OP Sequence

OP: 「オープニングテーマ「坂道のメロディ」 (Sakamichi no Melody) by YUKI


How can a show with such ridiculously high expectations possibly exceed them?

What was without question the most anticipated day of premières this season kicks off with Sakamichi no Apollon, the long-awaited return of legendary director Watanabe Shinichiro (of Cowboy Bebop fame). I’ll get the suspense out of the way quickly – yes, it’s great. This has already been a very strong season, though I’m not ready to call it great just yet based on (though it’s hardly easy to say so early on) the small number of series that seem to have the potential to be classics. Well, here’s one that does – and it represents (along with Tsuritama, hopefully) a return to greatness for the NoitaminA block.

This is definitely a NoitaminA series. It’s thoughtful, subtle and character-driven, lacking in any of the transitory qualities that tend to make a series a hit. Sakamichi could have aired in 1992 or 2002 – it just happens to be airing in 2012, which perhaps gives its fond but slightly cynical look back at the 1960’s a little more resonance. Given the pedigree here – not just Watanabe but music by the great Kanno Yoko (who also plays piano on the soundtrack) – you knew music would be a central theme and spectacular, and it is. Watanabe himself has been music director on a number of series and he and Kanno-san have partnered with spectacular results. I’m of the view that Cowboy Bebop – while excellent – is slightly overrated as a whole, but mostly because Watanabe-sensei was working with a fairly routine premise – direction and music were off the charts. Here, he has a critically-acclaimed manga to work with – albeit one that will have to be trimmed considerably to fit into 12 episodes.

Young Nishimi Kaoru (a brilliant Kimura Ryouhei) is a navy brat – a nerdy-looking kid with glasses who’s bounced around from school to school because of his father’s naval career, and whose mother has apparently abandoned the boy and his father. His latest move lands him in an unnamed town in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. Kaoru is used to awkward first days – the cold stares, the dismissals, the loneliness. The only one to talk to him right away is Maruo Shigetora (Murasae Ayumu, debut performance)) a social outcast himself. Mauro warns Kaoru about the bully who sits behind him, a boy to be avoided and placated at all cost. The class president Mukae Ritsuko (Nanri Yuuka, Saori from Hourou Musuko) offers to show Kaoru around the school and he’s immediately smitten with her, but when the bullying begins the walls start to close in on him – and a peculiarity of Kaoru is that whenever he feels this sort of thing happening (which is apparently often) the only way he can cure his nausea and panic is to flee to the roof.

All of that being prologue, this is where the story really begins, as Kaoru finds Kawabuchi Sentarou (Hosoya Yoshimasa, playing against type) sleeping under a tarp outside the locked roof. Sentarou is the bully Maruo warned Kaoru about, and fights three seniors for the key – and whups them – only to offer to sell it to Kaoru for 100,000 yen (which is about $1200, a ton for a high-school student now, never mind in 1966). This is unquestionably the key relationship in the story, and in many ways Kaoru and Sentarou represent the cultural divide that was beginning to crystalize then. Sentarou and Kaoru are opposites in every way – the one huge and muscular, the other wispy and bookish. Sentarou is a free spirit, Kaoru still locked inside himself – as Watanbe (and mangaka Kodama Yuki, presumably) demonstrate beautifully with a scene where Sentarou casts aside his umbrella and exuberantly allows the rain to wash over him as Kaoru watches, astonished.

People are naturally going to speculate on the nature of this relationship – they already have, in fact – which begins with Sentarou reaching out and grabbing Kaoru’s hand as he wakes up. With such reflexive suspicion among many anime fans for anything remotely resembling a sensitive relationship between males, a hue and cry of “Yaoi!” has already been raised here. I don’t see it myself, as Kaoru for certain (and probably Sentarou too) seems to have a crush on Ritsuko. It looks more like bromance to me but frankly, I don’t care – with writing this good, any relationship is interesting and this one is no exception. Sentarou and Kaoru do appear to have one major interest in common – music. But even here we see the cultural divide in play – Kaoru is studying classical piano, and Sentarou’s world is focused on jazz, and nothing but (he’s a drummer, and a good one).

I was pretty astonished by the scene in the basement of Welcome Records, the music shop Ritsuko’s father owns and above which the family lives. The basement is a studio, and there Kaoru sees Sentarou show off his talents on the drums (a beautifully animated scene) – again, in astonishment. It seems that being in Sentarou’s presence lifts the weight from Kaoru’s chest and takes away his panic – and it seems to me that it’s basking in the glow of Sentarou’s freedom that has this effect. Given that Kaoru’s home life is apparently no bargain either – he’s living with a seemingly wealthy Aunt who seems to hold him in low regard and a bratty cousin (we see the second memorable NoitaminA usage of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” in a year as Kaoru plays it at their large house) it’s only in Sentarou and Ritsuko’s company that Kaoru seems to escape that pressure always keeping him on the edge of panic (Watanabe portrays this beautifully by showing Kaoru “swinging” down the slope as Sentarou’s drums play in his head). Ritsuko tries to push her old friend and new together, but when Kaoru haltingly but correctly taps out the into to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ “Moanin’” on the studio piano, Sentarou derides him for playing it with no swing whatsoever. Kaoru promptly buys Blakey’s recording (the Blue Note 4003 version) and determines to learn to play the song well enough to shut Sentarou up.

I won’t speak for you, but I absolutely can’t wait to hear Sentarou and Kaoru jam together on “Moanin’” – and I suspect Ritsuko’s Dad will be a part of that, too. The love of music is infectious here, and intertwined perfectly with the elemental feelings of teenage isolation and the first pangs of romantic love. This seems to be a very simple story about very basic human experiences, but it’s in the telling that the magic comes – the youthful and bright OP by YUKI and gorgeous piano & strings ED by Motohiro Hata, the detailed and lovely backgrounds, the authentic dialogue, the way Kaoru’s sense of isolation, fear and finally astonished excitement feel so personal and real. I haven’t seen school scenes this good since Hourou Musuko, which like Sakamichi brilliantly captured those emotions we feel in that peculiar environment and put us inside the minds and hearts of the characters. What comes through here is artistry, and love of the subject on the part of the creators – a love for music, and a love for anime. If NoitaminA is about brining us anime as art, then Sakamichi no Apollon truly does represent a triumphant return to form.


ED Sequence

ED: 「エンディングテーマ「アルタイル」 (Altair) by Motohiro Hata


  1. Now, how shit like Guilty Crown gets 21 episodes and Sakamichi no Appolon gets only 12 is a mistery to me. Great post Enzo.

    Epic season is epic. I have no time to watch so much.

      1. no no, it’s 12 ep: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=13944

        And yes. GC gets 2-cour since it’s a Shōnen show with high budget and as good as SnA is, it’s Seinen. Tragically 92% (probably) of casual watchers don’t care for Seinen and its lack of so called moe characters, you know, eyes-big-as-your-fists w/ no nose ones. It’s the law of free market, I’m afraid. So let’s enjoy while it lasts and turn to two other golden Seinen shows this season that have 2+ cour: Jormungand and Uchuu Kyoudai.

        some guy
  2. Might not be a bad thing to have only a 1 cour run. Condensing the material can make everything more poignant so long as they don’t have to rush too much to squeeze everything in.

  3. I don’t care if this is just another drama, romance, or school slice-of-life, or that it’s josei, but this is already one of my favs this season.

    And if this isn’t art, Guilty Crown wasn’t a train wreck (to put it bluntly).

  4. “I’m of the view that Cowboy Bebop is somewhat overrated as a whole”

    WHAT!! WHAT!! WHAT!! The outrage!! How can you slight Cowboy Bebop? Sure, it’s a personal opinion and I’m sure you know you’re in the extreme minority there.

    The Bebop is one of the most popular, if not THE most popular and critically acclaimed over global market and NOT confined to Japan or its surrounding area, alienating the audience of the rest of world except for very small niche segments. Heck, it even appeals to those who don’t watch cartoon, like grown-ups. I FULLY disagree, G. ENZO! There was no need to trash Cowboy Bebop while discussing Sakamichi. If you needed to bash Watanabe’s projects, you have “samurai champloo”! Or “Kare Kano (2nd half)! COWBOY BEBOP IS THE GOD!! Everyone repeat that last sentence!

    RC fan56
    1. What the heck? People give mountain full of negs (7+ and counting) for defending Cowboy Bebop? What a world we live in… Left is right and up is down!! And I didn’t say a single negative thing about Sakamichi no Apollon, which I actually like very much (The only thing I haven’t fully liked from Watanabe was samurai champloo).

      Oh my, I bow to thee, Guardian Enzo. I didn’t realize your mighty power over readers here at RC. I bow. I bow. You’re a powerful adversary indeed.

      Cowboy Bebop, you deserve much better than these sinister crowd~~~~~!

      RC fan56
      1. Relax man. He never said it was bad. Just that it gets way more credit than he thinks it deserves, and I actually agree with that sentiment.

        Anyhow, I think Apollon is absolutely fantastic. I admire how well the characters relationships are shown to built up so well, not to mention how dynamic these characters are. While being described as a social outcast, Maruo certainly doesn’t act like the stereotype. Apollon’s OST and Lupin’s OST are definitely big contenders for the best soundtracks of the season.

      2. This makes me wanna talk about how “Ano Hana Mita blah blah blah” also falls under the over rated category just to see the rise out of folks. Actually that show did have over dramatic and overall hammy acting backed up by cheesy contrived plot devices.

        Come at me folks.

      3. You answered it yourself. Cowboy Bebop had an international appeal. Coming to an exclusive anime site and arguing how great a westernized anime is doesn’t really bode too well for your argument.

    2. LOOOOL all this cuz Guardian Enzo said its ” slightly overrated as a whole” You seriously make me laugh!! He didn’t even say it wasn’t good. While I do love Cowboy Bebop but I don’t think its the best out there. It IS made to appeal to the west, that is THE MAIN REASON why it is be viewed extremely differently. Geez if you can’t accept different opinions why do you look for them? Even if the WHOLE WORLD likes something and 1 person doesn’t DOESN’T MAKE THEM WRONG, it’ll simply be their own opinion, their on taste!

  5. Copy pasting what I posted on another blog;

    A more than decent first ep. OP and ED were not quite “Watanabe Level” (OP was a bit nasal, though animation was good) but the the overall episode content was good enough. I like the subtleties, like how Kauru took off his glasses when taking to class-rep girl in the hallway after she commented on his looks in a prior scene. There’s also some accuracy with regards to piano playing; Sotaro really did sound like a beginner trying to improvise.

    Kaoru’s bit delusional though, and I hope these delusions of his don’t overpower the show (like it did for that annoying brat in the recent Onegai Sensei rehash, which was mediocre at best).

    The lighting effects were pretty decent. Hope production doesn’t deteriorate too much in upcoming eps. Musical direction was pretty spot-on throughout (props for The Jazz Massenger’s “Moaning”, they even gave it the original Blue Note 12″ cover art, but the colors of the original text print are different). Even the light piece Kauru played in the beginning was great.

    Not gonna rate this just yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next ep.

    Can’t quite believe I’ve got 3 shows to look forward to now; Shiro-kuma Cafe, Mine Fujiko and Apollon. Might even become 4 if Tsuritama impresses (I loved Trapeze from the same director). Definitely a big step-up from past seasons, so far at least.

  6. Did I see a bit of rotoscope work in the drumming scene their. It’s almost unheard of now with CG being the rage so it’s a treat to see that sort of detail work put into an already beautiful animation work.

    1. I don’t know what it was, but all the drumming scenes were amazing. The sticks, the pencils, the actual drumkit. Everything was in perfect sync. Here’s hoping to six more seasons and a movie of this wonderful series.

  7. I’m not sure about watching this show since it has yayoi stuff which I don’t like. I think I’ll wait for the series to be over and see if I would or not pick this up.

    1. Just a heads up that, the yaoi under(over?)tones that some people seem to be seeing dies down pretty quickly after this, so if that’s the only thing keeping you from continuing…

  8. I really liked the relaxed atmosphere and environment that Sakamichi takes place in. The art style and general feel of the characters really captures the 1960’s feel. Both the main leads are already interesting, distinct, and likable. There is no doubt that this will be one of my top shows this season.

    This is also going to be great inspiration for me to start playing the piano again this summer.

  9. I’m not into Jazz that much, but this just sucked me in. It had a level of realism that I’m not used to seeing in anime and the main characters are amazing both visually and orally. If they can keep this up it will be a classic.

    I’m guessing that Kauru will play Blakey’s version note for note, and will get chastised for not understanding that Jazz is about interpretation not replication.

  10. I love that they are using the Kyushu accent, but as someone living in Kyushu where it’s used daily I can tell their intonation isn’t 100% right compared to the people I speak to… Maybe it’s Kyushu location or maybe it’s something else.

    I am loving this show, though.

    1. Even within Kyushu, or even within one prefecture in Kyushu, I expect the accents to differ quite noticeably across different localities. Do you happen to live in Nagasaki prefecture?

      (Incidentally, Nanri Yuuka is from Nagasaki…)

      Though even then, given that this is set in the 1960s, the accents would probably have been different compared to now as well. It’d be interesting to know what the relevant staff (probably the director, sound director and accent coach) decided to do wrt this…

      1. I live in Kumamoto, and the accents are a little different depending on where you are in Kyushu. Moreover, I did also buy the manga because I was excited when I found out there was a manga with Kyushu-ben in it. My coworker wrote his thesis on Hakata-ben/Kumamoto-ben and was really interested to learn there was a manga/anime out there with it as the typical speech style.

        He insists that it isn’t full Kyushu-ben but believes that it’s been written in a way that is more easily understood by people who aren’t from the area.

  11. Well this is one of few times I’m actually interested in a “bromance” show. The scene at the basement was perfect, I really did feel the magic Kaoru felt when Sentaro started beating the drums.

    I’m also in the mind that Cowboy Bebop was good but overrated. One thing that Bebop does show though is that Watanbe has style. He’s very good at making scenes look great with dynamic angles and colors. That’s why it surprised me that he can make a down-to-earth setting look great visually. And Kanno Yoko showed in Bebop she can make great jazz tunes so they could not have picked a better choice for the music here.

    1. I think you nailed down a good part of what made Bebop good – the style was so unique. However, the plot is pretty generic (case-of-the-week kind of thing, easily wrapped up in one or two episodes), especially by today’s standards. Don’t get me wrong – the setting and atmosphere were very well done; but the story’s episodic nature with predictable conflicts and resolutions really hurt it.

  12. Wow, I watched the first episode and I was extremely impressed by it. I certainly can’t wait for the next episode. Everything just seemed to flow perfectly. Even the music playing animation was very impressive. I’m really liking what I’m seeing so far. This is really turning out to be a great season for anime.

  13. Brilliant acting including by the debut voice actor. I always thought of Kyuushu-dialect as masculine until Ritsuko started using it!

    Still can’t get very excited about jazz though…I almost feel guilty about it -_-

  14. This could be the only series airing this season, and I wouldn’t give a damn. People, drop your zombies, your guns, your lolis, drop EVERYTHING, and feast your eyes on the series of the season. Yes, I dare say so.

  15. I haven’t been this excited about a show in ages and ages. I’m so curious what songs/albums/and artists they are going to get into. I love Jazz. I love Watanabe. I can’t accurately express how thrilled I am with this.

  16. I have been waiting for this anime so long! It’s finally here!

    Beautiful music, character and theme! Thank you soooo much for blogging this anime. Looking forward to it each week.

  17. Old school coming of age story with a jazz twist, I like what I’m seeing 😉
    Aquarion’s Sazanka has met her match. Ritsuko’s totally shipping Kaoru x Sentarou. Closeted fujoshi? Nishishi…

    Seishun Otoko
  18. The art might not be appalling, but everything’s in the details, especially when they played the intruments. Lovely characters and lovely storyline, very refreshing after piles of harem fanservice mecha zombies shitzz being thrown at us lately. Some ppl are complaining about the Bromance? I actually find it very cute~~ It’s not the typical “disturbing” yaoi, just completely cute aww-ing Bromance ;D

  19. Definitely a must watch this season, I like it a lot and I’ve read few chapters before. Although my bet is on Tsuritama this season. <– A-1 is raising steadily.

    Someone mentioned main character of SnA and Tsuritama had the same issues, and how they reacted accordingly to their surrounding. Making new friends and discovering something that would change their course of life (perhaps) forever. Is it mere coincidences? Hmmm..

    And I rooted for Outlaw Star, slightly better than Cowboy Bebop, myself 😉

    1. It’s clannad vs. honey and clover argument (or insert A vs. B). I don’t think there is no right or wrong answer exactly since it’s a personal choice/taste -unless you start telling me how Guilty Crown was the best thing ever, then you’re just pulling my leg or you need to go lie down. Now I couldn’t finish Outlaw Star myself even if somebody were to pay me, but hey, that’s my taste. It’s Strawberry vs. Chocolate thing. Also I think the target audience was different for Outlaw Star when comparing to Cowboy Bebop.

      some guy
  20. shit, i think that was the best opening theme and song i have ever heard/seen..

    OH MAN i had huge expectations for this show, and it was also the one i was looking forward to the most. i actually read the first chapter up until he pulled the blanket off sentarou. the drawings are really simple and choppy, but the animation however is so fluid and the colouring for the characters is so *__* sparkly, but in an unsparkly way. and omg i’m just rambling, but basically i really loved it, and i’ve always wanted to get into jazz music and watching this anime seems like it’ll be such a good first step.

    1. I was looking forward to hearing some Yoko Kanno, but oddly, the bgm for this didn’t stand out to me. Maybe because there was so much music played by the characters themselves?
      On the other hand, the music from Eureka Ao did make a nice impression..

  21. Am I the only one unable to get the entire OP out of my head? The tune’s been ringing in my head all day, and I keep getting the urge to watch it over and over again.

  22. Wow. I was unsure if I should watch this because people were saying there were some yaoi undertones, but all I see is just bromancing… And I am completely into this series now! It’s so sweet~

  23. Enzo… I love you man.
    I decided to watch this after your first sentence in this post and left the rest of the review for after I finished the episode which I watched a couple of hours before.
    Guess what? I absolutely loved it. I know this show is going to be amazing! I love jazz and piano and I kind of saw bits of myself in Kaouru so I know I’m gonna love it.
    Thanks man. You gave me this and Ikoku Meiro no Croisse.
    You rock.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *