There is a lot of media out there that focuses on music and the journey a person takes with it. Sometimes, it’s based on true events, sometimes it’s fictional. Stories following musicians as they follow their dreams is full of classics like Rocketman, A Hard Day’s Night, and Raise Your Voice. While there are great ones out there, it’s the music-related stories that are layered with a deeper underlying meaning that tend to grip me more emotionally. The Japanese anime Your Lie in April, known in Japan as Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (四月は君の嘘) is a piece of media that does that for me. Your Lie in April scratched my musical itch while also taking me on an emotional journey with the main characters. Let’s dive more into the show and how it accomplished this so well.
For those unfamiliar with Your Lie in April, let me give a brief summary of the anime. Fourteen-year-old piano prodigy, Kousei Arima, had given up the piano after the death of his mother. In his grief, Kousei lost the motivation to play and the ability to hear the notes he played. Two years later, one day in April, Kousei meets the violinist Kaori Miyazono whose free-spirited playing dazzles him. As the pair become closer, Kouri pushes Kousei to get back into playing, and in doing so, he begins to face and overcome the trauma that caused him to quit piano in the first place.
Source: Questionable Critics
When it’s laid out like this, the story seems simple enough, right? Yet there are so many more layers to the story. At its core, it shows how music can serve as a catalyst for healing.
For anyone who has an interest in watching the anime, I will label certain sentences with major spoilers so you can avoid them.
As the viewer goes deeper into the show, there’s more to Kousei’s trauma beyond just the death of his mother. To become this child piano prodigy at such a young age, he was under a very strict teaching regimen that became abuse and manipulation over time. With a mother who was also a musician, there were high expectations for Kousei to play perfectly and exactly how the composition is written. Any deviation from the original work would result in reprimand. As Kousei improves and begins to effortlessly win competitions, his mother becomes very sick. At one point, his mother manipulatively tells him she will get better if he continues to play well and win competitions. She sadly died before Kousei's qualification to what supposedly was his first competition in Europe *Spoiler* Before her death, when pushed too far in public by his mother’s abuse after a competition drives him to say, “I wish you were dead.” And that’s the last thing he says to his mother before she dies. *Spoiler end*
When his mother dies despite her promises, Kousei is riddled with guilt over it. This mix of guilt and grief causes him to panic every time he plays the piano. It’s like playing underwater to him. His fingers are moving, but he can’t hear the notes, and he always can see his sick mother hovering nearby, sometimes verbally taunting him. Kousei battles with the grief of missing his mother but also the traumatic memories his mother put him through. *Spoiler* Kousei later realizes he was only seeing the dark side of his mother by his own accord. He was personifying his guilt in the form of his mother. This is when he realizes he had been using his mother as a scapegoat for not dealing with his trauma and guilt. *Spoiler end* Playing the piano became painful. The one thing he could do well was now a stranger to him. It was like his life had turned into monochrome without much meaning. It’s this way until he meets Kouri who brings color back into his world.
Kousei’s personification of his mother. Source: Mega Princess Tay
Growing up with the lesson that compositions are meant to be played exactly as they’re written (because who are you to challenge the genius of the likes of Chopin and Mozart?), Kousei is baffled by Kouri’s bravery to take a piece and shape it into something new and sometimes, even more beautiful. Seeing this change helps him begin to change how he views music and playing.
An instrument that was once a stranger to him, full of traumatic memories, slowly became familiar to him once more. Through his bond with Kouri and their duet together, Kousei can see those traumatic memories play in his head with a new perspective. He begins to see the full picture and lets go of his guilt as his hands run across the piano keys. He funnels all his pain, guilt, trauma, and fear into the composition and letting them free into the air for others to hear. *Spoiler* When Kouri becomes sick in the hospital, at risk of dying, Kousei is faced with the bitter taste of loss once more. Kouri had become his new inspiration to play after his mother had died. But it was also that fact that pushed him to commit to being a musician again. *Spoiler end*
All of this is to say that Your Lie in April does an incredible job of showing how music can both cripple and heal us. Kousei was scared by the pressure he was put under to play the piano that it got to a point he cracked and couldn’t play anymore. Playing was hurting him, scarring him further. It wasn’t until Kouri pushed him to face all his negative emotions, all the grief and guilt, to find the magic in playing music again, did he find the love of playing the piano once more.
So, while the anime at face value is a story about music, it’s also very much about a person having to face and process their traumatic moments in order to move forward, leave their monochromatic life, and into the colors the world has to offer. Playing both broke and healed Kousei Arima and seeing how music played a therapeutic method in his recovery and growth was stunning to watch unfold. Kousei, of course, is not the only character who uses music to express their emotions, but his arc is most certainly the most satisfying. He goes from an uptight, nervous boy to an assured and confident musician.
Having a show where one can not only watch a boy fall out of and back in love with music but also go on an emotional journey with the characters is a gem that should be treasured. A major takeaway I find repeating in my head after finishing Your Lie in April is this: Music has the power to make change. Whether it’s therapeutic, a way to touch others, or simply a safe space to be alone with your thoughts, music can change a person. And I think that’s beautiful and worth recognizing.
Source: Nefarious Reviews
You can watch Your Lie in April on Netflix (US) and Crunchyroll.
Written by Kristen Petronio