Inspiration can be a fickle thing. The muses may guide our hearts towards a particular passion, but they don’t always stick around to see us through it. As a child, Kousei Arima felt a natural attraction to the piano. He could play music by ear, was a gifted mimic, and had boat loads of potential to one day dominate the instrument. With the help and encouragement of a family friend, Kousei’s mom set him on his desired path, but life as a pianist was harder than he thought. Rather than playing for fun and expressing himself through music, she wanted him to be able to make a living through his music, so she went as hard on her little pianist as possible, going as far as to beat and abuse him if he underperformed or tried to play a piece in his own way. By the time the terminal illness she’d hid from him took it’s toll on her, his passion was gone, replaced with the cold, robotic delivery of one who could deliver a piece perfectly, but found no more joy in doing so. He lost his mother, along with his ability to hear the notes he was playing.
Two years later and about three feet taller(I’ll GET to that), Kousei still tinkers around with the piano, but hasn’t played it seriously, to the chagrin of all who enjoyed his work, or just hate to see him so incomplete. It’s at this point, like all down-trodden men who’ve lost their luster for life, that along comes that one girl to bring color back into his world. Her name is Kaori Miyazono, and she’s a violinist who cares nothing for rules or convention, finding childish but somehow wise joy in every aspect of life, and with this one chance meeting, Kousei finds a new muse… A capricious, cheerful beauty whose revisionist musical performances instantly connect with the crowds she plays for, and whom seems singularly obsessed with performing alongside Kousei, and helping him to relaunch the career that he’d so recently abandoned. But her dedication to helping him to overcome his tragedy hides a secret tragedy of her own, and one simple lie she told back in April will live on to define their relationship as they change each others lives through mutual inspiration.
I haven’t seen everything that’s been produced by A-1 pictures, but I honestly can’t remember seeing anything they’ve done that looked outright bad. Sure, Sword Art Online and From the New world looked a little sloppy at times, resorting to broken character models to show fluid motion at reduced costs, but if that’s the worst they can do, then they could do a lot worse. They seem to take a lot of care with their work, putting an admirable amount of effort into quality control, like letting a low budget get the better of them would be an insult to their pride or something, and if that observation is correct, then I like the way they think. I’ve noticed that they generally have a penchant for putting a lot of energy into special effects, and then using just enough budget saving tricks to compensate without going overboard or letting it become noticeable. Key frames are well drawn and pleasing to the eye, and they feature a little more than just flapping mouths, with occasional shifts in posture to keep the characters expressive.
Of course, there don’t need to be special effects in a show about musicians, right? Wrong. Not only are special textures like water given special treatment, but we often get visual representations of the emotions brought out by a piece of music, which use environmental and 3D effects to keep our attention during the sequence, especially towards the end when Kousei and Kaori are playing together in a fantasy sequence, and the camera liberally revolves around a beautifully 3D animated piano. The characters also have a lot of inner monologuing that’s shown to us in artistic fashion, reminiscent of His and Hers Circumstances, but what I found the most impressive was the actual animation of the characters playing their instruments on stage. I can’t confirm this, but I have heard from a few people that A-1 pictures used a technique similar to rotoscoping, and I feel no justification for doubting this rumor, as every movement of the performing musicians, from fingers on the keys to the way the bow’s movements perfectly matches the music of the violin.
It would be so easy to get away with having a still image on screen while only the performers arms moved, and more intense note being played offscreen while only the audience’s frozen faces of adoration are showcased, but as I said, that would be an insult to A-1. Kousei, Kaori and several others put their entire bodies into their performances, losing themselves in it, and you feel every drop of their adrenaline. Character designs are beautifully polished and easy on the eyes, with it’s only major departure from reality being that the musician characters look a little more distinctive and exuberant than non-musicians, like Kousei’s friends. Well, okay, there is one other unrealistic detail that bothered me a bit… The difference in height between 14 year old characters and themselves at 12 is fucking insane. My jaw dropped when they said that Kousei quit the piano at 12, because he was so short that when he sat on the bench his feet didn’t even touch the ground. I could have sworn he was, like, 6 or something. It’s my only real issue with the visuals, but it’s still a pretty jarring one.
The music of the series… Do I even have to say it? It’s a series about musicians, and you can’t do something like that if you don’t have the knowledge or resources to pull it off, and they seriously pulled it off. Not only is it full of classical music, you can tell the difference in the way these pieces are being played, and the music that is meant to inspire and astound people does exactly that to the audience as well as the characters. From what I gather, Yuna Shinohara, a decorated Japanese violinist who was only 21 at the time, played the music for Kaori, and her wealth of training and experience did not go to waste. I can’t find as much information on Eriko Kawachi, who played all of the piano pieces, which is unfortunate. The show’s actual soundtrack was composed by Masaru Yokoyama, and while it isn’t as memorable or powerful as the character-based performances, it’s still solid and well-orchestrated, so it’s a shame it gets overlooked in favor of the insert tunes.
The English dub was produced by Aniplex, and features a lot of newer actors from this decade, alongside a few industry veterans. I’d like to say these newcomers step up and use this show as a platform to make a name for themselves, but I’d be stretching the truth a bit, mostly on account of the many loops that Your Lie’s text throws them for. Their performances were not consistent, which is a direct result of their material not being consistent, and I don’t really think it was fair for them to be thrown into something this eclectic. For the most part, they do a fine job voicing the characters while nothing’s really happening. It’s just characters talking to each other, sounding like natural teenagers going about their lives. Where they really shine is during dramatic scenes, and ho boy are there a lot of dramatic scenes in this anime. There’s a lot of pain, insecurities, confusion, all of that fun adolescent stuff, but with a much harsher but still believable edge to it once you realize the kind of real life circumstances that they’re dealing with.
While some of these issues may be worthy of an eyeroll from the viewer… Most of the characters who are in love with Kousei fall into this category… They’re going through issues that you probably had to deal with as well, and you can scoff at it from your seat as a grown up, or laugh at how silly it is for this obvious harem to try and be something more, they’re feeling something you’ve felt at some point, whether you remember it or not, and they damn well make you feel it. The exception, where several otherwise amazing actors begin to falter… Is with the gag humor, when the characters go SD Chibi for exaggerated reactions, and I don’t think they were ready to transition the specific roles they were playing into it. Max Mittelman, for example, is one of the best voice actors to come out of the 2010’s, and even though he hasn’t been acting long, his voice control and dramatic chops have landed him plenty of leading roles. He can do comedy under the right circumstances… You’d know what these circumstances are if you’ve seen One Punch Man… But he sounds horrible during the gag jokes.
It’s even worse for Erica Lindbeck, who had a tough job playing such a nuanced character as Kaori, whose happy-go-lucky persona hides a darker interior, and she does a great job of it, but the gag scenes just make her sound like a despicable asshole. Smaller characters face the same issue, albeit on a smaller scale, but the few veterans are able to navigate the minefield a lot more skillfully, like Wendee Lee(Who, in all fairness, never has to do a gag scene), Stephanie Sheh and Carrie Keranen. They have the experience to stretch their roles beyond the appropriate tones, which comes in handy here. The adaptive script is loose, but still accurate enough, and changes the vernacular so everyone sounds more like contemporary English, without ever sacrificing the intent of the text. They make a handful of charming and character-appropriate references, like occasional nods to Charlie Brown and The Phantom of the Opera, although they also use the phrase ‘as you know’ a few too many times. They probably should have changes some of the text, as a lot of it, when translated, sounds weird coming from 14 year olds.
Okay, so, here we are again. It wasn’t too long ago that I was calling out modern anime fans for letting their emotions cloud their judgement, saying that they often give perfect scores to any anime that makes them cry. Seriously, you could give a critic a massage, a home cooked meal and the best sex of their life and you’d still be working harder for a 10/10 than most anime do. Back in 2016, I’d just uploaded my reviews of Clannad and Clannad Afterstory, and I asked social media to recommend an anime that had genuine feels… nothing manipulative, nothing manufactured, nothing too formulaic, just an anime that would touch me emotionally and make me cry with sincerity. The overwhelming answer was Your Lie in April, a show I’d been avoiding due to all of the hype. I finally gave it a watch, and did it stand up as a heartfelt masterpiece, or did it offer the same old same old? Well, to be honest,it’s a little of both. My feelings on this show were mixed the first time around, and the second viewing hasn’t changed that.
Unfortunately, Your Lie doesn’t get off to a great start. The first thing we see is a foul ball hitting our man character in the head, lying on the floor and bleeding with what has to be a serious concussion, but not only does he heal immediately, but he shares the blame for the broken window the ball flew through. That’s not just bad, that’s disturbingly bad. It sets an early precedent for him being a sad sack with no will of his own, which I guess is kind of accurate, but it also makes his closest friend look like a monster for taking advantage of it(Trust me, this feeling is only gonna get worse.) I try to move past this, but almost immediately, it becomes apparent that all three of Kousei’s friends are some of my least favorite cliches in anime history. His two primary friends are Tsubaki and Watari, and they are… Respectively… A childhood friend who’s hopelessly in love with the main character, and a girl crazy guy who exists to make the main character feel desirable in comparison. I am so sick and tired of these two archetypes being stuck in orbit around at least half of the main characters in the medium.
And Kaori’s worse, because she’s a trope that I usually don’t see in anime, and I’m not complaining about that. She’s happy-go-lucky, she’s childish, she’s an enlightened soul who’s able to see all of the simple joy in life, and she comes out of nowhere to dedicate her life to dragging the main male character out of the slumps. She is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which is to sexism what the Magical Negro trope is to racism. Granted, she deconstructs the trope a little bit, as she actually has a backstory and a reason to help Kousei, but she makes up for that small silver lining by taking the “Life begins at man” trope to a new extreme, as “Life begins AND ENDS at man.” I’ll give her this, she IS the reason I kept watching the series, as I was entranced by her violin performance in episode 2, and she made me want to keep watching so I could hear more of her work, which sounded even better when she played with Kousei. On top of that, she plays an important… Dare I say instrumental… Role in Your Lie’s deeper themes.
Your Lie in April is a story about inspiration, and it attacks this concept from every possible angle. As annoying and cliched as his friends may be, Kousei is a good character who has a great arc that deals with this theme. He begins as a child, having fun doing something that he’s gifted at, until he stops doing it for fun and starts doing it as a future career, being forced to perfect it and take it seriously by his mother, who pushes him to the point of abuse. She controls his life, making everything he does revolve around the piano, even taking away his cat and abandoning it somewhere so it can’t scratch his hands. He loses the ability to hear the notes he’s playing, and quits altogether to avoid his mother’s tyranny along with the intense pressure she put on him for not being good enough. On the surface, this is a very mature look at child abuse and the way it can have long term psychological effects on the developing mind, such as Kousei’s performance anxiety, and especially the fact that cats pose a trigger for him(And I mean the actual definition of trigger, not the bullshit internet definition), and the abuse in question is realistic, rather than cartoony or melodramatic.
Below the surface, this is a story for anyone who’s ever lost their passion for something they once loved. The idea that expressive and interpretive music is frowned upon, and only literal performances are acceptable in competition, which is enforced by both the competition committee and Kousei’s mother, gives an understandable reason for his loss of inspiration. His music was becoming routine, and pointless. I don’t think his inability to hear the notes he’s playing is realistic at all, but it’s symbolic for that loss of passion. When your work becomes routine, it becomes repetitive, and it finally becomes robotic. When your hobby becomes work, you fall out of love with it, which is why Kaori coming into his life was such a major turning point for him. She showed him that there was another way to play. She inspires him, breathing new life into his abilities, and helps him to separate his passion from the pain and sadness that he’d come to associate it with, and it changes his life in so many ways… He starts playing again, he comes out of his shell, and he even begins teaching a younger pianist… That he winds up inspiring her in return.
They also make an argument that you play even better when you’re playing for other people, and while I’ve never personally agreed with that, they make a compelling case. Your own music, your own performances, are not your only legacy. The music you inspire others with is just as important, as your work also lives on through their work. They make a great point when they say that it’s hard to play the piano when you compare yourself to Beethoven, but it’s not nearly as hard when you remember that Beethoven was once just like you, a rookie trying his best to measure up to the greats who inspired HIM. It’s a shame they had to resort to a manic pixie dream girl in order to pull this off, but it’s largely forgivable, especially considering certain reveals that happen in the final episode. So yeah, this is not a shallow series. There is meat to the story, and something meaningful that you can get out of watching it. I’d be happy to say that the series was also executed well, but sadly, this is where things start to break down.
The text of the series, for example, is severely lacking. The idea of inspiration and Kousei’s character arc are well written and exactly as subtle as it needs to be, but the other subplots… The romantic ones in particular… Are annoyingly obvious, and frankly, kind of arbitrary. I mentioned Tsubaki as a ‘childhood friend’ earlier, and while this should instantly telegraph that she’ll never get her guy… They never fucking do… She does absolutely nothing else to justify her presence. Everything about her revolves around her love for Kousei and why he won’t respond to it. Every aspect of her life ties in somehow to her love for him, and since it amounts to nothing, she could have been written out in the first half of the series. I won’t go into too much detail about the other romantic subplot, or how it offers Watari his only relevance to the plot(although he does have a few moments relating to the theme), but they commit one other huge mistake… They use constant, and I mean constant, voice over narration from the characters as they explain their feelings to the audience. It’s lame, it’s tedious, and it seems to be trying it’s best to keep YOU from thinking too hard about what you’re watching, because it doesn’t want the pointless teenage melodrama to lose it’s effect.
Another huge problem is the gag humor, which feels inappropriate and out of place. It makes the heavier themes of the show harder to swallow, and not just on an aesthetic level. For example: We see Kousei sustain head injuries during two of these gags, that result in him lying on the floor and bleeding out. We also see Kaori hit him right in the crown of the head with an axe kick, driving her heel down into his skull. Now, if these instances didn’t cause any lasting damage, and the people doing it are supposed to be seen as likable, how am I supposed to feel when his mother beats him in the head with her cane? I’ve seen him shrug off shit like that before, so I don’t care. Am I supposed to feel different because of the tone of the scenes? This isn’t the fucking Looney Toons. Hell, even the Looney Toons had consistency. I can’t be expected to believe that a portion of the material shown to me doesn’t count just because the writer was making a joke. That’s disgusting. I’ve complained about Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood making this mistake, but Your Lie is just as bad.
And then you have the plot, which did not work for me at all. Like, I said the themes were strong in this series, but they suffered one major setback. Kousei’s mother physically abused him and forced him to play music the way she wanted him to, all because she thought it was in his best interest. His friends, however, do exactly the same thing. Sure, they might not take away his beloved pet, but they still harass him, assault him, chase him, break into his room and generally act like complete assholes in order to get their way. He warns that his performance might not be good, he falters due to a psychological breakdown, Kaori has Tsubaki and Watari start roundhouse kicking him, and HE apologizes. How are they any different than his mother? Because it’s supposed to be comedic? I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of the interactions he has with his friends make me cringe, with their only justifications being ‘comedy,’ and the fact that they just happened to wind up being right. So the ends justify the means.
And then you have Kaori’s entire plot, which… Okay, I’m going to try not to go into spoilers, but if you’ve seen the show, you know damn well what I’m talking about. And this is the big one, the one that makes everybody praise the show out the wazoo, so I’ll try to be gentle. At the end of episode 4, Kaori faints on stage. At that moment, even though I was trying to enjoy the series despite it’s flaws, I couldn’t help it. I knew where this was going. I said, “Oh fuck, she’s gonna (censored), isn’t she?” I am dead serious about that. The beginning of the fifth episode featured her in the hospital, and folks, I predicted everything. I knew what was going to happen to her, i knew she was keeping it secret, I knew that it was going to be kept deliberately vague all the way to the end, I knew I’d never hear her play again(outside of maybe a dream or fantasy sequence), I knew what her backstory and connection to Kousei was going to be.
Knowing this stuff in advance took a huge damper off of the emotional impact of literally any point of the show. Granted, I did make one prediction that wasn’t true. I predicted we’d never meet her parents, which I wish had turned out true, because her parents are… Brace yourself for this… They’re Nagisa’s parents from Clannad. They are literally that. They own a pastry shop, they’re wacky and over-the-top, they live in said shop, and… Well, there’s one other spoiler connection, but that, along with a painful firefly sequence, made your Lie feel TERRIBLE at foreshadowing. I found myself, in both moments, shouting at my TV screen, “Okay, I get it, she’s gonna (censored), shut the fuck up about it!” So did the big bad tragedy work on me? No, of course it didn’t. The only part I got choked up at was a late scene when a cat died at a vet’s office, because it brought up painful memories for me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something here, and it does make the experience a rewarding one, but it just couldn’t stick the landing.
Your Lie in April is available as a Rightstuf Exclusive, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the price is offensively high. Even on sale as part of the site’s holiday deals, it’ll still costed 130 dollars for each HALF of the series, down from 160 dollars regular price. Used copies on ebay go for as low as 60 dollars for each HALF, and I can not recommend you pay that much for an overrated series. You can watch it for free on Netflix, but if you absolutely need a physical copy, I’d actually go against my better judgement and recommend the Malaysian bootlegs on Ebay, which do come with a dub for a fraction of the official price. The manga is available from Kodansha comics, and volume 1 even comes with a sweet exclusive cover if you get it from Loot Crate. The live action movie is probably available stateside, but from what I’ve heard about it, I don’t care enough to check.
Your Lie in April isn’t a great anime, but it’s also not a terrible one. So, overall, is it good or bad? Well, to be honest, I didn’t enjoy the vast majority of it. I found the gag humor annoying and in bad taste, I found the comedic violence way too similar to some of the tragic material, there are too many cliches, and I caught on to some of the more important plot points way too early to fall for them. Having said that, I can’t say the experience was a bad one. The themes of Kousei’s character arc resonated very strongly with me, as someone who’s currently falling out of love with a long time hobby, and while I found his friends to be wholly unlikeable, his piano rivals were much more interesting, and I actually want to see more of him interacting with them. The final tragedy would have been a lot stronger if it hadn’t been so obvious, or if it at least had a proper explanation, and you can’t possibly deny that the audio and visual production went beyond top notch. It had a lot of problems, but honestly, it’s an okay show. It doesn’t live up to the hype, but it’s worth checking out. I’m being generous here, but I’ll give Your Lie in April a 6/10.