Even the shonen series were taking some cues from the shoujo mags, if this series has anything to say about it.
YOUR LIE IN APRIL (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso), by Naoshi Arakawa. First published in 2011, and first published in 2015.
Kosei Arima used to be a renowned piano student, winning many a competition thanks to the tutelage of his strict and demanding mother. After she died, Arima had an on-stage breakdown and since then has refused to touch a piano again. Arima's friends try their best to reach to him, but Arima has pretty much resigned himself to a dull and colorless life..at least, he was until he met Kaori Miyazawa. She's a freespirited violinist with a style all her own, and with her Arima finds something he's not felt in many years: inspiration.
It's kind of remarkable how un-maudlin Your Lie In April is, considering how much time it spends inside Arima's head and some of the issues he deals with. It's a credit to Arakawa that she's able to balance the more melodramatic elements of this story with the lighter (and sometimes quasi-romantic) moments and the end result of her efforts is a manga that's compelling in its own way but stays just grounded enough to be affecting instead of theatrical.
You don't usually see characters are messed up as Arima is these sorts of weird shonen-shoujo hybrids. He is a literal victim of parental abuse, as the only reason he's so good at the piano is that his mother literally beat it into him. She spent her days pressuring and guilting her only child into achieving her dream of being a professional piano player and Arima sacrificed a significant portion of his childhood in order to satisfy her. Her lessons make such an impression on Arima that he still goes through many of them well after she's dead and he's given up on music if simply because he's never known anything else. It's little wonder that he would quit the when you considering how deeply it's tied in his mind to his mother and her force of will. It's also little wonder that Arima has basically spent his childhood living with some form of depression. For most of his young life, music was an obligation instead of a choice or a passion. With his mother's death the obligation is gone, but Arima can't help but find himself missing the order it brought to his life and he genuinely misses the only family he's ever known. It's not wonder that Arima's friends can't reach him. What this kid needs is a good psychiatrist and possibly some medication, not to be dragged into a bunch of high school antics.
I'd even argue that he needs that more than he needs some free spirit to change his life, even if the story is convinced otherwise. It's impossible to deny that Kaori is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, there to be charmingly eccentric and thus bring color and the prospect of romance into the protagonist's life. Thankfully, Kaori tends to be more charming than eccentric, leaving that mostly for her performance style. She's also personable enough that she knows just how to start drawing Arima out of his shell, and as a fellow prodigy they can talk about music at the same intellectual level. Still, it's clear that they're being set up for a romance, and if so it's clear that Arakawa is taking her sweet-ass time getting there.
The story's pace verges upon glacial, which means we spend a lot of time watching Arima stew in his own depression at the start and only just starting to open up to others by volume's end. The only real indication of this story taking a romantic turn is with Arima's Childhood Best Friend (tm), Tsubaki. She's spent years with him and has tried every tactic she can think of to make Arima happy, but she starts to grow jealous of Kaori's ability to reach out to Arima in a way she hasn't been able to manage in all her years. While I can't say that I'm thrilled with the prospect of this manga becoming just another love triangle, I am at least glad that someone in this story isn't completely oblivious to their own feelings.
While Your Lie In April might trade in more than a few archetypical character types, it's got a very keen understanding of Arima and his issues and it takes them very seriously, which makes Kaori's ability to reach him all the more remarkable. The slow and steady approach the story takes can be frustrating at first, but it also shows that Arakawa is dedicating towards developing these characters and their tale properly.
Arakawa's artwork is as simply and sunny as the story is serious. Faces are simple, even a little flat, but they're also expressive and cute. She also tries to lighten things with a lot of super-deformed comedy reactions, sometimes to the point of excess. Mind you, the real focus of the book is the performances. Music-based manga always struggle with the notion of communicating the quality of a performance without motion or actual music to help them, and Arakawa is no exception to this. She tries her hardest, particular with Kaori's first performance, with plenty of frantic intercutting between angles and panels, but it's a little too visually frantic to get across any actual feeling. Otherwise it's a generally pleasant and straightforward book visually. It's just lacking that little something that would take it over the top.
Your Lie In April was a mixed bag for me. It's kind of deep, yet kind of shallow. It's got potential for narrative depth, but the artwork is pleasantly generic. It's not a bad read but it never quite reached the point of greatness.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is ongoing in Japan with 11 volumes available. 4 volumes have been published and all are currently in print and available as e-books.
Remember to leave a comment here to enter the Holiday Giveaway to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate!