I’d suggest that those who haven’t watched Your Lie in April and haven’t read yet what happens, that you might want to try one of my other posts and come back after you’ve either watched the end or someone else has spoiled it for you.
It’s a common criticism of television shows, movies, and of course anime, that the storyline is old. We’ve seen that before. Oh, it’s just like such and such. However, is this a fair criticism? Depending on which theorist you’d like to believe there are only between 5 and 10 storylines in the entire world and we’ve just been recycling them and giving them make-overs for thousands of years. So should originality really be an issue when writing a story?
That said, the main purpose of most stories being made into television shows, movies and anime is to entertain (there are other purposes but that’s the main one – unless you are cynical enough to believe that the only purpose is making money) and in order to entertain there needs to be an element of novelty. Can you be novel and unoriginal at the same time?
And that’s where we have to start looking at the quality of the story telling and the way the elements have been combined. A simple fairytale can feel like a masterpiece in the hands of someone who knows how to weave it into something magical whereas an epic story might feel like the longest and most boring time of your life in the hands of someone who just doesn’t get how to tell a good story.
Let’s look at Your Lie In April. With 22 episodes to fill you would think we could cover a fairly complex plot in that time. Over the course of 22 episodes we meet and get to know four characters (and only two of them are really developed). We have the initial refusal by Kousei to accompany Kaori and then we see them getting closer and in the process we learn more about Kousei’s trauma, and then we have our hearts broken into tiny little pieces by a death that was incredibly foreshadowed and obvious but still emotionally crippling to watch. That’s it. They meet. She makes him face something he doesn’t want to face. They grow. She dies. The end. There’s some other moments with some of the support cast and while the characterisation of the main pair and emotional weight of the story is well developed, the story itself is that straight forward.
Do we have any other stories that follow this path? Well, lots if you really start looking but the one that immediately jumps out is Love Story from 1970. No, it isn’t exactly the same however the impact of two characters meeting and growing together before a death that leaves the survivor with a new direction is kind of the same. And no, I’m not suggesting that Your Lie in April is a rip-off of anything. But we have seen this pattern in stories before. The events themselves aren’t new.
So why is Your Lie in April effective as a story? (Okay some of you will say it isn’t but everyone has their own opinion and that’s fine.)
If you were to ask the viewers what they like about the story, you will get a whole range of different answers. The music and the way it perfectly complements the themes. The visuals and the way they show Kousei’s anxiety on the stage. The relationship between Kousei and Kaori. The connection they felt to the characters as the story played out. For me it was the connection between the character’s mental state and emotions and the sound of the music. It’s the way this story has been told and the way the different parts have been put together that draws the audience in. That said, all of these other elements could still be there and if the writers had decided not to let Kaori die (after all that foreshadowing) I’m pretty sure most people would have ended up feeling rather indifferent. Despite the ending being obvious fairly early on, and by the half-way point outright inevitable, the way this story is told makes the journey memorable even if it doesn’t pull a last minute twist of any kind or really seek to break new ground.
Then what if we consider something more complex like Baccano. You might argue that Baccano has a unique storyline and there isn’t anything else like it. And it is true that when you watch Baccano it certainly feels novel and different. But that isn’t because of the story. What Baccano does is combines multiple storylines together and then presents them in fragments with each story interconnecting with every other through either a character, object, or event. If we were to untangle each character’s story we actually get a whole lot of fairly simple plot lines. Again, this is not a criticism of Baccano. The presentation of the story (or stories) is really interesting and there is rewatch value in that some of the connections are missed the first time through.
What do you think? Are there new ideas for storylines or are there just new settings, new characters, and new ways to deliver the story? And does it even matter?
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