If you’re dialed in to the anime fandom, particularly the simulcast-watching, blogging segment of the fandom that I inhabit, you’ve probably heard at least some hints of the controversy that’s been surrounding noitaminA’s new show, Your Lie in April, a 2-cour anime produced by A-1 Pictures and based on the Kodansha Manga Award winning manga by Naoshi Arakawa.
Near as I can tell as someone standing apart from those who are decrying the show, the bulk of the outcry surrounding KimiUso is derived from the show’s treatment of protagonist Kousei’s traumatic-abusive childhood at the hands of his now-deceased mother.
Now, I’ve always tried to form my own opinions of a show divorced from the complaints and praises of other, but KimiUso has been something of a special case for me. This is, partially, because I’m hearing these complaints from other bloggers whom I personally like and respect, but also because the criticism seems not to be directed towards KimiUso‘s technical aspects so much as it targets ethical concerns, excepting cases where the two merge together.
Now, I generally consider myself an ethical person, so I’ve been experiencing some mild cognitive dissonance resultant from my general like of KimiUso, the types of critique other bloggers have raised against it, and the conceptions I hold of myself as an empathetic, ethically and morally minded person. I’ll maintain no illusions here—this piece is a product of this cognitive dissonance and my desire to alleviate it. Perhaps, if you want to phrase it this way, a justification. Please just understand that I’m trying to tackle this controversy in the most generous and kind way I can, without throwing anyone under the bus or intentionally glossing over any issues.
I think it’s also important to note that I personally have been blessed to live a childhood and young adult life largely devoid of any sort of abuse, bullying, or psychological trauma. I want to recognize the validity of other people’s experiences as they relate to this show. I absolutely do not want to say that those who have been triggered or offended or forced to relive painful memories are wrong for taking issue with the show’s presentation of Kousei and his problems and his friends and their methods of dealing with his problems. If anyone has checked out of the show for those reasons, all I can do is say that I don’t understand their experience, but I understand their need to end their involvement with the show.
I think those are all the disclaimers I need to make at this point.
My concerns with Your Lie in April primarily are derived from the criticism the show has received for the ways in which Kousei’s traumatic childhood—an experience that eventually pushed him so far that it broke him and made him unable to hear his own music—has been used as a plot point and treated as a problem he needs to overcome. Kousei needs professional help to get over his past, but he’s instead provided by the narrative with a hyperactive teen violinist who cajoles and pressures him into playing the piano once again and reliving the nightmares of his past. If these concerns are valid, then does liking KimiUso mean I’m accepting a show that believes bullying and force of will are the correct solutions to dealing with abuse and trauma?
Without asserting that these claims are totally off-base, I want to provide an alternative perspective by abstracting KimiUso into structural realms of fiction and mythology.
My mythography professor often reminds us that we cannot judge other cultures by the standards of our own. My lit theory professor often reminds us that we cannot judge Shakespeare for not being a twenty-first century feminist.
So, what I want to propose is a treatment of KimiUso that views the anime as, in a sense, another world—which, it sort of is. Bobduh from Wrong Every Time recently tweeted something that I think frames this idea really well:
In other words, KimiUso isn’t asking the audience to view Kousei’s trauma in the same way that we would view it in real life, but to accept that this is a heightened version of reality—it’s a play that knows it’s a play. Kousei getting professional attention for his issues isn’t presented as a possible option (which is different from it being presented as an invalid option). In the world of KimiUso, the way for Kousei to overcome his past is through opening himself up to music. That’s the solution for which Kousei is striving, and that his friends are pushing him toward in their own ways.
This bring me to another point—what the show is actually about. From what I’ve seen of KimiUso thus far, I think it’s much less about how to deal with trauma and much more about how to rediscover one’s passion for something, whether that be life or music or both. This is the natural prerogative of fiction, to choose one area of focus over another, and that’s what KimiUso has done. To throw this back into mythological terms, KimiUso is a narrative set in a world designed specifically to show us how to deal with the loss of passion or love, how to recover it, and the ways in which others can help you to rediscover it. That’s just my analysis of what I believe the fundamental intent of the show to be. You can feel free to disagree, but I hope framing it in this way at least makes it clear why I think the show treats Kousei’s trauma the way it does—because it’s a symptom of a different focus.
Now, this isn’t to say that looking at KimiUso in this way absolves it of all the criticism that has been raised against it. If people are offended by the use of Kousei’s traumatic past as a vehicle to convey a tangentially related message, they’re not wrong to feel so. At that point, it’s partially the show’s fault for failing, in whatever way, to construct an appropriate level of suspension of disbelief for the audience to assuage these concerns and to validate the methods it presents as feasible and/or ethical in its constructed world. That’s on the show.
So, that’s my entry into the “noise” that’s been buzzing around this show for the past couple weeks. I don’t expect to change the minds of anyone who’s dropped the show or who’s angry with the way the show has gone about telling its story. But all this uproar about Your Lie in April has impacted my enjoyment of the show (enough that I was prepared to put it on hold after episode 4 until the noise had diminished), and I hope that maybe this piece will help people on both sides of the issue to understand each other better without feeling personally attacked.
Because I do think, when people raise concerns derived from their own experience about the ethics of a show, it’s hard to not feel personally attacked for liking it. After all, if they’re right, then you’re enjoying something that’s ethically problematic or morally bankrupt. But to paint this show in black and white—either it’s really problematic or its not—ignores the personal experience of people on both sides. Hopefully, I’ve managed to at least sensitively acknowledged both in a nuanced way that can lead to understanding for all of us.