Welcome to “Your Theme in April,” a 22 part series that looks at the themes and motifs expressed through Your lie in April. In this post I’ll talk about how well a certain popular trope fits with Kaori’s character.
First thing’s first. The blog’s theme for the remainder of the month has changed back to “Spring is Blooming all Around.” If you came here from the WordPress Reader, try reading from my full site for the best experience.
Also, if you weren’t part of my event last year, you might want to go back and see the post I did (opens in a new window) covering important moments from the episode. Feel free to participate in the discussion on that post, or here in this one if you want to talk about what you thought.
One of the things I did last year during the re-watch event was to pick out motifs or themes to watch out for over the course of the series, as YLIA is a show that expresses these themes in parallel or cyclical fashion to build its story. This year I plan to expand on some of those points to take a closer look at how the series uses them. Mostly each discussion will be tailored to that day’s episode, but there might be some overlap. Still, I will do my best to avoid any spoilers for later episodes so that new viewers can read with peace of mind.
For the first post I want to cover a particular trope that I have seen applied to this show many times and why you should take these things with a grain of salt.
The “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”
Those of you who are familiar with cinematic tropes might know what this is, but for the benefit of all readers I’ll give a brief summary: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an energetic, attractive, and often playful character that enters the story in order to inspire some change in the dour protagonist. Her personality or outlook often diametrically opposes the protagonist’s for this exact purpose to be a driving force in his character arc and help him break through whatever might be holding back his growth. Does this sound like someone we know?
The term was coined by American movie and music critic Nathan Ribin in reference to Kirsten Dunst’s character in the 2005 movie Elizabethtown (source). His aim was to define a cinematic type that bothered him, by identifying how the Manic Pixie Dream Girl acted less like a character and more like a plot device. With little or no character motivation of her own, she exists to push the main character toward finding happiness, either by example or brute force, and often as a love interest. This is, understandably, a cheap way to create movement in a story that sounds more like male fantasy than good storytelling.
Like many things on the internet, the term took on a life of its own and we soon saw it being applied to all sorts of fictional personas, including Kaori Miyazono. Rabin hoped to create awareness about the “lack of independent goals in female characters,” but his term instead began to serve as a blanket statement about these types of characters and the works that feature them; often regardless of whether or not the trope fit. Indeed, if your intent is to disparage, then it’s much easier to slap on some established labels and call it a day than to do any real analysis on your own.
You can probably see where I’m going with this.
Is Kaori flighty and impulsive? Yes. Does she display childlike playfulness? Yes. Does she do some crazy things in this episode? Oh yeah. Does she have some irresistible charm despite these “faults” that has our gloomy protagonist mesmerized? To the point where he can’t refuse her literally pulling him into the next episode? All Yes. But keep in mind that this is the very first episode and that the show hasn’t revealed nearly enough about Kaori for anyone to throw on the label of “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” just yet.
The operative part of this trope, that the character doesn’t have any independent goal apart from the protagonist’s happiness, is where Kaori’s similarities end. At this point in the story, we know that she called Tsubaki about arranging a meeting with Watari and that Kousei was only there because Tsubaki asked him to come along. If anything, Tsubaki could be seen as the one that’s pushing Kousei to change right now because there’s no sparkle in his eyes. Kaori definitely has some secrets and reasons for doing the things she does, but we will get to those in time.
If you dislike Kaori after seeing this side of her character, that’s fine. If this isn’t the kind of show you’re interested in, that’s fine as well. But to dismiss the character and the show as shallow, especially using Manic Pixie Dream Girl as an argument, is an unfair assessment that discourages independent thought. At best, it can hinder a viewer’s desire to watch closely and learn more about her character. At worse, it can make them dismissive of the show completely.
For now, using the trope (or any trope) as a guideline rather than a definition of her character can still serve as a tool in modeling this story. We can expect that she does indeed have some interest in helping Kousei, and that her appearance and personality are a big part of his willingness to play along. The episode gives plenty of hints, starting from the way the scene fills with vivid color when he first sees her. If you read the show’s summary, you know that the story is about Kousei finding his way back to the world of music and how Kaori helps him do it. But you can rest assured that over the course of 22 episodes she does become a much more well defined character beyond this simple description.
If this is your first time watching, what was your impression of Kaori after this episode? For those who have seen the full series, did your attitude toward her change over time? Let me know your thoughts on this topic and the episode in general, and I’ll see you tomorrow for the next post.
In the meantime, if you’re planning to enter my raffle, don’t forget to participate in the quiz below, and remember to comment on this post for even more entries.
Your Quiz in April