Reviewby Theron Martin,
Your Lie in April
Blu-Ray - Set 1
Kosei Arima was a child prodigy at the piano, a technician so accurate and faithful to the score that he was (somewhat derisively) nicknamed the Human Metronome as he won one contest after another. That all stopped at age 11, when he broke down during a performance following the death of his long-ill mother and discovered that he could no longer hear his own music. Two years later his piano gathers dust, but he still cannot entire detach himself from music, so he transcribes songs instead. That all starts to change when he encounters Kaori, a free spirit of a violinist who has become his best friend Ryota's girlfriend. (Actually just one of his girlfriends, but she doesn't know that.) In Kaori, Kosei can see a true passion and joy for playing music, and completely on her own terms, too, and that fascinates him. She also knows his reputation from his competition days, and seems determined to drag him back into that world, to make him face up to his hang-ups and overcome them, no matter how much he might resist. Ever so slowly, Kosei starts to realize that he now has something that he never had back at the peak of his competitions days: a muse. And the change that starts to bring about in Kosei is evident to all, especially the past rivals who once idolized him as much as they wanted to overcome him.
This release from Aniplex of America covers the first 11 episodes of the adaptation of Naoshi Arakawa's award-winning manga, which constitutes the first of the series' two seasons. Ostensibly it is a series about classical music, and indeed, that is featured regularly throughout these episodes; hardly an episode goes by which does not include partial or complete interpretations of classical piano and/or violin numbers, and some later episodes in this span consist almost entirely of that. However, the story is less about the music and more about both how it defines the lives of the main characters and how those same characters express themselves (or fail to do so) through their music. That aspect is what makes the series fascinating, compelling, and at times even emotional.
The basic story premise is a familiar one: a person who is struggling through some aspect of life encounters a vivacious soul who turns his or her world upside down, in the process offering motivation and inspiration to overcome a hardship weighting that character down. In this case that vivacious soul is Kaori, a blond-haired girl who can be harsh but dazzles when it comes to music. She unabashedly puts her own spin on both her life and the music she plays, owning it in a way that central character Kosei never did. This flummoxes him at first, since it is so far outside of his comfort zone and so contrary to the demanding precision that was drilled into his head by his mother. Much of the plot in the first 11 episodes essentially involved Kosei fitfully attempting to understand Kaori's approach and come to terms with it, a process impeded greatly by his mother's training.
While this may not sound particularly compelling, it is not a shallow treatment of the subject. Kosei's mother was hardly perfect: we are show quite clearly that she put increasingly strict demands and expectations on Kosei as her own health failed. Since she could no longer play herself (she was also once a professional pianist), she seemed intent on using Kosei to be an extension of herself and thus achieve what she no longer could. She wasn't above being both physically and verbally abusive about it, either, which forced Kosei into one of those all-too-common weirdly dependent relationships with an abuser. That haunts him so badly that it interferes with his ability to play, and it takes a special person to drag him out of that funk – and even then it isn't easy. The series' writing is painstakingly thorough in exploring this aspect, to the point that it stretches out some late scenes a little too much.
That is the only real flaw, though, in what is otherwise a beautifully-written show. Kosei's longtime friends Ryota and Tsubaki each have their own passions and try to help Kosei in their own way, while former rivals (technically speaking, as they never actually beat Arima) Takeshi and Emi show up midway through to show different aspects of the impact that Kosei unknowingly had on others. Each of them represents a piece of the overall puzzle of Kosei's life and psyche. The writing is also keen on demonstrating the struggles and insecurities that all young, competitive musicians can face and the way that their emotions can impact their music, and it does so without too much aggrandized imagery. Over the course of these 11 episodes the writing fleshes out Kosei thoroughly and helps him grow while also at least somewhat fleshing out the others: Ryota may be a shallow womanizer, but he's not without his own keen insight, while Tsubaki seems torn between regarding him as a little brother and a potential love interest. She is also all too keenly aware that she cannot fully be part of his life since she cannot understand his connection to his music. Kaori does get that, which may be partly why she seems so determined to rehabilitate Kosei. These episodes also drop plenty of hints that she is hiding a major health concern, which brings up the possible angle of her reforming Kosei being part of the legacy she means to leave behind.
Whether the series does ultimately go there or not (and frankly, I will be surprised if it doesn't), the impact of the story's developments so far can generate at least an emotional twinge on several occasions. Even the fairly regular comedy asides don't disrupt that; the tone that the series delivers is smooth, progressive, and heartfelt, to the point that I highly recommend marathoning the series rather than watching one episode at a time. More than most series, its net effect can accumulate over time.
Key to that tone is the musical score, which is an outstanding effort even if the numerous insert piano and violin pieces are factored out. The soft, drifting piano numbers which form the core of the score gently carry the viewer along and skillfully draw out emotional reactions. Of course, that the score also contains numerous classical works in widely-varied delivery styles is an added bonus; even one who does not have much of an ear for classical music should still be able to pick up on at least some of the ambient feelings evoked by the pieces. Comparatively speaking, both the opener and closer are solid but more ordinary numbers.
The artistic effort by A-1 Pictures is not top-of-the-line but it is no slouch, either. It puts great effort into meticulously animating the finger movements and body language of its performers and provides a satisfying range of attractive character designs, especially when characters are dressed up for performances. The artistic style does retain a bit of a shojo manga flair in facial designs (especially the distinctive way the mouths of female characters are drawn), but not enough to be obnoxious. Animation outside of the performance pieces is less consistent and fluid. The overall color scheme is a bit muted, with pastels often being used for outdoor background shots, but most scenes still lean toward the bright side; this is particularly evident whenever a joyous or revelatory moment is being depicted.
Whatever else might be said about Aniplex of America's release, it at least offers a quality Bang Zoom! Entertainment-produced English dub. All of the voice actors for the core cast roles are very well-chosen and give excellent performances, especially Max Mittelman (King in The Seven Deadly Sins, Inaho in Aldnoah.Zero) in the critical role of Kosei. While some minor roles for little kids are a little weaker, overall the performances are consistently dead-on about capturing the feelings the series seeks to evoke and the script always finds fitting ways to convey the intended meaning even when it's not spot-on with the subtitles. ADR director and principal script writer Patrick Seitz (who also voices one minor character) comments in the included audio commentary that he was extraordinarily picky in his direction for this series, and that extra effort definitely shows.
Aside from the aforementioned English audio commentary for episode 1, the only on-disk Extras are clean opener and closer, though a blooper reel is promised for the release of the second half. The other main inclusion is part 1 of the series' OST. While it does offer a great variety of instrumental numbers (including a variation on the closer), it clocks in at less than 19 minutes total for 10 tracks, so I think I would have preferred that they wait and put it all on a single disk. Physical Extras include only a set of art cards, a reversible cover for the three-disk Blu-Ray case, and bonus background art on the inside of the CD case, though both cases do come in a sturdy artbox. As usual for Aniplex of America, it's overpriced for what you get, especially when compared to the far superior deluxe release of Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun that Sentai Filmworks recently put out, which offered much more than this set does for $35 less.
When this show first streamed back during the Fall 2014 season, I thought it looked good but was not impressed enough by it to actually follow it. (In fairness, though, its first episode is probably one of the two weakest in the series' first half.) It makes much more of an impression the second time around. I can now easily see why this series earned such a passionate fan following, and based on the first half at least, it definitely deserves it.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Outstanding musical score, great English dub, remarkably well-written, effectively emotional.
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