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.

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.

Maximum City to Silicon City

I’m writing this from a Starbucks somewhere in Bangalore (it’s nicknamed Silicon City because of all the tech presence. Mumbai’s nickname is Maximum City). There’s a group in front of me with a guy who is speaking without moving his head or blinking. He is either taking or giving an interview. Anyway…for the last so many years I’ve always written blog posts (on my old one which is now gone) about life stuff and at one point high fashion because I had a lot of useless info on it thanks to something I was doing. Honestly, it’s more fun to write about anime and such things now, coming back to it after many years…three super cool looking Buddhist monks just took the seat opposite the unmoving man. Do monks drink coffee? They arrived in an SUV so I guess these are some urban variety of monks. Wonder if they are recruiting.

Anyway, at-times I miss rambling to cyberspace about what’s happening in my life though, especially when it gets truly life-changey, so here goes. I’m moving from Mumbai (there’s even a book calling it Maximum City) to Bangalore next month due to a transfer in my work (a big thanks to my friend Aldrean for making those initial days of getting the process started easier). I’ve moved and traveled around a lot both within India and outside it due to many different reasons so this is nothing new. Bangalore is no stranger to me also though I’ve never lived here.

But it’s a bit more significant shifting like this because Mumbai has always been the one place on the entire planet which feels like home to me. It’s my city though I wasn’t even born there. It’s old name is Bombay and it was changed to Mumbai a few years ago. Anyway, not sure why I love this place. It felt like home from the first time I was here for a visit well over a decade ago and I’ve lived here in two instalments for six years altogether. But lately, I was starting to feel a bit left out there. Again not sure why. Nothing changed but I was just sort of done with it for a bit. Maybe the pandemic, don’t know. I’ll never be completely done with it though.

I guess I like Mumbai because it’s a bit like me. Something very old (I’m around 85 inside my own head) packaged in something young, not belonging to any one culture, religion, architecture, geography, you name it. It’s got old churches, ancient Hindu temples, a healthy share of the very few Parsi fire temples and Towers of Silence in the world. But it’s also got the hedonism and sheer materialism of the film and fashion industries juxtaposed against drab everyday corporate existences. It’s got the swankiest of hotels but also the seaside chowpattys where you can have a great time in under a hundred rupees.

It’s got hills and the ocean. It’s even been the hub of the underworld for decades but is still an extremely safe city to live in. I studied there and it never shuts down so it’s got the memories of finishing up assignments in the middle of the night to head to Marine Drive by the sea in Colaba in a tired stupor. It’s got my colonially hungover current home of Bandra and also the Naval base where I had found a very fun and frankly doomed-from-the-start romance. In fact, quite a few memories of misadventures both romantic and otherwise. It’s got me and even though I’m leaving it now I know I want to be back in a few years.

I’ve been spending a few days in Bangalore to figure out a place to stay and for whatever reason I’m ok with the move. Not ecstatic because it’s not Mumbai but it will do. The crowd here is much younger, most are techies (I’m not one), I have more friends here than are left in Mumbai post-Covid, it’s got that traditional South Indian vibes under a very, very posh and modern facade. It’s ok for now I guess. The toughest part of this change was starting to say goodbye to a team I built from scratch since they were given to me pretty raw and had been boss-less a while before me (it’s a total GTO situation…not). I was surprised to see actual tears when I told them I was not going to be working with them anymore (I didn’t cry cause I was supposed to be tough for them but I swear by my last day I probably will). Am still in the process of preparing them for the change but I’m going to miss them. Yet change is a constant and maybe Silicon City won’t be so bad.

Wherever I’ve taken an image from another website I’ve linked the original to the image. The ones without links are my own photos.

The Nicest Thing Anyone Ever Did For Me

This has nothing to do with anime or anything else on my site. Once in a while, I write little life pieces or poetry or something else and just like to post them. This is a story which I cherish quite a bit. It happened a few years ago during my internship while in MBA.

We had a summer internship of two months which for me happened to be in the manufacturing facility of a consumer goods company in the middle of nowhere. I used to stay in a city 60 Kms. from the Plant and travel everyday, leaving at 6 am and getting back around 9 or 10 pm. It was a temp assignment so I just took up a shared room in a women’s hostel.

My room was on the outside of the building and I shared it with a girl who was from the same state. I didn’t speak a word of the local language so she was my communication lifeline. Right outside my window was a tiny room where the hostel’s caretaker used to stay. She was a little old lady easily in her 70s and did not speak any of the languages I am familiar with.

We used to communicate through rudimentary sign language but she was very sweet and caring and we formed some weird bond. My roommate informed me the old lady was concerned about my crazy work timings. I’d try to communicate with her whenever I ran into her and mostly it was just smiles and pointing at things. This lady had a little radio on which she used to listen to music in her language, something which was an evening staple for us since the music would float into our room too. I liked it even though I had no clue what anyone was saying.

One random evening I was surprised to hear her playing songs in my mother tongue and was confused what caused her sudden change in music preferences. Then I figured maybe she liked to switch it up once in a while. From that evening on, I would hear the occasional mix of music in my language but never paid it much mind. It was only much later that my roommate was chit-chatting with the lady and came back to inform me she had started playing the new music because she was concerned I might be feeling homesick, posted in a part of the country so far away from where I was from, and she figured the songs might help me deal with that.

I cried at that. Who wouldn’t? This woman had nothing. She earned a bare minimum salary and her kids lived in a village some distance away. Both she and I were away from our homes but she was so concerned about a strange kid feeling lost that she was willing to sacrifice her precious music time listening to things she didn’t even understand just to help me feel a sense of belonging. I’ve always been a loner of sorts so maybe she sensed that. I don’t know. She and I were friends before but she just became so much more for me from that day. There was no way for me to stay in touch with her when I left since she was illiterate so I tried to help her out monetarily (surreptitiously because she would have never taken money directly from me) hoping that it might make her life a bit easier. I don’t know where she is now. Maybe she’s left the planet but I hope wherever she is, she is happy. The kindness of strangers like her has been a huge part of shaping me as a person and of all those instances, hers is the kindest of them all.