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Sakamichi no Apollon – 05 »« Sakamichi no Apollon – 03

Sakamichi no Apollon – 04

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「 バットノットフォーミー」
“But Not For Me”

Really, it isn’t supposed to look so effortless as Watanabe-sensei is making it look.

I watched Watanabe Shinchiro’s Baby Blue from Studio 4C’s “Genius Party” this week, and it made me realize just how much he’s changed as a director from his Bebop and Champloo days. He was always a huge talent, but he seems to have evolved into a much simpler, more understated style – stripping the material of everything that isn’t necessary and leaving a final product where everything means something and there’s just no wasted space. It’s an elegant way of presenting what at heart, in the case of Sakamichi no Apollon is a strikingly straightforward story – albeit one with some very complex human interaction.

Once again this week we’re left with a strong impression that an awful lot of manga material was crammed into one episode. I can imagine the exposition surrounding Sentarou’s past took much longer, and the romantic dynamics didn’t move anywhere near this quickly – or so I’m guessing. It would certainly be interesting to see what Watanabe would have done with sufficient time to do a full adaptation, but once again I see this as a positive in that it suits his style perfectly – there’s no wasted space and no irrelevancy. Everything means something, and we get to the point without a lot of fluff. This would likely be a huge problem in lesser hands (anime history is littered with countless examples of rushed anime adaptations dead at the side of the road) but this is a guy that can handle it. And thank goodness, because things certainly are moving quickly.

What Watanabe lacks in time, he makes up for in artistic flourish – a small moment that takes a few seconds can be forgotten, but he gives us imagery that makes them profound and memorable. Take for example the moment that Kaoru kisses Ritsuko for the first time, surely a significant moment in its own right – but one we’ve seen many times in anime. But by the simple act of having Kaoru take off his glasses before he kisses her, he makes it special, because so much meaning can be inferred from that simple gesture. I see it as a subtle way for Kaoru to gather his courage, the blur what was in front of him and make it less terrifying. Sentarou’s grim past is a huge part of the story, but what I’ll remember from that sequence are two images – the child Sentarou reaching for his step-father’s hand, just as the man pulls it away. And Sentarou and Kaoru playing the into to “Moanin’” at the organ, not as the young men they are but as the kids who never knew each other. it’s a moment of fantasy, but it enlightens the reality of who they are and what the music means to them.

The dynamics of their friendship – which with apologies to Ri-chan is clearly the heart of the series – seemed clear from the beginning: Sentarou was the free spirit, the wild child, the embodiment of the new youth of the 1960’s. And Kaoru was the closed, cautious relic of the 1950’s with his horn-rimmed glasses and classical training. But there was more to it than that, and this was the first major dynamic of the week. For all Kaoru’s certainty that he knew Sentarou and the jealousy it made him feel, he didn’t see the entire picture. If you think being of mixed parentage is an issue in Japan now, in this era – only two decades after the war – it was a stigma an order of magnitude greater. Kaoru’s isolation and loneliness at “home” is quite genuine, as was the loving family life he saw in Sentarou’s home – but the reality of Sentarou’s background was well-hidden and his insecurities just as real. Both these boys have the same fears – they just deal with them in dramatically different ways.

The funny thing is, even all this new knowledge doesn’t really change anything. Sentarou is the child of an American serviceman, was abandoned by his parents and wears the rosary as a memento of his mother, Kaoru is the lone male heir in what’s clearly a moneyed family. But Sentarou is still a rebellious spirit and Kaoru is still a lonely guy who knows that he’ll be moving on yet again, sooner or later, and must wrestle with the conditioning that tells him not to get attached. What has changed, certainly, is the nature of the romantic relationships in the show – and more than just the revelation that what Kaoru walked in on last week was indeed a modeling session. Yurika and Junichi wasn’t something I saw coming, but I probably should have – even the guys in the show are half in love with Brother Jun (including Ritsuko’s father) and he seems a better fit for Yurika in many ways. This has implications for every relationship of consequence in the series, make no mistake – the ripples from those last few seconds are going to lash against every shore before long.

In closing, this episode was quite a feast if you’re a jazz fan. From the moment I saw the “Chet Baker Sings” album in the background I knew we’d get to “If Not for Me’ sooner or later, and it happened at the “Gaijin Club” where the “Mukae Tsutomu Quartet” made their debut. There was a lot to this sequence to be sure, including the complicated nature of the relationship between the Japanese and the American servicemen stationed there. It’s hard for Americans to imagine what it would be like to have foreign military in the country, whether they were wanted or not, but to say there are many issues involved is an understatement. But it was these Americans who basically brought jazz to Japan, where it flowered in ways no one could have predicted – and jazz clubs like Bar Stella were common in towns near American bases. And so, sadly, where drunken racists like the fathead at the bar who railed against “coon music” and asked for “white jazz” instead. And indeed, that’s what Brother Jun delivered – a classic piece by George and Ira Gershwin, very much in the style of Baker’s rendition from that album. Baker’s tragic life story was all too common in jazz – a rare talent, an instrumental virtuoso with a beautiful voice, he was also a heroin addict who died far, far too young – leaving so much unfulfilled potential behind.

There’s one other, subtler jazz moment I want to highlight, and that was Watanabe’s tribute to one of the great moments in American jazz. In 1938, Benny Goodman and his orchestra played Carnegie Hall in New York – the first time a jazz band had ever played this renowned temple of classical music. The band was very nervous, “tight” – and this was obvious to legendary drummer Gene Krupa. During “Sing, Sing, Sing” he launched into the most famous drum performance in jazz history – he “went crazy” in order to shake his bandmates out of their trance – and it worked. That it was Kaoru, the pianist, who did it here in order the shake up Sentarou, the drummer, only makes the moment that much better.

May 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm
46 comments »
  • May 3, 2012 at 6:11 pmpimpolla

    i really love this anime!

  • May 3, 2012 at 6:13 pmFanOfMasterpiece

    This anime is easily my favorite this season. Not only is it beautifully animated, but it also has such an enticing plot. My finger is itching to take a peak at the manga to see what happens next, but I’m using all my will power not to. I don’t want to spoil any scene that I could’ve first witnessed in motion. Anyhow, I can’t wait for next week’s episode. I wish it were next Thursday already. :3

  • May 3, 2012 at 6:31 pmsome guy

    oh yes, the curveball: Yurika and Junichi pairing. Unfortunately Sentarou has no chance to compete, in a short term. Junichi has that old, I mean mature, vibe going for him. Countless women have gone and still goes for that. Yes, very unfortunate for youth indeed. But on the bright side, just wait a few years and those youth will be the “mature” ones who snatches young girls off the youth. Anyway Sentarou can still take Yurika in the end -after Junichi has his fill and moves on, that is.

    BTW, after reading the translated manga, I noticed that the pacing of anime is super fast and a few details got dropped. One may even say it feels really rushed. Guess it can’t be helped as anime has to burn though about 3/4 volume per episode. 3 volumes done with 4 episodes so far and that sounds about right as there are about 6 more volumes to go with 8 episodes left.

  • May 3, 2012 at 6:34 pmvivi21

    My i love your review for this show Enzo.. and your knowledge and appreciation for jazz music is truly amazing.. i have to say for several seasons ive been waiting for a this show to come out, since i read the manga and i have to say so far i love this adaptation it is going in my top 5 list!! The feeling of the manga has really popped out ten times more in this anime.. truly remarkable work done on Shinchiro’s part and the crew. Looking forward to the next episode!

    • May 3, 2012 at 9:17 pmGuardian Enzo

      Thanks, and especially remarkable that the feeling of the manga survived, as Watanabe is having to adapt so quickly.

  • May 3, 2012 at 6:41 pmMeem

    Grrr… Yurika’s going to be one of THOSE women… I was hoping that Sentaro would be able to evolve their relationship a little more. But no… as soon as the older man starts to sing and take charge, she’s gotta go for him. XP

    Makes me think Sentaro might go for Ri-chan instead if stuff comes to blows, then that leaves Richie all along. :( Gah.

  • May 3, 2012 at 7:37 pmLitho

    Imho, Watanabe outShinkai’ed Shinkai with Baby Blue.

    This ep wasn’t as strong as the last, though when I say that in the context of Apollon, it basically means crazy good vs crazy f*ckin good. The kiss scene felt a bit too … uhm… weird. Like they pulled it from a cheesy soap opera. Probably just a fault of the pacing, given that they’re burning through the manga at breakneck speed.

    The best scene was when they were talking about Sentarou’s childhood.

  • May 3, 2012 at 7:40 pmBlackStealth1989

    guys that can sing always get the girl. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times..lol

  • May 3, 2012 at 7:59 pmgrey

    Enzo you’re so knowledgeable about jazz, it definitely adds to the watch experience to listen to any of the full version that they showcase on the anime.

    And of course, nothing but compliments for this episode. My breathe got taken away so many times during this one episode: the kiss, sen’s past, and their gig!

  • May 3, 2012 at 8:03 pmNikku

    I don’t even know where to begin with an episode THIS good.

  • May 3, 2012 at 8:12 pmnn

    most of the scenes that you accredited to Watanabe’s artistic flourish were actually originally in the manga: the scene where the dad pulls away, kaoru taking off this glasses before kissing her, the kids playing together at the organ… I guess it’s the director’s decision to include them, but the ideas were already in the material they are basing it off of.

    that being said, i do love the way the director executes these scenes. a manga centering around jazz is practically begging for an anime to adapt it, to give voice to the notes only implied in the pages. i love the massive amount of detail devoted to rendering the musical scenes, and i love the quiet story revolving around these characters. yeeee sakamichi no apollon!

  • May 3, 2012 at 8:12 pmCarolV

    I love your reviews Enzo. They are very educational. xD
    I love jazz but know little about it so I’m squeezing the juice out of each of your reviews.
    Teach me more shishō!

  • May 3, 2012 at 8:13 pmBear

    The ability of this anime to set the time and place so correctly is amazing. The animation is superb at expressing the joy the players experience when they “get in the groove”. Relationships and feelings have a real feel to them and it doesn’t back away from issues such as Sentaro’s heritage nor racism. I like how both Kaoru and Sentaro each have their own strengths and weaknesses yet also have an unusual bond due to each’s sense of isolation. Kaoru could have been played as just a wimpy nerd but he actually is mature about things that Sentaro isn’t. Sentaro could have been just the free spirit that teaches the wimpy kid how to live, yet the episode we’re presented gives us a well rounded picture of how he became the Sentaro we see.

  • May 3, 2012 at 9:19 pmGuardian Enzo

    I’m glad to see so many viewers are getting curious about jazz as they watch Sakamichi (which I think would make the mangaka and director very happy). I’ll certainly continue to provide context for the jazz elements in the story, as I think it’s an important part of my role as a blogger.

  • May 3, 2012 at 9:29 pmIntricateRadiance

    I’m really glad I end up watching most of the animes you blog, Enzo. I love reading your thoughts and opinions on these shows.
    So, thanks.~ :D -appreciation post-

  • May 3, 2012 at 9:36 pmmai

    I like how the story is quite simple but it’s still touching and well-delivered. Is it Thursday yet? :)

  • May 3, 2012 at 10:37 pmtivvies

    Oh no, the heartbreak is going to happen in the next episode :( Everyone ready your tissue boxes come next week.

  • May 3, 2012 at 11:20 pmCyrano

    I’ve got to say, the English singing by Junichi was quite good. That was one scene that really surprised me while watching the episode. And, as always, the music scenes are absolutely phenomenal. Yeah, I seem to be repeating myself week after week, but they’re just that good. It’s animated well enough that it feels like I’m part of the audience of a live-action jam session. More than once, I caught myself moving to the beat of the music.

    This episode also had a great deal of developed characterization, especially for Sentarou. We got quite the deal regarding his backstory, and I really appreciated the series being somewhat frank about the prejudice certain people experienced in Japan. It certainly isn’t something that is touched upon much in most anime. On another note, the relationships in this series are like a game of musical chairs, and while I’d hate for someone to get left out, it’s probably inevitable. But, I guess that’s life.

    This episode in particular felt a little bit rushed, given the flurry of new revelations and dynamic relationships, but that’s understandable, given the amount of original source material needed to be covered. I haven’t read the manga, but it seems like the anime staff is doing a very good job in keeping the pace despite the need to cram a lot of stuff into each episode. It’s sort of like a tightrope that the anime staff needs to walk. Move too fast and a lot of stuff would likely be left out. Move too slow and there is the risk of never reaching the finish line. However, I feel that they’re doing quite an admirable job in balancing those two sides.

  • May 4, 2012 at 12:07 amAlec

    Music-related manga + nicely done characters + interesting premise + great romance + Yokko Kanno and Shinichiro Watanabe = instant gem

  • May 4, 2012 at 12:11 amKumakaori

    Oh dear goodness, excuse me while I pick my jaw up from the floor for the fourth straight week.

    This series is astounding. Completely unbelievably amazing. Image 26 with Kaoru embarrassed beyond belief. I think it was last ep or two ago I concluded Sentarou had to be of mixed heritage. Something in his hair, his build… I love how he gets pissed this ep over the discrimination towards the Black Jazz he loves, when he himself has suffered plenty of discrimination in his own life.

    “What does it matter who wrote it? All you have to do is listen to it, and isn’t it beautiful?”

    The breakneck pace crams so much in, and leaves us no more time to consider the situation than the characters experiencing it themselves. Bring on next week ^_^!!

  • May 4, 2012 at 12:37 amAlvin

    The relationship dynamics is now that of Ano Natsu. Except gender-swapped.

    Kaoru -> Ritsuko -> Sentarou -> Yurika Junichi
    Mio -> Tetsuro -> Kanna -> Kaito Ichika

    Not that it’s a bad thing. As Ano Natsu mostly gravitated on the Kaito-Ichika side, it would be interesting to explore the dynamic from the other side.

    • May 4, 2012 at 3:30 amLitho

      No offense, but I find comparisons to Ano-Crapsicle insulting to this series.

  • May 4, 2012 at 1:17 ammai

    Btw the full OP is out, don’t forget to check it out :)

  • May 4, 2012 at 2:09 amHououin Kyouma

    Phew!! Too many emotions for 20 mins…OMG!!!
    My jaw fell off with that unexpected kiss, I was in tears at Sentarou’s childhood, bursted out in laugh with the stirring up of “Blowing the blues away” and witnessed with fear Yurika’s approach to Jun-Niisan…
    It’s quite a detail Kaoru’s closing, that summed up what had just happenned; Jun-Niisan’s experience enabled him to pull off the night, and of the 2 brats, only Kaoru quickly asimilated it, so the picture is…the young lady’s heart is won without anyone even intending it. I myself have gone through something like this, and couldn’t help being reminded of what once somebody told me, “Life’s like jazz. Never lose the rhythm, and always improvise” I guess it came from George Gershwin’s, “Life’s a lot like jazz. It’s best when you improvise” but found it a lot more convenient whenever feeling “blue”…XD

  • May 4, 2012 at 4:17 amkethy-chan

    I’m a manga reader for this and I have to say, this is the most beautiful adaptation I have ever watched. There was a sequence change somewhere, but it greatly served its purpose in keeping the flow of the anime smooth. unfortunately for me, I think they’re fast catching up with the little of what’s already scanlated online (at least on the website I read it at), so the anime is fast going to become a real spoiler for me… but who cares?!? I’m in love!
    The way they animate their jazz playing sessions??! Godly brilliance! I watched the same episode 3 times, just to enjoy it more!
    @ Enzo: i absolutely agree with you on how Kaoru removing his glasses before kissing Ri’ko makes it so much more romantic and significant than most other anime kisses. That was soooo sweet! a definite test of courage!

    This is officially my Best Thursday rendez-vous!

  • May 4, 2012 at 4:30 amNitro

    Okay, apologies for an unrelated post.

    Enzo, please recommend me some jazz music. I have way too little of it in my life as it is now, and this anime has only reinforced it. My soul calls for it. PLEASE

    • May 4, 2012 at 7:04 amLitho

      Jazz has expanded exponentially since the 50′s 60′s. There’s just so much out there.
      If you’re looking for the “original” or “traditional American” stuff found in the series, do a search for names like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Abbey Lincoln, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Herbie Hancock, for starters. Some of these (particularly Davis and Hancock) are more experimental than the others.

      • May 5, 2012 at 7:39 amNitro

        i’d love to hear recommendations for some of the more experimental stuff! things like that can only mean good things. i’d also prefer specific releases, some of these have got rather intimidating discographies…

    • May 4, 2012 at 6:26 pmGuardian Enzo

      There’s a lot of great contemporary jazz, but for someone new to the genre I’d start with some of the classics. You can go with some of the ones featured in the series – Art Blakey’s “Moanin”, for example, or Bill Evans’ “Portraits in Jazz” “Waltz for Debby” is another fantastic Evans album.

      Others? Can’t go wrong with “Benny Goodman Live at Carnegie Hall 1938″. Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” is arguably the best jazz record ever. One of the better Charlie Parker best-of discs would be a great intro to bebop, and some of the Louis Armstrong “Hot Fives” albums should be starting material, too.

      • May 5, 2012 at 7:36 amNitro

        thanks! i’ve actually listened to a bit of jazz before, though they’re definitely more modern and maybe derivative in some way (they’re from a game soundtrack… please don’t hit me). the only thing that ever really kept me from looking up some more jazz to listen to was the mere volume of work that was available. it’s pretty intimidating!

        in any case, thanks for these! will be looking those up!

  • May 4, 2012 at 9:44 amKevz

    I’m officially in love with this series. What a fun love mess, what great characters and what dazzling music and animation. I get chills on the jam sessions scenes, seriously.

  • May 4, 2012 at 1:09 pmIntricateRadiance

    O____O Is that Junichi Suwabe actually singing in English?

    Amazing episode, as always.

    • May 4, 2012 at 7:48 pmmai

      I believe the singer is Masayoshi Furukawa, who is one of the Seatbelts. He is credited for the vocals in the OST. He also sang You Make Me Cool from Cowboy Bebop.

  • May 4, 2012 at 1:33 pmBio D

    Great catch with “Sing, Sing, Sing”, one I missed the first time.
    This show just keeps getting better and better.

  • May 4, 2012 at 6:51 pmpetitorenji

    I now have “Waltz for Debby” from Bill Evans because of this series. Hope I will get introduced to more talented artists and musicians.

    Junichi/trumpet dude is now my new favorite character. He’s got real swag.

  • May 4, 2012 at 7:27 pmsantoryu13

    I love this show so much. Everything about it is so real.

  • May 4, 2012 at 8:38 pmJimhawk

    This show is fanjazztic. I cannot, for the life of me, find a single fault in it at all. Hell, even the English SOUNDED LIKE ENGLISH.

  • May 4, 2012 at 9:16 pmJif

    Amazing post, Enzo. The way you tease apart the social and historical elements embedded within the show is amazing – they are crucial and provide the right framework for fully appreciating the show. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for sharing that depth and insight to the rest of us.

    • May 4, 2012 at 9:29 pmGuardian Enzo

      Are you calling me a tease??

  • May 4, 2012 at 11:10 pmKaka

    That kiss’s got to be my favorite kiss scene I ever saw in an anime. So romantic with the snow falling down, jazz in the background, plus that act of taking his glasses off! Just perfect.

  • May 5, 2012 at 12:27 pmlialiakicks

    I’m not sure if many people mentioned this, but I absolutely LOVED how Sentarou didn’t passively listen to the racist drunk. (Thankfully his friends were there to calm him down before he punched the dude too. LOL) :)

    This anime is just great. I can’t wait to see how it’ll all come together at the end. Hopefully not too many broken hearts….? :O

  • May 5, 2012 at 2:28 pmLuxor

    Sentaro’s flashback really changed how I looked at the poor guy, and made him all the more realistic afterwards.

    This is how a real flashback should be done!

  • May 5, 2012 at 2:56 pmAnomalous

    “Black Jazz”?

    “White Jazz”?

    To hell with that! Jazz is Jazz.

    Any cat that can’t understand that don’t know how to appreciate music.

  • May 6, 2012 at 5:45 amnagi

    Oh, finally I found the show that can feed my josei *erm*Chihayafuru*erm* hunger! I even wait more eagerly for this show every week than Fate/Zero!

    Anyway, jazz isn’t really my type but this show made me appreciate it! Seriously, I don’t even know the song “If Not For Me” but it made me fall in love with Jun-niisan (oh, his English was almost perfect that it made me look up who his seiyuu is!)

    The pairings made me remember Ano Natsu, I’m so cheering for Kaoru x Ri-chan! I also want Sentarou to be happy but err, Yurika screams b!@tch to me. And of course Jun-niisan is mine. :3

  • May 18, 2012 at 7:51 amAshen

    Sweet, merciful Mother Nature.

    I cannot get over how much I’ve come to love this series in so short a time. The interactions between the boys, as you so eloquently said, Enzo, are the true beating heart of Kids On The Slope, and the scene with them playing music together “as kids” will likely stick with me forever, the way very, very few scenes in manga or anime have done over the years. It’s always the seemingly simple gestures that strike such a powerful chord (I still easily recall the chalk breaking scene in a later chapter of Fruits Basket, or the tear-jerker, silent finale of Chrono Crusade’s manga).

    What’s more, I can joyfully say how much this anime has opened my eyes to the world of jazz. I had been a cursery fan until now – enjoying songs without ever knowing anything ‘deep’ about them, thanks to gems like Baccano!, Durarara!!, and random radio encounters – but now I want to know and love so much more. (I felt so thrilled to reconize “Sing, Sing, Sing” and Benny Goodman and his orchestra, even if, again, I knew nothing of their Carnegie Hall experience or journey as a band).

    Thank you for covering this series, Guardian Enzo. I say this as an anime fan, an animation fan, and now, blessedly, a budding jazz fan. Thank you.

  • June 27, 2012 at 11:06 pmHerLion

    I’m so glad someone else thought of Krupa at Carnegie Hall in that moment!! I was sure it was just me. :)

    Just to nitpick, the song he goes nuts on is ‘Don’t Be That Way’, not ‘Sing Sing Sing’.
    You can listen here!

    1st song they played, much earlier in the show. You can hear early on he’s prodding/mocking the band gently, and then later goes all out bananas (the 1st comment has times). The audience goes crazy. It’s electric.