Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso is a sensory overload in the best way possible. The art is beautiful; the music is moving; the characters are intriguing; and the story is heart-wrenching and heartwarming at the same time. It is as though the creators of this anime sat down with the existing story from the manga and painstakingly thought of every way they could employ every sense possible to enhance the already intense emotions from this beautiful coming-of-age story.
If you haven’t watched this anime, then you should; but be sure to get the box of tissues ready. If you have watched it, then read on for my ode to the characters who make this anime into the breathtaking opus that it is.
WARNING: SPOILERS FROM HERE ON!
Arima Kousei is a fourteen year old student who used to be a pianist. He is more of a loner, but he has good friends from childhood that look after him. He can get very focused on his own situation and can be pretty oblivious to certain situations, which can result in comedic situations. Kousei’s life stopped for all intents and purposes when he was eleven, and slowly starts to move and change after meeting a girl named Kaori.
At the beginning of the story the world looks monotone to him “like music scores [and] like a keyboard.” A classical piano player by training, Kousei stopped playing at the age of eleven due to traumatic experiences that left him tragically tone deaf to his own music.
Aside from school, he spends his days transcribing pop music as a side job for local karaoke businesses. As his childhood friend, Tsubaki, points out, even though he says that he hates the piano and music, by continuing activities like transcription he is just “clinging to it.” Later, he reflects on that statement and states that if he really is clinging to it, it’s because he has nothing else and that if he left piano he’d be “empty” and all would be left is an “ugly resonance.” You get the feeling that Kousei’s life has been stagnant and he has unable to move on for some reason.
We later find out that his relationship with the piano, music, and his mother is the root of his problem: PTSD-like panic attacks triggered by playing the piano. They not only result in his tone-deafness, but also in hallucinations of being submerged under water and menacing visions of his dead mother judging and criticizing his performances.
At a very young age, Kousei displayed a natural talent for playing the piano, which was detected when he played an improvised song perfectly from hearing it only once.
Once Kousei’s mother, Saki, realized his talent she became Kousei’s piano instructor. In the beginning, Saki is actually quite supportive and provides constructive criticism. In his first competition, Kousei’s performance was filled with emotion and brought lightness to everyone in the audience, including Igawa Emi and Miyazono Kaori, who were both profoundly affected by his performance.
However, when Saki became terminally ill, her teaching became stricter and stricter due to her concern about Kousei’s future and his ability to eventually provide for himself. She began beating him with her cane at the slightest mistake in an attempt to give him a technical foundation to perform well in competitions and become a great pianist one day.
As a result, Kousei was extremely afraid of her. However, despite that, because he loved his mother Kousei continued to practice saying that “if it will make her happy, if it will make her well,” he will happily continue. As a result, his performances become so technically precise and void of feeling that people call him the "Human Metronome” and his mother’s puppet. However, because competitions are scored according to faithfulness to the score, Kousei quickly becomes the frontrunner in all competitions in his region. At the same time, he becomes more and more isolated from the outside world as a result of his non-stop practice and attempts to hide the abuse he was suffering at the hands of his mother.
Kousei eventually enters a competition, the Saiki Competition, which would mark the beginning of his career in Europe if he won. When he does win, Kousei goes to find his mother to tell her the good news. When he does find her, she starts beating him with a cane until he draws blood, much to the horror of bystanders and especially her friend, Hiroko, stating that his performance wasn’t perfect. In his frustration and anger he yells at his mother and wishes that that she would “just die already.”
Those are the last words Kousei speaks to his mother and as a result of that and the entire trauma he went through he becomes essentially frozen in that moment, unable to move forward.
Throughout the series, Kousei slowly gets over the trauma he suffered at the hands of his mother with the help of his friends and love interest, Miyozono Kaori. Her freedom and lack of inhibition while playing the violin slowly starts to draw him out of his shell so that he can begin to feel, and eventually love, bringing color and life back to his life and allowing him to move forward with his music and have a future.
Miyazono Kaori is a fourteen-year old violinist who goes to school with Kousei, Tsubaki, and Ryouta. She is a friendly, outgoing, free-spirited person who loves to enjoy life—and it shows in the way she plays the violin. She tends to hide her true self in front of some people (such as Ryouta), but she frequently shows all of her sides, good and bad, to Kousei.
We find out later that she is the one who told the lie that the series is named for: she tells Tsubaki that she likes Watari Ryouta and that she wants her to introduce them.
The truth was that she had been in love with Kousei since the age of 5. She saw him perform for the first time when her piano class went to watch a competition and was so deeply moved by him that she went home and declared she wanted to learn the violin to play together with him one day.
When she entered middle school she realized they were at the same school, but she couldn’t find a way into his world. She then became sick and spent more time in the hospital than in school. By her third year, after seeing her parents crying, she realized that she didn’t have much time left and decided to seize the day and enjoy what little time she had left. She got the courage to get contacts, eat whatever she wanted to eat (usually sweets), play violin the way that she wanted to play it, and tell the lie that eventually led her to Kousei.
After the initial introduction in a double date with Kousei, Tsubaki, and Ryouta, the three of them go to watch Kaori participate in a violin competition. Much to everyone’s amazement, most of all Kousei’s, she proceeds to play the appointed piece in her own way, ignoring what the sheet music called for. While this resulted in a breathtaking performance, many people couldn’t understand why she did it in a competition where you are scored on how true to the score you can be. She later explains that, completely selfishly, she wanted to get her sound and feelings across to as many people as possible in hopes that someone will remember her.
Kaori gets passed through to the second round of performances as the audience’s nominee. Under the pretense of him being Watari’s replacement, Kaori takes Kousei out after school one day and eventually convinces him to become her accompanist for the performance by begging him to be her support in that “moment when she’s about to lose heart.”
It is a bumpy road and a lot of it involved Kaori dragging Kousei against his will, but eventually Kousei begins performing again on his own.
Her relationship with Kousei is complex, honest, and hard to put into words. A lot of their feelings for each other are unspoken and come to light when they are playing music together. They bring out the raw, undeniable, passionate feelings they have for one another out through their performances. They bring each other to their highest highs, and their lowest lows and they fight through it together. A lot of things go unsaid and tragically Kaori passes away, even after she decides to fight her disease after Kousei encourages her.
She leaves Kousei a letter telling him everything, including her lie and the fact that she loves him, bringing this heartbreaking story full-circle.
Tsubaki is Kousei’s childhood friend from the “day they were born” and Kaori’s friend from school. She thinks of Kousei as her “kid brother,” but these feelings develop into something more as the series goes on.
She is a very active member of the softball team and is frequently seen as a ball of energy and cheerfulness that is a morale boost for everyone around her. Before Kousei meets Kaori, she tells him that he needs to find love so that he can enjoy his youth and regain the “sparkle in his eyes.” She encourages him to take advantage of highlight of their youth so that he can see “a more colorful world.”
As children Tsubaki often invited Kousei outside to play and used to tease him and put him in situations that made him think he was going to die (throwing him off of a bridge into the water). It is because of some incidents in her youth that Tsubaki is very contentious of Kousei taking care of his hands (wouldn’t let him pick up glass).
Before realizing her own feelings for Kousei, she begins dating her senpai, Saitou. After Kousei begins spending more time with Kaori and she feels she’s losing him to the music world, Tsubaki starts to feel jealous. She fully realizes her true feelings when she notices that she is always talking and complaining about Kousei to her boyfriend, resulting in their eventual breakup.
Despite her strong desire to keep Kousei to herself and have him as her own, Tsubaki really wants what’s best for Kousei and eventually encourages him to continue moving forward, even if it means that it won’t include her in the way she wants.
She is frequently seen talking to her friend Kashiwagi Nao, who finally gets Tsubaki to admit her feelings for Kousei and gives Tsubaki romantic advice (which is actually sourced from her BL manga collection).
Labeled the “enemy of all women” by Tsubaki, Ryouta has been friends with Kousei and Tsubaki since childhood. He is a bit of a playboy and seems shallow because of his comments about how he prefers “cute” girls, but he is a really good guy.
He generally has a very nonchalant attitude towards life and often gives Kousei words of encouragement to help him “man-up.” He is Kaori’s supposed love interest and frequently flirts with her, but it doesn’t really go beyond that.
When Kousei tells Ryouta that he has feelings for Kaori but says that he isn’t confident in himself, Ryouta encourages him saying, “A man can only take action! Whether or not it’s impossible, the girl will let you know!”
Ryouta is the star and captain of the soccer team and it is the one thing that he takes very seriously, frequently bragging that everyone is fortunate to live during that time because they will get to see him become a star. He takes it really hard when his team doesn’t win the finals, but he passes the baton onto Kousei as he’s prepping for his final piano competition, stating, “the rest is up to you.”
He goes to the piano competitions to support his friends, but he frequently nods off in performances, except when he hears someone interesting (like Kousei and Kaori) is playing.
Nagi is a first-year middle school student who goes to Hiroko requesting she become her piano teacher because she is a “fan.” Hiroko decides this is a good opportunity for Kousei to teach someone so that he can learn more about himself.
Kousei’s first piano student, Nagi actually originally requested to be under Hiroko’s tutelage to spy on her brother (Aiza Takeshi’s) musical “rival” and she secretly “despises” Kousei.
She already has exceptional talent as a pianist, but finds that she has limitations that she puts on herself. When she makes excuses like her hands are too small to reach the keys to play up to tempo, Kousei pushes her to realize there are ways to compensate for that disadvantage.
She eventually comes to respect Kousei deeply for his talent and skills as a pianist. Unlike others, Nagi plays the piano to become closer to her brother and she believes the quickest way to do that is to get his respect. This goal results in her requesting Kousei play a 4-handed duet for a school recital. Kousei doesn’t hold back and as a result Nagi rises to the challenge and keeps up with him, much to her brother’s surprise.
Nagi has a major brother complex, but is generally a good kid who respects her elders (as long as they aren’t incompetent).
Takeshi is a pianist and grew up competing with Kousei and Emi as a child. He is an idol amongst teenage girls who watch the competitions, but actually has a very honest and straightforward personality. He never beat him and as a result, Takeshi views Kousei as a rival and as the final hurdle before commencing his international career.
When we first meet him, Takeshi seems to hate Kousei, but we come to realize that he actually admires Kousei as a hero and was deeply disappointed by him when he stopped playing piano. His opinion is changed when he starts to see hints of the old Kousei.
Much to Takeshi’s annoyance, Kousei doesn’t really remember him, but once Kousei hears Takeshi’s performance (which was played for him) after being so nervous, Kousei begins to take note of him.
Emi is also a pianist who grew up competing with Takeshi and Kousei as a child. Unlike Takeshi, she doesn’t respect the Kousei who played with extreme accuracy. She instead “hates” Kousei for abandoning the emotional style she heard as a child (in the same performance as Kaori), which moved her to tears.
It was that performance that motivated her to become a pianist and so she is severely disappointed when he becomes the “Human Metronome” because it is boring. She hopes that her emotional style of playing will move Kousei to play as he once did.
She comes off as aloof, but she is actually quite emotional which results in inconsistent performances. She also has been described as a “tsundere.”
Saki, Kousei’s mother, is seen for much of the series as an eyeless figure in the shadows, criticizing Kousei’s performances and making it impossible for him to play.
While it is true that she became an abusive parent after her illness, before that point in time she was a very caring and loving mother who frequently played the piano for him while he slept under it as a young child.
Once Kousei begins to remember some of her better points, he is reminded of something she frequently said to him when he first learned to play, “The piano is you. If you touch it gently, it will smile. If you touch it with force, it will become enraged." This eventually helps him remember how to play again.
She was a college friend of Hiroko’s.
Hiroko is Kousei’s teacher, Saki’s friend from college and a world-renowned pianist. After Saki passes away, she takes Kousei under her wing and becomes something of a mother figure to him. After Kousei stops playing the piano, she never forces him to go back because she always felt slightly responsible for what happened between Kousei and his mother.
After he begins to play again, Hiroko becomes his piano teacher. Her daughter, Koharu, is frequently seen with her and attends piano performances with her mother.