#1 Ballade for a Dying Girl: Written for Dead, Remembered for Living (Your Lie in April)

For your convenience, I’ve placed timestamps that link to several points in the music to better convey where I am in the song when I talk about this scene. 

This post contains spoilers.


Kaori’s current status in Your Lie in April was never a question of “if” she was going to die, but instead “when” it was going to happen. Even when hyped on the first OP of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans, you couldn’t raise a death flag higher than Kaori did. So when she agrees to undergo a dangerous surgery at the show’s climax, it wouldn’t be too difficult to guess what happens next. It certainly wasn’t difficult for Kousei to guess, either. The show makes numerous parallels between Kaori’s constantly deteriorating health to Kousei’s mother’s own deteriorating health, up to the point of her death. Add in some on-the-nose visual comparisons between the two and you understand that Kousei has reasonable cause to fear the worst.

But right now, he need to play this Chopin ballade. He has to, after all. Not because his immediate future depends on it, mind you. I don’t think anyone in the story has any qualms about Kousei’s talent taking him to new heights. There’s no question anymore, after suffering through three or four separate occasions of mom-induced mind torture, about Kousei’s ability to perform on stage. It may have been beaten into him under innumerable and immoral methods, sure, but in the end we’ve finally gotten past that aspect of his internal conflict. We can now rest easy knowing that Kousei no longer has trouble with coping with the death of his loved ones. Or can we?

This is the final question posed by the anime, and the theme that this anime has been building up towards: How does Kousei cope with Kaori’s inevitable passing?

Put at its simplest form, the answer is to keep playing the piano.

No matter what happens in the process.

0:00

The ballade starts off quiet and dour, acting as a reflection of the immediate situation. Realizing there’s nothing he can do to change Kaori’s fate, Kousei turns to the piano and, for a moment, reflects. He thinks of the friends, family, and acquaintances he’s met and shared experiences with.

Those are all of varying importance in some way or another, but it’s painfully clear at this point that there’s only one person worth mentioning. Kaori was the driving force behind his recent growth, saving him from drowning in his own sorrow.

As much as he would love to return the favor, however, Kousei cannot perform miracles. There’s nothing he can do to stop Kaori from dying. So he daydreams a bit.

Perhaps if… if Kousei can work hard on this ballade, then it would carry over towards Kaori’s surgery. Of course, it’s not enough for Kousei to have her surgery be the unlikely success that it is. He wants, simply, to perform with her. For her to regain strength and pick up the violin like she used to. Like how he remembers it.

So, he keeps playing.

1:57

If Kaori is out there fighting her own life, it would be improper or perhaps rude for Kousei to not respond in kind. So as we’re reminded of her situation as depicted above, the tempo increases and the piece demands more of Kousei’s technique. For a moment, we focus on only the music.

Kousei is reminded of Kaori, shaken and tearful. She doesn’t want to be alone when she dies. To which Kousei replies, “Dummy. You have me.” To him, they are inseparable. Perhaps not quite in the romantic sense, but in a spiritual one. As this part of the music reaches the high point, Kaori’s voice and Kousei’s voice intertwine, stating, in unison, that they are within each other. That Kaori, by this point in time, lives in Kousei.

Perhaps, then, this is what allows her to let go.

2:51

After this declaration happens, the piece settles back into a more relaxed tone, now in a major key. This is, by far, the height of Kousei’s hope for Kaori. If playing that Tchaikovsky duet through a cell phone was enough to motivate her to stand back up, then in a situation where Kaori is both unreachable and unconscious of her surroundings, Kousei must try that much harder to reach her with his music.

So he hopes, and he hopes, and he hopes. If her involvement in his life brought him out of the pits of despair, shouldn’t it make sense that he can do the same for her? Just forget that illness! They are musicians! To perform is to live! She needs to get out of that hospital bed, march onto this stage with him, and together…

Maybe…

Maybe they can play together again.

So, he keeps playing.

3:28

As Kousei’s thoughts tilt further and further into dreamland, he once again enters his mindscape. What awaits him there is a brand new environment. He’s no longer submerged in his anguish and self-pity, though the manner by which the water imperfectly reflects its surroundings shows that those hurtful emotions still exist within him.

It’s not necessarily that Kousei learned to forget about his mother. That trauma will be a part of him for the rest of his life. What he does instead is look up. He puts himself in a better position in his mind, away from the depths of his despair. Unlike in his previous performances, he can hear the piano just fine. For the first time in a long time, he is at peace here.

However, it’s snowing.

It reminds him of when it snowed during his last visit with Kaori. Of all the encounters Kousei had with Kaori, it’s this particular one that engraves itself so strongly in his psyche. It’s because he knows, in the back of his mind, that this might have been his last visit.

He remembers the way she held onto his back as he carried her down from the roof.

Most importantly, he hasn’t stopped thinking about what she said last:


4:04

This is the miracle that Kousei asked for. A perfectly healthy Kaori stands before him, with her trusty violin. Her skin is so healthy and her smile so radiant you would be hard-pressed to think that the girl was crippled with any kind of illness. She’s wearing the same dress she did when she first captured Kousei’s heart.

What’s bothersome is that the piece slipped back into the same quiet and dour lietmotif that it opened with.

As if in response to this emotional dissonance, Kousei doesn’t appear happy to see her. Kaori? Here? She’s supposed to be at the hospital. She needs to pull through the surgery, rest up, and pick up the violin again, just like old times. Besides, this is his imagination. The only other person who has ever entered this place is… well… that person would be his mother.

Take a moment to consider the logic of Kousei’s mindscape and it’s easy to see why her presence here is problematic:

At this point in time, Kousei already considers Kaori to be dead.

Now it no longer matters whether she made it through the surgery or not. The fact of the matter is that right here, right now, Kaori has taken the place of Kousei’s mother as his new ghost. She now lives on, whether by her choice or not, in his dreams.

However, things are different. Kaori doesn’t manifest as a sickly pale figure, chained to hospital equipment. Kaori is, instead, imagined as the top-performing musician Kousei adored all that time ago, complete with that permanent smile on her face. He’s done remembering all the bad things about the dead people he cares about. He learned from the mistakes he made towards handling his mother’s death. He’s primed to move on.

Yet, Kaori is here precisely because he hasn’t done this. After all, he still clings to the hope that he’ll play with her again, which is a bit of a problem now that she’s dead. Now that the hope is unfeasible, and that Kousei now has Kaori alive and well in his mind, a new option presents itself. He can stop playing.

The last time he stopped playing, he found that he was able to preserve his mother. For all the verbal and physical abuse he took from the woman, this was still Kousei’s mother. Few people of his age would have been willing to let go of their dead mother so easily, and for Kousei he discovered a very effective way to stop himself from doing it. Of course, he knows by now that this is an unhealthy behavior. Nothing gets better if he stays unwilling. Looking into that darkness, he found solace in playing for Kaori.

Unfortunately that person is now gone thanks to a cruel twist of fate. It seems equally tantalizing for Kousei to keep Kaori in the recesses of his mind for the rest of his life, as it was for the case of his deceased mother. But to do this to Kaori would betray everything that she was able to do for Kousei. There’s no way he can allow himself to make Kaori suffer the same way he did to his mother, and there’s absolutely no way that he was going to go back to the numb mess of emotions that he was before. So he has only one option.

Kaori stands her ground. Motionless. Smiling. Expectant. She’s waiting for her cue.

He has to keep playing.

A new leitmotif arises into a crescendo, whose resolution summons Kaori’s violin from the depths of Kousei’s memory.

4:16

Her sound is just as he remembers it: raw and shrill, yet expressive.

He has to do this. He won’t be able to move on if he doesn’t. Nevertheless, this new sound leaves him in pain. Even though he’s been waiting for so long for Kaori’s violin, this is the last place he wanted to hear it.

And when you think about it, it’s been a long time since Kousei last heard her play for real. Episode 12 in terms of just hearing her play, but Episode 4 if you’re strictly speaking of performances. It’s now episode 22. It’s been so long, yet now the only way for him to hear Kaori’s violin is through his imagination.

5:07

A sudden arpeggio down to the lower register shakes the music out of its mournful doldrums, and slowly makes its way back up. Kaori mirrors this development in her body language. Kousei looks at her.

She’s up to no good again. Kaori is about launch a musical roller coaster and Kousei is expected to ride along. Thinking back, Kousei has very few moments with Kaori where she’s thinking of anything good, at least by his definition of the term. Her methods can be justifiably construed as self-serving and abusive in their own right, mirroring the torment Kousei had to endure from his own mother. By all rights, the way she went about dragging Kousei out of his despair is unconscionable. Hypocritical, even, since there were so many things that could have gone wrong.

Yet, whatever mischief Kaori was able to make during their time together is largely remembered as a positive impact on Kousei’s life. Thankfully, perhaps impossibly or by some sort of twisted miracle, he turned out alright despite the abuse. It’s also not as if Kousei didn’t find these shenanigans fun to partake in. That’s what was so special about Kaori, after all. Even in the face of the stuffy establishment and her own illness, she still had it in her to have fun.

Remembering Kaori’s mischievous attitude allows Kousei to crack a smile. His competitive spirit is not about to let him lose to a figment of his imagination.

He accepts Kaori’s challenge and keeps playing.

The melody goes up, and down. Up, then down. Now that their attitudes are in sync, the music explodes with a vibrant, whimsical energy. As Kousei’s hands dart from key to key, Kaori’s legs are unable to contain their excitement.

The fun is far from over. Kaori sends a high note flying and the camera pans upwards, as if to track it, until Kousei catches the momentum and brings it down with a long chromatic scale. The camera, in hot pursuit, reaches him in time for the climax.

5:54

And now, the music comes back to the motif during the height of Kousei’s hope, but is now overridden with Kaori’s violin and at a more frenzied pace. While Kousei has no more reason to hope for Kaori’s safe recovery, he is instead filled with genuine happiness.

Kousei could not have come to this point without having experienced the pain he endured. Without all the growth he did throughout the story, he would have interpreted this meeting as another curse, and would yet again stop playing, perhaps for good this time. Now, he’s thankful and happy that she’s here, from beyond the grave, playing with him one more time.

The key changes to minor. The sky recedes into orange.

Kaori finishes her last note.

Kousei keeps playing.

6:55

The lietmotif that summoned Kaori is here again, and it threatens to return her from whence she came.

Perhaps by a trick of lighting or perhaps a literal transformation, Kaori appears to us paler than when she entered. At this rate, if she doesn’t leave, she’ll remain here as the same disabled husk that Kousei left her mother to become.

His words ring hollow. Kousei knew this was going to happen. Even if his voice protests, his hands tell the real story.

After all, he’s still playing.

The motif reaches the crescendo. It goes higher and higher. Kousei’s cries grow louder and louder until…

7:11

…he completely, metaphorically, kills her.

He has to do this.

For her sake, and his own.

He keeps playing.

A series of frightful phrases repeat themselves over and over. Kousei is forced to play Kaori’s death knell again. And again. And again.

Why must he suffer like this? Hasn’t he done enough? No.

He’s not finished playing.

Finally, in a flourish of sakura petals, she vanishes.

8:04

Now, finish it.

Kousei. You are not done yet. Finish it.

Once more. One last time. Finish it.

..

.

It is done.

Addendum

  • Now that that’s finished, I can finally write off my part on the 12 Days Spreadsheet. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.
  • >post about a lie in april
  • >posts in april
  • >ergmerherd luminerty
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