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Sakamichi no Apollon – 11 »« Sakamichi no Apollon – 09

Sakamichi no Apollon – 10

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「イン・ア・センチメンタル・ムード」 (In a sentementaru muudo)
“In A Sentimental Mood”

As many different styles, shapes and sizes as great anime come in, how alike they are is more striking than how different they are.

Fundamentally, if a series is going to meet the threshold of greatness, it has to be rooted in characters we can relate to and emotions that feel true. Sakamichi, Tsuritama, Moribito, Cross Game, Chihayafuru, Rurouni Kenshin, even NGE and FLCL – the list goes on and on – though these shows couldn’t be more different superficially, they’re all alike in this very fundamental way. Comedy or drama, absurd or realistic, fantasy or farce, they’re all built around human interactions that feel real enough to make us care what happens. If that’s missing a series can be good, even important – but in my view, it can’t be great.

As NoitaminA winds down what’s probably it’s finest season ever, both shows appear to be headed towards bittersweet finales. But I have less confidence that Sakamichi no Apollon will end on a fundamentally upbeat note than I do with Tsuritama. In the latter case I fully expect sad things to happen in the last episode, but that show feels to me as if it’s optimistic at its very core. With Sakamichi I continue to be haunted by the ED – both for its innate quality as a song, and for how the lyrics express a deep-seated melancholy that seems to pervade everything about the show. With Tsuritama it seems as if the sad moments are always going to be swept aside by the ocean of positive feeling, but with Sakamichi it feels as if the happy moments are the ones tilting at windmills, and that life will always be full of regrets.

Fundamentally this episode was split into two thematic halves, with a potentially game-changing twist at the very end. It’s pretty clear – perhaps as much as at any time – just how rapidly things are moving here in comparison to the manga. Picking up where we left off, Kaoru is stewing over the gift Ritsuko left on his piano. Of course it’s frustrating as an audience to watch him continue to thwart himself with his lack of confidence – were the mittens a mistake? Were they an afterthought? But of course, we’re supposed to be frustrated – Kaoru is frustrated with his own inability to be direct with himself and Ri’ko, and she’s frustrated by his innate lack of belief in himself – and in her.

Of course in a sense, you can’t blame Kaoru – she rejected him, and has given him no overt statement that her feelings have changed. The signs are obvious, and I think Kaoru knows at some level how she feels – but he’s trying hard to convince himself that it couldn’t be so easy. It’s also a question of overcoming that last wall of resistance from his conditioned emotional distance, and a worry about hurting Sen. Certainly when Sen-boy hears her tapping out “Someday My Prince Will Come” he gets the picture, and steps in to fill the role Kaoru filled earlier- trying to push his two best friends together. The conversation in the bath was where the frustration peaked for all parties, and the aftermath on the front walk might have seemed a bit over-the-top. But in point of fact this has proved itself a series quite taken with (and adept at) grand emotional moments. It’s a complicated situation because everyone’s feelings for each other are muddled together – as witness Kaoru’s comment that Sen “even takes my breath away sometimes” – but ultimately, Ri-chan’s courage to be honest (and his fever) push Kaoru to be honest too, for a change.

Then that pacing thing rears its ugly head – all of a sudden the snow is gone and “It’s summer and I haven’t made any progress with Ri’ko!” I got a little whiplash from that transition, but onward and upward – and the story turns on a dime to re-focus on the core relationship, Sen and Bon. Earlier in the ep we got some nice moments with Kaoru at Sentarou’s house helping him study and watching him interact with his siblings, and Kaoru’s comment about Sen’s “having a big family someday” made me think that just maybe Sen will end up becoming a Priest as some have suggested – it felt like the equivalent of a “family death flag” for him. But the payoff for that sequence didn’t become clear until later, after Ritsuko informed the boys that Seiji and The Olympus had “thrown down the gauntlet” and called out the “old-fashioned jazz musicians” that they’d kick their butts at the next school festival. I’m thinking Seiji did that in part because he’s secretly a fan of Sen and Kaoru, but the real point is that it drives them back into hard-core musician mode, and it looks as if they’re closer than ever.

That’s when the bomb drops. Sentarou’s father is coming back after many years. The younger kids – who don’t remember his drunken rages – are excited. Sa-chan, who does, is terrified (and Kaoru commiserates with her and brings her home). But of course it’s Sen’s reaction that really matters. He’s devastated (how could he not be?) but as usual plays it cool and unfazed. But he looks as if he’s decided to bolt town in the dead of night, leaving behind only a goodbye message to Kaoru with instructions to look after Ritsuko. But it can’t be that simple – not just because it wouldn’t work dramatically for the show, but because it would be out of character for Sen. Irrespective of what this decision would mean for his own life – and the fact that he’d be leaving behind the people he loves – I just can’t see Sentarou leaving his family to deal with his father without him to protect them. Certainly, Sen’s father deserves no sympathy – he treated Sen like an embarrassment, then walked out on the family. But Sen can look after himself now, and if his father tries anything, well – it probably isn’t a bad bet that Sentarou could beat the crap out of him. Is Sentarou the kind of guy who would leave a woman and his younger siblings to face a potentially violent drunk unprotected?

One way or another, it’s been my feeling all along that Kaoru and Sentarou (and likely all three of the main trio) would be split up in the end – though the likeliest scenario seemed (and still does in my view) to be that Kaoru would leave Kyushu either to be with his father or to go to college (or even, perhaps, to be with his mother for a while). The return of Sentarou’s Dad is certainly a major plot twist and a watershed moment for Sen, but it doesn’t feel right that it would be the driver of events as the series wraps up. Instead, I see this as the major hurdle for Sen to face in growing up, and for him to do so and for his friendship with Kaoru ultimately to be validated, even if the series ends with their parting. The events of this ep certainly shuffle the cards enough to make me uncertain, but great series almost always ultimately fall back on what the very essence of their nature is, and Sakamichi is ultimately about Kaoru and Sentarou – not Sen’s father, or even Ri’ko. And I still have faith it will give us an ending that’s true to that essence, and worthy of a great series.

As an aside, the sky was strikingly purple all throughout this episode. I wonder if Watanabe-sensei was going for a deeper meaning here, or merely wanted to show off some beautiful backgrounds…

June 14, 2012 at 8:24 pm
24 comments »
  • June 14, 2012 at 8:41 pmworstof2012

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    • June 15, 2012 at 11:10 ampassing dude

      17 people (and counting) are (offended) wusses. Truth hurts. hahaha

  • June 14, 2012 at 8:42 pmAkuamari

    Yay! I have been waiting for this post all day =D with the end of the last episode, I was looking forward to more concrete developments between Ri-chan and Kaoru but instead, we get the classic self-doubt and standstill of a burgeoning romance. now there’s also this plot twist with Sen’s dad that has me feeling all uneasy~ i was hoping for a happy ending with this anime but i agree with Enzo that there’s too much foreshadowing of a sad parting to deny that it won’t end up that way. well, i guess we’ll see how it ends in the next few upcoming episodes! if it ends with 12 episodes, that is…

    • June 14, 2012 at 8:52 pmGuardian Enzo

      7 of 9 volumes adapted already says it definitely ends at 12.

      • June 15, 2012 at 9:36 pmKelly

        Actually, I read on a forum for this episode on myanimelist that this episode is ending on 11. The schedule for NoitaminA also shows 11 (I checked the schedule via wikipedia). It’s sad to see such a good show go so soon though.

      • June 15, 2012 at 11:03 pmGuardian Enzo

        Bad info on a MAL forum? Shocking!!

        It’s 12.

  • June 14, 2012 at 8:54 pm…..

    “Then that pacing thing rears its ugly head…”

    Don’t.
    get.
    me.
    started.

    Well this little bit of cut-cut-cut-job is actually more forgiving compare to many of the past edits (or crimes, depends on perspectives) since in its original source (i.e. manga) as it does the abrupt skip thing as well, but slightly less so sudden as there is some more of story development between Kaoru and Ritsuko happen -albeit nothing really significant, like Show Spoiler ▼

    after the 2nd confession incident.

    • June 14, 2012 at 9:06 pm…..

      No manga spoilers.

  • June 14, 2012 at 9:48 pmElexer

    That was a Good ass confession.

  • June 14, 2012 at 11:33 pmWhite

    ….

  • June 14, 2012 at 11:34 pmZanibas

    Pacing indeed rears its ugly head that was that transition.
    My face when they announced “Oh hay it’s summer gaiz” ===> ಠ▃ಠ

    One has to wonder what in the world happened during those many months that caused them to halt their relationship right in its tracks. It was all going so well…

    Of course one can hope they make a clarification somehow, but seeing as the end is in sight, it’s a lost cause to hope for :(

  • June 15, 2012 at 12:01 amBio D

    I love this series more than I can properly convey with mere words.
    However, Suddenly Summer after that confession was abrupt for my tastes too. No explanation as to why we haven’t moved foward yet in those few months? Not even a little?

  • June 15, 2012 at 12:11 amClick

    After I finished the episode, I rewinded to confession scene immediately. It was just a great scene.

    The time skip was hardly necessary, but the relationship between the characters still feels genuine and realistic, so its just a minor gripe for me.

    As NoitaminA winds down what’s probably it’s finest season ever

    This season has been pretty generous to NoitaminA, but I’m not sure if it’s its best season ever. I’d say that that my favorite single show on the block would be Honey and Clover II (although that was when NoitaminA was just a single show), while my favorite actual pair may be House of Five Leaves coupled with the Tatami Galaxy, with this season probably placing as my third. Regardless, I’m still very happy that NoitaminA is back on its feet after some pretty questionable shows.

  • June 15, 2012 at 12:42 amJD

    I admit I grew impatient and read the manga up to Volume 8 (Volume 9 isn’t scanlated yet, it seems! >_< ). They did leave out a few things (or maybe they will play around with the chronology?) and the pacing is obviously rushed, but, boy, watching this anime still pulls so many of my heartstrings. The music really fits well with everything on the screen.

  • June 15, 2012 at 4:42 amHakumeiJin

    Seeing how serious anime takes colds is really amazing. While I understand it’s supposed to make the confession even more dramatic seeing him in such a bad state because of a cold is pretty weird though not too unbelievable since his health was shown as bad from the start. Especially considering that the reason for it is going out in cold weather with wet hair which is not in fact a real reason.

  • June 15, 2012 at 5:18 am@lk3mizt

    I love Sentarou to bits but his leaving leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. He knew his dad was a deadbeat !”4W!”£. Yet he’s running away and leaving his siblings to the fate he obviously doesn’t want to be part of.

    Damn it, Sen.

  • June 15, 2012 at 4:24 pmjojo

    i bet bon is gonna go off and return many years later to reunite with ri’ko >_<

  • June 15, 2012 at 4:31 pmBob

    I don’t see what “Confidence” has anything to do with this (Kaoru reminding himself that Ritsuko rejected him). He confessed/expressed his love and it was turned down. Each time something happens with Ritsuko, he simply reminds himself that he was rejected. Ritsuko rejected him; that was clearly expressed. This is the only truth or fact that Kaoru knows.

    If he kept pushing after this fact he would fall into one of the following groups : Clueless (for not realizing she doesn’t want you) or Prick (for forcing yourself on a woman who doesn’t want you).

    If a man clearly (and verbally) confesses/expresses his love and was turned down; if at any future moment the woman changes her stance; I expect an equally CLEAR communication of this. Otherwise, men are forever hopeless fools (because they think she’s changed her mind when, really, she hasn’t); or too stupid to know she likes (when it was clearly stated otherwise prior).

    I understand that “men need to make the first step” courting ritual but it was turned down… The woman should just as clearly conveyed that her feels toward him changed. (Men don’t read minds; And the body language is the most ambiguous and imprecise language of all!)

  • June 16, 2012 at 7:25 amrochichan

    I wasn’t very bothered with the pacing, but it’s probably a disappointment to manga readers? Maybe there was supposed to be more between that elapse of time… but right after, they picked up with some good material, so I didn’t mind!

  • June 16, 2012 at 10:56 amDoggermann

    Just noticed Sentaro sleeps with his siblings. How does he jack off? Does he do it in the bath, while Ritsuko watches? How does he catch his wad? He doesn’t wear socks.

    • June 16, 2012 at 4:24 pmworstof2012

      such a desperate attempt to gather negs on your comment, Doggermann. I salut your dreadful effort, sir!

    • June 19, 2012 at 9:40 amRanos

      Those are serious questions that all of us poor souls who had to share a room with a sibling have had to ask ourselves at some point. Hats off (and socks on) to you, sir, for showing a tremendous amount of empathy for poor Sentarou’s plight.

  • June 16, 2012 at 5:21 pmdustshadow

    As a non-manga reader, this was the first episode where the rushing really showed and it bothered me. They could’ve easily made two episodes out of the material covered here and it shows, especially at the end.

  • July 9, 2012 at 8:25 amAshen

    I agree on the awkward transition, but speaking as a new fan of Kids on the Slope, I easily forgive it in light of how amazing this series has been on the whole. I’d especially love to read the manga after this.