Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Your Lie in April
Kousei was once a piano prodigy, a boy who could perfectly mimic any score without an error or hint of personality. But after his tyrannical mother's death, he lost the ability to hear his own music, and now he hasn't played for years. Living a grey everyday life, Kousei doesn't believe anything will change - but when he runs into a strange girl with a wild talent for the violin, his life will begin to turn.
Your Lie in April is a beautiful show.
That should be stated first, both because it's true, and because that's where the show itself begins. The first episode opens with a gorgeous, nearly wordless sequence of a girl chasing a cat through blooming spring flowers. Light piano sets a scene filled with vivid, almost deliberately unsmooth character animation and rich, sun-speckled backgrounds. In many ways, Your Lie in April is a show specifically about the pursuit of beauty in art, and what that pursuit does to and for us. The articulation of this can be muddled or drawn out at times, but the aesthetic glory of the production is a constant. Your Lie in April is a beautiful show.
The show's beauty is ornate, to the point where you could easily accuse it of being overwrought or melodramatic. The two leads, Kousei and Kaori, are loaded with heavy dramatic baggage. Kousei was once considered a genius pianist, but his genius was harnessed by a sickly and abusive mother. He played like a robot, and once his mother died, he didn't play at all. Now he can't hear the sound of his own keys, and the show visually portrays his attempts to make music as the act of sinking into a deep blue ocean, haunted by his mother's voice. Kaori brings light and energy to his world, but she's marked by her own looming tragedies, baited slowly across the show's first half before becoming a source of constant cliffhangers in the second. Your Lie in April's story is told in dramatic strokes that match the adolescent inner realities of its characters - music and love are framed in terms of life and death, and the story doesn't always handle that with total grace. When nearly every scene is portrayed at maximum emotional volume, the subtleties that make the truly important moments stand out can be lost.
Kaori and Kousei's central dynamic is complicated by familiar, necessary side characters - Kousei's childhood friend Tsubaki, his friend-slash-love-rival Watari, and a host of other musicians with their own connections to the young pianist. Tsubaki in particular lends a great deal of life to the show - the doomed childhood friend is a very well-worn archetype, but she wears it well, with the show's interplay between her early memories of Kousei and current trials making for some of the show's most emotionally compelling moments. The relationship between Kousei and Kaori is honestly a bit less strong, and can sometimes lean too heavily on the show's somewhat tortured dialogue. That “I met the girl under the full-bloomed cherry blossoms, and my fate has begun to change” subtitle is actually very appropriate for this show - the characters really do tend to talk like that, which doesn't always work. At its best, the writing matches in prose the beauty the show constantly evokes in image and sound - at its worst, it can drag out and repeat emotional beats, stalling for time in ways that undercut the show's emotional resonance.
As I said, Your Lie in April is a show about the pursuit of artistic beauty, and all that implies both good and bad. The show excels at expressing both the terror and triumph of performance - its characters are united in their panic and insecurity before performances, and resplendent in the grip of their songs. The show's strong animation lends a great personality to characters both on and off the stage, and the evocative backgrounds bring songs to life by visually portraying each character's inner turmoil or the scene they wish to convey. Kousei shifts from drowning and dissolving in his seat to confidently playing a blooming tree to life. Kaori performs wreathed in sparkling light, or literally reflected in Kousei's eyes. Dynamic camera angles alternately portray shaking hands, the terror of a faceless audience, or the blinding triumph of stage lights. Characters use their songs to express themselves and their thoughts on each other, to prove their worth or connect with the people they love. The show's constant refrain of “reach them!” reveals how all of Your Lie in April's heroes want their songs to change others as songs once changed them. All of its performers inspire each other through song, and the show's music and visuals are so good that you'd never wonder why.
That music also deserves special mention. Obviously a show about musicians necessitates a strong soundtrack, and Your Lie in April consistently delivers - the classical performances are both beautiful in the abstract and act as great expressions of the cast's diverse personalities, and the non-performance soundtrack elevates the show's regular romantic trials. Many of the show's strongest moments come about through letting a scene lean entirely into a song - characters run home cradling bitter memories or leap laughing from sunlit bridges as piano and guitar do all of the talking. Strong music can sell scenes that would otherwise come across as indulgent or maudlin, and though Your Lie in April is occasionally both of those things, the music does its best to keep it resonant and emotionally true.
All of that describes Your Lie in April at its best, but the show is unfortunately not nearly that consistent. It can drag, at times - like many adolescent dramas, it feels like the show was given about half a season too many episodes, and so the second half involves enough repetition and dramatic digression to significantly hurt investment. Nothing within the story is likely to surprise you, and the show's humor is just plain bad - repetitive slapstick and overplayed silly faces that almost always inspire a wince instead of a chuckle. Plus the fact that Your Lie in April relies on slapstick and “kicking Kousei's butt into gear” in a story that's partially about abuse will definitely rub some people the wrong way (though the show's eventual method of having Kousei come to terms with his mother's memory struck me as a nuanced take on the subject). There are episodes that don't offer much, and a scattering of weaknesses that keep Your Lie in April from being truly great.
But damn if it isn't beautiful.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Absolutely beautiful in sight and sound; strikes at the heart of performance's appeal.
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