of them. Some are episode specific, like the bridge or a can of orange juice, and it is used to basically suggest something deep about the characters. It is a wonderful use of the visuals subtexts though. I think the most famous example is the black cat that appears in the anime. A lot of people say that the black cat symbolizes the sick character in the anime. This is apparent when both the character and the symbol exit the stage together. Subtext is very open for interpretation though, and I do believe the black cat resembles something else. As the first OP presents it, the black cat lying on the piano, the cat symbolizes both Kousei’s hope and insecurities. You see, the black cat appears during some of Kousei’s bleak moments. Like when he is overwhelmed by his trauma:

The black cat lying on the piano keyboards represents Kousei’s hesitation to play. The image above literally has Kousei confronting his insecurities and doubt before the big performance. Here’s another example:

This is the scene where the childhood friend confronts Kousei about his feelings for Kaori, and his response is a bit tilted as it suddenly cuts to a black cat behind him.

Oh, beautiful symbolism. The black cat becomes a symbol of hope though when it appears with Kaori and Kousei, like this:

I guess the black cat representing Kaori is a good interpretation, but the very first scene of the anime features Kaori chasing down the cat. The black cat ran away from her though, but it soon buddies up to Kousei with no problem. We also always see the cat with Kousei, especially when he’s talking with Kaori on the phone:

When the cat waved goodbye, it wasn’t just Kousei’s hopes that left but also his insecurities, thus completing his coming of age story. All of it told through the visuals. A powerful scene told in the most subtle of ways, and its absolute perfection.

I told you I’d be gushing at this anime a lot. I’m gushing at the visuals though, and not the story. It’s weird, I know. I love story, and anime often has the best ones. This show doesn’t really have a good story. Some people accuse it of being melodramatic, and that’s a fair point. Kousei circles back on a lot of issues, and you’d be surprise to see him struggle with the same issues that he already found solace with just a few episodes before. As I said though, this anime is about the characters. It’s a very character driven show, and for the show to draw an emotion out of you, I’d say the approach is very effective. The characters are very complex, and they aren’t idealistic. An ideal character in crisis would slay his demons and we never speak of it again. An ideal character in love would not hesitate to scream out his declaration of love given an ample amount of buildup. An ideal love triangle is messy and full of shocks, betrayal since all is fair in love and war. As the show points out though, these aren’t ideal character. “Too dark! Where’s the sparkle in your eyes?! We’re only fourteen years old, yknow?! Think outside the box for a change. There’s no sparkle! You’re a teenager, so they should be all lit up! Lit up! Lit uuupppp!”

“yeah. your eyes are lit up, Tsubaki.” I bet everything look colorful through her eyes.

The anime already pointed it out in the first episode. Why aren’t you like typical teenagers? Well, this isn’t your typical anime. I keep going back to that sparkle line, because it really embodies the show for me. The context is screaming out that Kousei is such a downer, but the subtext is overflowing. It establishes Tsubaki’s concern for her childhood friend, it foreshadows the events to come, and his answer embodies the hope that Kousei is waiting for. The story is absolutely messy, but the characters are incredible. Everything they do, everything they say and everything they experience makes up the best parts of the show. Through their monologues, emotions and reactions, the show draws you in to experience the same thing for yourself. But here’s the kicker, no one experiences the exact same thing. What makes me cry won’t make others cry. What I call a perfectly paced representation of “youth” can be melodramatic for others. What I believe is a heartwarming moment might not mean much for others. With no back bone of a story to actually guide us to a proper conclusion, the experience is very much open for interpretations. You’re not meant to just see the characters experience stuff. You’re meant to feel it for yourself. Let their words draws you in, let their emotions impact you, and let their experience be your experience. Some people will be annoyed at how much I mention the sparkle line. It doesn’t mean anything, right? I sound like a pompous overly intelligent critic right now. Some people understand my perspective though. The sparkle line does hold meaning, and some might even smile recalling it. That’s the incredible power of the show. It’s completely reliant on how you experience it personally. It’s very high concept, and it’s rarely done with this much grace and incredible execution.

I’ll skip the characters, because this review is long enough. Experience them for yourselves. I’d just like to mention my favorite character in the entire show, and she’s been dead ever since the first episode. With the parallelism as well, you can understand that the anime opened with death so it can only end with it as well. It’s brilliant stuff. I love the dead character though, because she represents so much in the show. Context and subtext brings this character to life. When you first see her, you feel bad for what you’re seeing. It’s absolutely horrible, and the constant flashbacks exploring her are just insane. You understand how much impact she had while both alive and dead. The fact that she’s dead means so much though, because she’s very much alive still and she insists on staying. Things gradually change, and when hope becomes a factor, she eventually becomes fleshed out as well. Her role as a friend, a parent, a mentor, and dreary ghost becomes multilayered until we eventually she who she truly was when she was alive. She represents the anime’s strong writing. Even though the story itself is messy, the character driven approach is still intense. After all, how can a dead person move the story so much?

This review is long, and blame A-1 Pictures for that. Oh my gawd, what an incredible show. I was honestly concerned because the anime feels like ERASED, and that show ended sourly for me. I still remember how much the show ended with a feeling like being punched in the gut. After so much care and attention, it felt like A-1 just stopped caring towards the end. It’s different for Your Lie in April though. All volumes were consumed, and I thank them for that. Maybe ERASED was meant for a longer run too. I bet it could’ve covered the whole manga with the same length. Then again, maybe Your Lie in April’s reception forced A-1 Pictures to never put this much effort in their shows as much. It’s a different step for them as well, since before this, they presented Aldnoah.Zero and Sword Art Online 2. This anime is fifteen levels above those shows, and the effort is overflowing. I’d love to see A-1 produce a show like this moving forward. The anime is directed by Kyohei Ishiguro. He’s been an episode director for the most part, and he had some full time directing under his belt. This anime felt like his first serious take though, and I believe he succeeded amazingly. The visuals are from the manga, but he really did a faithful adaptation to the point that the flaws of the manga are also represented in the anime. He is a top class talent, and I’d love to see more of his future works.

Sight and Sound

Naoshi Arakawa is an incredible mangaka. I love his character designs, because they really represent the characters nicely. They have a good body composition, and their facial reactions are just intensely expressive. The manga comes alive with its visuals, and you always see the character’s personality in the panels. Design wise, it doesn’t really stand out that much. The body posture and the body frames are nice, but the characters are just standard at best. It’s mostly elevated by the incredible character driven story he tells in the panels. The posture and frame is incredibly highlighted during the performances. The way Kaori holds her violin has so much grace to it, and you’re often just in awe at how much detail is put into the panels. The curious thing about the manga though is that it needed to convey the music. Without actual sound, I was really curious on how it would be done. Naotsu uses the visuals to achieve that, and he drowns you in it.

He often does full page during performances, and he just lets the emotions run wild. You’re forced to stay in that page for a long time, and you’re forced to bask in the emotion contained in it. Naotsu’s talent is evident at this point, because the details are amazing. Crowd reaction, body posture, and smart close ups are utilized to deliver the moment. The pages don’t have much words, because the visuals is carrying the entire scene. No music, but a whole lot of visuals to express how the music impacts people. The speed of the performance, the awe of the crowd and use of different angles informs you how the music is being delivered. It’s incredible, since there is no actual music. The limitations of the manga are obviously improved upon by the anime. Music is finally in the pages, and Kyohei soon becomes the accompanist to Naotsu’s incredible work.

Effort. Being a reviewer for five years, effort is something you cannot fake. The small details you put in a scene means a lot to me. The way you deliver a sequence has weight to me. Animation IS effort, and the best animation has the best effort. That’s a truth you can never cover up. When you adapt a manga, you’re not just using the panels as a storyboard. No, you’re capturing the mangaka’s vision itself. The emotions of the panels, the subtle details in the drawings, and the ambitions alive in the panels must also be adapted. The anime adapted the manga panel for panel. Every single scene in the anime is adapted from the manga in a near perfect adaptation. I’ve never seen it done before, because anime often can’t really dedicate so much to the original source. I’ve grown to accept that. This anime does not alter the original source. Everything is adapted, and you can tell Kyohei himself is mesmerized by what he is directing. Every useless panel of just hallways and facial reactions are adapted. Not a single scene is left behind. It’s incredible.

He did left out the sweat though. The characters sweat a lot more in the manga, and the anime lessened that. The best you’ll get is a bead of sweat trickling down their chin. That’s fine though, because sweat is kinda hard to make look appealing. The best part of the anime though is the music, the one thing not in the manga. It’s amazing, because the crowd is now properly reacting to the music itself. Every monologue becomes deeper as the music conveying the emotions are now flowing out of the characters. The pacing is also a lot longer in the anime during the musical performances. It’s often just three panels in the manga, but it’s drawn out in the show. The music makes the scenes longer, and every reaction is presented with so much more detail. The facial reactions, the body posture and everything else come alive with the proper music now bringing everything together. As you can see, the animation is top notch. I guess I only have complaints during the performances, because it isn’t as impressive as it could be. The manga is limited with the performances, but the anime is so faithful that it doesn’t do much during the scenes that the manga didn’t achieve first. The actual playing isn’t as impressive as it could be.

The anime has two OP. The first one is “Hikaru nara” by Goose house. I love this song, and I love Goose House in general. They sang an OST for Silver Spoon as well, and I’m glad they’re doing more songs. I just love how they’re literally enjoying singing and you can tell from this song. It’s a love song about someone being forever changed by the person they love, and it’s a very lovely song. I personally love how it builds to the chorus, and I find myself singing along to it after a while. The OP sequence is a visual treat as well. I won’t go deep into it, but it’s also flowing with context and subtext.  The black cat, the birds, their wings and the placement of the characters in every scene tells so much. It’s a really complex OP. The second OP is “Nanairo Symphony” by Coala Mode. This is a very uplifting song as it tells about moving forward with the important people by your side. I love the singer’s voice, and you just slowly learn to love this song. It’s beautifully composed, and it really embodies the show for me. The OP sequence features all the characters, even the new ones, and a small montage of Kousei and Kaori playing together. This is the kind of OP you watch after a year or so of seeing the anime, and you’ll just smile at how nostalgic the sequence is.

The anime has two ED as well. The first one is “Kirameki” by wacci. It’s another love song, and the singer’s voice is actually really amazing here. He really gives so much life to the lyrics. I love it. The ED sequence features Kaori looking all cute, and the sequence is really hammering the fact she will exit stage at the end because she already feels like a memory in the sequence. Geez, no build up to the impending doom, eh? The second ED is “Orange” by 7!! This is another lovely song, but a bit subdued compared to the rest of the songs. It’s about love, but it has a bitter sweet tone. The ED sequence is pretty weird here because it features Kaori in shallow water up to her ears. It then transitions to her floating as stars pass her by. It’s an obvious scene, but it does feel like an afterthought compared to the other sequences.

Overall Score

9/10 “It’s a technical wonder, a beautiful character driven story, and one hell of an anime experience.”

The anime has some flaws, and the story won’t be as special to some people. The way the anime utilize the visuals is pretty amazing though, and the way it presents its character is incredible. This anime could’ve been much worse, and I’ve seen the same approach fail countless times. This anime succeeded though, and the experience is a rare one for me. This is a solid coming of age story and a solid romance/drama as well. Yeah, it is a solid 7 on that department but I’ve fallen in love with the visuals and the overflowing subtext of this show. I personally don’t believe the anime deserves a nine, but I think that feeling will change overtime. This show is top notch, and I highly recommend it.

 

11 thoughts on “Your Lie in April Review

  1. I want to cry with the anime too!
    Considering how much tears were shed when I first read the manga, it would probably be a bucket compared to the would be ocean of tears in the anime. Because hearing it and reading about it is different. Can’t wait to watch this!

  2. I enjoyed this series, a lot of people told me not to watch it, that it had drama in excess, that the characters were… immature. Oddly enough coming into it, I had my worries but it turns out I liked watching young people acting immature and drama to contain, well… drama!

    Your review covers this anime fairly, that’s incredibly admirable. This show had me crying by the end, something I hadn’t done in many years of watching anime. This is the kind of review I want to see on shows TPAB, not necessarily biased – even though that cannot be avoided, but fair as fair can be, as well as informative without bogging you down. I loved the symbolism in this show, how shots were framed and you noticed that too! I’ll be following you from now on.

    • thank you very much, and I’m glad you liked it. I know what you mean. A lot of people did not appreciate the symbolism and the framing, and I think it really made this anime amazing. I also didn’t mind the drama. I can relate to it fine, so I just find myself truly enjoying the ride.
      Thank you for commenting! 🙂

  3. One of the things that I like about this anime is that it definitely lie to me. And it’s the liar that I’ll gonna fall in love with over and over again. Nobody could see it coming, (cough cough the ending) but it seriously live up with its title. It seriously lie that April. It is so sad and that’s what makes it memorable.

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