1+1=2, but you don’t have much of an equation if the plus sign is missing and you certainly can’t get to a sum greater than the two addends that way. So it is with Your Lie in April [A-1 Pictures, 2014-2015], without question the most persistently frustrating, yet fascinating, show I have ever watched. Equally capable of presenting an etheral, emotional episode or an outright maddening one, KimiUso (an abbreviation for the show’s Japanese title, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso) is a show of brilliant gems sadly lacking the links necessary to completely finish the equation. But, in the final review, those jewels are still worth something on their own, even if their settings can’t quite match their brilliance. So, my final verdict for Your Lie in April is a 7/10 (Ongoing Rankings).
When I look back on Your Lie in April in the future, when I’m scanning through my ranking pages for a recommendation or wasting time on Hummingbird looking for something to rewatch, I think the first thing that I’ll probably remember is just that it was a very beautiful show. Of course, that by itself isn’t all that remarkable. There are plenty of visually (and aurally) stunning anime productions, including a number I’d rank ahead of KimiUso. However, what KimiUso has that many of those other shows don’t is a unique tie between the decadence of its aesthetics, the nature of its story, and the themes the show was trying to speak.
If there was one enduring message I felt KimiUso was trying to communicate, it was not to forget the connections that bind us all together, that make us human. In essence, it’s a pretty simple message, but filtered through the wildly variant and emotionally vivid perspectives of newly minted teens it becomes more complex—not in the final statement, but in the path to get there. Is it needlessly complex? Most certainly and in fact that unnecessary complexity turned out to be one of the show’s major weaknesses. However, the winding nature of KimiUso‘s narrative led us down a path littered with some truly fantastic destinations.
I’ve talked about “moments shows” before—shows built around certain transcendent moments strong enough to validate tolerating or even slogging through lesser material—but KimiUso doesn’t exactly fit my mental conception of a “moments show.” Rather, I think it’s more appropriate to label it a “scenic show,” as we’re guided from one internally compelling scene to another beautiful self-contained scene. It’s like watching a slideshow of gorgeous landscape photographs, where each picture is incredibly beautiful on its own, but have little seeming connection to each other.
So it often was with KimiUso. Individual scenes, without relation to the surrounding context outside of their own narrative line, were pitched in lovely tones, executing character moments and thoroughly impressive visuals with aplomb and confidence. Perhaps the best example I can recall of this is episode 17’s sensitive scene of Tsubaki playing basketball alone while talking to Kashiwagi about Kousei. Divorced from the other storylines occurring at the time, that scene was a fantastic moment for Tsubaki, accompanied by strong cinematography and direction. It was one of the defining scenes for my viewer relationship with Tsubaki as a character, one of the critical moments in her journey to the throne of Best Girl. And KimiUso lives on scenes like this—for all characters and throughout the entire show. It’s not quite right to call them set pieces because they bump up against each other with such frequency, but their abundance (whatever you want to call them) makes KimiUso constantly engaging.
Unfortunately, the downside to such a wealth of what would have been episode climaxes in other shows, is that the assorted narrative threads of KimiUso tangle with each other and, at times, damage the effect of what ought to have been poignant moments. The great weakness of KimiUso‘s tendency to go at every scene with 110% effort is in an equalizing effect on the significance of individual characters’ stories. There is no prioritizing (except in rare, important exceptions—but we’ll get to that in a second) in KimiUso‘s method of storytelling and this causes problems as teenage angst gets juxtaposed against heavier topics with equal weight given to each. The viewer then, is called upon to negotiate the dissonance that such unfitting balance causes—personally, the mental gymnastics ended up leaving me feeling as if the smaller conflicts had been (unintentionally) trivialized.
In the end, this essentially stems from KimiUso trying to do far too much at the same time. Love stories and terminal illness and depression and trauma and the fear of the future and theories on music all exist together, often weaving in and out of single episodes in a way that ends up not saying anything of much value about any of them. It’s a frustrating phenomenon, given an almost comic parallel in the show’s (mis)use of horridly-timed humor to interrupt its dramatic moments. Again, the problem is one of significance. Are we to give the jokes the same emotional weight as the drama? The show seems to imply as much, making the constant shift between comedy and drama (or even drama in different emotional registers) exhausting and frustrating.
But, for all that, I found KimiUso impossible to fully set aside. Some of it was due to the strength of the individual scenes, which had the tendency to endear the characters to me while simultaneously frustrating me with the unfair way I felt the show treated their stories. More than that, though, was the anticipation of something amazing. As a former musician and performer myself, I’m well aware of the power performed music can have on both the musician and on the audience. If KimiUso did one thing perfectly, it was capturing that power in the two cathartic, powerful performances of episodes 10 and 22.
These episodes, particularly 10 (which I consider the finest episode of any anime I watch in 2014 that wasn’t from a show called Hunter x Hunter), are KimiUso at its very best. Liberated from the distractions of other storylines and other characters, they dive deep into Kousei’s soul and present the portrait of an artist, a child, and a pianist as he is. All the aesthetic and narrative and emotional power KimiUso possesses concentrates in these episodes and use all of its strengths to explode in a glory of sound, sight, and feeling. Do such episodes justify wading through the oft frustrating waters of the intervening episodes?
Honestly, I couldn’t say. KimiUso has garnered indifferent, positive, and intensely negative reactions for its portrayal of Kousei’s trauma in the early part of the show, as well as varying reactions for its generally melodramatic presentation of a volatile stage of a young man’s life. For my part, sweeping drama has always attracted me and the musical power of the performances and the respective journeys of the side-characters (whose arcs I usually found more interesting than the main story) made the trek worth it. And it is, as I say, a very beautiful show.
As with many such shows in its range, Your Lie in April is a genre recommendation. If you’re a fan of dramas, music, romance, and overblown emotions, Your Lie in April is likely to appeal to all of those likes. While it’s certainly hampered by a lack of focus, the show’s highest highs are incredible feats of aesthetic achievement and emotional resonance.
Reasons to Watch:
- An indulgently pretty aesthetic strengthened by consistent production from A-1 Pictures.
- Several of the side-characters (Tsubaki, Nagi, Emi) add a lot of emotional depth to the show and have compelling narratives on their own.
- Beautiful musical performances.
- An ultimately hopeful ending that challenge the audience to consider their own relationships with the people around them.
- Oh, and Koharu-chan, one of the most ridiculously adorkable anime kids I’ve ever seen.