Warning: This anime might just make you cry. Your Lie in April is the story of Kousei, a young piano prodigy who, after the death of his mother, had a mental breakdown and ultimately lost the ability to hear the music he played. Three years later, he meets his playboy best friend's new girlfriend, Kaori — a free spirited violinist who makes it her life's mission to rekindle Kousei's lost love for performing music on stage.
Colour plays a major part in Your Lie in April. Kousei's world at the start of the series is made up of nothing but muted colours. But the moment he meets Kaori, all that changes. The colour palate of the series becomes incredibly vibrant — especially whenever Kaori is present on screen. It is a great visual representation of how love affects how you view the world. When in love, everything just seems brighter.
From the start, it's obvious that Kousei's inability to hear his own music is a mental block — a psychological reaction to the traumatic death of his mother and the association in his mind between her and performing music.
At numerous points throughout the series, we are able to hear how his own music sounds to him — how it quickly goes from a beautiful classical score as any normal person would hear it to an off-key muted sound. But more than that, we are able to see how he perceives it in surreal moments where it looks like Kousei is literally playing underwater. As the series progresses and Kousei gains more control, the visuals change to reflect his emotional state — creating stunning images to go along with the excellent music.
But beyond Kousei and his problems with performing, we also see the impact performance pressure has on the other young musicians around him. All of them suffer from a massive amount of stress, knowing that a win at a music competition is as vital as passing a college entrance exam. A single wrong note can literally derail their entire future — and that's not even mentioning the personal stakes that come from fearing you will let your family and teachers down.
The nature of these music competitions only adds to the pressure. In them, a performer is expected to play a piece exactly as it is written on the score — with no changes to tempo, loudness, and most certainly no wrong notes. In his prime when he was under the influence of his mother's strict teaching, Kousei was the living example of this with other performers and teachers alike referring to him as "the human metronome."
Kaori, on the other hand, completely rejects this idea of playing and strives to make each piece her own — and truly appeal more to the hearts of the audience. Why she does this, however, is the key to what makes this anime so very depressing.
When you get down to it, Your Lie in April is an exploration of terminal illness: how it affects not only the one suffering from the disease but also everyone else related to that person. Two people in Kousei's life, his mother and Kaori, have known they were going to die. However, the two reacted to this knowledge in vastly different ways.
Before her diagnosis, Kousei's mother never even wanted her son to be a pianist — never to have to face the stress of a life of competitive performance. Even when he showed interest, she only reluctantly began teaching him. However, once she fell ill, her view on the matter changed. She became a harsh task-mistress, demanding perfection in his playing — even beating him with a cane should he become too unfocused.
Her fear of death — of abandoning her son unprepared for the adult world — drove her to do whatever it took to give him a marketable skill. And while she succeeded, she also destroyed him emotionally and left him scarred for life.
Kaori reacts to her impending death in the opposite way. Instead of trying to provide for someone else, she elects to lead a perfectly selfish life in the time she has left. While originally a shy and withdrawn girl, her illness gives her the impetus to act in a way free from consequences. She does what she wants, when she wants. She's not afraid to break the rules in a music competition and has no qualms about browbeating others into submission to get her way.
But behind her behaviour is, again, the very human fear of death. In truth, her way of combating her fear is both simple and heartbreaking: to have people remember her after she is gone. Her performances are all emotion and completely captivating but her pièce de résistance is Kousei himself. If she can bring one of classical music's greatest potential stars back to the stage, he'll never be able to forget her.
Kousei suffers nearly as much as both his mother and Kaori as he stands by them both through their prolonged illnesses. As a young boy, he truly believes that his piano playing can save his mother — and thus for love of her gladly accepts the mental and physical abuse she dishes out. And in a tragic twist, when he finally breaks from the abuse and condemns his mother, those end up being the last words he says to her before she dies. This of course leads to his public mental breakdown and subsequent block of not being able to hear his own playing.
Kousei's emotions regarding his mother are naturally complex. He remembers the kind, loving mother alongside the strict, abusive teacher — loving one and hating the other. Add to this his lingering irrational guilt over his mother's death and it's surprising he is as stable as he is. Poetically, while it is his mother's decline and death that breaks him, it is Kaoiri's that heals him. Her love of life and battle against the inevitable inspire Kousei and his music long beyond her time in this world.
So in the end, they both win: She will be forever in his heart and he is able to become a far greater musician than the old "human metronome" could ever have hoped to be.
Your Lie in April is a tragic love story of two damaged teens brought together by their love of music and performance. With themes ranging from the nature of music to terminal illness and child abuse, it is far deeper and more emotional than most anime out there today. On top of that, it is both visually and aurally stunning. Really, it's only downside is the amount of money you're going to have to waste on tissues to dry all your tears.
Your Lie in April aired on Fuji TV in Japan. It can be viewed for free and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.