NoitaminA steamrolls along in spectacular fashion for yet another week, and Sakamichi joins Tsuritama in delivering peerless episodes that build on everything that’s come before. It was interesting that Crunchyroll finally subbed the OP and ED this week. I love both, with Motohiro Hata’s ED being possibly my favorite anime theme of the season – but now that I know the lyrics of it in detail, I see just how spoilerific it is (and I haven’t read the manga, just made a lot of educated guesses). If you don’t speak Japanese I’d avoid those lyrics if I were you, because they don’t leave things very open to debate.
The inclusion of “My Favorite Things” as one of the musical centerpieces of the show makes sense now, as it’s been tied into the death of John Coltrane – which places the events of this episodes somewhere in late July of 1967. All of the relationships important to the story are at play in this ep, but they all revolve around the one between Kaoru and Sentarou like planets orbiting a star. I saw a lot of complaining about Kaoru having overreacted last week by storming off and declaring his friendship with Sen at an end, but having had quite a few friends whose Dads were in the military, it rang pretty true with me. The fear of abandonment is a pretty powerful thing, and the aftershocks of the quake were still being felt this week.
The thing is, of course, life goes on. Sen is still practicing for the school festival with Seiji and “The Olympus” (don’t forget the Tokyo Olympics were held just three years earlier) and Bon is still just as much in love with Ritsuko as ever. And he’s also pleased with himself when he suddenly becomes quite popular with her friends after breaking his silence to “defend” her from speculation that they’re dating – all of a sudden they turn to him for advice on getting good grades, and even more, the two of them become the subject of their matchmaking – drafted to be on the festival registration committee together.
Things, meanwhile, come to a head between Sen and Yurika – perhaps irredeemably so it seems to me – after he catches her looking at “Chet Baker Sings” in the Mukae’s shop. There’s a lot of subtlety in this scene but the implication is not lost on Sen, and things get even worse when he’s moving in for a kiss only to be interrupted by the stumblebum mutterings of Brother Jun, who’s been crashing in the basement studio. No word yet on what sent Jun down this path – given that it’s 1967 and he’s a Tokyo college student many possibilities naturally suggest themselves – but when Yurika leaves crying and Jun runs off his mouth a little, Sen cracks him a good one (I thought for a moment he’d seriously injured his hand) and yet another relationship is torn asunder.
The thing is, Bon knows the fight between Sen and he is pretty stupid – it’s never more apparent than when he stammers through a conversation while making Sen fill out the application form (I loved the before–after eyecatches where Bon corrects Sen’s katakana) for the festival – but he’s a kid, and he can’t quite bring himself to make it right. There really aren’t any villains here – Seiji is just trying to improve things for his family, Sen is sympathetic and trying to help out, and Rock ‘n Roll isn’t evil and never was. Deep down Kaoru knows this but he’s so wounded that he can’t bring himself to risk believing that, and continues the big chill right up until festival day. The Olympus take the stage –
Nobuhiro Okamoto Seiji on vocals, Maruo playing a vintage (well, not at the time) Fender Telecaster, Yamaoka on Hofner bass (just like Paul McCartney) and Sentarou on drums – and in the brief interval before the power goes out, Sen proves himself as adept at rock drumming as he with jazz. He also proves himself a loyal ally even to casual friends, stepping up to defend Seiji from groundless “rich boy” accusations from bullying seniors. Even Maruo (young Murase Ayumu is doing a nice job with this smallish role) is convinced at the point that Sen’s a nice guy after all.
There’s a lot of subtlety throughout the episode, and lots of feelings communicated without words. But the climax of the episode is undeniably theatrical – a convenient power outage prompts Kaoru to take to the piano, and Sentarou to join him on drums. But I’ll forgive the drama, because drama isn’t a four-letter word to me (I counted – it’s five) and it’s well-earned. I especially liked the quick cut to Kaoru as a little boy finding a letter in his mailbox as he heard Sen tell Maruo that he was loyal to him, and through with Rock ‘n Roll after the festival – a callback to the moment where Kaoru’s friend had told him he’d send him letters after he moved away, and the mailbox was always empty. The music itself was tremendous – a bebop sledgehammering of “My Favorite Things” and – just in case Ritsuko wasn’t sure who he was playing for – a refrain from “Someday My Prince Will Come” before finishing with “Moanin’”. The only sad part was that Olympus apparently never got to finish their set, as Sen grabbed Bon and the two of them ran off like Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross at the end of “The Graduate”. Given that Mike Nichols’ film was released in 1967, this is a remarkably clever reference – though whether by Watanabe-san or the mangaka I don’t know.
To everyone about to begin the “Yaoiyaoiyaoi!” complaints, I’ll just say this – spare me. Frankly I wouldn’t really care if there were romantic feelings between Kaoru and Sentarou, but I also think it’s silly to be so insecure as to see them every time two males express any sort of genuine feeling for each other. Fact is, while this is an impressively layered story – history, social commentary, love of music, romance – at heart I think it’s a story of adolescent loneliness and the importance of friendship. I just think Kaoru is an affection-starved kid who’s covered himself in a thick skin of indifference, and Sen is the first real friend he’s had in many years – probably since the mailbox boy. It’s not a question of romance – it’s a matter of this being the relationship that changed him the most, and the most important of his teenaged years. As such, while the closing scenes were dramatic, I didn’t think they were over the top – because if you don’t accept the importance this friendship holds for Kaoru, I don’t think you accept the basic premise of the entire series.