From a quick glance at all the other top reviews, this series seems to be one that many people rave about. While there's certainly qualities in this show that are really good, I found myself rather unimpressed to be brutally honest.
Story - 3/10
Kousei Arima was a prodigy at playing the piano. He dominated every competition on a regular basis by playing the music perfectly as it was intended by the composer. He was so dominant to the point where he became famous among child and adult musicians alike. However, after the death of his mother (who was also his instructor), he was unable to cope with it and eventually lost the ability to hear the piano. He then quit shortly after. For the next couple of years, the world around him became dull and lifeless aside from a couple of his friends, until he met this extremely cheerful violinist, Kaori Miyazono. She revealed to him a side and style of music he never knew existed, and eventually convinced him to give the piano another shot.
The premise doesn't sound too bad. In fact, the way it handles the romance plot is pretty unique. It isn't just simply your typical boy meets girl and then they eventually confess, blah blah; there's a lot more to it than that. It focuses more on Kousei's development as a result of Kaori's carefree happy-go-lucky personality. The story is told primarily in Kousei's point of view, and likewise the plot revolves somewhat around him. Other characters do get screen time as well, though, and occasionally we do hear their take on things too.
A big thing that really makes the story stand out (in the first half, particularly) is how it portrays the music. Why do we play music? Who are you playing for? What message are you trying to convey? Music isn't just there to pleasure your ears, it's used as a tool to speak from the heart. Who you are as a person, what you've gone through, and what you strive for are all expressed in how you play music. The notes may be the same, but the feel of the song can vastly vary with the way people play it. In other words, you take the music and make it your own. The way this narrative and message is pushed is rather distinct and effective in my eyes, and it was one of the few things that kept me captivated throughout the series.
Despite how well this all is presented, there were still quite a lot of flaws, particularly in its execution of several storyline elements.
Melodrama. It's alright to have it in moderation (it’s a show about teenagers after all- there’s bound to be at least some), but it was taken to a whole other level in this show. Almost every episode contains at least one overreaction to an event, almost to the point where it became hard to really feel the proper emotion you were supposed to in the particular scene. There were some instances where this was properly used and was actually beneficial to what was going on, but more often than not, I found myself cringing and unable to relate to the character(s) at all.
Pacing. The pacing of this show was all over the place, but generally speaking, it was so slow to the point where it felt like it was beating a dead horse. Literally, I could look up the word "monologuing" in the dictionary and find the cover art of YLIA. Episode after episode, there was an absurd amount of redundant soliloquy to the point where it became hard to watch. Again, as the saying goes: "everything in moderation". Internal monologue isn't inherently a bad thing, but it starts to parody itself when it gets overused. Thanks to stuff like this, it takes longer than it needs to for things to get going and actually progress.
Lastly, there's the comedy. Quality of comedy in general is unquestionably subjective (personally I didn't find a whole lot of it funny, but that's just me), but that's not where the issue lies. My gripe with it is that it was terribly misplaced. You're in the middle of this deep, sad scene, and then all of a sudden you're slapped in the face with comedic relief that doesn't fit the scene at all. To put it bluntly, it kills the mood.
The story had a LOT of potential. I, like many others, was hooked at the beginning, but found it harder to watch as the show goes on. It really makes me wish that this was a 12 episode anime instead so that things didn't overstay their welcome.
Art/Animation - 7/10
The art in this show fits the feel of it really well. The characters designs are rather unique; they each all have full lips rather than a simple line like you see in almost every anime nowadays, and it's little subtleties like this that adds a sense of realism to the show. The brightness of the setting also appropriately fits each situation. The color palette often fits the mood of the scene very well; it's colorful and bright when things are more lively, dark and dull when things are more depressing, so on and so forth. The actual art itself isn't bad either. Animation was pretty solid and up to par with today's standards, but occasionally it was less than stellar.
Sound - 8/10
Now, I'm not a fan of classical music at all. I don't necessarily hate it, it's just not my bread and butter, but I've started to open up to it a lot more than I originally was. The OST is nice and really adds to the emotions that the specific scene is trying to convey. The solo performances are especially good for reasons I've already touched upon. I'm also a personal fan of the OPs and EDs, both of which suit the show well. Not much else to say here, really. It's just solid all around, which is important for a show like this.
Character - 4/10
As a romance and drama, the characters really are the backbone of the entire show. With the slower pacing, the characters get added depth, which is critical for a show like this to do. I must say, it did a fine job in that aspect. Many characters had their own backstory (although there are a few issues with this that I’ll get to), and there aren't many one-dimensional characters that get major screen time. Most importantly, they all have likable qualities about them that make them endearing to the audience, creating an emotional bond between us and them.
Something that I felt was handled rather well was the development of Kousei. Being the main character, it's pretty important for him to be fully fleshed out, and thankfully he is. He starts out as a mopey, depressing, and generally dull kid, but gradually develops into something much more. After losing his mother, he really had no reason to play music. All he ever knew was to play it perfectly as the composer intended, and for the purpose of pleasing his mom. Enter Kaori. Her unique style of playing opened up Kousei's eyes in a big way, and inspired him to take up music again. His journey together with Kaori and friends has been helping him break out of his shell, and his progression bit by bit was superb.
While I'm singing a lot of praise here, you'll notice the score I gave is again rather mediocre. Hear me out.
Many of the side characters were pointless; their development overall pretty much either served no purpose and/or wasn't done well. Often times, instead of adding to the story, their screen time swayed away from the main plotline which is not how it's supposed to work. Yes, I understand that people might think it's nice and cute to see someone else's story every now and then, but again, the issues I have are 1) it sways the show away from the main narrative without connecting to it at all, and 2) the way these characters are handled just feels half-assed when compared to how well Kousei is developed. If this were a longer show where separate characters could have their own little mini-arcs, I feel like this would have been handled much better, but obviously that wouldn't be possible for a shorter seasonal anime.
Another thing -- Kaori. This is kind of tied into the pacing, which I also touched upon earlier. She never really received significant development until the very end of the show. Up until that point, she's nothing but a mere plot device used to stir up drama. For the duration of 21 episodes, she was just a cute girl that's meant to be likable and appeal to the audience, but with no depth whatsoever. It would have helped substantially to show her insight on the status quo as the show went on.
Enjoyment - 4/10
Needless to say, I didn't enjoy this anime a whole lot. There are redeeming qualities that I'm not going to overlook out of blind hate, but overall, this just wasn't for me.
Overall - 4/10
In my opinion, this anime doesn't deserve to be rated as high as it is. Again, it's not the worst thing I've ever seen; there's several redeeming qualities, and I can completely understand why someone else would enjoy it. However, to be honest, it seems pretty undeserving to be holding the #13 spot overall at the time this review was written.
I'll try to sum it up as simply as I can: for more "intellectual" (for lack of a better word) viewers who care more about logic and technicalities, stay clear. As a show catered for a younger audience, it’s very clear more effort was put on style rather than substance, and that can make it frustrating to watch. For more casual viewers just looking to bathe in their feels, this is definitely worth a look. There are some quirky characters here that you might enjoy, and the relationship between Kousei and Kaori is definitely one that might leave a lasting impact on you.