When I was a child I used to play the piano a lot, and learnt to play to a very high standard, but the problem for me was always public performances. I could never summon up my best work in public, and somehow my body would refuse to obey me under the bright lights. I think some people are born for that and some are not. The subject matter of Your Lie in April was therefore something I could relate to on a personal level: Kosei Arima was a child prodigy, a brilliant pianist from a very young age, but after the death of his mother his body will no longer obey him when he performs. He stops being able to hear the music while he plays, despite having nothing wrong with his hearing. Basically he has an anxiety attack at the piano. It’s hard to watch. A couple of years later he meets an inspirational free spirit of a violinist named Kaori Miyazono, who tempts him back to competitive performance little by little.
It’s a bumpy road, and Kosei has some major issues to overcome. When he was previously performing his mother was terminally ill, putting all her effort into teaching him, often with cruelty due to her desperation to achieve what she wanted to with him in the little time she had left. Her death was the trigger for his breakdown, but also her teaching left him a robotic and emotionless performer, perfect for winning competitions but really missing the point about music altogether. Kaori in comparison is not obsessed with playing what is on the page, and instead interprets the music freely. It opens Kosei’s eyes to new possibilities. Of course, he falls in love with her in an instant.
As the series progresses we learn more and more about Kosei’s past, putting his feelings and anxiety into perspective. For my tastes the series overdoes the flashback sequences a little, especially the painful moment of Kosei’s breakdown, which is replayed endlessly. Where the flashbacks work better is when they are explaining the motivations of other characters, particularly Kosei’s two main competitors, who have both been inspired by him to the point of obsession. Then there is his mother’s friend who becomes a mentor and second mother to him, and the little girl who Kosei himself becomes a mentor to, unaware of her secret identity. Kosei’s friends are also fascinating characters. This being an anime with a romantic element there has to be a love triangle of course. Tsubaki has known Kosei since they were little, and her feelings for him are changing. Watari is the boy Kaori likes, and to her Kosei is just “Friend A”. But despite apparently having no romantic feelings towards the friend of the boy she likes, Kaori is surprisingly driven towards one ultimate goal: getting Kosei back on that stage again.
And then, just when it looks like Kaori is going to set Kosei’s life back on track, a bombshell is dropped. Kaori is ill. Very ill. Could history be about to repeat itself, and Kosei once again lose the most important person in his life? And if so, will he ever be able to play the piano again?
This is one of those series that defy you not to end up a blubbery mess of tears, constantly tugging on the heartstrings, but nothing will prepare you for the last of the 22 episodes, which is just about the most emotionally draining ending to a series I have ever watched. More than that, it’s extraordinarily clever, twisting the previous 21 episodes into a completely different shape that makes perfect sense and puts a different perspective on just about everything we have watched. It’s phenomenal.
Your Lie in April is a series that requires a little bit of patience. It is unhurried in telling the story, with some episodes focussing entirely on one performance while the emotions of Kosei, Kaori and other interested parties are explored through their thoughts. But it’s worth committing to this extraordinary series. It can’t be easy to animate classical music performances realistically, and this series not only does that, but does it with stunning beauty. At times the concert hall falls away to be replaced by beautiful landscapes, with the piano at the centre, reflecting the emotions of the moment. Occasionally the animation switches to CGI rather than traditional animation to achieve a few effects, and this does tend to jar a little, but these moments are few and far between. The way the writer and animators take a piece of classical music (a lot of Chopin) and use it to tell a story is sheer genius, and every piece is a perfect choice and every twist and turn in the music utilised to full effect. This is a series where music and art combine in beautiful unison. If you were ever in doubt that anime is the most moving and exceptional art form on the planet, watch this series. RP