December 2, 2008
I’ve seen my fair share of music anime, but this is the first time the musical genre has been my first love: classical music.
STORY – “Work hard and you’ll achieve your dream!” It’s a very cliche and often-used storyline, right? Well, yes. Yes, it is, but that hardly means that the subsequent series has to be old and tiresome. I’ve said before that the best stories take something that’s been done a thousand times already and somehow manage to tell it in a way that’s better and more interesting. In a genre dominated by high school drama, Nodame Cantabile steps it up and uses college students, something I’d love to see happen more often. The storytelling happens in a mostly slice-of-life format, but it doesn’t shy away from progressing significantly in time — weeks pass, months pass, whole seasons and school years pass, and it’s great to be able to follow the characters for these longer periods of time, especially since it emphasizes the fact that change and progress take both hard work and time.
Nodame Cantabile is very focused for a slice-of-life series in that almost all of the characters are very serious and motivated by their goals; there are notably few subplots that veer away from the main points. I think this can make it a bit more attractive to people that are generally bored by a wandering plotline, but it’s pretty easy to get engaged in this series regardless. Reading summaries for Nodame Cantabile can only bring skepticism and doubt considering the frequency of the main plot, but watching it? I was charmed by episode one.
CHARACTER – Without a doubt, most of Nodame Cantabile’s appeal is in its characters. Though it feels a little odd to use the adjective on him, Shinichi Chiaki is definitely gar: all the girls want him, and all the guys want to be him (actually, wait, some of the guys want him too). This most likely includes the members of the audience! He’s a genius at what he does and furiously motivated; everywhere he goes, people throw themselves at his feet and do everything in their power to push him forward. You’re compelled to cheer for him every step of the way. It’s funny sometimes how that much charisma can make it through the screen, but it’s there, and it’s because despite Chiaki’s exceeding excellence at everything, he remains a very accessible character. His weaknesses are just as glaring and significant as his strengths, and they’re what balance him out. It’s easy to imagine yourself in Chiaki’s shoes.
Nodame, strangely enough, is very much the same. She’s crazy, quirky, wild, and questionable, but once again, she’s very human. Her antics are never so over-the-top that they’re utterly unbelievable, and her hopes and dreams are notably muddled alongside her classmates’ — something a lot of people can also relate to. The differences between Nodame and Chiaki made them perfect foils, and it was really fun watching all the drama and interaction between the two. Despite the frequency of Nodame’s claims on Chiaki, I really felt like this was one of the least forced-feeling romances I’ve ever seen. At no point did their relationship feel cheap, contrived, or overly convenient. Because so much time passes during the series, the relationship felt like it progressed at a much more natural place; it was great (and adorable).
All of the support characters are nice in their own way, and I don’t think there was a single one I disliked. One of the reasons I loved that this series features college-aged students is the fact that they can all drink, smoke, and have sex and it isn’t shocking or scandalous! It also added a nice bit of insight into the lives of Japanese college students and their hilarious nightlifes (clubs, arcades, and karaoke!) when they aren’t busy studying.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – Nodame Cantabile has a pretty damn simple and generic art style, but in that simplicity, it’s hard to find anything to pick at. The only thing that stands out for me in the character design is that many characters look like they’re perpetually blushing, which is a little confusing at times — once I got used to it though, it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
The most obvious critique of the animation in this series comes from the numerous still-frames used in the dozens of playing and concert montages. As an anime about music, there’s obviously a lot of music-playing involved. Especially in scenes involving entire orchestras, the animation is minimal to none — nine out of ten times you see a flute, a clarinet, an oboe, a french horn, or a cello, the players’ arms and fingers aren’t moving. The ratio is slightly improved for violin, and the piano gets the most attention with moving fingers maybe 40% of the time. It’s understandable though; after all, animating individual fingers playing instruments with many keys is incredibly difficult, especially for the piano, when they make a huge effort to animate the actual notes that are being played.
Aside from piano, where we’re sometimes lucky enough to get ten to twenty measures of music at a time, most instruments are only shown being played for seconds at a time, and it’s often CG. This makes the rendering of the instrument perfectly accurate and shiny (especially the clarinets and oboes), and I loved catching those sniplets of action in between the panning shots. There are a lot of still shots, but I do think what they do show us is worth it. There is one concert near the beginning of the series that’s about half an episode’s worth of still montages, but that’s the worst of it — as the series progresses, there’s gradually more and more actual playing. :3
MUSIC – Ah, classical music! And of such a nice variety too! I was happy to see that the selection of music in Nodame Cantabile represented more than just the select few scores and piano pieces known by the general public. Most of the composers are still familiar, but there are also lesser-known names such as Debussy, Ravel and Sarasate. Unfortunately, as much as I do love classical music, I don’t have a trained enough ear to be able to tell whether or not the music played in the series was tailored specifically for it — for example, when characters supposedly play a piece poorly, I really can’t tell. When characters supposedly improvise and don’t play exactly what the piece dictates, I can’t tell.
I would think that a vast majority of the pieces would be professionally recorded pieces borrowed for the series though, and that they’re all free of glaring errors. (I just can’t imagine that they’d budget the money required to hire an entire orchestra to mess up.) Still, at least some of the piano solos (the Moja Moja Suite? The improvised piano version of some made-up show?) had to have been recorded for the show. Overall, all of the music is very pleasing to listen to and well-performed. Maybe you don’t be moved to tears like the characters are, but if you’re even a mild fan of classical music, you’ll be fine. :)
VOICE ACTING – Seki Tomokazu and Ayako Kawasumi both do a great job with their leads. As both characters go through a full range of emotions, their voices had to match up appropriately, and they did! Especially for a character like Nodame, who habitually puts up one front while fostering other thoughts and feelings inside, it was really important that she have a good voice. The rest of the characters all had pretty nice voices as well, though no others really stood out to me as being particularly notable.
OVERALL – As a longtime fan of classical music, an amateur pianist, and a former clarinetist, Nodame Cantabile was both inspiring and nostalgic. It made me want to play more piano, and it made me really miss playing the school band or orchestra. It was educational, giving insight into the world and careers of classical musicians, and it was touching, allowing for a window in the lives of some very believable characters. It was hilarious and very silly at times, but I don’t think it ever crossed the line into over-the-top territory. Even for those who aren’t huge, huge fans of classical music, I think this series has enough merit to warrant a taste, and for those who are fans, you definitely don’t want to miss this series. I already can’t wait to move onto the sequel. :3