Anime Reviews: Your Lie in April
Some Basic Info About This Infamous Series
Title: Your Lie in April a.k.a. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso
Production: A-1 Pictures
Series Length: 22 episodes
Air Dates: 10/10/2014 to 3/20/2015
Age Rating: 13+ (light violence, mild language, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Kousei Arima was once a piano prodigy, prodded on and worn down by his domineering mother until sickness took her, and since then, he's sworn off the instrument for good. Now at age 14, with his childhood friends, the charismatic Watari and tomboyish Tsubaki, as his only companions, Kousei leads a dreary, monochromatic life--that is, until he meets the endlessly capricious violinist Kaori Miyazono, who positively brims with life and verve. A chance (embarrassing) encounter brings them together, and when Kousei sees Kaori perform at a youth competition with iconoclastic flair, he finds himself enraptured by this human whirlwind that swept into his life, and as he comes to terms with his past and picks the piano up once again to play as Kaori's accompanist, Kousei's life begins to regain the color it lost all those years ago. And now, the two walk towards the future on a journey to discover the freedom only music can bring.
The Good: Bold, powerful visuals; the first opening is stunningly beautiful; genuine, attaching characters in a gripping drama with a powerhouse finale
The Bad: Inconsistent animation; lacks subtlety; the comedy doesn't work at all
The Ugly: Why are there so many invisible ninjas cutting onions in my room...?
So, how did I come across this series?
Since I had AnoHana and Clannad ~After Story~ put under my belt, Your Lie in April has been waiting in the wings as the new tearjerker hotness, but I didn't really wanna watch another series like that at the time. I've waited long enough, I decided, so it was time to give this now-infamous tear-extracting series a spin. The anime community at large hyped it up to high heaven and promised a dire fate of dehydration via the eyes, and now I've risen to the challenge. Was I temporarily rendered a bone-dry husk by twin-waterfall tears? Nah, not really. Does this mean my time was wasted? Absolutely not, and I'll tell you why!
What did the series do to get so popular?
First of all, one of the best ways to ensure wide audience acceptance is to wow them with pretty pictures, and Your Lie in April does exactly that--while its iconoclastic art style was too much for me at first, within a few minutes I did a complete 180 and began to adore the series' artwork. It's not often you see character designs that actually have lips, and usually the result is less than stellar, but this series managed to make it work beautifully. Now that I've adjusted to it, going back to the lip-less norm is just going to depress me. But it's not just lips--I don't usually expect visual splendor from A-1 Pictures,the McDonald's of anime studios, but boy did they up their game when it comes to lush backgrounds full of detail and rich color palettes ranging from gorgeous bright pastels to dark and moody grays. So much emotion is conveyed through the simple, skillful use of light and shadow, color choice, and particle effects, making this hard-hitting drama hit even harder.
Nowhere is this made clearer than in the series' first opener "Hikaru Nara" by Goose House, an immensely powerful and euphoric pop song that floored me with its divine harmonized duet vocals on top of its warm and inviting instrumentals accompanied by some of the most beautiful opening animation sequences I've ever seen. I don't have much else to add to this point, except that this may be in my top 5 opening sequences in all of anime, and lemme tell ya, it's standing tall in a lineup of titans in that regard.
The other opening and both endings are good, too, but not really outstanding in any way. Which was disappointing, but when you try to follow in the footsteps of greatness, you're bound to come up short no matter what, so whatever. That's life.
But all of this is merely an appetizer for the real reason Your Lie in April is so well-loved by the anime community: the story and its characters. By now, we've seen Kousei's archetype plenty of times--the broken boy with a painful past that he must overcome--but I really liked how he was handled. He's come up with various coping mechanisms to allow him to scrape by without crumbling under the weight of his past, but when confronted with it directly, he buckles and bends, like any teenager would. Kousei and his struggles feel real, and he's immensely relatable because of it. Kaori is a different beast altogether, at first appearing to be the proverbial "manic pixie dream-girl" before we learn that she, too, has a heavy cross to bear (that cannot be revealed here because holy spoilers, Batman!), working tirelessly to bring joy to the people around her--notably in the form of compelling Kousei to face himself and overcome his emotional hurdles--but her mood changes drastically and often, but always in a believable manner (especially considering her backstory), making her an interesting and dynamic character. Childhood friend Tsubaki is a tomboy who loves softball and sees Kousei as her helpless younger brother...that is, until he begins to have eyes only for Kaori. Then Tsubaki's entire world is thrown into chaos when she begins to question what her feelings truly are towards Kousei, causing her to flail about making bad decisions and doubting herself. Y'know, like teenagers tend to do! The point is, the main cast is absolutely rock-solid, and supporting characters like Watari, Kashiwagi, Hiroko, Aiza, Emi, and so on are excellent in their own right.
The characters are great and all, but the machinations of the plot (while not always unfolding organically) really serve to put them through their paces and allow them to grow as people. Given that the series is infamous for (and I'm now telling you about its) being a tragedy, it's only natural that you start keeping your eyes peeled for clues, and boy does Your Lie in April know how to drop little bombs to ratchet up the tension and dread to suffocating levels. And so you wait, with bated breath, for the other shoe to drop, and when it does, it crashes with the force of a meteor impact, upending everything you thought you knew or suspected. And I love it. The bombs start dropping early, and they keep dropping until they reach a cathartic climax at the series' finale, which is simultaneously sad and satisfying. It is only then when you learn what the titular "lie" told in April was and how it changes everything. And I love it. Because of these points I've made, I am not the least bit surprised that this anime caught on as well as it has.
And where does it strike a sour note?
So, while A-1 Pictures randomly stumbled into incredible competence when it comes to Your Lie in April's art style, character designs, backgrounds, etc., the studio falls flat on its face when it comes to maintaining those characteristics in animation. While the opening and ending sequences, as well as the pivotal performance scenes, are pretty much immaculate, a lot of the in-between daily life scenes suffer from low-count animation frames, jarring reductions in detail, and janky non-fluidity. While it was obvious A-1 Pictures knew this would be a smash hit, they really should have been more confident in allotting more in-between frames and cut back on the time-saving reduced-detail shots to make the visuals that much better. And while I understand why they did it, the use of 3D modeled hands for many of the piano-playing bits just looks terrible and I would much rather have stylish still shots than horrible-looking 3D models. Lookin' at you, Berserk 2016...
Now, that's hardly the biggest sin the series commits. A more grave offense is that Your Lie in April completely lacks any subtlety--or at least, any subtlety it shows is completely undercut by one of the characters being a jackass and overexplaining the subtle bits. An early example comes during Kaori's first performance, where she takes a somber Beethoven violin piece and begins to play it with more forceful jabs and stabs, wildly more uptempo than originally written. The crowd loves it, barely recognizing it as the same piece the other competitors were playing, but one of the judges is gritting his teeth furiously while striking a large X over Kaori's entry. "How dare you?!" he yells out in his own head. This moment expertly tells us everything we need to know about Kaori: She is brisk, iconoclastic, and appealing in her wildness, but those bound by rules and convention find her style and possibly very existence heretical. But then the moment is ruined by that same judge spending 30 seconds, in essence, telling us exactly that. All subtlety, thrown out the window. And the entire show is like this. I love you, Your Lie in April, but your blatant disregard for "show, don't tell" makes me want to claw my eyes out at times.
But the worst thing of all is this: The comedy just doesn't work. Maybe a couple jokes here and there manage to land, but just like both incarnations of Fullmetal Alchemist, the comedy is overdone, jarring, out-of-place, and painfully unfunny. And it's everywhere. Obviously, I get the intent was to draw you in with comedy to punch you in the face with drama, but the writing was already good enough not to need that lure, and the fact that the comedy is poor just weakens the whole package. Nothing kills the mood faster than a lame joke.
So, what's the verdict?
While it drives me up the wall that the series can't maintain its animation fluidity, any subtlety, or even a proper joke, I gotta be honest with myself. I loved Your Lie in April. I was sold at the word "go," and I was eager to allow its hooks to dig into me, because I want more hard-hitting tragedies in my collection. I want to cry like an infant child because of genuine emotions evoked by a well-constructed piece of fiction, and while the waterworks weren't pushed to any meaningful capacity on this one, allowing Clannad ~After Story~ to remain sitting comfortably on its throne, I was nonetheless satisfied. For what it's worth, while Your Lie in April didn't wrest the tearjerker champion from its lofty heights, it at least was more narratively consistent. This is basically a no-brainer if teen dramas and tearjerkers are up your alley, that's for sure.
Final Score: 8 out of 10. A gorgeous art style and a compelling narrative populated with relatable characters have buoyed Your Lie in April to cult classic status in the anime community, even if its weak comedy and disdain for subtlety prevent it from being truly astonishing.