Well I waited forever to post the second part of my Your Lie in April writing lessons, didn't I? Oops. Last time we explored the portrayal of physical illness in the show. Today, let's talk about how Your Lie in April portrays MENTAL illness.
The media is really bad at getting this right, aren't they? At best, you’ll have a stirring drama about one man conquering the trials of his mental illness like in Beautiful Mind but at worst you’ll have a protagonist who only experiences things like depression, anxiety or ptsd as other people have heard about them. Usually that means a watered down...consumable form of the mental illness. Sometimes it means making them a straight up horror movie villain. Thanks, Split. Glad to see you’re keeping the trend alive.
And then there’s Kousei Arima. Kousei is not just that basement dwelling guy who just needed a manic pixie dreamgirl in order to stop feeling depressed. In fact, he has legitimate depression and PTSD that plays an active role in the story and CANNOT just be solved by Kaori.
His mother pushed him very hard to be great at the piano. Way too hard. She beat him when he got the notes wrong and made him practice for hours and hours every day as she was slowly dying herself. Since her death, Kousei hasn’t been able to play the piano the same anymore. He struggles to hear the notes and he keeps seeing and hearing his mother when he steps onto the stage.
When we meet Kousei at the start of the show his whole world is represented in dull shades, at least when he is alone. It makes the mood around him so heavy. And when he plays the piano, it takes a step up by plunging him under water, where all sound is dulled and everything moves sluggishly. This is a pretty apt visual representation of depression. Dulled colors, dulled senses and this feeling of sluggishness that permeates everything. All the while, there’s this distant light far above Kousei’s head, too far away to reach.
Now of course, he doesn’t just have depression, he also has a fair amount of anxiety and PTSD to the point where he sometimes shuts down on stage, cradling his head in his hand, tears rolling down his face, sweating buckets. This show doesn’t pull any punches with our main character’s mental breakdowns. He has triggers like sitting at a piano on stage or hearing certain songs and they affect him physically, making him nauseous and want to throw up, or making his legs shake backstage until they go numb. It is an ugly, terrifying, messy affair, and I was glad to see it well represented with Kousei.
Now this isn’t a show about depression or ptsd or anxiety or any of that, and Kousei is not just a conglomeration of mental illnesses. He’s a prodigy at the piano, he has perfect pitch, he’s serious but can be convinced to have fun, and he’s extremely compassionate. Like Kaori he’s a well written character with some big problems that affect his life in palpable ways. And yes, Kaori does play a part in changing his life, but she doesn't CURE him. She simply pushes him to work through his fears and try to get to a better place.
And that’s one of the reasons why Your Lie in April works as a show even with clichés galore. It easily could have been eyeroll-worthy because it has tropes for days and it’s pretty predictable. However, the excellent character writing for the leads carry the show to amazing places.