Story and art by Naoshi Arakawa
Original Publisher: Kodansha (2011)
Length: 11 Volumes (44 Chapters)
Your Lie in April is an excellent, excellent manga. It’s a simple manga, one that may be unfavourably categorised for the interests it explores (music) and the sub-genres it relies on (high school life). It also possesses clichè, shonen-esque lessons for the reader, teaching us to work hard, love our friends and love ourselves. What makes Your Lie in April masterful, however, is the way it presents these lessons, and how it dives into the many complexities of life, and not just “teenage issues”, but very serious topics, those that regularly destroy lives. But it isn’t just a manga about living, Your Lie in April is a manga that makes you want to live.
This story follows Arima Kousei, a child piano prodigy who remained a household name for most musicians in Japan. Dominating all competitions, Kousei was suddenly thrust out of the spotlight after the passing of his mother, which led to a breakdown while performing at a recital. Two years later, without having touched a piano, Kousei meets Miyazono Kaori, a free spirited violinist who transfers to his school. The two become friends, and soon Kaori tries to assist Kousei in returning to music world, though with a new philosophy spurring them.
The most explored aspect of this manga was the purpose of music, and how it could both mend and tear one apart. The reader jumps between carefree attitudes surrounding a school setting to the cut-throat mindset of the musical industry. Using a strict musical competition as the backdrop acted as another aspect of how our character developed. It affected their growth as musicians, but also their relationship with their instruments. While Kousei has grown up learning how to play the piano to win competitions on account of his incredibly strict mother, this play-style gradually leads him away from music after having his breakdown.
Kaori, however, enters similar competitions with no chance of winning. This has nothing to do with her ability. In fact, many of her performances reduces the audiences to tears. It’s because she improvises, she has fun with what she is doing. This is challenging to everyone who is familiar with that industry, including our protagonist, because it disregards key factors in the way they judge music. But ultimately what challenged them is a simple message, that is, that on should experience their hobbies for themselves as opposed to ulterior motives. It was this message that allowed Kousei to sit behind the piano after so long. He finds enjoyment in playing for his friends, than for winning (though that was an idea his mum had placed in his head, so it also shows him developing into his own person).
There is a lot of drama in this manga, and a lot of heartache. But the characters, particularly the ones in the unlucky circumstances always downplay their situations, adding authenticity, but also a lingering sadness to the story. When someone doesn’t want to exacerbate serious issues… it’s often because the situation is dire. But, once again, their passion for music alleviates a lot of the pain they must endure, and instead of dramatising events, continue working hard and living to the fullest. Even when our protagonist was struggling, I never felt like the manga had been turned into a pity party, nor did it frustrate me. I was very glad that Kaori came into his life, essentially challenging all beliefs he had grown up with, and helping him find a reason to live again. Their relationship always felt real; there was banter, but no unnecessary bickering that frustrates more than entertains. Most importantly, there never had to be extreme circumstances in order to prove that they care for one-another. Throughout the entire manga they are always helping, bettering, and inspiring each other.
Their were elements of romance in this manga, though only sprinkled in at times. There was no questions about their mutual feelings, but it was quite obvious that a romantic would not be revealed until the end of the manga. Because of this, huge chunks of the manga weren’t waisted trying to establishing “will they, won’t they” tension, and instead focused on their friendship as a thing of beauty too. It was so refreshing having a guy/girl friendship being portrayed as something special as opposed to a second choice relationship (thought it did begin to feel like that at times, which was frustrating).
Whenever I read a manga based on music, I often wonder how it would have affected the piece if it were constructed in another medium. Personally, I don’t think this manga suffered too much from it. In manga like Beck, for example, it would be important to hear the music in order to track the protagonist’s development from amateur musician to rock star. However, Your Lie in April seems more focused on the actual competitors, and the time they’re having on stage rather than anything else. We don’t necessarily need to listen to the music (though it would be helpful), to understand why the audience are moved, or why our protagonist is weeping tears of happiness.
The art is exceptional also, painting a world filled with beauty, but also tragedy. All the characters possess unique designs, providing a somewhat memorable cast. Unfortunately, the extended cast is the major gripe I have with this series. I feel like they were never developed properly, and in order to make up for this, Arakawa would give them a traumatic backstory in order to seem “authentic”. A lot of the time that flopped, and with so much drama already being explored in the forefront, we didn’t really need any more. There is a fine line between evoking emotions and emotionally manipulating, and sometimes this manga found itself on the wrong side.
Your Lie in April is a wonderful piece, one with echoes of passion, commitment, inspiration and tragedy. It’s only through trauma that our protagonists realise that life is short, and that we must not only work hard, but enjoy our ride along the way. In my life, I’ve never had to deal with most of what our characters go through, though I’ll be using the lessons they learned through such heartache anyway.
Art – 8
Story – 8
Writing – 9
Overall – 8.5/10