Saturday, August 22, 2015

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April) Series Review

Year: 2014 - 2015 
Studio: A-1Pictures 
Genre: Drama, Romance, Music

I want to begin by saying that this is the anime where the ending is more satisfying than most of the episodes combined, and Kaori Miyazono wins the award for the kindest and cruelest. 

I went in completely unaware of the tragedy tag attached to the series, though it did not take long for me to realize our heroine is more than meets the eye – the clues are not exactly subtle mind you. I've read many criticisms directed at Kaori's lack of development for better part of the show and truth be told I was also among the skeptics. Comparing to Kousei and Tsubaki, Kaori did (yes, past tense for a reason) have a weaker presence despite her influence on everyone around her. For the longest time, I couldn't put my fingers on her, and it wasn't because she was ill and with death flags constantly waved in our face. It was more so that she was put on a pedestal from the very beginning, raised above the rest of the cast and given a higher purpose than simply being a character we can empathize with. In other words, she was dangerously close to being a plot device to facilitate Kousei's growth both as a musician and as a person. In many ways, she came off more symbolic than concrete. I thought it's a story much more about Kousei than Kaori and I could not help but question whether it was a conscious decision to mute her internal dialogue relative to other characters of importance. It got to a point that I got a little irritated with her upbeat attitude because I felt it stopped me from truly knowing her. Well, the last episode beams down like a ray of sunshine, finally lifting the shadow that's been painstakingly casted on her. The world of Shigatsu suddenly made so much more sense. Kaori Miyazono was there all along – as the little girl sitting beside Emi, witnessing Kousei's moment of truth; as the schoolmate in ponytails and glasses, watching Kousei from behind. It was her story as much as Kousei's, and she needed him as much as he came to need her. She only approached Kousei through Watari because she wanted to get to know the one person who had been her inspiration all those years before her time ran out. She only approached Kousei through Watari because she was the first person to understand Tsubaki's feelings but did not want to be the intruder to undo the ignorance and disturb her peace of mind. It's an act that's selfish and kind in equal measures. Selfish because she intruded on his life anyways while knowing perfectly the agony it might bring him as a consequence of that connection. Kind because she tried to minimize the damage by using Watari as a shied to distance herself from Kousei, or rather Kousei from her. As for the argument that this is unfair to Watari, I don't think Watari actually likes her the way Kousei does and I believe he was consciously aware of what was going on between the three of them, but only chose to let things roll naturally. Damn, it's mighty cruel to tell someone you've loved them all along after the fact and robbing them the opportunity to reciprocate. Though it's clear that they both knew, somewhere deep down, the feelings have been received and returned. I think what the writer did here is rather ingenius – we never truly know who Kaori is until the last moments, after her passing, because it's what she wants. It is only in retrospect that I realize Kaori is the only character whose past is not shown. Afterall, the past maps a person's identity. We are only allowed glimpse of her vulnerability through the cracks in her shield when she let up her guard. It's almost a weird way to break the fourth-wall and reach out to the audience. 

Kousei on the other hand is an open book. His feelings are painted with bold strokes – from the darkest to the most vibrant. I find the angle on his traumatic experience fairly unique. Kids are prone to developing psychological issues when exposed to inconsistent parental attitude. There is only so much a child can take at that age because cognitively they are not as adept as adults at regulating their emotions. Death is a particularly sensitive subject to discuss with a child, and clearly Kousei's mother did not go about it the right away. Her intense love and fear for Kousei certainly does not justify her abusive behaviour, but I think it opens discussion on the other side of love, the side that's volatile, consuming, and even manipulative. The fact is Kousei never took the time to grieve her death – he was trapped in and by his guilt and confusion. I think the series explores his growth amazingly well, there is a deep understanding for human emotions and its convoluted nature. I think as the audience, we also demonized Saki through Kousei's distorted lenses. Knowing her callous regiment, it was hard to imagine she ever loved her child. For him to move on, Kousei had to reconnect with his memory of his mother in its entirety – not just the dark and ugly. Kousei's performance of Love's Sorrow – a eulogy to Saki – reaches into the heart of the memory and rekindles love in its simplest and purest form. It's a delicate, well-thought out spin on the characterization that adds much depth to the series. 

As I already mentioned, rather than a blind spot, the choice to idealize Kaori is a conscious one. Given Kousei's personality, his reluctance, denial and avoidance are not surpising. Not only he had to understand and soak in the possiblity that Kaori, like his mother, might leave him, he also had to struggle to keep his feelings hidden. Kousei is just not the kind of guy to trudge ahead and act out of impulse, even though it might have given him the answer he needed. If only he was more courageous and had more trust in his intuition. Curiously, even when Watari shares that he doesn't think he's the right guy for Kaori, Kousei turns a silent ear to the message and the implication of those words. I guess insecurity is a marker of teenhood, it is so easy for doubts to take root in the mind of a teenager. The one thing I wanted to see is interaction between Watari and Kaori when they are by themselves. I think their conversation would be be revealing if given the opportunity to play out. It's an interesting scenario to think about because comparing to Tsubaki and Kousei, Watari is the least involved party and carries the least burden. If Kaori was to discuss her thoughts with someone, I think Watari would be the most likely candidate. 

Comparing to Kaori, Tsubaki is literally the girl next door. I'm fond of her, despite and because of her flaws. These are very human flaws. I did find the show a little melodramatic at times, but I think Tsubaki's characterization is pretty on point for most of the series' run. It hit me right there in the kokoro when she starts crying and flees from the scene when Kousei tells her that he plans to move away to attend school. Tsubaki's reaction is painfully realistic. You can just sense the whirlwind of emtoions torning her apart. Many people complained that her attitude is not consistent, but I say that they forgot she's only a 14 year old year girl. When you are 14, your worldview is limited and you are shortsighted – you don't see or care much beyond your immediate world. Of course, Kousei is not actually leaving her, he will always be there for her, going away for school is hardly the end of their friendship. But that's rational thinking, which Tsubaki would not have, both because of the level of maturity and her love for Kousei. I know I wasn't that rational when I was 14. Kousei is a big part of her life and she has never contemplated the thought of him leaving, even just physically. It's a real, understandable fear that I empathize with. Of course, her eventual confession is a bit out of place and impulsive, but we all make not-so-noble-choices when we are young. It's not so uncommon for teenagers to burst out of frustration without carefully considering the consequences. And honestly, Tsubaki really doesn't deal much damage whichever way you look at it. 

The rest of the cast are run-of-the-mill. They are more or less archetypes and not so memorable beyond that. The subplots are not terrible, and again, they follow a specific narrative pattern that exists in nearly all shows that involve some means of competition. There is nothing groundbreaking. What I did find distracting is the comedic timing, especially during the emotionally weightier scenes. By hijacking it with slapstick humour, it almost felt like the writer was not comfortable with just staying with the moment and let it speak for itself. It's a bit of a cheap trick to get out of the tight corner and I wish it was relied on less. 

I've seen this show compared to Nodame Cantabile fairly often, though in my opinion, it feels closer Nagi no Asukara and Anohana in tone. It's very much a coming-of-age story that centers on the adolescent experience. It's not as melodramatic as Nagi no Asukara and I have enjoyed it more because of the subtler approach. Visually, it's a beautiful show – showcasing A-1 Pictures on its best game. There is so much texture in the background, probably the most detailed I've seen in a long while. Taken as a whole package, Shigatsu is a memorable anime that deserves a watch. I've been thoroughly entertained.

Total Score: 8.5/10 

No comments:

Post a Comment