Your Theme in April: Ep 1- Monotone/Colorful

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.


Intro

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?

Image of Kaori standing with her violin and Watari next to her with hearts in his eyes

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.

Close up image of Kaori's eyes with tears in them
Not yet…

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

 

22 thoughts on “Your Theme in April: Ep 1- Monotone/Colorful

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  1. I’m honestly surprised anyone would call Kaori a manic pixie dream girl. Even from the first appearance of her I didn’t think she was that way. I think the show does a really good job of showing her as a character that has a lot of hidden layers, though I will say the cliche “You pervert!” scene really bugs me because that trope can go die in a fire as far as I’m concerned XD

    It bothers me when someone writes off something because of a trope in general, because stories have been told for centuries so everything is a trope. It’s all about the execution of the idea! Going to start watching the show tomorrow, this post got me pumped to rewatch this series.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sometimes people decide ahead of time whether they want to like or dislike something. People in the latter camp will grasp at whatever they can to be dismissive. It’s unfortunate, because I agree that this show does a great job of not putting its characters into neat little boxes. Instead they have so many factors that make the path they might take open ended.

      And you’re right, pretty much everything is a trope because human beings are creatures of tradition and repetition. We might see the same feelings and ideas presented again, but most of the appeal is in how they do it.

      But I also agree that the “pervert!!” scene is overplayed. There are a few scenes in this show that I think could be safely cut out, or would be better if they were changed, and that’s one of them.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah definitely. The show was trying to tred the line between “We want this to be original and interesting” and not wanting to alienate fans of the genre as a whole, so the typical anime scenes we just have to deal with haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t much like the manic pixie dream girl label anyway because even applied to Dunst in Elizabeth Town, it kind of misses a lot of what is going on, plus it assumes the character type is a negative point against whatever story they are in rather than that the character type is a necessary catalyst for events. It is a great superficial designation if you want a really shallow interpretation of a character, but most characters given that label do have a bit more too them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here is where I show my inexperience because I haven’t actually seen Elizabethtown. What I have seen is this trope being thrown left and right, always in a disparaging manner, and almost always where it doesn’t fit.

      It’s an interesting idea that the character type can be a positive or necessary thing for the story though. I think Kousei needed someone to really knock him off his socks just to get him to look up and see what he’s been missing so that point works here. But I also think that having the character be purely for that purpose and have no goal of her own is bad though, so I’m with Rabin in spirit if not in practice.

      But we’re in agreement that it’s a superficial term at best. It generalizes a behavior with no regard for the character’s place in the story – which in the end doesn’t give you a lot of useful information either way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I had to watch Elizabethtown. Orlando Bloom and Dunst together… they had zero chemistry and the story meanders about without clear focus and yet somehow there’s something dreadfully perfect about the whole concoction.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I started watching it yesterday and I love Kaori. She’s so sweet with children and so talented at the violin. She definitely stands out as a performer and she’s also the most beautiful girl in the show. I would love to cosplay as her one day, in her pink dress and white top. I hope it happens.

    The only thing I didn’t like is when she punches or hits Kousei. I don’t really like that in other anime too. It reminds me of Sakura from Naruto and I guess I don’t think it’s that funny. I know that Kousei isn’t actually hurt though haha! Overall, she’s a really likeable character and I think she’s really unique and special.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It’s good to hear from you, Rose! Watching this in April is the best, isn’t it?

      Kaori is very special and I think her character design is really great as well. Arakawa definitely tried to create someone the audience would love, but the animators did a fantastic job bringing her to life for this show. I think you could pull off a good cosplay of her too. Keep an eye out for that ensemble 🙂

      I think the idea behind her being so aggressive is to contrast Kousei’s super passive side. He barely stands up to anyone, but Kaori doesn’t let anything get in the way of her personality. Like Crystal said in her comment, some of it is just anime cliche used for humor, but it does kind of work for her. She certainly has enough good qualities to make you forget how demanding she can be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! April is the most fitting time to watch it.

        Ahh I see, yeah that makes a lot of sense! There is a big constract of personalities for sure. I agree, her demanding side is forgivable. I’m sure that everything she does has a reason and she’s also a bit playful too. It’s fun to be around her when she’s acting that way. XD

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t typically judge shows from the first episode, and so Kaori being a ‘manic pixie dream girl’ right away doesn’t bug me as of now. From what I’ve heard, there’s more to her than that. Plus, she was playing a song from one of my favorite movies…I have a feeling I’ll like this series. I nearly screamed when I heard the first few notes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Castle in the sky is underappreciated 🙂

      Kaori certainly does have a lot more to her, and she does things like playing Pazu’s fanfare that make people love her no matter what she does wrong. I’m glad you’re watching the series in any case, and I hope you enjoy it very much.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s one of my favorite Ghibli movies. It has a little bit of everything.
        I wasn’t a big fan of Kaori hitting him, just because he’s already got a history of physical abuse. I know she wouldn’t know that, but it just struck me as a weird writing choice.
        But honestly, starting a show with Pazu’s fanfare is a great way to start, and I hope to watch more when I have the time.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Kaori’s behavior in light of Kousei being abused is something a lot of viewers pick up on. Having seen the whole series I don’t think the author intended a deliberate connection here, but it rubs some people the wrong way all the same. Arakawa sensei is as prone to writing anime cliches as much as the next mangaka, and a lot of the humor he includes follows in this vein.

          I’m looking forward to you seeing more of this show!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Not much to add here besides chiming in to agree with you regarding the term manic pixie dream girl being a poor fit when applied to Kaori. Does the term ever really work out?
    As you know, I sort of disliked Kaori at first but she really does win you over as the series progresses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting question. With someone whose involvement in the story runs as deep as Kaori’s, it’s almost guaranteed that the trope isn’t a perfect fit. Then again, tropes rarely are perfect models outside of the instance they were named after, eg: “Get in the robot, Shinji.”

      But given that the manic pixie dream girl needs to be closely involved in the protagonist’s story to fit the trope at all invites hole poking when trying to apply the model. Unless the story is hyper focused on the protagonist alone, the dream girl (or in rarer cases, boy) will have some kind of story of their own. The trope thus works much more easily as a generalization, with all the limited application that any generalization implies.

      The use of the trope isn’t dissimilar with what you pointed out in your recent “protagonist as a scapegoat” article. People tend to jump at any source of displeasure and prematurely dismiss an anime they might not immediately connect with. Kousei might do this for some people with his mopey attitude, but Kaori is an easier target because she kind of fits with a derogatory model – at least in the beginning. I do remember that you didn’t like her at first either, but you’re the kind of person that looks for a lot of other things to enjoy before putting an anime aside. Not everyone is so generous with their attention span.

      Like

      1. Ah, that’s a good point. Tropes can start off as being tailor-made and perfect fits are difficult to find.

        Right. And Kaori definitely has her own story which makes the dream girl label seem off. Sure, a lot of what she does is for Kousei, but she also wanted to, well, remind people she was around and there.

        Ah, you bring up another good point. I guess people can end up attacking either Kousei or Kaori or even both if they never warm up to the characters. But I feel like patience is a virtue when it comes to watching anime!
        Then again, you’re also right that some people aren’t so generous. I can only silently pray people give Kaori and Kousei a shot.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Weekend! I made it, slowly…kind of? Not sure where I stand in the blogging realm and how long i’ll be around, but so far, I like what you’re doing with this re-watch! It’s an interesting perspective. To be honest, I’m not a fan of Kristen Dunst at all, so I don’t know that I can compare her to Kaori in that sense just because I really like Kaori in comparison. ❤ I'm gonna try my best to keep up again! And I'm pretty sure I got the survey wrong..? LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s great to have you back, Zel!

      I know how busy you are, so don’t feel pressured to participate in this, though I certainly appreciate anything you can manage. At the very least the quiz only takes a minute 😉

      I can’t say I like Dunst that much either and there’s very few characters I can compare to Kaori, but I would hesitate to sell her character short since the point of this trope is oversimplifications and characters are rarely so watered down.

      Liked by 1 person

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