FujiTV’s dramatic anime Your Lie In April (available in the US on Crunchyroll, Hulu and Netflix) recently closed out its second and last season – and I’m here to tell you that it’s an awesome show y’all gotta see.
The animation is absolutely gorgeous and it’s based on an award-winning manga — that’s what us anime nerds call “comic books.” It won Best Shōnen Manga at the 37th Kodansha Manga Awards, which is what we anime nerds call “a really big deal.” And, if that weren’t enough, it features a lot of absolutely amazing musical performances.
Your Lie in April begins when a former piano prodigy named Kousei meets Kaori, a carefree violinist. Kousei refuses to touch the piano, using his skills only in a menial job transcribing pop hits into sheet music for a local shop. Kaori, on the other hand, is determined to get him to play again in competitions. He had a breakdown on stage two years ago, shortly after his abusive mother died of an unnamed wasting disease. She relentlessly hounded him about his music in a clear case of trying to live vicariously through her child; she was one of the top pianists in the world and when she became unable to play, she focused her efforts into making Kousei as great as she once was.
Kaori is successful in convincing him to play as her accompanist, and the two form a very close friendship – but Kaori is possibly hiding a malady of some sort as well.
Elements of this might sound a little cliché, but Your Lie In April transcends the cliche each time. Kousei’s difficulty playing is compared with drowning in lovely water animation, and the metaphor feels palpable. You feel Kousei’s angst and terror when you watch the scene cut between the audience’s murmurs and Kousei and his piano at the bottom of the ocean.
April‘s unflinching look at abuse doesn’t seem exploitative or manipulative. The show doesn’t shy away from depicting the trauma Kousei’s gone through. It’s not necessarily graphic, but it is very disturbing. It feels real – Kousei’s mother is a piece of work, sure, but she’s not a cartoon villain in either meaning of the phrase. Her abuse is not slapstick (when she hits Kousei, it’s very realistic — the animation doesn’t provide a safety buffer of “cartooniness”), nor is her abusiveness her only characteristic – she can be shockingly careful when it comes to teaching Kousei to care for his instrument. The care and love that she shows Kousei, combined with the torture she puts him through leads to Kousei’s conflicted feelings in a way that feels true to life.
Best of all, the music in the show is as amazing as you’d expect in a show about musicians. Great attention has been paid to getting the look right, down to rotoscoping the fingering on the piano and violin. Musical pieces are allowed to play with minimal dialogue, and the performances are all transcendent.
There are a couple minor flaws in the show. It’s obvious early on that Kaori’s lying when she claims her increasingly frequent hospital stays aren’t serious. In the first few episodes, there’s some surprisingly gory slapstick humor that feels tonally off. When there are scenes in the same show of realistic abuse combined with Kousei laying in a gigantic puddle of blood when he’s hit in the head with a baseball, it’s… let’s say “jarring”.
Most unfortunately, the abuse arc doesn’t resolve satisfactorily. In the first season it’s the primary dramatic focal point, but in the second season, the abuse is only occasionally referenced, and most of the references to Kousei’s mother are flashbacks to positive interactions with her best friend. The change is best illustrated by how in the first season, Kousei’s mother’s face is almost completely obscured — and in the second, it’s not. With that and the emphasis on the more positive side of his mother, it almost feels as if she’s been given a pass for the abuse.
Despite that, the story and acting are so wonderful that these problems are small enough to only bring the grade down to an “A-.” And I cannot praise enough the animation from A-1 Pictures (who also did the excellent Tsuritama and the popular Sword Art Online). It’s some of the most beautiful I’ve seen on a television show — the gorgeously rendered swimming anime Free! is the only other television show that comes to mind that’s in the same league.
And if you’re like me, you’ll be dying for a soundtrack collection of the piano performances from the show, each one moving and given time to shine in the episodes. Your Lie In April is beautiful, magical and heartbreaking, and it demands to be seen.