When I watched Your Lie in April a couple of months ago, I was impressed by its breathtaking animation, the enthralling music, and the excellently executed character development. This anime is about Arima Kousei, a prodigy pianist, who loses his ability to play the piano after his mother’s death. He retires from his piano career until he meets a violinist, named Kaori, whose music and vigor inspires him to begin playing again.
What stuck out to me the most was the use of symbols and metaphors. They were everywhere in Your Lie In April and helped add to the overall tone, character development, and plot of the show. Here are the ones that stood out to me the most.
Author’s Note: This piece was originally much longer, but I decided to split it into two parts.
THE DEEP, DARK OCEAN
As explained, Kousei is unable to play the piano due to his mother’s death. 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.
Note: If you have anxiety or panic attacks like Kousei, please seek professional help and find a therapist near you. Extreme anxiety can lead to other medical issues and worsening mental health.
As time goes on, Kousei becomes 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 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 his challenges and the pain 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.”
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.
CHELSEA/THE YELLOW EYED CAT
One of the three cats in the show has yellow eyes. I can’t fully explain my theory on this 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 since 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. Although 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.
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, however, 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, 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. Since Kousei has alleviated some of his doubt, the Yellow Eyed Cat admits that “Music is freedom.” After this, it never appears before Kousei again. This illustrates how he has conquered his fear of playing the piano and he is now himself, not a puppet of his mother.
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 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 first step toward his new fate. 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.
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 trushes 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’s the Blue Eyed Cat because it makes sense metaphorically. In this moment, the cat dying represents how Kaori is going to pass away. 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 becoming a professional pianist seem impossible.
In the final episode, after learning of Kaori’s death, Kousei sees a Blue Eyed Cat as he walks to school. Although the original Blue Eyed Cat died, this cat could 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 about her true feelings.
As I mentioned earlier, the cat represents more than just Kaori herself; it is the embodiment of Kousei’s hope and his fate as a musician. In that last episode, 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.
BAD LUCK CAT
Yep, there’s one more cat. It isn’t as significant as the first two cats, but I thought I would explain my theory anyway. Things may get confusing so please bear with me. The Bad Luck Cat looks similar to the Blue Eyed Cat. It’s 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.
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. But then 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 cheerful. 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 a second time 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.