Chiaki Shinichi, a talented but arrogant piano major at a prestigious Japanese music college, dreams of becoming a great conductor. However, when his piano teacher gives up on him after an argument, Chiaki is demoted to the reject class, and his chances of following his dream are seemingly crushed. Things aren’t made better by the fact that he is now in the same class as his neighbor, the ditzy Noda Megumi, also known as “Nodame”, who has a huge crush on him despite being his total opposite in manners, ambition and lifestyle…
summary by Taleweaver
Highs: Overflowing with comedic highlights; surprisingly critical of Japanese society; not a single episode wasted
Lows: Some over-the-top goofball characters; incoherent animation quality
“Slice of life” comedy series seem to have become quite abundant over the last few years. From Azumanga Daioh to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, shows about the everyday lives of (almost) everyday people have immensely gained in popularity, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Nodame Cantabile follows in these footsteps to quite some extent.
However, there are so many little details that make this show unique that it is almost impossible to find one in particular to begin with. While, at the core of its plot, Nodame Cantabile is not a comedy show, it is literally overflowing with some of the funniest scenes ever. The quirky cast has great potential for situation comedy, and it is all played out wonderfully, from clashing standards of diligence to misunderstood affection.
Even with at least one good laugh in every episode, Nodame Cantabile still doesn’t forget that it is human drama that moves the plot along, and there is plenty of that in the series. In particular, the role of talented people in Japan is picked out as central theme, and quite surprisingly, the usual Japanese moral that the individual is nothing and everyone has to contribute his part to society is investigated – and debunked as harmful to those with true talent. In short, people like Chiaki and Nodame would be much better off in a world that allows them to play out their individual strengths instead of forcing them to comply to standards that limit them.
There are so many more details one could mention here, like the fantastic seiyuu work of literally everybody in the cast or the brilliant orchestral music during the show, but what stands out most is the straight-out fantastic pacing of the entire series. At 23 episodes, not a single one is wasted; there’s not a single minute in Nodame Cantabile that isn’t important to either the plot or to character development. Boring moments? There aren’t any! Unnecessary recaps? If you’re looking for these, go watch a GAINAX anime!
With so many highlights, this series is very, very close to perfection. However, a show so dedicated to showing real people with real lives shouldn’t need to resort to goofball characters, and Nodame Cantabile does this several times. All of them have rather normal personalities behind their over-the-top facades, but all too often, their forced-funny sides are used for a cheap laugh. And speaking of cheap: while a production can be on a tight budget, you should never be able to see where a company made the cuts. With Nodame Cantabile, it is pretty obvious that J. C. Staff weren’t able to animate all the orchestral scenes the way they had wanted to. Giving good animation to only half of them leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Nodame Cantabile was a great way to start the 2007 anime season, and it has great potential of becoming a classic. There are almost no serious issues with the show, and even if there were no other players than Chiaki and Nodame, it would still be a great series. If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure you do. There’s no way you’re not going to like it.
Highs: Incredible music; excellent characterization; compelling drama with the right mix of comedy
Lows: Animation could be better; more please!
Anyone who’s ever been on any sort of stage—be it musical or not—knows the churning feelings of nervousness, anticipation, joy and dread that comes with performance. These types of emotions are incredibly hard to reproduce in animation, but whether it be the elation of getting things right, or the crushing defeat of stuffing it up, the characters of Nodame Cantabile put you there time and time again. They all have varied levels of competency, clashing personalities and different dreams; watching them strike a balance between them in both their personal and musical lives is what makes this anime such a strong drama. It’s this same character chemistry that also makes Nodame Cantabile a great comedy. The jokes and gags work so well because, just like the dramatic elements, they center mainly on relationships. The classical music soundtrack is absolutely divine. Such a diverse range of professionally performed pieces are captivating for anyone regardless of their interest or knowledge of the genre. Even the opening and ending theme songs, although decidedly more modern, are well above standard. Sit back and soak it up, because this anime is nothing short of audio bliss.
Unfortunately, it’s not perfect. The most glaring fault of this anime is its animation. One of the reasons I love music-themed anime is because I enjoy seeing the actual chord changes and bow strokes animated. Unfortunately, the restrictions of a television budget didn’t allow for this 100% of the time. Often, performance scenes were punctuated with extended pans over still shots and illustrations. It does even up towards the end (actually becoming quite the asset) but, in the first half especially, it’s particularly frustrating. Most of the motion-capture animation was outstanding in that it matched the music exactly, but a handful of times, it made the character’s hands look too big and their arms look gangly. The only other complaint is that, by the end, it still leaves you wanting more! At the time of its completion, there were still another eight, going on nine, volumes of manga that hadn’t been touched. While it did end at just the right spot, another season could still be produced without exhausting the source material, and needless to say, another 23 episodes would be great.
All-in-all, Nodame Cantabile is one of the best, if not, the best music-related anime and I highly recommend it. Even if this type of thing usually isn’t to your taste, watch it, as I cannot see how anyone could possibly dislike it.
Nodame Cantabile can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.