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.