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「 レフト・アローン」 (Refuto aroun)
“Left Alone”

Of all the episodes of Sakamichi so far, this one might be the most difficult to get a handle on.

I mentioned last week that Sakamichi no Apollon and Tsuritama – and indeed, all great anime – were much more alike than different, no matter their superficial dissimilarities. But if I were to call out the biggest difference between the two series it wouldn’t be the surrealistic vs. realistic visuals, the fantastical vs. grounded plot, or the busy vs. minimalist direction – all of those things matter less than it appears. No, for me the biggest difference – and the main reason I consider Tsuritama the best show of the season, with Sakamichi second – is consistency.

There’s a lot that goes into that – tone, pacing, characterization – but in every sense I think that’s the one area in whish this show has struggled. As much as anything I think it’s a question of fitting such a long manga into such a short time slot, because everything that’s gone wrong can be traced back to that. When events feel rushed or transitions are jarring – such as last week’s “Six months later and nothing’s happened” romantic timeskip – it’s a pacing issue. When character behavior doesn’t quite seem consistent, it’s because whatever would have explained it is on the cutting room floor. The fact is, I’m fully convinced that if a less talented director than Watanabe-sensei were at the helm, this could have been an absolute disaster. That it’s an outstanding show that could still be great if the finale saves the day is a testament to Watanabe’s genius – but I can’t help but grind my teeth a little when I think of what he could have done with 26 episodes and this source material.

I also mentioned a while back that Sakamichi was like a banquet full of delicious dishes that we’re only allowed to take one bite of before the waiter yanks the plate away, and that’s how I felt watching the beginning of this episode. The cliffhanger of last week – the return of Sentarou’s father – was set-up beautifully, and the scene where Kaoru intercepted him and foiled his plans to flee town was brought off splendidly. But it felt as if as soon as we were really brought into the moment, it was over – and the show had moved on. I was with it until the scene where Sen received the fountain pen from his father, but all of a sudden the focus was elsewhere – the next dish (the school festival) was on the table. The series would certainly be better if these threads – Kaoru and his mother, the romance with Ri’ko, the return of Sen’s Dad – were allowed to flow to their natural conclusion. But how? The series is almost over as is.

That’s frustrating, but then we segued into the best sequence of the episode – and probably one of the two or three best in a show that’s offered the best individual scenes of any anime this year. I adored the entire sequence with “My Favorite Things”, starting with the jam with Mukae-san and even more when Ritsuko walked in humming “My Favorite Things”. It was a beautiful, flawless Watanabe moment – the pencil-sketch animation, Nanri Yuuka’s hesitant but heartfelt Engrish singing, the scenes of the trio lying on the floor like children afterwards, sharing their own favorite things. The whole thing was full of the sort of magic that makes Sakamichi no Apollon feel like a true work of art when it’s at its best.

Then, in a flash, it all changed again. I had my suspicions that we wouldn’t get to the see the festival come off without a hitch, but I confess I was quite surprised by the events that transpired. Mind you, I certainly felt a flash of dread when Sen started riding off down the slope on his motorbike, but what happened – even before I knew the details – felt somewhat out of character for Sakamichi. There’s been plenty of drama, but it’s been pretty organic to the characters – this was the first time I really felt like the author was manipulating events to create drama for its own sake. I was expecting something a little more immediate and perhaps even serious than what we’ve seen, but I thought it might be a physical confrontation between Sen and his father or some such.

So I guess the question I should be asking myself is, do I have any justification in feeling disappointed by this turn of events? I don’t feel this sort of event was necessary to have a dramatic finale, and it may even be a distraction from it – but is it a mistake? Is it out of character for the show? I suppose everyone will find their own answers, but it seems that what we’re left with at the end of the day is Sentarou leaving and Kaoru and Ri-chan missing him – and couldn’t we just as easily have had that based on the cliffhanger from last week, without all the stuff with the motorbike and Sachiko? I would rather have skipped all that and spend the intervening time exploring the dynamic in Sen’s family, and seeing why his departure would have felt in character. The scene with Sen and Bon on the hospital roof almost saved the episode – it was excellent, especially with the pointedly jarring electric guitar BGM Watanabe chose for the moment – but it was robbed of some of its potency by the oddity of the scenes that came before.

That leaves us with one episode to deliver an ending, and I’m assuming Watanabe is going to deliver one that’s consistent with the one in the manga since he’s been running so hard to get there in time. Endings are critically important (obviously) and devilishly hard for any series, but it seems that the ending for Sakamichi is going to be exceptionally critical. Will it have emotional resonance given all the shortcuts Watanabe has had to take to get there? Irrespective of any consistency issues I have total buy-in with these characters, and I’m fully prepared to be devastated by the kind of conclusion I’ve been expecting based on the ED (and the last episode title). I just hope Watanabe finds a way to apply his trademark simplicity to the ending, because I think it desperately needs to be as straightforward and stripped-down as possible. That’s going to be a huge challenge, but there’s no director in anime better at delivering that sort of magic than Watanabe-sensei. I’m going to have faith in him and expect him to come up big one more time, with everything on the line.

June 21, 2012 at 6:45 pm
30 comments »
  • June 21, 2012 at 7:07 pm…..

    well, having read the final volume of manga, I feel like Show Spoiler ▼

    Another seinen/josei is coming to an end. At least the other two seinen of the season is either continuing or coming back later!

    • June 21, 2012 at 9:40 pm…..

      BTW, I CAN’T believe that they cut out the best zinger Kaoru had against Seiji.

      The scene where Seiji was bragging about his new wardrobe to Kaoru, instead Kaoru being all pissy on Sen about it later, Kaoru calmly replied: “We don’t need anything, but our music. That (pause) suit you really well.” And walked away, leaving Seiji to bite the dust. Since Kaoru always had some sort of inferiority-complex against Seiji throughout the series, that was great in manga, but they just skipped it entirely. Sigh.

      NOT a spoiler since this event has ALREADY passed in anime. Long gone, got it? I’m merely pointing out the difference of how it’s handled in manga vs anime. Anime’s Kaoru is consistently pissy and lacking confidence it seems whereas in manga, he actually grew as time went on.

      • June 21, 2012 at 9:51 pm…..

        ehh, one more! I doubt, ahem, I HIGHLY doubt that the anime will have the manga ending at this point. At GE’s request, I won’t discuss about the manga that hasn’t covered in anime yet AT ALL, but I have every reason to believe that the anime will have an original ending or some sort. Simply because there just isn’t enough time to cover the manga ending in 19-20 minutes. I just don’t see it. The manga ending and the chapters leading up to it felt awfully rushed to me and now they will try to squeeze THAT into 20 minutes? Good luck, Watanabe and co. Let’s see what you do~~.

        BTW, I am pleased that it seems like GE and others are slowly heeding and now agreeing to my almost weekly complaint about the manga material being squeezed and cut mercilessly. Sooner or later everyone is bound to notice the shortcoming of such decision!!

      • June 21, 2012 at 9:58 pmGuardian Enzo

        Honestly, who I mostly see agreeing with you, “…”, is yourself.

        I liked this ep a lot, as indeed I’ve liked most of them (and loved a few). I’m not sure why some people see any criticism as a complete denunciation of the overall product. I still rank Sakamichi as the #2 series of a very strong season – all I’m pointing out is that with two cours, Watanabe could have done something truly spectacular.

  • June 21, 2012 at 7:49 pmJames

    eh, I think you’re being overly critical, but then again, you have way more anime viewing experience than I do, so whatever :P

  • June 21, 2012 at 8:00 pmClyde

    I agree completely on the pacing, if we could have had even a few more episodes I think it would have helped the plot’s progression a lot. Also I have to say I’m pretty dissapointed that Ritsuko’s singing was shown through a still montage as opposed to having been animated.

    • June 21, 2012 at 8:02 pmGuardian Enzo

      Heh, I absolutely loved that montage.

    • June 21, 2012 at 9:09 pmworstof2012

      I hate to say bad things about Ritsuko and Nanri Yuuka, I really do!

      But that singing was just… NO! Just no! It was not heartfelt at all, I’m sorry~~! GE, you’re too kind! I am not as kind and forgiving as GE, so I will tell y’all what I think about this performance. Not only it was pitchy all over the place, Engrish (terrible, just horrible pronunciation) brings up its ugly head all over. I am glad that they kept subtitles over english words since I wouldn’t understand 80% of words if it were for them!! LOL!! Please, please, don’t let voice actor sing entire minute of the song if she can’t even pronunce words! It’s tortue! Why not hire a voice-double?? They did it all the time in disney production: mermaid, Aladdin, Lion King, you name it. The voice actors couldn’t sing -> hired singing voice double. Why the heck not use a singing voice-double!! Or at least cut the singing to absolute minimum if you must!!

      Now Jun from a few episodes ago on “but not for me” was more than fine. You know what they’ve done? They HIRED a voice-double!!! Gasp!! A dude named Furukawa Masayoshi sang while Jun’s CV is Junichi Suwabe. Now you could still sense some pronunciation issues here and there, but they were minor and the dude sang fine. Compare to that, this was just a mistake. What the hell? I don’t get this decision at all. They must be cutting corners now as the money ran out towards the end.

      • June 21, 2012 at 9:28 pmClick

        I feel where you’re coming from, but I believe that they wanted or Ritsuko’s to have an amateurish edge to it, since she’s often described as average. Also, Jun was made out to be some sort of patron deity or paragon of jazz to Kaoru and especially Sentarou, which is probably what the directors wanted to convey to the viewers. So yeah, they could have hired a double, but they didn’t want it to be completely perfect. Or I’m just wrong and they ran out of budget, which is also a likely scenario. But I don’t care.

      • June 21, 2012 at 9:54 pmGuardian Enzo

        Exactly. Jun is a semi-professional musician. Ritsuko is a high-school girl who’s never sang in public before. Why would one expect her to be polished, or to have perfect English phrasing? I was very happy with that performance.

      • June 26, 2012 at 6:37 pmAnonymous

        If you think that’s bad Engrish, you clearly haven’t watched a lot of anime. Her pronunciation was perfectly fine, especially for someone living in Japan.

  • June 21, 2012 at 8:21 pmClick

    I’ve always felt that the pacing is defined by amount and frequency of events which occur, rather than the amount of time which had passed, which is why I haven’t found many faults with Apollon’s quick transitions from season to season, with the only one being Kaoru’s lack of progression with Ritsuko despite months having flown by. Even then, Apollon has always had at least something relevant and important going on, and while packed with events, still managed to remain relatively unscathed. However, this episode is an exception, and is the first to actually get scathed by the speed.

    This episode just had too much happening. While Sentarou’s problem with his father was done very well, it was resolved fairly quickly for something introduced in the last quarter of last weeks episode. The roughest part though had to have been Kaoru’s scene at the hospital. Upon finding out that it was Sentarou’s sister who had been injured, Kaoru leaves seemingly unfazed to find Sentarou. I expected that Kaoru would stop and reflect on what happened at least for a bit, considering that he’s interacted with her multiple times. Fortunately, the follow up scene on top of the roof was a real charmer, and like most of what was seen in this episode, was a clear high point of the series. What was done right here was extremely well done, but there were hindrances in the episode.

    I consider Tsuritama the best show of the season, with Sakamichi second

    How would you rank the other shows this season? I’m now a bit curious, haha.

    • June 21, 2012 at 10:01 pmGuardian Enzo

      It’s a very good season, no doubt. I do rank Tsuritama and Sakamichi 1 and 2, but there’s a pretty big group below that. MGX, E7: AO, Uchuu Kyoudai, Ginga e Kickoff… All somewhere in that second tier, which could easily be first tier some seasons. And of course, H x H continues to be stellar though it’s in its third cour.

      • June 21, 2012 at 11:24 pmDa5id

        And where does Fate/Zero place on this list of yours?

      • June 21, 2012 at 11:52 pmGuardian Enzo

        I still tend to think of it a 2011 Fall series, but if I were to throw it into the mix it’d be in that 2nd tier somewhere. I don’t think the 2nd cour has been as good as the first.

      • June 22, 2012 at 11:18 amAni_BEE

        I agree about the 2nd cour, the passing feel a little different but over all the show is amazing.

  • June 22, 2012 at 12:01 amrufe

    I thought the singing was quite charming, if a little mechanical. The accent is really interesting when sung…it sounds a little French?

    I actually didn’t like the electric guitar. I felt like there was all sorts of music that would have been more appropriate for that moment (actually, I would have just had no music at all they started talking). Also, I kind of wish the choir wasn’t synthesized; I personally find the human voice the most moving instrument, though it was an interesting effect.

    As for the melodrama, it is overwritten, but I find the entire situation believable. The pacing was quick, but you just have to let one thing go and hop on the next train and it doesn’t bother you!

    • June 22, 2012 at 11:27 amAni_BEE

      I was think french to so some reason but I’m sure my francophone friends would disagree. lol

      I like the electric guitar music only because it was jarring with religious tones to it all at the same time. It does however feel out of place compare the era music used for most of the show.

      At the end of the day I wish this was a 13 episode series only to smooth out the last two episodes.

      Actually Madoka could have also used one more episode for the montage that was ep. 10 as well, did a panel on Madoka during Anime North and that came up as well and the creators mentioned they would have needed a full 45 more minutes to do that episode right in an interview.

  • June 22, 2012 at 12:15 pmAvi

    What’s the title of the song that plays when they’re on the roof and he’s about to take the sheet off him? It sounds awesome. ._.

    • June 22, 2012 at 2:41 pmTheDoorIntoSummer

      The title is “Rosario”.

  • June 22, 2012 at 1:00 pmlol

    It’s funny you say you consider Tsuritama better because it’s more consistent. That’s a valid opinion, but to me Apollon has been much more consistent. Tsuritama’s first half bored me to tears and only now is it impressing me.

    • June 22, 2012 at 1:38 pmGuardian Enzo

      Fair enough. There’s no middle ground though, because I completely disagree with you about the first half of Tsuritama. Incredibly entertaining episodes devoted purely to character development.

    • June 22, 2012 at 2:22 pmClick

      Now that you say it, that’s probably why Tsuritama has so small of a following. The first few episodes, while devoted to character development, may have had some of the most irritating and, in a few cases, boring moments in my anime life cycle. It’s a shame though that not many followed through, because now it’s become quite good.

      • June 22, 2012 at 3:35 pmGuardian Enzo

        100% in disagreement, just for the record…

  • June 22, 2012 at 9:46 pm7godeohs

    Wait, is this only a 12 episode series or 13? If it’s 12 then I have no idea how they could possibly squeeze in everything that it really needs for emotional impact. I finished the manga this week and the anime would need AT LEAST 2 episodes to end it properly. The actual manga ending was very fitting and poignant, so I’m hoping that they will find a way to integrate those aspects of the story into the ending – even if it turns out to be anime-only ending.

  • June 23, 2012 at 6:47 amLeticia

    THIS is my favourite show of the season <3

  • June 23, 2012 at 1:29 pmhaizaraa

    It’s funny how at first I thought the lyrics of the ED were meant for Kaoru cuz I always thought he would be the one to leave the other two, that he was the fragile one and Sen gave him wings. Yet, looking at the direction Sakamichi is heading now, I feel like those words were actually meant for Sentarou.

  • June 24, 2012 at 10:39 amchamelean75

    This is my favorite anime of the season.

  • June 24, 2012 at 7:43 pmrochichan

    It’s sad how this show is coming to an end…
    But, this episode was still great, even with the choppy arrangement of scenes… but it wasn’t that bad though. :D

  • July 9, 2012 at 8:58 amAshen

    Even with the rushed pace – and I fully admit to wishing for a longer series, to see the full impact of Sen’s family structure, as it strikes such a chord with me – I felt my throat tighten and a gasp slip out when I watched the hospital scene, particularly the reveal of who was hurt the most. The proceeding rooftop scene just stole my heart and actually brought me to tearss, I can only [i]imagine[/i] the kind of punch those parts pack in the manga. I cannot wait to find out.

    As paired down as this anime has had to be, I’m nothing short of stunned at how much I’ve come to love it, even while knowing the limits it and Watanabe-sensei have been under. Truly a testament to his skill and the manga creator’s that this is one of the best character-driven pieces of fiction I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.