When you find websites that purport to list the greatest anime of all time, you will often find titles like One Piece, Samurai Champloo, Inuyasha, Trigun, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Cowboy Bebop. I agree that anime like Trigun, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Samurai Champloo are among the greats. When you think of the ingredients that make for an awesome anime, you typically think of the following: interesting and complex characters, a riveting storyline, drama, action or adventure, a dash of hyperbole, and unique, exciting art style. Personally, I think Cowboy Bebop is probably the greatest anime of all time because it perfectly blends these things together, but I digress. This post isn’t about Cowboy Bebop—it is about an anime that I ended up watching this past spring that, in my humble opinion, should join the ranks as one of the greatest anime of all time (if it hasn’t yet already). That anime is Your Lie in April.
Your Lie in April began as a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Naoshi Arakawa before being adapted as a television series by A-1 Pictures. When this anime showed up in my Netflix queue, I was intrigued by the vibrancy and color of the art style, but what really piqued my interest was the music. The sweet melody of a piano is what ultimately made me decide to press play! I am going to do my best not to spoil anything about the series because I firmly believe that, if you haven’t seen this anime, you need to!
Your Lie in April centers around the main character, Kousei Arima, a piano prodigy who has dominated the competition circuit since he was a young boy. After winning various music competitions, Kousei develops a reputation as the youngest and most successful child musician in the region. The first episode of the anime begins with an 11-year-old Kousei playing at a recital. As he plays, he hears echoes of his ill mother’s voice. Suddenly, the notes Kousei is playing on the piano sound muffled, almost as if they are underwater. Panicked, Kousei stops playing and proceeds to rock back and forth on the piano bench, sobbing uncontrollably. His mother, who was also his piano instructor, has died. Her death is the reason for Kousei’s mental breakdown and this impacts his ability and desire to play for years to come, as he can no longer hear the notes he plays.
Fast-forward a few years later, Kousei is in high school and has not played the piano since his breakdown at age eleven. Instead, he has resigned himself to doing his schoolwork and hanging around with his best friends, Tsubaki and Watari. Watari is a bit of a playboy, reveling in the attention he receives from various girls, while Tsubaki is a star athlete. She has a history with Kosei, as they were neighbors as small children and she had a front row seat to the rigorous training Kousei’s mother put him through. One thing that I take to be a positive about this anime is that it isn’t difficult to keep up with the characters. In other words, the central characters are established early on and as the series progresses, the development of the characters is both focused and rich.
For example, Tsubaki grew up with Kousei. In various flashbacks, it is made clear that Tsubaki is a supportive, responsive, and thoughtful friend, having attended nearly all of Kousei’s recitals as a kid. When Kousei would be locked in his room, forced to practice piano, Tsubaki would try to lure him out to play or give him gifts. As the series goes on, Tsubaki develops romantic feelings for Kousei, and the support she once offered Kosei as a child with respect to his music diminishes as she attempts to navigate between seeing Kousei as her “kid brother” or as someone she loves and is afraid to lose. What is interesting to watch is how Tsubaki attempts to deal with her emotions—she made it a priority to watch Kousei perform when she was younger, but it then becomes difficult for her to support Kousei’s return to music as it threatens to “take him away”.
Something fascinating is that, when the series begins, the art style is a bit muted. This isn’t to say the art style is bad—it certainly isn’t! It is to say that, while the lines of the characters, objects, and surroundings are sharp and crisp, the colors are a bit washed out. It is obvious that this purposely done, as the world for Kousei is listless and dull since he can no longer hear himself play the piano. This changes when we meet Kaori Miyazono. Both Tsubaki and Watari introduce Kousei to Kaori and, at first, Kaori is introduced as Watari’s date. The hope seems to be that, when Kousei meets Kaori, he will return to playing music as Kaori is a musician herself (a violinist, specifically).
In this moment, when Kousei sees Kaori, his entire world becomes vibrant, striking, bold. The art style instantaneously becomes brighter and much more vivid. It’s genuinely gorgeous! At first, you might have the worry (at least I did) that the relationship between these two characters would fall into a stereotypical, cliché romance. “How adorable! He becomes smitten with this girl and upon meeting her, he sees color and vibrancy in the world again!”. “How cute! He’s reserved and unassuming and she’s zany and creative!”. Both to my surprise and relief, this isn’t what happened at all! What I thought would be cheesy and overdone ended up becoming a relationship central to the development of Kousei as the main character of the anime, but it also teaches an invaluable lesson about how one faces and deals with loss.
Kaori is a highly skilled violinist. A part of what makes her so skilled is that she doesn’t play by the rules. Rather than follow the score of the piece she plays, she improvises, playing with spirit, vigor, and passion, making each piece uniquely her own. This is in direct contrast to Kousei, who was dubbed “the human metronome” as a child for the way in which he strictly followed the scores of what he was playing. You learn that Kosei plays in this way because his mother was physically and verbally abusive. If Kousei strayed from the score or attempted to make it his own, she would beat him and berate him. As a young child, Kousei takes this abuse because he believes that if he is capable of playing the piano (and playing it well), his mother will be cured of her terminal illness. When Kousei finally stands up to his mother after a recital, his final words to her end up being about how much he hates her. This is really the impetus for Kousei’s mental breakdown and subsequent (irrational) guilt that he feels about her death.
Without giving too much away, it is discovered that Kaori suffers from an illness as well. When this is discovered, it is already apparent that Kousei has fallen in love with her. After all, Kaori has managed to convince Kosei to return to the piano as her accompanist and in virtue of that has shown him what it means to play with everything you have. Kaori, for Kousei, is a chance at redemption, musically and at life.
Which brings me to my next point. One of the awesome things about this anime is the music! If you are looking for a way to get a nice introduction to popular classics, please watch this series! Pieces such as Chopin’s Etude Op. 25, No. 11, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.14 3rd Mov., and Debussy’s Clair De Lune are all played professionally and with great emotion. My personal favorite piece that is played in the series is when Kousei joins forces with a rival’s younger sister at a recital to play the Waltz from Sleeping Beauty by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
I don’t fancy myself a binge-watcher of television shows in general, so the fact that I finished this series in two days says something. I found myself made so vulnerable by this anime, so moved by it, that I was quite shocked. I cannot remember the last time an anime had me so emotionally invested. Perhaps that sounds strange to say, but I think it speaks against the misconception that anime is only meant to be cute and overdone or action-packed and wild. Anime can certainly be far more than just “kawaii” or blood and guts; I would wager to say that the reason most of those anime that are considered the greatest anime of all time are considered such because they move beyond the stereotypes one associates with Japanese anime.With Your Lie in April, perhaps its greatest strength is in the balance it strikes between comedy and tragedy, loss and laughter, humor and heart. Is this anime action-packed? No. Is it suspenseful? No.
However, the relationships between the main characters are incredibly meaningful without the show dragging and sinking from emotional weightiness. The dialogue between characters and the moments shared between them range from beautiful and sincere to downright goofy. I fear that if this balance wasn’t maintained, then this would be a very different anime, perhaps too heavy for most. Armed with a great score, robust and complex characters, and an important lesson about how to deal with loss, Your Lie in April is probably one of the best anime I have ever watched.
I won’t spoil the ending of the series for you because I promised I wouldn’t—all I can do is encourage you to watch this incredible anime! Your Lie in April will be getting five out of five bear paws from me!