Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Your Lie in April
Kosei Arima was raised to be a piano prodigy by his taskmaster, borderline abusive mother, and he succeeded at it admirably...until her death when he was eleven. Now fourteen, Kosei has a complicated relationship with the piano – he feels drawn to it and to music, but his associations with it are holding him back and causing him to be unable to play. He's caught in limbo until the day he meets Kaori Miyazono, a talented but rogue violinist. Kaori both fascinates him and makes him uncomfortable...and just might be the key to him beginning to truly live again.
Your Lie in April's first volume is a difficult book. Not in terms of being readable or confusing; rather this is an emotionally complicated tale that at times feels well-intentioned and sweet and at others feels unintentionally mean. At its heart it is about a traumatized boy learning to move past his cruel mother's passing and coping with the consequences of having been raised by such a harsh taskmaster, but it often feels as if it ignores the basic fact that people all grieve differently and that abused children are often emotionally damaged as it pursues its plotline about a boy learning to come out of his shell.
The protagonist of the story is Kosei Arima, a middle school student who at one time was considered a genius pianist. This was certainly due to talent on his part, but he was pushed at every turn by his mother, a woman with an unnamed terminal illness who was unable to become a world-class pianist herself. Thus she has transferred her ambitions to her child (never a good sign) and is unrelenting in her training of Kosei. While we don't explicitly see her striking him, we do see him looking bloody during a lesson and she makes a comment about hitting him again if he does not get the piece right. This suggests that Kosei's home life was nothing short of a nightmare, and so when shortly after his mother's death he freezes up during a competition, it feels just as likely to have been because of a realization that he doesn't have to do this anymore as it is to be grief, which is what the story largely assumes. Granted, this is Naoshi Arakawa's work and it is his word we are meant to take as authoritative, so when Arakawa calls it grief, we have to accept that. But it feels tone-deaf to the abused child's emotions not to take into consideration that there might be something else going on, and no one in the story, including his best friend Tsubaki, seems to understand this.
Tsubaki does not, however, want Kosei to resume playing the piano because he was good at it. She states to the romantic interest (more on her in a moment) that she really just wants him to make his peace with the instrument, whether that means playing again or fully giving it up. This is probably the best moment in the story, and the only one that feels like it looks at Kosei as a person rather than a former pianist, and if Tsubaki's methods aren't terrific, at least her motivations are in the right place. The same cannot be said for Kaori Miyazono, the presumptive heroine and romantic interest of the piece, who is a rebellious classical violinist. Kaori is highly talented but refuses to play to the score, instead committing the sin of interpreting the music in her own way and favoring style over substance, at least as far as judges are concerned. She's also pretty much the manga version of Hollywood's Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, throwing social norms to the wind as she flits from one place to the next before alighting on Kosei as her latest project. Kaori feels that Kosei ought to be playing the piano because she thinks that he should love it, completely disregarding any reasons he tells her otherwise and not taking anything but what she wants into account. Her constant badgering of Kosei to play again, to say nothing of her accusations of perversion, are grating and smack of bullying, making her, to me at least, a real pill to read about. Granted, she is a fourteen-year-old girl, and middle schoolers are not known for their sensitivity or kindness, but Kaori pushes things to the point where it became a chore to keep reading.
Arakawa's art is generally fine, with faces being the biggest issue. He has a great sense of how to set up a page, with a variety of panel types, sizes, and arrangements that keeps the narrative flowing smoothly and helps to enhance the mood of the story. He also has a nice sense of early teenage bodies, with no one looking hugely artificial and some variety in both male and female figures. Faces do tend to be froggish, and profiles or scenes where we're looking at someone's face top-down (where our focal point is their forehead as they tilt their head down) can get downright inhuman in appearance, and given how important facial expressions are in manga, that is a definite stumbling block. But you can feel the music when it's important to a scene, and that makes up for a lot of artistic ills.
Your Lie in April's first volume just misses the mark. That the author appears not to take into consideration the backstory he created for his protagonist is troubling, and Kaori's, as well as other friends', pursuit of Kosei's return to piano is, if not uncomfortable, at least lacks in sensitivity in a very important way. It may be that that sensitivity comes into play later in the story, but as of right now, this can be a very difficult book to read.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : C+
+ Nice page set-up, music feels very evident in the book. Kosei's reluctance to play piano makes sense given his backstory...
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