Written by Bananaowns
Images courtesy of A-1 Pictures and Aniplex of America
In a previous review, I mentioned the concept of the goal of any art medium. I came to the conclusion that the ultimate goal is to elicit some sort of emotion from the audience. For example, shows in the action genre create a sense of awe, while another genre might attempt to bring out another sort of emotion. The best shows successfully bring out emotion in the viewer. One of my favorite shows is Toradora. To put it into perspective, my response to Toradora created such a strong reaction that I decided to write anime reviews. What is the point of discussing this? Well the show that I am reviewing today created a very strong emotional response to the point where I was in tears. The 22 episode run had many moments which brought the feelings of depression, anxiety, heartbreak, and fear. Your Lie in April is one of the finest examples of a show that managed to captivate an audience, despite at times going into quite heavy material. I am Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth Anime Review.
The story of Your Lie in April focuses on the piano prodigy, Kousei Arima. A few years before the series, Kousei dominated a variety of piano competitions and became quite famous in the musical world. After the death of his mother, Kousei suffered a nervous breakdown that destroyed his ability to play piano. Two years later, he has given up the piano entirely. However, one day he meets Kaori Miyazono, a quirky violinist. She quickly helps him try to return to the musical world and again find joy in playing the piano. That is the basic setup of Your Lie in April. The story follows Arima as he tries to overcome his fear of playing the piano. As a result, the show can be categorized as a character piece with Arima at the center.
Much of the story is told from Kousei’s point of view, often using an inner monologue as a means of conveying emotion. Now this inner monologue is employed by a variety of characters, mostly during the music performances. In some cases, it works very well. However, for characters other than Kousei, these inner monologues can slow the pacing of the story significantly. At one point, there are three episodes in a row that heavily use this inner monologue as a means of conveying the feelings of three separate characters. This can be very tiring and almost annoying at times. This is a problem that prevents this show from being considered absolutely perfect, but when used appropriately, this device is extremely effective.
The story of this show can only be described as an emotional rollercoaster, with plenty of drama. There are a variety of emotions that appear in almost a schizophrenic manner. One moment might find laughs to almost immediately turn into something more serious. This schizophrenic nature could put off some viewers, but I found it refreshing. Much like real life, things can change very quickly. Good moments don’t last forever which means that they should be appreciated when things are not going well. Considering this show, these moments of comedy are welcome breaks from the more serious subjects. The main character is trying to overcome a nervous breakdown. Of course this would be filled with a lot of emotional moments that need to be offset for the sake of the viewer. Overall, Your Lie in April is a great character study that is rife with emotion.
Now a character study is only as great as the character that is studied. Luckily, this show possesses an interesting cast of characters. For the sake of review, I will only talk about Kousei and Kaori. As the main character, Kousei is the subject of the larger character study. At the start of the series, he is good-natured, but possesses an inner sadness. As a result, he possesses a rather dreary view of his world. On top of that, he has his anxiety and depressions concerning the piano. The loss of his mother was rather tragic in a variety of ways and this is a constant burden on his mind. His first step of healing involves meeting Kaori. Kaori starts his change. As the series progresses, Kousei becomes brighter in a sense. It’s a great example of a character managing to grow throughout a series. Of course there are some bumps along the way, but Kousei’s transformation is the highlight of the series.
It is important to recognize the other main character of Your Lie in April, Kaori. She is my favorite character of this series. Kaori is energetic. She is spunky and has a great attitude. At times, she can also get angry. This anger mostly serves as a break between the more serious looks at the characters. Most importantly, Kaori’s influence on Kousei is the driving force of the entire series. Due to her bright nature, he slowly begins to open up. Conversely, she begins to showcase her more vulnerable qualities that really take her character to new places. She has very real fears that make her different from the token perfect girl trope heavily used by this genre of anime.
Now the rest of the cast is interesting as well, with a slight flair for the dramatic. I mentioned earlier the tendency to showcase characters through inner monologues. These inner monologues do diminish the impact of a few of the characters, most notably the other participants in the piano competitions. However, it’s not a big problem, especially when considering the rather large cast as a whole.
This show is absolutely gorgeous. The music scenes stand out compared to the overall great quality of the animation. The violin and piano playing are animated perfectly which such a high level of fluidity. CGI is used for some of the close-ups for the piano scenes, most notably focusing on the hands. This is the rare example of CGI that works. The design of the hands matches the drawn scenes perfectly; it is an almost seamless use of CGI. My one negative has to do with the high quality of animation. It is quite apparent that this show required some measure of keeping the budget down. Episodes are padded with repeated animation, where parts of scenes from the previous episode comprise a large portion of the next episode. It is an unfortunate tradeoff, but a necessary one. Considering the animation quality as a whole, this tradeoff was worth it.
Now my favorite part of the animation involves a stylistic change. The show starts of relatively bright to match the spring aesthetic. Over the series, the design gets darker to match the more serious elements. This is also represented by the character design. Certain characters visibly change as the series progresses. While it may not be noticeable at first, those that are paying attention will notice the enormous amount of detail that is present in the character design. This really helps give the appearance that the characters are changing. Overall, the animation quality is beautiful with some budget saving measures employed.
A show that heavily focuses on music needs to have great music. The pieces played by the characters are perfect. The playing styles change when the emotions change. The pieces are perfectly picked out to match the emotion of the scene. These performances are enthralling. My favorite is the beautiful waltz played toward the last half of the series. Outside of the music scenes, the soundtrack is excellent. There are a variety of emotional tracks that are used to perfection. As I was researching for this review, I found myself beginning to choke up with just a listen of certain tracks from the soundtrack. There are plenty of tear jerkers here. The music is beautiful and packed with emotion. I can describe most of it as very bittersweet. Some moments swell with emotion while others are quieter. The piano is a large fixture of this soundtrack and is phenomenal. It’s quite a surprise to me that I love the soundtrack this much. It really adds an extra layer to this show.
As for the voice acting, the performances are very well done. Kousei’s breakdowns are very believable. Kaori exhibits the perfect level of excitement and insecurity. The rest of the cast is voiced to perfection as well. This is especially important because of the large amount of voice inner monologues. While some did fall flat, it was not the fault of the voice actor’s performance, but rather the blame lies on the length and duration of the monologue. The characters are acted with the right amount of emotion when they need it. At times, I found myself tearing up along with the characters on the screen. One particular scene with Tsubaki is probably one of the finer examples of voice acting that I have seen. The setting is a quiet night, with Kousei playing Claire de Lune. It’s a breathtaking scene. The sound design for this show is perfect.
I loved Your Lie in April. It’s not a perfect show, but it resonated with me. Apparently, the online reactions have been rather mixed between those that love and hate the show. It appears that the audience is split into those two extremes. This show left me absolutely devastated. To put this into perspective, I finished it on Valentine’s Day. I was sitting in my room and eating candy, while I was bawling my eyes out. It’s been awhile since I’ve cried like that in reaction to a show. Your Lie in April had some pacing issues, but the story was excellent overall. The characters were great. Despite some animation budget issues, the animation was gorgeous overall. Most importantly, the music was absolutely perfect. Your Lie in April earns my Bananaowns’ stamp of approval. It was heartbreaking, but beautiful in its own way. I’ll be back next week for another review.