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Analysis: The Use Of Symbolism And Metaphor In Your Lie In April

Introduction

A couple of months ago, I noticed fan art of Your Lie In April popping up everywhere on Instagram. With all of the hype, I decided to look up a synopsis of the show and learned that it is about Arima Kousei, a prodigy pianist, who loses his ability to play the piano ever since his mother’s death. He retires from his piano career until he meets a violinist whose music and vigor inspires him to begin playing again.

When I watched this anime a couple of months ago,  I was impressed by the pastel and breathtaking animation, the enthralling music, and the excellently executed character development But what stuck out to me the most in this anime was the use of symbols and metaphors.   

Before I go into my full explanation, I am going to give a quick definition of metaphor and symbolism (sorry, this is the teacher/tutor in me)-

A symbol is something “that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract” (Oxford Dictionary). A metaphor is the same thing; it is an object or image that represents something else. (This is NOT to be confused to the kind of metaphor used in figurative language when making comparisons between two unlike things).

The use of symbolism and metaphor was everywhere in Your Lie In April and helped add to the overall tone, character development, and plot of the show. The symbolism was so strong that there are probably some that I missed, but here are the ones that stood out to me the most. I am going to start with the more obvious ones. 

*Please note that these are my personal interpretations based on the anime. They may differ from the manga or what the anime writer(s) originally intended. Also note that if you haven’t watched the show, this analysis is going to contain major spoilers. 

MAJOR SYMBOLS

The Deep, Dark Ocean

As I explained in the introduction, Kousei is unable to play the piano due to the death of his mother. Whenever he tries to sit down at a piano, he “cannot hear the notes” and becomes overwhelmed with anxiety. Kousei describes this feeling as “being at the bottom of a dark sea where I can’t hear anything.” The animators create this sensation by using the image of water. At his first music competition with Kaori, Kousei begins to panic as he plays the accompanying piano piece. Although he is in a bright music hall, the scenery around him becomes dark and encased in blue- like he is really at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by suffocating water. As he plays, bubbles float up from between the keys as he hits them, producing a gulb-gulb sound instead of the intended notes.  “The ocean” is a symbol for fear; it shows how as Kousei’s stability is unraveling into panic. Kousei “sinks” into this self-made ocean, into his panic and self-doubt. This image clearly portrays how he is “drowning” in despair. 

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Kousei at the bottom of his imagined ocean.

 

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Bubbles rises up between the keys, one of my favorite images from the show.

Shallow Waters

As time goes on, Kousei slowly begins to become less reluctant about playing the piano. In Episode 12, Kousei and his friends play with fireworks next to the school pool. At one point, Tsubaki gets angry and pushes Kousei, making him fall into the pool. He closes his eyes while floating downward toward the bottom of the pool. Sinking, he is reminded of the drowning feeling he gets when he plays piano, and he imagines the deep, dark ocean engulfing him. However, he remembers the words of encouragement and praise he received from Kaori and Hiroko. Realizing that he isn’t alone and that he has a support system, he opens his eyes. In doing so, he sees that he isn’t in an ocean, but a shallow pool. There is light filtering down toward him and the surface is within reach. This is symbolic of how his problems aren’t as daunting as he first thought, that the challenges and the pain he is facing are surmountable. If he fights and survives, he will be able to make it out of the ocean. He was already able to make it through two music competitions. Later he ponders why the pool wasn’t intimidating to him: “Is it because it a pool? Is it because the moon’s out?” No, Kousei. It is just like that saying “There is light at the end of the tunnel.” Or as you later realized, “Maybe, just maybe… the light can reach the bottom of the ocean.”

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The Cat(s)

This is where things get kind of confusing. There are many interpretations of what the cat is supposed to represent. In analyzing the cat and rewatching the series, I realized that there are three different cats that appear throughout the anime. Each of these cats symbolize something different. In the following explanations, I admit that some of my reasoning is based on speculation because the anime leaves out some important details. However, I will try to explain as best I can without being ambiguous.

Chelsea/The Yellow Eyed Cat

One of the three cats in the show has yellow eyes. Firstly, I cannot fully explain my theory on the Yellow Eyed Cat without revisiting Kousei’s old cat, Chelsea. When Kousei was a young child, he had a cat named Chelsea. Unfortunately, the cat scratches his hand, which angers his mother because Kousei’s hands are essential to his piano playing. She takes the cat away and Kousei never sees Chelsea again. Later, he blames himself saying that he should have spoken up and told his mother to keep Chelsea. Kousei feels that “Ever since that day, I have been in my mother’s shadow.” In other words, he feels that, even now, his mother controls his fate and everything he does. Next, I need to point out that the audience never gets to see the color of Chelsea’s eyes. I believe that Chelsea’s eyes must have been yellow because of the Yellow Eyed Cat that appears in Kousei’s conscience.

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Chelsea being taken away by Kousei’s mother. Notice how its eye color isn’t shown.

Beginning in Episode 3, the Yellow Eyed Cat shows up when Kousei is debating whether or not to perform with Kaori. The cat prods, “Weren’t you relieved the moment you stopped being able to hear? You found yourself an excuse. An excuse not to ever appear onstage again. After all, you’re no Beethoven.” These questions and the cat’s unrelenting stare make Kousei question himself. In other words, this cat is the embodiment of Kousei’s self-doubt and fear. This is why I believe the Yellow Eyed Cat is Chelsea. In his memory, Chelsea represents a time when he was unable to overcome something; a time when he showed weakness and gave into his mother. The Yellow Eyed Cat appears again in Episode 7, the day before another music competition. He questions Kousei more, asking him who he is as a person. At this point, though, Kousei has taken Kaori’s advice into consideration and decides he is going to be himself while he performs. He is going to play with serenity and emotion, instead of just being a mechanical copycat. The Yellow Eyed Cat admits that Kousei is ready and leaves him alone for the time being, showing how Kousei is slowly overcoming his reservations. The final time the Yellow Eyed Cat appears is during Episode 10, when Kousei is playing during the competition.  At first Kousei panics like before, but in the middle of his performance, he has a revelation and finds his reason to play. Now that Kousei is being himself and has alleviated some of his doubt, the Yellow Eyed Cat admits that “Music is freedom.” After this, it never appears before Kousei again, illustrating how he has conquered his fear of playing the piano and he is now himself, not a puppet of his mother.

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The Chelsea that appears in Kousei’s conscience.

The Blue Eyed Cat

Throughout the show, there is another cat that looks almost identical to Chelsea, but has blue eyes instead of yellow eyes. This cat, in my opinion, represents a different metaphor and is not Chelsea. Many people believe that this cat is a symbol for Kaori, that it is a part of her soul or a reincarnation of her. I believe this too; however, I think it represents something else as well. It is the opposite of the Yellow Eyed Cat, which is an omen of suffering. Instead, the Blue Eyed Cat is a sign of hope. It represents the rebirth of Kousei’s destiny or dream of becoming a professional pianist. This is portrayed in Episode 3, when Kousei and Kaori find the cat outside in a park. While feeding the cat, Kousei opens up to Kaori about his past as a musician. Kaori gets angry and tells him that he should continue playing no matter what. Through her forcefulness, she appoints Kousei as her accompanist at her next music competition. As she does so, she lifts the Blue Eyed Cat and cradles it in her arms. This is a metaphor for Kousei’s very first step toward his fate; his music career and hope are being reborn. Performing with Kaori is the beginning of his new journey , and it is no coincidence that the Blue Eyed Cat is there at its inception.

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Kaori appointing Kousei, while holding the Blue Eyed Cat.

The Blue Eyed Cat does not show up again until almost the end of the show. After seeing Kaori go into cardiac arrest at the hospital, Kousei wanders through the streets in a daze. In the road, he sees a black cat that was hit by a car. He then rushes the cat to the animal hospital, but gets there too late. Although the audience doesn’t see the cat’s eyes, I am 99% sure that it is the Blue Eyed Cat because it makes sense metaphorically. In this moment, the cat dying represents how Kaori is going to pass away soon. It also symbolizes Kousei’s mental state and faith in the future. When he realizes how sick Kaori really is, Kousei loses all hope. At that moment, his future with Kaori and his destiny of becoming a professional pianist seems next to impossible. Everything appears to be helpless and in shambles, just like the unfortunate cat.   

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Kousei running with the injured cat that I believe to be the Blue Eyed Cat.

In the final episode, after learning of Kaori’s death, Kousei sees a Blue Eyed Cat as he walks to school. If we follow my interpretation and assume that the original Blue Eyed Cat died, this cannot be the same cat. However, it could possibly be the original cat’s offspring or reincarnation. Or, it could be Kaori reincarnated. This is plausible because when he sees the cat, Kousei finally decides to read the letter that Kaori addressed to him and he learns of her true feelings. However, as I said earlier, the cat represents more than just Kaori herself; it is the embodiment of Kousei’s hope, and his fate to be a musician. This is illustrated when the Blue Eyed Cat appears at the very end of the show. Kousei looks back and sees the cat on the other side of the railroad tracks. After a train whisks by, the cat is no longer there. Its appearance and disappearance represent how Kousei’s hope, dream, and his love for Kaori are still alive, even if they seem distant. He realizes that he needs to continue playing the piano so he can honor Kaori and make her memory live on through his music.  

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Bad Luck Cat

This cat isn’t as significant as the first two cats, but I thought I would explain my theory anyway. Things may get confusing here so bear with me. The Bad Luck Cat looks almost identical to the Blue Eyed Cat. It is black with blue eyes; however, its eyes are smaller and are a different shape than the other cat’s eyes. It also has pink inside its ear while the original Blue Eyed Cat has black inside its ears.

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Notice how the cat’s eyes, ears, and face are different than the Blue Eyed Cat.

I believe the Bad Luck Cat represents Kousei’s feeling for Kaori. It is always present whenever Kousei is struggling with his feelings for her. It first appears in Episode 15, when Kousei is debating whether or not to visit Kaori in the hospital. Seeing the black cat as bad luck, he decides to use it as an excuse to leave. In essence, you could say that he is running away from his feelings for Kaori. Later in the same episode, Kousei finds the cat and feeds it some cakes, while still pondering if he should visit Kaori. However, she calls him unexpectedly and surprises him. A very similar situation happens in Episode 20. While talking on the phone, Kaori yells at Kousei about playing his piano, but calls back a few minutes later and acts cheerfully. Again the cat is there, following Kousei as he walks alone, talking to Kaori. In both scenarios, Kousei is baffled by Kaori’s abruptness and bluntness, but realizes that these are some of the things he loves most about her. As he explains, “Like a cat, you silently creep up to me.” In other words, Kaori and his feelings for her are always catching him off guard, just like the Bad Luck Cat that suddenly surfaces and disappears. The cat appears again in Episode 20 when Tsubaki forces Kousei to admit that he likes Kaori. The cat is in the background, behind Tsubaki and Kousei, cleaning itself as the rain falls. This symbolizes how Kousei’s feelings for Kaori are always in the back of his mind, as well as in the jealous Tsubaki’s.        

Other Symbols

*These next couple of symbols aren’t as important or present as the ocean and cats. However, I still think they add to the overall themes of the show and the quality of the writing.

Courage Bridge

In Episode 5, Kaori decides to jump off of Courage Bridge and into the river. She nags Kousei and wants him to dive in too. At first, Kousei is apprehensive because of his reserved personality, but decides to jump in with her. This scene represents how Kousei is giving up his inhibitions and has decided to follow Kaori through a musical journey, despite his fear of playing the piano. He is literally and figuratively “taking the plunge.” At the very beginning of Episode 5, there is a flashback of Tsubaki and Kousei at Courage Bridge. In trying to persuade Kousei to jump in, Tsubaki says that “It’s gonna change your whole world!” This is no coincidence; this is foreshadowing. In taking a risk and following Kaori, Kousei’s world definitely changed. 

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Tsubaki telling Koisei to jump in the river when they were children.

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Kousei jumping into the river after Kaori.

 Dusty Hibernation

Because he did not play it for two years, the piano in Kousei’s home is dirty and full of dust. The piano is a metaphor for Kousei himself. He feels worn out and broken down. He is currently in a phase of stagnant hibernation. When Kaori visits Kousei’s house in Episode 6, she starts to brush the dust and cobwebs off the piano. Her actions are symbolic- she isn’t just cleaning the piano, she is creating a new slate for Kousei as she inspires him to start playing the piano again.

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Kousei’s old piano in a sorry state.

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Kaori sweeping away all of the negativity.

 “A Black Hole Peering Back At Me”

Kousei not being able to see his mother’s face is another symbol. From the beginning of the anime, Kousei cannot remember his mother’s face. When he imagines her, she is in a gray haze and he can only recall when she was sick in a wheelchair. This is represents how Kousei is blinded by pain; he cannot see past of the negative memories he has of his mother. The image of his handicapped, faceless mother haunts Kousei, especially when he tries to play the piano. It isn’t until Episode 13 that Kousei finally remembers the good experiences he had with his mother, such as how she played the piano for him as he slept. We finally get to see her face for the first time and she is shown in color, rather than gray. This represents how Kousei has finally come to terms with what happened with his mother. He can see all of her- the good and the bad- and accepts that he needs to say goodbye. 

 

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Kousei’s traumatic memory of his mother- gray and faceless.

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A positive image of his mother- gentle and colorful.

Mounting The Steps

This is by far my favorite metaphor in the show. In Episode 19, we learn about Takeshi’s backstory and how he became Kousei’s rival. This episode explains that Kousei always won first place, while Takeshi usually came in second or third. Takeshi is not the type to take losing easily, and he declares that one day he will become better than Kousei. In a flashback, we see a disgruntled Takeshi running up shrine steps, screaming about his latest defeat. The steps are symbolic of how Takeshi wishes to overcome Kousei and any other challenges he may face. As he runs up them, he is struggling to move forward. When Takeshi reaches the top, he turns around looks at a beautiful view of the city that he has never seen before.  At this moment, Hideki thinks “[Kousei was] the one who expanded my world.” That gorgeous new view represents how playing piano and competing against Kousei has allowed Takeshi to experience all kinds of new and wonderful things.

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Takeshi running up the shrine steps.

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Takeshi at the top of the steps, looking at his new perspective.

Nagi is also shown on these steps, chasing after her brother. Nagi too wants to overcome her difficulties, and reach the same level as Takeshi.  In the second opening we see Nagi mounting the steps as a child, scrambling after Takeshi. Then, it jumps forward and we see her as a teenager, still following in her brother’s footsteps. The same shrine is shown once again when Nagi and Kousei have an argument. At first, they sit on the steps; this illustrates how they are currently having a stalemate. However, after talking and enjoying sweet potatoes together, they make up and begin playing Jankenpon (Rock, Paper, Scissors) while going up the stairs. This symbolizes how Nagi now accepts Kousei and that he will help her get through whatever challenges she faces.  

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Nagi following her brother up the steps.

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Nagi and Kousei going up the steps together.

Transitioning Trains

There is a definite motif of trains in this anime. As the characters walk throughout town, trains always pass them by. I believe that in most cases these trains representative of some kind transition for the characters, a time where they are moving forward in their lives. For example, when Tsubaki decides to date her senpai, a train zooms by, showing how she is trying to transition from a possible relationship with Kousei into a new one. A trains passes by as Kousei opens up to Kaori, and tells her about Chelsea and his mother. This is also an important transitional scene because Kaori’s advice inspires Kousei to play with feeling rather than accuracy. At one point, Kousei begins to run and scream as a train goes by, trying to keep its pace. This a huge contrast between the quiet Kousei and this new Kousei who is more confident thanks to Kaori. The final time we see a train is the very last scene when Kousei looks back and sees the Blue Eyed Cat. At this point, Kousei is adapting and transitioning into a new life without Kaori.

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 A train passes by as Kousei opens up about his past.

Cherry Blossoms

Sakura petals are another recurring theme within the show. They show up constantly in one form or another. These petals are symbolic of the fleetingness of life and beauty. Every year in the spring, the cherry blossoms bloom and then wither away just as quickly as they came. The sakura are also a metaphor for Kaori. She showed up out of nowhere and changed Kousei’s life forever. Although she only spent a short time with him, she left an everlasting impression of beauty in his memory, just like the dazzling petals of spring.

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Kousei comparing Kaori to the fleeting beauty of springtime.

Do you agree with all of the symbols I explained? Did I miss any? Feel free to comment with any supporting evidence about my symbols or others. You can also explain your own personal interpretations and debate if mine are correct or wrong.   


Bibliography

good-goodbye. I am still broken into two parts, 1 Mar 2015, 10:48 PM, http://good-goodbye.tumblr.com/post/112413175568/even-in-the-depths-of-the-darkest-oceans-some

Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.

“Was Watching This and Just Thought Gif.” Wiffle Gifs. Wiffle Gis, n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.

Yoshioka, Takao. Your Lie In April. Dir. Kyohei Ishiguro. Fuji Tv. 9 Oct. 2014. Television.

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