Nodame Cantabile: Romance done right

(Spoilers Avoided) So I don’t usually watch a lot of Josei and Shoujo anime because they’re not my cup of tea. Most will be very romance-heavy and I don’t enjoy romance as a genre in general. However, Nodame Cantabile and a few other titles tend to be solid exceptions to this. Though I’ve not seen any of the live action Nodame, I’ve watched the anime and read the manga in their entirety. There are shows which you dissect and there are ones which you just enjoy. For me, this is one of the latter. I don’t want to use my brain on it, I’d just watch it for the experience.

Nodame Cantabile

What is Nodame Cantabile?

Nodame Cantabile is the story of a music student Megumi Noda (based on a real-life musician of the same name) who is an eccentric genius but all over the place. She’s careless, indisciplined, emotional, a slob, childish, fears the things which will make her successful, and basically a train wreck. She even aspires to be a kindergarten teacher though she is an incredibly talented pianist who plays in the Cantabile style but mostly free-flowing, by the ear.

Our other protagonist is Chiaki who is basically everything that Nodame isn’t. He is her polar opposite, disciplined, trained, very mature, but often uptight and with his own phobias. They end up in the same academy and as neighbours, Nodame falls in love with Chiaki on day one, telling everyone she’s his wife (she does weird things like that), and the rest is basically their love story and their journey together as musicians. The characters in this series are all fairly compelling and developed rather well, especially the two protagonists.

A wholesome romance

I wrote somewhere on this blog (I forgot where) on what my definition of a “good” relationship is. It’s basically, two imperfect people (because we’re all imperfect) who complement each other in the right way, who bring out the good in the other while helping them deal with the broken parts. Also, who don’t give up on each other. And that’s Nodame Cantabile pretty much.

Though at first glance, Megumi and Chiaki seem like they have nothing in common, as the series progresses it progresses pretty well to show how they are perfect for each other. Both have their flaws, hang-ups, and phobias, but their relationship works because they are able to, both intentionally and unintentionally, be the right support needed by the other to overcome their barriers. Chiaki, being so uptight, needs Nodame’s idiocy to bring him out of his own shell of perfectionism while she needs his discipline to help her achieve her potential as a musician. There’s also a lot of patience in their relationship. Chiaki never gives up on her despite her idiosyncrasies and her commitment to him is so complete, it helps him overcome his fear of abandonment and gives him the space to be himself. Basically, if you read/watch it you’ll be going “Awww” a whole lot.

The Mother of all Slowburns

I like slowburn romances done right and the one in Nodame Cantabile is slow. Like really slow. But you know what? It needs to be that way. Nodame being gung-ho with her heart and declaring herself in love with Chiaki from day one is all good and right but of course that’s not real love. Real love happens between them slowly and to be honest it wouldn’t make sense any other way. It would feel engineered. Chiaki treating Nodame as a menace he can’t and then does not want to get rid of is what makes sense for the longest time. It’s only after they’ve spent a while growing together and unconsciously working on each other that their relationship fully materialises and I got a sense of feeling rewarded for my patience.

Nodame Cantabile

Even the relationship, once it finally happens, is handled pretty realistically since “happily ever after” would only exists in fairy tales. They go through their rough bits owing to their careers but it again feels mostly natural and you’ve seen the characters grow so much that you get why they will make it through this too.

Watch it if…

Watch Nodame Cantabile if you have the patience for a very subtle, long, slow-burn romance, enjoy simple slice-of-life stuff, and like quirky characters. Also if music interests you because it gets pretty technical at times and I learned a lot about music from it. It’s not constant romance either and there are many other arcs of professional and character development which are also handled pretty well.

Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 2

Heavy Spoilers: Second part of comparing the Macros Plus OVA vs. the Movie

The movie jumps directly post this to Isamu getting scolded by Millard and getting banned from flying for three days followed by his and Lucy’s date while the OVA goes post the introduction to a sequence with Isamu researching the fighter craft and a simulation training which he does badly in making Yang yell at him for not taking things seriously. Both narratives converge at the date sequence which is just Isamu driving rashly and catching a note of Sharon’s song which reminds him of Myung.

The next scene is in the cafeteria where Guld’s colleagues are joking about Isamu being pulled up and their chances of winning being good. In the movie, they are happy Isamu has been banned for 3 days while in the OVA it’s more about just him screwing up. In both, Guld warns his colleagues to not underestimate him. This is a very powerful scene because while both have just been shown fighting each other passionately in both versions, this scene is Guld’s quiet acceptance of his past association and familiarity with Isamu. It’s a very private moment of him delving back into a time when things were better between them.

Myung’s press conference is running in the background of this sequence in both versions and Guld becomes aware of it, realising Myung is there in the city and managing Sharon. The conference is played out similarly in both versions with a reporter raising concerns on a computer-generated voice being emotionless and Raymond defending it claiming Sharon’s feelings will be hurt by the claim.

The OVA then proceeds with the scene of Myung and Sharon showing up to the crowd which is shown at the beginning of the movie followed by shots of Sharon’s concert being set up and the scene with Myung supervising Sharon’s adjustment. Marge shows up but just to inform Myung her taxi is here with no warning on the media. She departs and goes to Star Hill followed by a sequence of Isamu and Lucy flirting with each other while on their date.

The movie on the other hand skips to a sequence which does not happen in the OVA between Raymond and Myung where he asks if she would prefer to sing in place of Sharon and she informs him her singing days are over. She talks to him about how Sharon has won so many hearts mentioning that she will be out of work if Sharon does become complete but she is happy as long as fans are happy. Raymond wonders why Sharon doesn’t awaken even though her system is complete which Myung attributes to her own emotions perhaps not being strong enough. Raymond also seems to have a romantic interest in Myung which she sort of pretends to ignore and divert by focusing on a fake flower in his vase.

There are three key themes of the series addressed in this one scene. One is a woman’s consent and unwanted romantic attention, the second is a human-dependent machine’s efficacy being as good as the person it relies on to run (Sharon functioning inadequately since Myung’s emotions are lacking and Guld’s craft not performing optimally due to his own tripping up at the hands of his Zentradi blood), and third is the redundancy of a human at the hands of a machine. Makes it a rather important scene and hence I feel it adds value to the movie. I also find it interesting that Raymond mentions Sharon’s AI is complete in this scene while in the OVA it is clearly mentioned it is incomplete and hence there is a need to rely on Myung. Since both versions do feature the microchip later, I get confused if the intention is to show Sharon’s AI in different states in each.

Both versions again converge at Star Hill for Guld and Myung’s meeting followed by Isamu and Lycy showing up which is played out in the same way so I won’t go into it much. Notable here is Myung’s attempt to appear as if all is ok and Guld realizing nothing is alright and offering to help her which makes for a very powerful sequence during a rewatch. I am always struck by how much reconstruction Myung has done for herself after being abused by one friend and abandoned by the other. Guld informs Isamu he will get neither Myung nor the project, almost reducing her to the status of a commodity while Isamu claims he is only interested in the project. Myung stays caught between the egos of these two men, another major theme in the series.

There is one change here which is in the dialogue when Guld first accosts Isamu. Since the first dialogue of Guld calling Isamu a traitor didn’t happen in the movie, it was changed. This dialogue is actually quite significant since it foreshadows the understanding the audience later get of Guld believing Isamu to have assaulted Myung when actually it was him.

The next sequences in the movie is a fairly benign mashup of the two YFs being test piloted by Isamu and Guld which are actually clips from much more dramatic sequences in the OVA. This is shown as a montage sequence occurring over some time interspersed by Myung being immersed into the AI in preparation of the concert.

This is followed by the scene of Guld looking up Isamu’s records and his Zentradi blood acting up which was shown earlier in the OVA but it’s interspersed with scenes of his memory of Myung’s assault which he believes was done by Isamu. In the OVA the trigger for his Zentradi blood seems simply to be his rivalry and hatred for Isamu while in the movie it’s specifically shown to be triggered by this sequence again enunciating slightly different motifs.

On the other hand, the OVA takes a very different approach depicting Isamu and Guld’s first test flight together where Guld is easily able to outshine Isamu initially. He is more focused on the task at hand in this sequence than Isamu who is lagging and trying very hard to match up to Guld out of rivalry. However, Guld loses control of the YF-21 as there is disruption in his brainwave connect and he flashes back to the scene of seeing Isamu with Myung right after the assault. He is angry since under the impression Isamu was the culprit.

He goes into free fall as a result and Isamu rescues him finally on Millard’s orders. However, just as they land safely Guld imagines a scenario where he causes Isamu to have an accident and his craft responds by manifesting it. Isamu is livid, accusing Guld of having done it on purpose. The other man mocks him but also apologises stating it was an accident. This is again a pretty critical scene going back to the motifs of fragile masculinity and ego clashes between two men. Guld takes a step back in this case and apologizes.

Guld flies the YF-21 and the sequence is followed by Myung supervising Sharon Apple’s programming where Marge shows up to warn her that reporters are catching on to there being a flaw in Sharon’s software so she should be careful during the press conference.

I won’t do a separate observation bit here. Rather, I’ll post the third and fourth parts and then do a combined observation bit.

Other articles in the series

Revisiting Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimetres per Second

Spoilers Avoided: I wrote something on Twitter about how 5 Centimetres per Second is one of those movies you get something new out of each time you come back to rewatch it just a bit older and it’s true. The first time I watched it was in my teens when it just came out and I loved it. The second time I watched it, I found it too painful. Third time watching it now, I get it. My “revisit” this time around happened because I randomly downloaded it to watch on a flight yesterday and then of course I had to pen down all the thoughts on its symbolisms and why I feel it’s so good.

5 Centimetres per Second is a set of three “short stories” from different times in the same male protagonist’s life and mostly revolves around his relationships with the girls who come into his life. In fact, we rarely see other characters except the ones who are in focus at the moment. He ages over the course of the story and each of the experiences shape him as a person but ultimately even they are not the prime shapers. He is shaped at the end by the very act of growing up. Nothing much happens in the movie but it is a very realistic depiction of the lives of most young people where over the course of time priorities change, things which once meant everything fall to the side of the road only for their importance to be realised much later when it’s too late to go back to them. We set off doing one thing to get to an end goal and then sometimes get so engrossed in the means that we forget or lose out on the end.

5 Centimetres per second is the speed at which a Sakura petal falls. Speed and movement are the themes of the story. Characters are always traveling, sometimes similarly, sometimes differently. Motion is as much a character in the story as any others, geographical, emotional, intellectual. Characters keep playing catch-up with each other, ending up being subjected to things they knowingly or unknowingly subjected another person to as lives criss-cross. People mature at different paces, paths diverge, and collide again. How far an individual has traveled in their life over the same period of time versus another (distance/time=speed right?) is a reflection of who they were as an individual all along. This theme of pace and motion comes at a head in a very unexpected ending which goes back and gives you a new perspective to what you saw, a story which in the first watch you are likely to think will end very differently than how it does.

The manner of storytelling in 5 Centimetres per Second always feels very metaphorical to me since it begins as quite descriptive, taking time to build the backstory of the first two characters in detail and then begins to abandon the viewer, getting increasingly omissive till the end where the most important events and progressions which have occurred are not even told.

It feels like a parallel to the process of growing up itself, how the lives of most children start off, sheltered in homes, everything making sense, innocence being very much an attainable reality. Then life kicks in and as you grow up things begin to make less and less sense, or maybe you have less time to make sense of everything coming your way, memories begin to fade or morph, but you keep going, innocence is often a luxury, passions begin to seem pointless, relationships make you jaded and feel unreal rather than the happily-ever-after they once seemed. When you are a child you have more time to register things as they happen but as an adult time often seems to move faster. It feels like you blinked and suddenly you’re grown, having played chase with the life you think you wanted, wondering where they time went and how you ended up where you are now. It’s very much a story of growing up, very much representative of real life where there may not be very satisfactory resolutions or even closure at-all, no grand schemes or purposes may be revealed to individual lives, but we don’t exactly have a choice other than accepting it all as it is given.

Watch it if you enjoy slice of life stories of people growing and changing, learning and also being very stupid like people always are. Watch it also for the absolutely breathtaking imagery and Makoto Shinkai in general.

Recommended Watch: Review of Kotaro Lives Alone

Spoilers avoided. I finished my blind watch of Kotaro Lives Alone (you can read about the first impressions from that here in case you would like to) and now I want to do a more detailed piece separately on its core theme since it is extremely close to me but that will be spoilers galore so here is a quick final review. I’ve only seen the anime (which is only one season right now) though I plan to read the manga now, so this will be limited to the former.

Kotaro Lives Alone is a slice of life story with a child as a protagonist but it’s Seinen and therefore meant for adults. I feel it serves two purposes largely, the first being to provide a view into what abuse and neglect may look like in a child and second being almost a cathartic medium for any adult who was once an abused child to acknowledge the wrong done to them and maybe try to move on. I have experience with children from abusive backgrounds so when I talk about that below I’m doing it basis that.

What Doesn’t Work

  • It starts off strong with the first episode really catching your curiosity but somewhere in the middle the story tends to get a bit repetitive, somewhat slow, and loose in execution at-times though the season has a fairly impactful last episode
  • While the dynamic of Kotaro and Shin is developed fairly well, the secondary characters are often wasted and I would have been ok with fewer of those with more time spent with each
  • Considering the theme it deals with, it tends to get a bit too fairies and wonderland at-times which takes away its credibility but it does manage to salvage it by tying back to the core theme eventually. But personally, I would have preferred more seriousness considering this isn’t targeted at children.

The Win of Kotaro Lives Alone (what works well)

For me, what trumps everything that Kotaro Lives Alone gets wrong is a very astute and poignant understanding of the psyche, traits, and experiences of an abused or neglected child. I don’t know if the mangaka based this on personal experience but you cannot create a story like this unless you have seen this up-close whether in your own life or the life of someone close to you. It hits you again and again and how. Abuse doesn’t leave one impact and the effects can manifest in many different ways long after it’s no longer happening. Kotaro Lives Alone goes into so many of these impacts with a lot of respect and understanding of them that I’m ok ignoring the rest.

The story packages this understanding into bite-sized morsels which evolve from fairly innocuous everyday things and then morph into an insight into some aspect of the impact of childhood trauma which even someone who fortunately did not have to go through it can most likely understand. I always tend to place a bit of hope in such media (I like being optimistic ok?) to create a wider awareness in people about signs of abuse to watch out for in children since the series is actually often quite accurate in the gist of the message and seems to put in earnest effort into building that understanding. Watch it for the beautiful relationship which develops between the two protagonists Kotaro and Shin and Kotaro’s other little friendships. Overall, if you enjoy sensitive and emotional stories and would not get triggered by references to childhood abuse, I’d recommend this one.

Other articles on the show

Kotaro Lives Alone: Blind Watch Ep. 1 (No Spoilers)
Kotaro Lives Alone: Trauma and Stories (Spoilers)

Kotaro Lives Alone: Blind Watch Ep. 1

*No Spoilers* Kotaro Lives Alone is…um…confusing but weirdly promising. Ok, so this was not a planned watch. I got home from work and was just browsing Netflix while having my usual evening tea. It’s been prompting me with this show for a while so I just clicked on it. The first episode was rather…peculiar so now I have to both write about it and also watch the rest (10 episodes in Season 1 so manageable). I’m calling this a blind watch because I know zilch about this show and since it’s so weird I kind of want to watch it all without reading anything about it. If you’re reading this and I’ve dragged myself into some super controversial pile of goo please be a pal and let me know.

Kotaro Lives Alone

This one is just a few observations from the first episode. Will probably not do an episode by episode thing from here on and will club 3-4 of them together but depends on how the show turns out really. I’ve learned better by now than to commit to the length of my engagement with anything up-front since the article Goodnight Julia was supposed to be both the beginning and end of my return to anime writing so…four months and forty plus pieces later (of which like 30 are just Bebop) I’m gonna zip it.

The Premise of Kotaro Lives Alone

Honestly, you don’t get any context. It just starts and moves fast. Commendably though the pace wasn’t bothersome and I didn’t get the sense of missing out on anything. It starts with Kotaro standing alone with his luggage in front of a building which has apartments available. Next, he is in a supermarket buying boxes of tissues and quoting life philosophy to the store attendant. On the way out, he also buys a toy sword and goes home mumbling about enemies.

We are next introduced to our other hero, a struggling Mangaka Shin Karino who is apparently Kotaro’s neighbour. We know this because Kotaro shows up at his door to gift him a tissue box. We also find out Kotaro does not consider himself a child since he informs Shin that there are no small children staying with him and he is living alone.

Kotaro’s Adorably Bizarre Personality

He actually gives me war veteran vibes rather than child and he seems to view himself that way too, claiming he is a feudal lord. He speaks in a deadpan, very formal manner, carries a post-traumatic air, says things which are wise way beyond his years, and seems determined to prove to everyone he can do this on his own. He is also exactly four years old. At one point, he informs he no longer has his parents though does not elaborate and at another he tells Shin no one has washed his hair for him in a long time.

During this episode, we are also shown he is no stranger to grief or managing it in others as he gauges another neighbour has been crying when Shin remains clueless. He is also constantly ready for battle resulting in a rather funny conversation where Shin is talking to him about bathtubs and he first assumes Shin is asking him to build one of his own and then mistakes the word “bathhouse” for “battlehouse,” resigning himself to war immediately and indicating he has fought to stay alive before too (whether actually or he just thinks so is yet to be seen).

What makes me want to watch Kotaro Lives Alone

  • Kotaro reminds me of Kino from Kino no Tabi. In fact, right now the whole show seems to have a similar vibe with this quiet, collected, very young protagonist who has clearly seen a lot before and is damaged by it but still retains humanity under a stoic facade
  • The equation of Kotaro and Shin. Shin seems like a lost cause but he also seems unable to keep himself from surreptitiously watching out and taking care of Kotaro. They even get mistaken for father and son, which neither is too happy about. Kotaro remarks Shin is inferior to him, calling him servant but it feels like something which has the potential for great poignance and growth since Kotaro seems in need of care and Shin seems unable to stop himself from giving it.
  • It’s made me curious to know more. Who is Kotaro? How did he become this way? The whole idea of a four year old acting like he does is way outlandish so I want to know how the show will justify it.
  • It’s moving pretty fast and seems to be intelligently written with the undertones telling the story as much as the overt which is very much my cup of tea. Hoping it stays the course.

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