Updated on June 27, 2016
Your Lie in April, a Japanese animation series bravely endeavored into the musical world, and then got lost
Its subtitle says it all, “I met the girl under full-bloomed cherry blossom, and my fate has begun to change.”
To be more explicit, the life of the piano prodigy and protagonist Kosei Arima turned for the better while the life of the girl he met, violinist Kaori Miyazono was taken by chronic disease.
Most Japanese animations with such a prominent pair of “he” and “she” easily reduce to mere lengthy chronicle of the chemical reaction in between, maybe a little bit more dramatic as this is a life-and-death plot. Yet the 22 episodes of Your Lie in April seemed much more peaceful as the plot would otherwise suggested, as that girl and violinist Kaori’s constant smiles and positive attitudes had been guiding our protagonist boy, who overcame the death of his mother and summoned strength to go back on stage, while leaving audiences half a year of colorful symphonies. When the series ended with Kaori looking back at all her memories with Kosei in a letter, many said they burst into tears.
Partly because I no longer fit in the age group for such a shounen manga adaption, partly because it takes twenty-one and a half excruciating episodes to reach that beautiful ending, by which time any merits of the series finale would probably be overshadowed by the agony of waiting. Maybe I would have felt better if I restrain myself to strictly one episode per week, rather than ingurgitate it in two nights.
Yes, compared with other animation series Your Lie in April has a rather slow pace, which is somehow inevitable because it features chunks of piano works on stage. To balance with the musical part, the rest everyday hustle-and-bustle just couldn’t be rushed. The problem is that, should this be Slamdunk or Captain Tsubasa, the audience could easily tell how the players are doing in the basketball court or in the soccer field. Not many audiences, not but only the erudite musicians would be able to distinguish an excellent piano performance from a good one, nor would they be able to tell how the performer is faring, so some judges and instructors were needed, to translate the level of performance to audiences. And since the works of Chopin and Schubert are not usually short, they need to do translation repeatedly, which is just how people get bored.
And there’s the occasional comedies, which seemed not that bad to me as some other critics, but definitely a little bit way too often. The bad thing about frequent comedies is that, it really makes one question whether this series is serious about its topic about “growth” in the eye of a piano boy, or is it just lightweight animation to make people relaxed.
Perhaps a more serious problem would be the level of exaggeration it employed. Every time someone cried in Your Lie in April, it seemed that the tears actually came from a loose water tap than the most sensitive fragile heart on earth. The volume of their tears would rival the pepper spray of Hong Kong police, and it’s just unreal. So was all the blood in the series, they put blood over half the face for what some tiny bruises would do. If sweat during piano plays was somehow reasonable, all the tears and blood were just too artificial.
But the series should be given its due credit. It began with a piano boy with a mother who pushed him beyond any sensible parent would, who thank God died before being sent to jail for child abuse. In the first few episodes, the boy’s so haunted by his mother’s dreadful memories that he couldn’t hear himself playing piano, which is by no means an easy hurdle to cross. At the end of the series, he transitioned into a boy that is confident in himself and his piano skills, and determined to pursue his musical career. From a boy under his mother’s past to a man braving his own future, this is quite a phenomenal change, and thanks to its duration, every stage of this change is well-addressed without any rush.
And as a shounen manga adaption, it fits perfectly into that genre as everyone experienced growth, not just the piano boy, but his classmates as well, his baseball neighbor girl and his long-time soccer friend.
As an endeavor, its attention to all the piano works means it preached classical music from symphony halls to a broader audience rather than reduce it to pop culture. Although this makes it hypnotically slow-paced, it presented unparalleled musical experiences to animation viewers.
And its coloring is also fabulous. The whole series started in full-bloomed cherry, it went through star-twinkled nights, it extended along fiery-carmine maples, it dropped by crisp-white snow and it ended in full-bloomed cherry again. Although intertwined with some depressing struggles of the piano boy, it looped in the best, most uplifting, perhaps a little bit over-saturated coloring. From the art part, this is something that pleases everyone.
It shouldn’t take long for an adult to notice that Your Lie in April tells a rather fantasy story that usually doesn’t happen in real life, that’s why it is a shounen manga. As the moribund Kaori in real life is seldom bouncing around with full life, not even occasionally, and such a gift just doesn’t fall on anyone. What’s more, with such a inhumanely harsh mom, Kosei rarely recovers from his nightmares. But it’s fine, in all the fantasies of shounen manga, miracles do happen.
So where does all this land us? Your Lie in April tells a beautiful story about the growth of four teenage boys and girls, in perfect uplifting colors accompanied by harmonious piano works. But it’s slow-paced, artificial, and unrealistic. Should fourteen-year-olds scrape enough time besides their state exams, they should get at least some enlightenment from the piano protagonist about their own growth. For people in other age groups, this is no more than a distant story of some boy’s growth that’s verbose and hardly convincing, but accompanied by good music, though.
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