Nodame Cantabile / Nodame Kantaabire
Noda Megumi (her friends call her Nodame) is a free-spirited, lazy, and messy 2nd-year piano student at Momogaoka College of Music who just wants to play the piano for fun. Chiaki Shinichi is an orderly, ambitious, well-mannered 3rd year piano student (at the same school) who aspires to be a well-known conductor. After a chance encounter, Chiaki will find himself increasingly interested in and attached to Nodame because of her impressive musical talents and her care-free personality. Based on the manga by the same name, the story is developed around these two students and on their growing relationships in music, friendships, and possibly even romance.
From the studio that brought you Honey & Clover, Nodame Cantabile is a drama/romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the world of classical music and based on the shoujo manga of the same name by Tomoko Ninomiya. A blend of slice-of-life storytelling, humor, and terrific classical music performances, it is a refreshing standout from the more conventional fare that seems to be currently crowding the air waves. The series is completely enjoyable from start to finish, and while it may not be as exciting or as laugh-out funny as some other shows, it has something that lesser shows lack: charm. From the soft, “watercolor” style animation, to the amiable characters, the engaging dialogue, and the enchanting music, Nodame Cantabile completely draws you into its world and its characters.
The plot is not linear, but rather follows a more spontaneous and somewhat episodic manner. Though there does not seem to be an overarching storyline per say, all the episodes do paint a progressive picture of the various characters as they grow in life, in their music, and in their relationships. The show depicts the characters in their everyday activities, from eating meals, going to classes and meeting with friends, to practicing their instruments, attending rehearsals, and performing concerts. For a slice-of-life drama/comedy, it works surprisingly well and consistently keeps the viewer interested as new characters, new relationships, and new conflicts are introduced with each episode. Aside from the two main characters, there is a varied cast of vastly different personalities, from the impulsive and rebellious Ryutaro Mine, a 3rd year violin student who despises the “strictness” of classical music, to the eccentric Masumi Okuyama, a 4th year timpanist who is a female trapped in a male body. Then there is the perverted and yet highly renowned conductor Franz von Stresemann, who, while taking Chiaki as his pupil, teaches him little beyond lessons in rowdiness and womanizing. As the show progresses, we are continuously introduced to new and intriguing characters which helps the show remain fresh and amusing. The persistent characters are, for the most part, also developed quite nicely over a fairly long period of time.
The comedy is also consistent throughout the series and is, more often than not, very funny. It never gets old to see Chiaki continuously acting as a reluctant mother figure for Nodame (by cleaning and cooking for her, and even overseeing her hygiene), who lacks both social and household skills, or to see the continuing perverted antics of Stressmann—especially when an unwilling Chiaki is dragged along for the ride. Not just the situations but the characters themselves are consistently amusing from Nodame’s “unique” verbal and facial expressions to Masumi’s over-dramatic mannerisms and to Chiaki’s unhealthy, but amusing, phobia of flying. However, despite these comical moments, there are also very dramatic, serious and heart-warming scenes throughout the show. Fortunately, the writers were clever enough to keep just the right balance of humor and drama so that the show never feels too serious to the point of melancholy nor does it feel too witty to the point of ridicule. Needless to say, this is quite the winning combination.
Nodame Cantabile presents the viewer with many different themes including the power of music to bring people together and to overcome worldly troubles, the ups and downs of love, and the struggle for personal identity. The show continually expresses the idea that music is not only about theory or technique but also about fun and enjoyment. As we observe the characters living through times of joy and contentment or times of conflict and struggle, we experience the dynamic nature of life. We see that while life isn’t always fair or enjoyable, that it’s always worthwhile and meaningful.
Visually speaking, there’s nothing to complain about. The animation, for the most part, is smooth, colorful, and detailed, with a distinctive “watercolor” feel that was a trademark of J.C. Staff’s earlier work, Honey & Clover. The result is art and animation that feels softer and more expressive than animation created though more conventional methods. The CGI used during musical and instrumental performances are also nicely done and adds to realism. Fans of the technical side of music will certainly get a kick out of the accurately animated hand movements present throughout the series. The show is also available in an HD format (which wasn't exacty common in 2007). Watching the episodes in 720p on an HDTV is quite an impressive and immersive experience. In addition, the sound is first rate, and more than makes up for any shortcomings that the animation may have. Each character’s voice is fitting and expressive and the music is both soft and striking, both melodious and spontaneous. The opening and ending themes are among the best I’ve heard in an anime to date (Crystal Kay's "Konna ni Chikaku De" was particularly memorable)
In fact, the music is a crucial aspect of the series. It ties everything together, it is what drives and motivates the characters, not to mention it sounds exceptional. The musical performances (most of which are borrowed from the earlier live-action series) are true to the nature of the original classical pieces and yet infused with a songlike or cantabile (get the meaning of the title now?) quality. The result is nothing short of brilliance. In fact the quality and, so to speak, enjoyability of the music will likely inspire many to learn or listen to classical music. And as someone who used to play in a band in middle school and loved classical music, Nodame Cantabile has certainly revived my since dwindled interest in the genre and to the study of music in general. You know you have something special when a show is able to inspire or encourage you to do something meaningful in real life.
But as always, there are some parts of the series that could use improvement or could have been done better. One issue I had with the series was that the story may progress a little too quickly for some, with certain storylines perhaps not getting quite enough attention. And while the main characters are very well developed, it would have been great to see more development or back-story of some of the more minor characters. But considering how much material is covered in just 23 episodes, perhaps this is understandable. Speaking of which, even though the story at times moves along at a blistering pace, there are still a few moments when it does seem to drag just a little. The ending also seems a little sudden and abrupt, and while not ending in any sort of cliffhanger it certainly seems to imply that there is more to come. Finally, the watercolor-style animation, while initially impressive, soon loses some of its appeal. These are not major problems by any means, since the series is of such high quality in general.
Overall, Nodame Cantabile is an enjoyable, charming, and meaningful look into the world of music as well as the nature of love, relationships, and life in general. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for something that is funny but meaningful, and relaxing but charismatic. Whether you’re a fan of romantic comedy, a classical music buff, or just someone who wants to sit down and watch a few random episodes without having to commit, this is the anime for you. So go ahead, take the Nodame Cantabile challenge. I bet you can’t watch just one.
Note: a version of this review as previously posted on Animetric.com