Your Lie in April
四月は君の嘘 (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso)
Shounen – Drama, psychological, romance, slice-of-life, tragedy
10 Volumes (complete)
Kōsei was considered a piano prodigy. After his mother’s death, however, he froze during a competition, and Kōsei hasn’t played the piano since. Two years later, he meets a girl playing the melodica. This encounter forces Kōsei to once again answer the call to music.
When people hear “shounen manga”, they tend to immediately think of action-adventure titles like Naruto, One Piece, Attack on Titan, etc. However, there are quite a bit of moving slice-of-life manga that target the male demographic, the Maison Ikkokus and the Cross Games. Your Lie in April fits decidedly in this group, and it has a lot in common with these two manga: main characters who have lost a loved one and have to move forward, love polygons, and protagonists trying to prove themselves. Yes, if you’re a fan of male-oriented romances that do not focus on fanservice, — particularly manga done by legends Takahashi and Adachi — then Your Lie in April should not be missed.
What if you haven’t read anything along the lines of Maison Ikkoku or Cross Game?
Well, firstly, Your Lie in April is a romance. In many ways, you could view the manga as one of those “shoujo disguised as a shounen” manga a la D.N.Angel, Angelic Layer, Orange, or even Inu x Boku SS. While Your Lie in April has several of the typical shounen manga tropes (most notably a couple of rivals and a cool mentor), it also focuses on one of the biggest shoujo storylines: the love triangle. (Or square or rhombus or whatever shape you want to call it…) Kōsei first meets Kaori, the girl on the melodica, when his childhood friend, Tsubaki, tries to introduce her to Ryota, their other childhood friend.
In an ideal world (or maybe in shoujo manga land), the four would pair off into two couples: either Kōsei/Tsubaki and Ryota/Kaori or the two musicians and the two athletes. Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect. Kōsei struggles with knowing Kaori likes Ryota while Tsubaki insists she sees Kōsei as like a little brother. Kōsei’s budding, unrequited feelings for Kaori shapes his music, so if you are looking for something flashy or cheerful, this is not it. Not at all.
So why not just go read one of the hundreds of shoujo manga out there? Why, if you tend to find shoujo manga melodramatic, would you want to read Your Lie in April?
While this is a love story, a realistic male-oriented romance where the battlefield is the 88 keys of a piano. After his mother’s death, Kōsei has avoided playing music. However, there’s a much deeper psychological component to this manga besides Kōsei wallowing in grief. He has regrets, fear, anger — all natural emotions for someone who has lost a loved one. But we also learn Kōsei’s mother’s parenting was far from ideal. This isn’t a manga about a child who has lost his best friend in his mother like Tohru of Fruits Basket. That’s why Kōsei is struggling: he can’t just mentally go back to just before his mother’s death because he wasn’t too happy back then either. But music has been such a large part of his life that he can’t avoid it completely; he often transcribes music for money. He is so frozen in time that he can’t even reach a crossroads. We often see Kōsei’s self-doubt take on the form of a black cat, and we learn why this is psychologically significant. All these aspects make Kōsei’s issues fascinating to read about as another bout of deep sadness slowly closes in.
What also draws me into the world of Your Lie in April is that while Kōsei’s heart has been locked, it is Kōsei himself who has acted as a key for other people. Kōsei’s main rivals, Takeshi and Emi, both had been driven by a desire to defeat the young piano genius, and his sudden return to the stage has reignited their determination. Kōsei serves as a powerful ally for Kaori to deliver her music. Tsubaki realizes he’s the one who has always been by her side. His mentor sees how a parent can positively or negatively impact their child’s life. Your Lie in April may focus on Kōsei’s personal development, but he isn’t the only one who grows and changes throughout the rather slow-moving story.
But perhaps nothing is slower than the romance. The story takes place over the course of a year, and the characters’ futures are left rather open-ended. If shoujo manga tend to be about a protagonist finally being able to stand up with the help of her love interest, then this manga is about the protagonist having to teeter forward to his love interest’s outstretch hand. I’m not saying Kaori is cold or cruel; in fact, she’s just the opposite. She’s providing Kōsei the opportunity to move forward, and she puts a lot of effort into helping him, plastering music sheets everywhere and almost blackmailing him into competitions. But when Kōsei stumbles, Kaori is there to support him. It’s easy to see why Kōsei is drawn to Kaori, as she embodies everything he lacks. Like a typical middle schooler, he spends a lot of time sulking when he sees Kaori and Ryota together.
Finally, while the love polygon is a key part of the story, I do love how friendship is a key part of the story. Too often, characters not involved in the sport/activity at the center of a story are pushed to the side as supporting characters. Ryota and Tsubaki have been watching over Kōsei for years, and they both like Kaori and welcome her into their tight-knit group of friends. The two don’t just act as the reader’s proxy for wondering about the technical terms of music, but they also aren’t serving to be the losers for a Kōsei/Kaori ending. Tsubaki, of course, gets far more attention, but Ryota shows some deep insight from time to time. I really like how they try to support Kōsei in their own ways, biking Kōsei to the music competition and lending him shoes. Even when Kōsei’s rivals are introduced, Tsubaki and Ryota are not pushed to the side.
I felt there were only two downsides to the manga, and the first is more of a preference. While there is a final twist to the story, I think the major incident leading up to it might have been more interesting if it wasn’t so obvious to the readers so early. I guess some people wouldn’t figure it out, but it is pretty obvious for most readers. I don’t know if Your Lie in April was originally planned to be this length, but I would have liked the first pieces of the puzzle to have been held off for a volume or two.
The major disappointment lies in the humor. Or should I say, lack of. The comedy is a constant miss for me. We see a lot of flashbacks of little Tsubaki’s teasing/bullying of little Kōsei, and she even messes with Kōsei in the present by calling him “Friend A”. Even little snippets of comedy like Ryota falling for Emi but knowing he sort of has Kaori just falls flat. I don’t know if it’s jokes itself that are bad or the lack of funny reactions (there’s a reason why so many comedies feature both a funny man and a straight man), but the serious parts of the story are far superior than the comedic ones.
I already discussed what Your Lie in April has in common story-wise with Maison Ikkoku and Cross Game. But there’s another thing the three have in common: the art. While some shounen artists focus on fast-paced stories with packed panels, the art Your Lie in April is much more simple. At times, I can see hints of Wakaba in Kaori. Arakawa definitely puts a lot of effort into the emotionally charged scenes, and they feature wonderful images of Kaori playing the violin with energy and the rivals pouring their frustrations into the music. I’m sure a lot of debate will rage about whether to experience Your Lie in April in its original manga form or with the aid of music in the form of the anime, but when Arakawa wants to put emotion in a scene, he breathes life into the story the same way music does.
However, some of the less important scenes (the main four hanging out, flashbacks showing Kōsei’s incompetence) are much more lax in the artwork. The characters lack detail and look hastily drawn compared to the beauty of images like Emi playing the piano. Also, while a few characters remark that Kōsei’s performance looks sexy, Arakawa’s style really doesn’t reflect that. Kōsei and the gang would be high school students in the American educational system, but they definitely still look like middle school students.
The translators here are some of my favorite, and so it’s no surprise I enjoyed their adaptation of Your Lie in April. Dialogue is faithful and smooth, and several pages of notes are included at the end of each volume. Honorifics are used as well as accent marks. One thing that did throw me for a loop was a picture of Tsubaki with the narration “Miwa said…” At first, I thought Miwa was Tsubaki’s family name, and then I thought it was Kōsei’s former big sister figure or Tsubaki’s friend. But Miwa is actually an author they were quoting.
Your Lie in April is a wonderfully emotional journey that is sure to tug at your heartstrings. It’s a true coming-of-age story that reflects both life’s joys and life’s sorrows. Of course, a major downside is that this is a music manga, and there’s an anime adaptation… Perhaps someone who has experienced both can chime in?
The anime is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.