君だけでいいや. There are certain points in our lives where only one person mattered. That one person who meant the world to us. That one person who dragged us out from our slumber and into a wonderful journey – a journey where even though that one person cannot guide us all the way, is still a journey that we must continue to press on, for that is what that one person has wished us to do. 君だよ. 君なんだよ. 教えてくれた. That one person who is ephemeral and weak, who faces the inevitable…and yet in that unsightly struggle has found the beauty of life in the respite brought by the admiration to the person who has become rather a mission, a wish, and a moment, to pursue in order to see that sight once more, even though it has become a memory from the past to some, or a feat that can now only be achieved in the world that we built in our imagination and our suppositions – a world built by vivid colors and playful music, which represent the emotions that they suffused themselves to. After all, those colors and music are the ones liberating the emotions and thoughts within us, for they are manifestations of freedom in the first place.
In the light of these fleeting thoughts came 四月は君の嘘 (Romanji: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso | Translation: April is Your Lie | Alternate Title: Your Lie in April), a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Arakawa Naoshi-sensei, and adapted into an anime series by A-1 Pictures. I’ve been waiting months (ehem…years) just to write this piece, since “もうすぐ, 四月がくる. (April will be coming soon)”, and because I have to let the feels brought by these series subside first. Before I spoil the hell out of it, I recommend watching the 22-episode anime series and reading the 44-chapter manga series first. Both were emotionally moving, even though the sequences were directed differently.
モノトーンからカラフルまで。From Monotone to Colorful.
The story centers on Arima Kousei (有馬 公生), a former piano prodigy, and rather a notorious one, for he was once renowned for dominating competitions by playing musical pieces flawlessly, as if being played by a computer, which in turn as if being devoid by any emotions, thus gaining the recognition as the human metronome, which he just shrugged aside as rigorously trained and learned under his apparently-abusive mother who drilled that computer-like precision and loyalty to the musical score to his mind.
Have you played a MIDI file of a musical piece in your computer (Synthesia, perhaps)? MIDI files, when opened in notepad, are just actually musical sheets turned into computer codes. Even though those files are still loyal to the score, which, in the philosophy of music, means being loyal to the intent of the composer, the notes are somewhat sterilized of emotions. It does not resonate. It does not echo the beating of our hearts, the strokes of our emotions, nor the flashes of our thoughts.
How do human emotions play a part then?
It has something to do on how humans, musicians to be precise, sync the music to their own interpretation, infusing their thoughts and their emotions, in different ways, like improving the quality of the sound, changing the pace at various parts, and putting emphasis on the notes that matter for them. Talented musicians interpret the notes up to a way that they have managed to communicate their thoughts and their message through their music.
Kousei was initially like that when took on the piano, after Seto Hiroko (瀬戸 紘子) convinced Kousei’s mother, Arima Saki (有馬 早希), that he was a piano genius and he should be competing. 旦那のアホ。 もっとかまえ。浮気するそ。 They tested him out in a piano recital. And in that recital, even though giving the awkward and nervous first impression, he has managed to deliver, even more, played notes as colorful as a 24-color palette, the melody began to dance, with his music, brimming with playful innocence, touching the likes of Igawa Emi (井川 絵見), whom he inspired into becoming a pianist who touches the people with the emotions infused into his music, and Miyazono Kaori (宮園 かをり), who decided to become a violinist so that Kousei, the object of her admiration, would someday play the piano for her.
However, as tragedy loomed over the Arima family as Saki’s fate was sealed by a terminal illness, that innocence and freedom in Kousei’s music were stripped away. In his desire to make his mom well and happy, he took on a demon’s path as he underwent a rigorous training to discipline himself into playing notes only as dictated by the musical sheets, the technical way into winning competitions.
His path was a lonely path, yet before his foes, like Aiza Takeshi (相座 武士), he was seen as an invincible hero who sacrificed his happiness and innocence, and embraced the loneliness for the sake of the people he held dear. Kousei, holding on to that desire of making his mother better, even had to endure physical abuse from her mother. But that endurance would soon reach its limits as his expectations of her mother being touched by his desire to make her better was betrayed. He snapped, saying words that he didn’t really mean. He didn’t get to apologize as his mother died soon after. The guilt over those words continued to haunt him, as if they were his punishment given by her mother as result of his “betrayal” to her wishes, culminating into a breakdown at one performance where he has become deaf to his own music, thus he retired from playing the piano.
Enter Kaori again – who was introduced by Sawabe Tsubaki (澤部 椿), Kousei’s childhood friend – now a violinist, still carrying the same wish from back then. She finds Kousei in a resigned state where he was pessimistic about his future. She begins to break the tethers that bind Kousei down with her free-spirited playing style in the violin. Unlike Kousei, she doesn’t adhere strictly to the score, much to the criticism of the judging panels, yet to the delight of the audience. Kousei takes on the piano after being convinced by Kaori to become her accompanist. Kousei is still on his limbo, with the piano apparently not responding to him as he can’t hear his playing again.
For him, it is all dark…until Kaori snaps him from his despair and implores him to look at her. It moves him into playing once more. His music finally touches the audience. Their thunderous applause, the sight of her back, the dry air of the auditorium, and the feeling of the satisfaction of having reached the hearts of audiences propel Kousei into a journey as he chases upon the same scene once more.
風景とイメージ– Scenery and Imagery
イメージ. It is a word that Kaori is pressing upon Kousei, as she signed him in his first piano competition in ages. Indeed, staying true to the composer’s intent is what it meant to play loyally to the musical sheet mean. But where is he in all of this? Maybe that is why it was all dark for him. All that was in his mind was just the contrast of black and white of his musical sheet. He remained entrapped in his case where his “mother” was haunting as his punishment. His agony resonates in his music. He stops to cut his losses. But reminding him that Kaori did the same during her competition, with his image of her prompting him to play, he starts again, even though he’s already disqualified upon stopping on his first run.
顔を上げって。私を見て。Flashes of his moments with Kaori rain upon Kousei. He is reminded of his musical brawl with Kaori, as if Kaori was pulling Kousei out, despite his resistance, out of his slumber. 君のために弾こう. He just shoved all of his worries aside. Now, he only has Kaori in his mind. He gains as small measure of peace as he portrays the scene where he plays Chopin’s Etude over the sleeping Kaori in the musical arrangement room, as his playing changes yet again, not anymore the robotic playing nor the agonizing pounding of the keys.
音が変わる. His notes begin to sparkle as his audience is enthralled by the straightforward emotions of his playing, putting a pang in their hearts as he expresses his bittersweet love towards Kaori, the girl who gave color to his life, the girl who wiped off the dust over him, the girl who took the plunge with him, the girl whom he fell in love with but yet couldn’t profess his feelings to for she’s in love with his bestfriend, Watari Ryota (渡 亮太).
君は僕の中にいる。君がいる。Kousei, who is admittedly not good at words, is getting that message across, through his music. And his music is now a virus that latches itself on the audience, reaching down to the depths of their hearts. 届くかな？届くいいな。And indeed it finally reaches Kaori who is in tears. やっと、 帰っていた。The Arima Kousei that she used to admire is now back. Kousei’s performance, which was rather a journey to find that 音楽は自由だ, as pointed out and represented by Kaori, receive a scattered applause.
Despite the mixed reaction, Kousei’s performance resonates in the hearts of the audience, which includes a bunch of piano teachers/experts who saw a premonition that loomed on Kousei’s transformation as a pianist. His transformation would definitely throw off anyone, in good ways and at some extent in bad ways. Take Takeshi for an example. His image of the invincible Arima – that he has imagined and chased after over the past two years – has been shattered and turned out to be a mere mirage. That put him over the slump as Emi eventually wins the competition as she, on the contrary, has been motivated upon seeing the return of the Arima that she used to admire, that innocent four-eyed (glasses) kid peering from behind the curtains.
It is an interesting facet of human nature that was exhibited in the series. Attached into setting our images on a person are our expectations, expectations that we were certain that that person would meet, expectations that burden that person with tremendous pressure for he/she must keep meeting those expectations that were laid upon them. Takeshi and Emi met Arima at different phases of his life. Therefore they have different images of Arima, as well as expectations.
Betrayal of those expectations causes discord to those who gave those expectations, shaking their very existence and motivations. It is upon the acknowledgment of those changes and the realization that the discordance are in fact ripples brought by changes. Individual progress entails the need to move forward. Individuals still need to move forward after all which accompanies the will to move on, the acceptance of the differences of those expectations from reality. Arima, himself, has troubled overcoming some images. In fact, many were haunting him, especially of his mother.
愛の悲しみ – Love’s Sorrow
Another turning point for Arima in the story is when Kaori was invited into a gala concert. Kaori is forcing him to face those memories and his haunting projection of his mother by making Kreisler’s Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow), the song that his mother played the most, as the piece to be played at the gala concert. Kousei has reservations about playing that song. However, with the help of Hiroko-san, who has returned to Kousei’s side as his mentor, he is beginning to overcome the hurdles that bar him from playing.
He is instead brought to ask himself on why he took on the piano again. He wanted to be a weird pianist, like Kaori being a weird violinist. He sets his sights on Kaori, the person he felt that he should be chasing after. He wants Kaori to move forward so that by chasing after her, he can move forward as well. However, Kaori is nowhere to be found at the time of the gala concert. He has to face the song, his mother, and his past by himself.
Fortunately, the urge to defend Kaori has overcome his fears as she was insulted by her competitor, Toshiya Miike (三池 俊也), who was rather a reflection of Kousei’s former self who was taught into being loyal to the musical score. Of course, only way for a musician to prove otherwise, as with the artists with the works of art, is through his playing. And with rage initially driving him, he plays the piano arrangement of Liebesleid. He actually gives in too much to his rage as it drives him to show off, instead of proving Kaori’s playing style, turning into a rather clunky performance, a unbefitting act for a musician. His inability to hear the sound of his playing turns into an advantage as he notices the difference between his performance and the song that his mother was playing, the song that has become his lullaby which nestled in his heart.
こう、弾いてかな? Upon realizing that the reason why he can’t hear the sound of his playing is that he is repressing his emotions that suffuse with the notes that in turn plays the “sounds” within him, he changes his playing midway again into his lullaby which bursts into memories of his mother.
With the song, he is able see through the harsh treatment of his mother as a growing anxiety if she were to leave him behind because she didn’t have much time left. Indeed, the song was full of her mother’s love to him. It was rather a selfish and cruel performance that doesn’t take place in a public place like a stage, but rather on a private one like his piano room, which puts his audience out of the loop, for his performance was rather for a single person, yet they are able to relate for it makes them think of their respective special person. And with that performance of his, he is able to break free from his image of an abusive mother, an image that he conjured, into the reality of a mother who loves her son, her greatest treasure, as he finally bids his goodbye to her.
The aftertaste of Kousei’s music, which has evolved upon breaking free from his unwanted memory from the past, pierces the hearts of the audience, as a certain emotion was instilled in his music. Through tragedy of the loss of Arima Saki, his mother, Kousei’s career as a musician has progressed. It is rather a demon’s path for it must necessitate loss in order to progress because his music is fueled by sorrow, the emotion that is ever-present in his music. Afterall, Arima Saki played Liebesleid to her son Kousei for them to be both accustomed to sorrow.
The same tragedy is set to unfold on Kaori this time, as her condition deteriorates. The growing anxiety seems to slow their time down, as if Kousei, Kaori, and the others are threading on thin ice. At this time of distress, however, it is Kaori who stands strong, as she projects a positive outlook to put Kousei and the others at ease.
But still, in reality for Kaori, the dilation of the time is in fact a result of her clinging to what time remains in her, as one by one, her liberties are being stripped away. No more jumping over the courage bridge for her legs are starting to give way. No more strolling in school at night for she must remain in the hospital for the rest of her days, after spending her final time outside with a date/stroll with Kousei. No more even playing the violin as she can’t even now hold her bow properly. Her life as a musician is seemingly over, as she finally got what she desired when she started being a violinist – for her Kousei-kun to play the piano for her.
She’s got her wish. She finally thinks that she’s done enough. She has already restored the color in Kousei’s life, and now she has to return to her bleak monochromatic world, as her hair slowly turns to grey. It doesn’t take long for the cruel reality to make the façade of Kaori’s positivity crumble. The thought of leaving Kousei behind brings the same anxiety – that Kousei’s mother had – to Kaori. She now sees her shared memories with Kousei as liabilities that would drag him back to his initial limbo.
To spare Kousei from the pain, Kaori wonders if there is a reset button that will wipe out their shared memories so that the potential for pain will go down the drain as well. With the loneliness accompanying the worries and the imminent sorrow and death looming around her corner, Kaori wonders if death is also the answer…if they were to die together in their double suicide, just like Ravel, would they also be together beyond death?
For Kousei, those are not what Kaori has shown to him during the time when they were together. Now with their roles reversed, Kousei, with his musical waltz with Takeshi’s younger sister Aiza Nagi (相座 凪), Kousei makes Kaori reminded again of the sceneries that she has shown him, sceneries that musicians are there to bask upon as a reward for their struggle and hard work.
Those are the initiatives that made Kousei follow Kaori in the first place, not death – which does not in fact bring people together for death is just what it is.
The colorful melodies have reached Kaori and revived the musician in her as her will to live is rekindled. She begins her unseemly struggle into living as she wants to cling more to the time that she’s spent with him. Her high spirits gives Kousei the impression that she is so strong that she could just send her illness packing. But her body does not have the same opinion. Just like the time with his mother, all he has wished for is to make her well. Sorrow emanates as all of what Kousei has wished were being taken away from him.
Even though sorrow has spurred the growth of Kousei, there is also a breaking point where the sorrow is too much to handle. He is thinking about giving up. But Kaori, who is ever-beautiful in middle of the snow, pushes her body into making a performance with an air violin, to remind him that even if he is sad, or a total mess, even if he hits rock bottom, he still has to play, because he is musician, just like her. Just like her who would be taking a life-threatening surgery to extend her lifespan a little bit, he must not give up and must continue to struggle, because giving up means leaving her alone in the middle of her struggle.
With that exchange with her, plus some encouragement from his friends and the audience, he competes, despite little preparation and a troubled heart, with Chopin’s Ballad no.1 in G-minor as his piece. Just like the notes that are intermittently connected, the emotions, as well as the burden brought by sorrow, can be shared, by music, and with the people that they know, with the people that they don’t know, and with all people in the world. He plays the song wanting to reach her, so that she will not be alone as she braves herself in the surgery which is happening concurrently with the competition.
なかで/側に – Naka De/Soba Ni
届け。届け。 届け! Kousei attempts to reach Kaori with Chopin’s Ballad no.1 which practically was his public confession of love to Kaori.
The contrast between Kaori and Tsubaki brings the question on how two people are able to connect with each other. 側に. Tsubaki has been by Kousei’s side all these years. She may have been part of his environment with being his childhood friend and all, but never part of his existence. She became contented with their status quo and just took it for granted, never considering that the winds of change are always blowing. She cannot put him still in the same place all the time. She just kept in denial about her feelings with Kousei, because she has that false sense of security that that spot in Kousei’s heart was for her, until it was too late for her, as Kousei was seemingly growing away from her. She never let herself in, into the door of Kousei’s heart, unlike Kaori.
なかで. Through Kaori’s guidance, Kousei has felt in the stage that he shared with her as well as the other musicians in competitions, that everyone has something deep within their heart. Some have hostility. Some have aspirations. Some have hopes. Some have desires to show off and to think “Let it reach them” and “Let it ring”. Kousei’s, in the past, was definitely his feelings for his mom. Through the liberation of his music to the colorful world of emotions, Kousei has learned that it is near impossible for someone to get up on the stage in an innocent state, and that everyone, as well as him, has personal emotions to lean on. Now, he has her in his heart.
There is no way that he will be able to leave her alone, now that she’s fighting for her life. He pours his emotions into the performance, as well as his pleas for her to get well, for her to kick her illness down the curb, so that someday he can play together with her again, pursuing the sight of her back again, basking over the same thunderous applause.
Yet, for Kaori, she knows that that performance is just the way she wanted Kousei to kiss her goodbye. ありがとう. What Kaori has whispered to him during their time on the hospital roof rings on Kousei’s mind, as if she is telling him that he’s done enough for her sake. They are now connected and find themselves in an imagined world of infinity and blue.
It is an animation masterpiece which we owe to A-1 Pictures for their watercolor stills, the vibrant colors contrasting over the monochromatic ones during the change of story mood, the coordination of the animation to the music, and especially the music which delivered feels at high levels that we never imagined before.
It is a world that was conjured by Kousei’s music so that they can have their final performance together, and so that Kaori can also bid her goodbye as the surgery has turned out to be a failure. Kousei finds himself back at the stage basking over the same thunderous applause from the audience who has seen what transpired through his music; however, Kaori is no longer there to share it with him. They are heartbreakingly moved by his music which took them in a journey through colors and sorrow, a journey athat his competitors Emi and Takeshi have found wonderful as they find themselves still chasing after Kousei’s back afterall.
Even though Kaori is now longer there, she continues to wonder, in her final letter, if she has managed to live within Kousei’s heart. Indeed, she has. That is in fact what the essence of living is. And in a bittersweet turn, she confesses that she has liked him all along, thus her lie in April.
[NOTE: I will comment below some miscellaneous write-ups about Your Lie in April in the comment section below (e.g. Watari, music, art, character development)]