Manic Pixie Dream Girl II
Your Lie in April is an anime released by A-1 Pictures and introduced to me by a friend from the classical community. Thankfully, it can be found on Netflix, so there is no need to go to Crunchyroll like I did back in high school. As far as anime goes, nothing comes close to Naruto, at least that’s my opinion. However, spanning only one season, Your Lie In April packs a strong emotional punch, leaving a lingering trail of what-ifs in the audience’s mouth. This is romance at its finest, able to touch all four chambers of your heart, and when the epilogue finally rolls in, you realize that twenty-two episodes are simply not enough.
The minor characters in this anime don’t matter at all. To be brutally blunt, their names go forgotten just like the classical pieces’ names for someone unversed in the classical. Kousei Arima, an Asian mother’s definition of “Ling Ling”, is a small and bespectacled pianist. It’s his journey that we follow, through a sequence of “deep” classical music renditions wherein he works out his concerning mommy-issues. Kaori Miyazano, is April’s impetus. She is introduced as a date for resident plot device Watari. A musician herself, it is her exuberant exposition on the violin that promotes Kousei to describe her as vibrant, similar to the way little children colour in their colouring books. Even though this probably goes against the feminist narrative, Kaori is the literal reincarnation of a manic pixie dream girl. A “quirky” girl driven entirely by her unspecified desire to break a (most likely heterosexual male) protagonist out of their shell. Manic pixie dream girls, are of the writers’ construct, and therefore not an actual type of person with their individual motivations.
What is so “quirky” about Kaori? Is it the expressive violin? Is it the rebellious interpretation of the music score, as opposed to the competition-accepted technical playing? In a symphony between protagonist and antagonist, Kaori serves as the foil to Kousei, who falls on the originalist side of the division. His mother drilled into him the technical side of piano playing before she died, going so far as to beat him when he did not play perfectly. Despite continual discussion, this theme never really comes across well, without being trained in classical piano. It is hard to even tell the difference between rigidity and interpretation.
As stated earlier, Kaori serves no higher purpose in the anime apart from helping the protagonist develop. She wants him to begin playing the piano once again. Being a musician too, Kaori wants Kousei to understand the importance of music, and that he cannot continue to self-abnegate. Incredibly, she is merciless in throwing Kousei into the deep end, forcing/seducing him to be her accompanist for her own performance. That obstinance, showcased in Kaori, resembles Kousei’s own mother, whilst contrasting with her quirky and gentle musical impetus.
Your Lie In April does well to strike a balance between the dramatic and lightness, unlike several other generic anime that would do drama for the sake of drama. The anime at question here does not allow its tone to become a burden. It is annoying to hear Kaori and Watari fornicate their supposed romance off-screen, in spite of the complete lack of relevance to what’s happening in the actual scenes. In the meantime, it is much easier to disparage Your Lie In April without actually listening to it. The dominance music has over the story is uncanny, such that the anime cannot function without it. Rather than go down the usual complex character complex and subtle theming road, Your Lie In April focuses on moving its audience, emotionally. With piano and violin montages so arrogantly beautiful, it is hard not to drop a tear, amidst a sea of self-proclaimed callous, world-weary groupies.
A master of direction, A-1 Pictures has created a musical like no other, pairing the obvious classical tracks with its respective scenes to heighten dramatic effect. Different narrative elements are weaved into a performance, and although I refuse to believe it’s actually what goes on during a real performance (I play piano just fine dammit), the inner monologue, flashbacks and the reactions. All that, summarized by a deft hand. Much like a song, the storyline is intertwined with the music in a beautiful cohesive package that is easy to follow along.
Mozart, Beethoven, and an obsessive collection of Chopin. You don’t have to be fully acquainted with these legends to feel the music. Many of the pieces are liable to go over your head, to make you better acquainted. The original soundtrack is competent, if not spectacular, using leitmotifs to follow their respective characters through the story. It takes a more modern, playful approach to the score, but the serious piano tracks are the ones that really stand out.
There is a good metaphorical representation of the feelings experienced at a piano performance, using imagery like blooming cherry trees and motes of golden light floating throughout the room to show the emotions evoked by the music. Some of the most visually compelling scenes are the performances shown through Kousei’s perspective. Hearing him talk about not being able to hear the notes he plays is not nearly as effective as seeing him at the bottom of the ocean with all sound drowned out. This element is crucial to understanding Kousei’s character more considering his situation is not necessarily relatable in the literal sense. Not everyone has had the aforementioned mommy issue-induced breakdowns on stage during a piano performance.
In what should reasonably be described as the climax to the anime, we see Kousei perform the final culminating piece, Chopin’s Ballade №1 in G minor, Op. 23. He plays it to devastating effect, remembering each of his friends and eventually, Kaori who he imagines playing right along with him in a phenomenal sequence that brings the room and audience to tears. This is the most powerful moment. Kaori dies in surgery from her incurable disease, earning a wholesome goodbye from Kousei.
The letter that he receives from Kaori is what brings more tears to everyone. She’s always known who he was and was inspired by him to play music as a child. She says she chose to play violin to accompany him, that she watched and wanted to meet him at school and she says that one day she got sick and she knew that she didn’t have long to live. She says that she wouldn’t die without meeting him, without getting him to play piano again and finally she says that in April, she decided to spread a rumour. She lied about liking Watari, in order to get closer to Kousei Arima. She admits to orchestrating everything from the day they met and apologizes for intruding. She remembered everything right until the end, every moment they shared and lastly she apologizes for lying to get those moments, for making him think that she liked someone else but that it was worth it because she loves him. Hence, the title of the show, Your Lie In April.
While this is probably not the first time Japanese anime has portrayed its female leads in such a manner, the slight crime of girls swaying their male counterparts, when done correctly, it is powerful. In the category of manic pixie dream girls, Kaori can count herself amongst the best of the best. Make no mistake, she existed solely to teach a brooding Kousei how to embrace life and the “infinite wonders and mysteries” that life has to offer. Could Kousei have changed without Kaori? Perhaps. Is Kaori a so-called fetishized dream? Definitely. If I may, on behalf of all that female empowerment has established, I apologize once again for this. Should something like this happen in the real world, we should be ready to condemn it, because it is selfish. But for the sake of emotional punch (and because it’s literally just a cartoon), I applaud and recommend Your Lie In April to boys and girls alike, for its lasting experience and irresistible fairytale.