Sakamichi no Apollon – 03

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Why does everyone make this anime thing out to be so hard? Just do it like that.

I almost feel as if I shouldn’t defile this episode by even trying to talk about it, but I guess that’s my job – and the hard part at the moment is to do it without gushing like a smitten fanboy, because that’s what I feel like. I can’t recall many instances where I’ve been so thoroughly gobsmacked as I was after that confession scene – I didn’t know whether to be speechless or shout out my approval to the universe. In the end I grabbed my head with both hands and as soon as I snapped out of it, immediately jumped backwards to play it again.

One thing that strikes me is that really great anime directors have mastered the art of intra-episodic pacing. In other words, the critical thing is that an episode has to finish better than it starts – the section after the eyecatch is the most important. In boxing they say that the last minute of the round is more important in impressing the judges than the first two, and so it is with anime – the lasting impression comes from the final act. You can see examples of this in the work of Nagai Tatsuyuki, who demonstrated it to perfection with Ano Natsu de Matteru earlier this year. I was pleased with the first half of the episode, but nothing was especially thrilling me – it was just really good. But the second half was the best 10 minutes of an already great show so far, culminating with the confession scene.

Now I’ll be the first to admit I have a bias here – I absolutely love Bill Evans. He’s probably my favorite jazz pianist ever – his restrained, delicate melodic lines unlike anything that had come before and a huge influence on this who would follow right to this day. After playing on Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” (along with Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly, among others) – arguably the greatest jazz album ever – Evans founded arguably the greatest piano trio ever with Scott LeFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums. It was this trio’s 1959 debut LP “Portrait in Jazz” that Kaoru was looking at in this episode, and for which the song he played for Ritsuko, “Someday my Prince Will Come” (written for Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”) was recorded. It would be no exaggeration to say this was my favorite confession scene in anime, and that’s saying something as there have been some great ones.

This scene works on a great many levels, most obviously with the gorgeous cover of Evans’ classic recording. But I was also blown away by the imagery, the cuts between Kaoru’s ecstatic state at the piano, Ri-chan’s rapt attention, and especially the intercuts of Kaoru as he diligently transcribes Evans’ version, right down to the sketch of Ri-chan’s face on the sheet music. Wow – that was art. And it was all the more powerful because of the build-up earlier in the episode, with the makings of what felt like a conventional misunderstanding-driven anime love quadrangle. The payoff was Ritsuko’s heartbreaking “I’m the dress rehearsal” – a line of dialogue staggering under the weight of hidden meanings and depth – and Kaoru’s simple declaration that no, this song was for her. This wasn’t the rehearsal, but the performance.

Sakamichi no Apollon is a love story in so many ways. Ultimately I think it’s a love letter from Watanabe to the music he adores and to the idealism he felt in his youth, when the power of our emotions has a purity they’ll never have again in life. With a 9-volume manga being adapted into a 12-episode anime it’s inevitable that the pacing is going to be quick, and there were times that events and feelings felt as if they were rushing along too fast – but in a funny way I think this may work in the series’ favor, because it appears as if the romantic side of the love story will be largely free of equivocation and very much to the point. The cards are already on the table – Sentarou loves Yurika, Ri-chan loves Sentarou. and Kaoru loves Ri-chan. It’s a mess, but Kaoru’s beautiful and heartfelt confession changes everything – the regrets we carry with us are almost never what we did and wish we hadn’t, but what we didn’t do and wish we had. As Kaoru says himself, Ritsuko’s eyes are only on Sentarou – but that’s all right for now, because he’ll never have to wonder what would have happened if he’d only told Ri-chan how he felt.

Is it a surprise that Sentarou would turn out to be so shy? Not to me, as he seems to intentionally disconnect himself from his deeper emotions with his flippant behavior. It was interesting to see his family life – a house full of younger siblings, a pet pigeon named Sarah Vaughn. That emotional disconnect makes it easy to believe that he’s genuinely unaware of Ritsuko’s feelings for him – he’s been looking at her for so long that he only sees the little neighbor girl he grew up with, while Kaoru seems the young woman who silently pines for the neighbor boy. Her “No!” reaction when Yurika suggested climbing to the top of the stone arch with Sentarou was transparent to Kaoru – and to us – as was her quick explanation that it was all for safety’s sake. Now that she’s been presented with a new reality – there’s a guy right in front of her who does notice her, who doesn’t consider her a dress rehearsal or tell her she’s pretty just to make her feel better – it will be fascinating to see how she reacts. I’ll also be interested in whether Kaoru confronts Sentarou about what he walked in on – which I suspect was not exactly what it appeared to be.

As a final note, I’m mention that the Sakamichi no Apollon OST is officially released. And it’s every bit as good as you’d expect – a mix of classic tracks and original Kannou Youko compositions for the series. Buying OSTs is another way to show support to NoitaminA for using their platform to showcase brilliant and individualistic expressions of anime as art, like this one – and if you’re really feeling fashionable, you can also pre-order Kaoru’s glasses from the NoitaminA shop…

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  1. L

    My two favorite scenes were when kaoru and sentaro were planning to double date with the girls (I love their growing friendship which is the heart of the story for me) and the scene when they performed "Festival Jazz" the look on their faces was so much fun to watch but overall their love for music was so evident in that scene that it brought a huge smile on my face. In fact I keep rewatching that particular scene (heres hoping that will be in the album of the series)
    This has quickly become my favorite series this summer. ^_^

  2. L

    Is that sequence in the OST? If so I will buy it!!!!

  3. P

    Perhaps it is by the same person?

  4. M

    Because Enzo ALSO writes for Random Curiosity, and the posts he make there he also usually puts in here (his personal blog), or vice versa.

  5. d

    Is it all that hard to look at the writer's name? You are either new to RC or LiA. Most probably both

  6. A

    ''Buying OSTs is another way to show support to NoitaminA ''

    According to FedEx, my copy (along with Gundam AGE OST 2) is somewhere in Paris at the moment.

    Now excuse me while I fanboy out of my little head.


  7. It's as good as you think it will be. I just can't wait for the Tsuritama one.

  8. L

    so Im guessing the festival jazz sequence isnt in it? >_<

  9. 'Fraid not…

  10. A

    @Enzo I'm having very high hopes for the Tsuritama one, God this season is just front loaded on the musical front.

    @Lizzie If your interested, there is an older released OST for the manga (yes seriously) that includes the more Jazzy bits

    check it out and some samples here

  11. L

    Yes I'm interested and thanks ^_^

  12. I

    I should learn to play the piano, cuz that was great.
    Thumbs up for more great work with Jazz by Yoko Kanno.

  13. Need some Tsuritama comments too, Peeps – love me some Sakamichi, but the other NoitaminA gem needs some love, too!

  14. a

    You make this sound really good – I wasn't planning on watching it (purely because between films, k/j dramas and anime, I'm already watching enough), but, darn, I think I'll have to give this one a go!

  15. d

    Do you like Jazz? Do you tough guys who are kittens inside? Do you simple stories? Do you like smooth? Do you like basic? Do you feel the need for old school?

  16. A

    8:35: the wheels on the bus weren't synced up with the bus. Kinda amusing, but hard to notice.

  17. d

    The pithy remark about regret and how it comes about is really well done. I also believe that we tend to brood over what we haven't done rather than what we have done, because our brains kind of work that way – we got over it. These experiences, whether good or bad, help shape who you are.

    On a lighter note, I knew about the OST because it is on youtube already haha, and i've been listening to it while studying for finals but i did NOT KNOW about NoitaminA apparel haahh. Surprisingly, most of it actually looks GOOD!

  18. m

    SNA really reminds me of my high school days. Yeah, tried that piano confession (but I and Kaoru were in different situations). Also, as a musician, the tracks used here are really good. Props to Kanno Yoko. Anyone knows where can I get some music sheets of some the tracks used here? Though I'll be buying the OST, I'm not the kind of pianist who knows the chords quickly by just listening.

    Thank to this long weekend I have been able to catch up this season. My poor external is now on red. And one more thing, Guardian Enzo, I think we have similar tastes in anime when I saw the series you have covered so far.

  19. Hey Mindskeeker, good to hear from you. Try this site for sheet music for the standards – not sure where you'd go for the soundtrack originals.

  20. m

    Thanks for the link, Enzo. I need to learn a new genre to play now. I only play classical and ballads. Yeah, soundtrack originals music sheets are really hard to find.

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