Mar 27, 2015
emberreviews (All reviews)
For those who aren’t familiar with me personally, I have a very strong connection to the world of music, and I actually spent my first two years of college as a Music Performance major, and even though that dream eventually came to an end, I’ll still be graduating with a general Music degree, as music is still an absolutely vital part of my life. So, naturally, the music genre is one of my go-to’s when looking for new anime to watch. Sadly though, music anime are not only very few in number, but the music aspects often seem to be more of a crutch to gain more viewers, rather than actually be a central theme that the entire anime revolves around. However, when I do find an anime that actually focuses on the music and how it affects the characters, the results are almost always incredible, and today, I’ll be talking about one such anime.

As I mentioned, I was previously a performance major, meaning that I was pursuing the same path as these characters are, and it’s still amazing to me how perfectly this anime captures not only the ways musicians act, but how they see the world and everything in it. These are characters that are completely obsessed with their craft, and so practically everything is shown through the lens of music and how it affects, complements, or reflects the different situations and emotions we encounter in our lives. It also did an amazing job of showing that while music can be an unparalleled source of joy and strength, it can also be a source of unbearable pain and suffering, especially for those who practice it and try to perfect it, and yet despite that, these characters refuse to give up on music because it defines who they are. No matter how much pain it puts them through, they keep pushing themselves well beyond the edges of their abilities because they want their music to reach someone, or they want to prove their worth, or simply because they can’t ever forget what it feels like to look out into the audience after a performance and get bombarded by the roar of an ecstatic crowd.

Despite its heavy reliance on music for conveying its story, you don’t really need to have an in-depth knowledge of music to feel how powerful this story is. It certainly helps to have this knowledge, but at its core it’s an intense drama that relies on themes of drive, motivation, and inspiration to push its characters forward. That being said though, it also never sacrifices its music content for accessibility. Practically everything that happens in this series comes about as a result of the characters’ relationship with music, even with the characters that aren’t musicians. I know there were some complaints about the second half being too much about the romance drama, but again, even that gets fed back into music and how the world of music is consuming so many aspects of their lives, even when they don’t want it to. But, again, there always seems to be two sides to the music, and while it’s often portrayed as this unseen source of pain, it’s also shown to be the only source of salvation for each characters’ suffering. Music is often portrayed in other works as being this super-holy, divine, everything-is-awesome entity, but other shows rarely ever talk about the pain and hardship that comes with living that kind of life and striving towards those near-impossible goals of perfecting one’s art, and the fact that Your Lie in April understands this duality that exists within music makes it all the more incredible.

Even aside from the music aspects, this show is one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen. This was an unbelievably emotional series; I’m talking Clannad: After Story level sadness, especially towards the end of the series. Of course, the key to any drama is making the situation feel believable, and practically all the situations in this show feel like things that we either have already encountered or will encounter at some point in our lives. Overcoming past demons, coping with death, young romantic love, trying to achieve an impossible standard set by a role model, and so many more themes create this massive ball of drama that keep building and building onto itself until everything comes to a head in one of the greatest and most emotional final episodes I’ve ever seen in an anime that had me flat-out crying by the end of it. It was so unbelievably powerful on so many different levels.

The writing in general was also really solid, and the literal script itself for this series was incredibly well-written. It almost comes off as reminiscent of a pseudo-art house film in terms of how descriptive and complex the internal monologues of these characters are, and you can definitely tell that every single word was scrutinized and hand-picked to have the biggest impact possible, mostly through very subtle exchanges. I think one of my favorite small details about the series was how Kaori would use quotes from the Peanuts comics throughout the series. I don’t know how many of you have actually just sat down and read a book of Peanuts comics before, but among the hundreds of light-hearted and humorous strips, there are a few that are shockingly deep and introspective, and that kind of tone fits this anime perfectly, creating this very subtle undertone of serious thought and introspection that slowly builds over the course of the series.

Of course, a drama is nothing without its characters, and the cast of this series is one of the most vibrant and lifelike I’ve ever seen. Kōsei, being our main character, gets the most fleshing out, and from the very first episode, we can see glimpses of all the different levels of confliction and psychological torment that he’s endured in the time since his mother’s passing, as well as the time leading up to that. The show also does a superb job at getting us into Kōsei’s mind and allowing us to share some of the pain that he feels. There were some moments where I felt genuinely uneasy and unsettled by how Kōsei reacted to certain objects or sounds, especially certain pieces of music, and he ends up becoming the quintessential example of the “suffering artist.”

In contrast to Kōsei, Kaori seems to be practically bursting at the seams with light and hope, almost as if she were crafted from music itself. You can feel this unending sense of vibrancy radiating out of her at almost every moment, and this attitude is perfectly reflected in her no-holds-bar style of playing that captivates all who hear it, especially Kōsei, whose machine-like style of perfection and mimicking the score exactly stands as the complete opposite to Kaori’s style. Through her aggressive and out-of-control style, she spends most of the show trying to draw Kōsei back into the world of music. While she does appear at the beginning to be the stereotypical “quirky love interest trying to get the main character to open up,” Kaori quickly evolves into something far beyond that, something that can only be defined as the personification of the goals of everyone who’s every picked up an instrument and spent their lives honing their craft. She constantly speaks about wanting to live within the hearts of her audience and not wanting to be forgotten, again reflected in her bombastic musical style, and she also carries quite a lot of her own problems with her as well and puts them on display for everyone to see in her performances. Together, over the course of the series, Kōsei and Kaori use each other to grow into musicians and human beings far beyond what they could have accomplished on their own, and the dynamic between them is one of the most captivating and intense struggles for purpose that I’ve seen in a long time. Their interactions also end up reversing a lot of the usual clichés associated with romance dramas, creating a sort of student-teacher role between them that gets flipped around several times rather than a boy pursuing the love of a girl. You really get the sense that these two need each other not because of love or intimacy, but because as musicians, they need each other and their musical souls in order to survive.

While the rest of the cast doesn’t get as much development as Kōsei and Kaori, they’re still far more developed than simple side characters. From Kōsei’s childhood friend Tsubaki, who may or may not be in love with Kōsei, to the adults who used to be part of Kōsei’s life before his mother’s death, every single character brings a new dynamic to this series, again through their relationship with music. I was especially fond of two of the musicians that Kōsei competes against throughout the series, as both of them displays qualities that I’ve experienced myself as a competitive musician: the desire to catch up to someone you see as a goal to be achieved, and the need to pour your feelings into every note so that they reach the person you look up to the most. There was even a point where they introduced a brand new character after two-thirds of the series had already passed, and she still felt like a vital part of the arcs for all characters involved with her. This is simply one of the best character casts I’ve ever seen in an anime.

The animation was produced by A-1 Pictures, and I gotta say, it’s really nice to see them putting their Sword Art Online and IDOLM@STER money to work in a show that’s actually good. One of the standout features of this show’s animation is how much they focus on the lighting. Almost every scene has a very specific set of lighting and shadow effects that lend even more credence to the idea that this anime feels like an art house film, and because of this, it’s very rare for a scene to have any flatness to it. Character design and animation are also really well done, especially with close-ups on a character’s face. Kōsei and Kaori’s expressions in particular are excessively detailed, with every line on their faces projecting an entire palette worth of emotion. The animation for when someone is playing also creates this sense of awe and wonder, and it’s one of the few times where I found CG to actually help an anime, and the intricate details and inner mechanisms of the piano and violin are simply breathtaking. The only time the show ever really deviates from its extremely high levels of animation is when it breaks into the semi-deformed style used for the comedic bits that we see in other shōnen anime, so it never actually feels like the quality has decreased for the worse at any point.

There is no dub for this series yet, though I sincerely hope that Aniplex and Bang Zoom! recognize how well-loved this series is and put enough effort into it to make a good dub, because I’d really like to share this series with as many people as possible, even non-anime fans, and having a dub is one of the easiest ways to do that.

The soundtrack for this series consists of two parts. The first is the different classical pieces that are used throughout the series. Most of the pieces consists of piano compositions from different parts of the Romantic Era such as Chopin, Saint-Saens, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky, but we also get a few Classical and 20th Century Era inserts as well, from Beethoven’s piano sonatas to Kriezler’s violin solos. I think my personal favorite addition though was Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” not only because I have personal connections to the piece, but because it seems to be one of those pieces that every musician has a different experience with, and thus takes on a multitude of different colors and meanings. I also want to give special praise to Tomoki Sakata and Yūna Shinohara, who provided the outstanding piano and violin performances given throughout the series, each one filled to the brim with a tapestry of colors, shades, and emotions that bring this soundtrack to life in so many different ways. The second half of the soundtrack consists of the new incidental music composed by Masaru Yokoyama, also known for his work on Arakawa under the Bridge and Joshiraku, and his expert combinations of piano, violin, string choruses, and the occasional ambiance effect creates an undulating soundtrack that both holds the scene in a time all its own, yet constantly pushes forward without cessation. Some of the more atmospheric pieces were also exceptionally good, especially during some of the darker moments of the series. There was one track in particular though that I was extremely found of, which I believe is called “Yuujin A-kun wo Watashi no Bansousha ni Ninmeishimasu,” which took one of the other pianos themes from the soundtrack and had it grow and swell into this giant mass of triumphant piano, strings, winds, and electronic effects that reminded me a lot of some of the Maslanka pieces that I’ve played in the past. As for opening and ending themes, all of them are very well-written and add quite a bit of weight on both ends of the emotional spectrum, with the first opening “Hikaru Nara” by Goose House being an exceptionally catchy and upbeat track whose piano, acoustic guitars, horn lines, and seven different vocal parts meshed together into a song that feels like the entirety of a musician’s soul pouring out into a single track.

Overall, Your Lie in April is an absolutely astounding anime. Intense story arcs filled with emotion and pain, complex characters that are created, broken, and reformed into something greater through their interactions with others, incredible animation that pushes the boundaries of what an animation studio can do artistically with a TV series, and a soundtrack filled with an unparalleled level of performance and composition. This is one of those anime that only comes along once every few years or so; one that’s not only exceptionally well-written and well-animated, but also has that living, breathing quality of art that tugs at your heartstrings and leaves you with memories and emotions you won’t be forgetting any time soon. Is it because of my personal connection with music that I think so highly of this anime? Maybe, but maybe that’s the only reason I need. Longfellow once said that music is the universal language of mankind, and I cannot think of a better example of that than this anime. This isn’t just about music. It’s about personal connections, and communicating with others through a universal mode of expression we share, and how everything is interrelated to everything else through some kind of common denominator, and it’s this intensely realistic idea that has allowed me to have a deeply emotional and heart-wrenching experience with this anime. For me at least, this anime transcends mere entertainment, and becomes a true work of art, something that musicians, animators, writers, and others the world over search for with every breath they take, waiting for those moments of pure catharsis. Your Lie in April is, without a doubt, my favorite anime of all time.