020: Nodame Cantabile

Aired: Winter 2007, Fall 2008, Winter 2010
Genres: Romance, Music, Comedy, Slice of Life, School
Date watched: Dec 17 2018 – Dec 18 2018
Series watched: Nodame Cantabile (23 ep x 22 mins + 1 ep x 15 mins), Nodame Cantabile: Paris-hen (11 ep x 23 mins + 1 ep x 21 mins), Nodame Cantabile Finale (1 ep x 25 mins + 11 ep x 22 mins + 1 ep x 11 mins)
Links: MAL

Achtung! This review will have moderate plot spoilers, although I left out many things. I do know that plenty of people like to know in advance what kind of romance is in a romance-heavy show, before watching, though. I am often one of them. This review is also very long because I had plenty to rant about.

Why I started watching: It had been a while since I watched one of the multi-season music-based animes, and I wanted one. I had also seen this show on lists of good romance animes, and I was in the mood for that. I binged this show really quickly, doing 50 (including the cartoon) episodes within 48 hours.

Afterwards, I described this anime to my hapless friends as a really beautiful dumpster fire. I remember ranting to them on how it was a masterpiece in presentation with tons of great music and visuals, and an absolutely trashy story. The story wasn’t that bad in hindsight, it had lots of really good character growth, however I was probably misled by the people claiming that this show had a good romance, as we had a different definition of good. It was good as in it had an epic development cycle, and did progress over a long period of time, true. But the characters were extremely tropey, and it played out as a very long-winded tsundere romance that doesn’t actually have a sweet payoff at the end of it, unlike other similar shows like Toradora!

Chiaki, the male lead character, gets to pretty much do whatever he wants – he becomes a leader, runs his own orchestra, makes decisions to go overseas, and never fouls up on stage. He has a very serious attitude and puts work before romance. On the flip side, Nodame, the female protagonist, is portrayed as a mildly-autistic musical savant who plays wildly, and needs to be taken care of. She is constantly there for Chiaki, making him realize this epiphany and that wisdom, but is portrayed as always being several steps behind him. She even helps him overcome his biggest roadblock in the first season in order to free him to pursue his dreams, and never takes credit for it.

Because Chiaki puts work before romance and is tsundere on top of that, as a foil to Nodame’s playfulness and laissez-faire attitude, the entire relationship between the two has to be carefully balanced on a fine edge in order for the show to tell a great story. Unfortunately for the show, I feel that it fails to do that. Instead, I see shades of emotional dominance and abuse by Chiaki all over the place. Nodame gets excluded many times by the man who she loves and also supposedly fancies her, but he keeps stepping on her, outright rejecting her confession at one point, and yet she is still portrayed as hopelessly in love with him, and has to be the one that makes up with him half the time.

When she states her goal of being a kindergarten teacher, he presses her to follow him into a career of music instead, styles himself as her teacher early on, then doesn’t do anything with her. When she’s drifting away, he gets an epiphany and he “rushes to rescue her”, convincing her to come back to him, and even follow him overseas, and once she’s twirled around his fingers again, he abandons her and rushes off to other cities without her to perform. And then now and again they have a torrid love meeting and make up.

Nodame has a stated goal early on of playing with Chiaki on stage, which seems reasonable for a music-romance anime. The OP/ED videos over the three seasons even show them playing music together, so I was fully expecting something like that to happen at some point. But it gets subverted, more than once. Even when he gets to build an orchestra again, in a new city with the vastly improved Nodame, he doesn’t ask her despite knowing all that. It makes no sense. But it’s not just that they never delivered that really irked me, but the decisions that Chiaki in particular makes around the plotlines where they do get close to it, and what he does instead, that make absolutely no sense.

It’s like the manga artist was trying to string out the plot by constantly evoking bad luck, and a tiresome Chiaki that never evolves his personality and character, to see how much they could torture Nodame. The entire anime is written like some sort of male wish fulfillment story, where Chiaki could do no wrong, and Nodame would be the one to foul up on stage, just for Chiaki to swoop in after and disgustingly offer her plane tickets, asking her to drop everything and follow him overseas to be his hanger-on, while she was in her most depressed and vulnerable state. Which is why I was surprised when I looked it up, that the mangaka actually was female.

I was really angry at the ending, even though it ended “happily”. After making us watch them flail through 50 episodes, the payoff was far too little, too late, for me. Even looking at the manga follow-up, it looks like they did eventually get engaged but never actually married. Still, that did mollify me a little. I see people saying this romance is realistic though, which boggles my mind – this was pretty far on the unrealistic side of the line to me.

*takes a deep breath and smiles widely*

Alright! The romance missed the mark for me. However, my interpretation of this show is probably quite harsh, and plenty of people love this show for different reasons anyway, including the romance bits. Even for me, outside of the issues I take with how the romance went, it really was a great show in nearly every other aspect. The visuals and art were pretty, and there were lots of stylistic flairs when they were playing, especially with Nodame, and you could almost hum along with her enthusiasm as her hair fluttered around in imaginary rhythm to her music. I love the pursed-lips face she would make when in the zone. Chiaki was drawn with a slight angular edge to his features, as a counter to Nodame’s softer, rounder features, both matching their actual personalities.

Variations of famous classical and orchestral music pieces were scattered through the show, and they were awesome, even for someone like me that usually isn’t able to appreciate classical pieces. The humour in the show was on-point too, especially with the interactions between Nodame and Chiaki, and all credit to them because as I became more furious at the emotional abuse that I felt Chiaki was heaping on Nodame, I started looking toward Chiaki’s treatment of Nodame and wondering if that bit of physical humour was going to fall apart as well. But it never did. Gyabo! Mukya! Poor Nodame. But she gave as good as she got as well.

However, one other place where the anime did spectacularly fail is the portrayal of side characters. There was plenty to dislike here – one of the main side characters was a lecher to offset his musical genius and plot armour, which is a trait I dislike seeing, and another side character was the predatory agent who forced them into weird contracts and agreements for the sake of humour, but also is something I dislike, because it’s so unrealistic – those would never hold up in any real world. There were also two gay characters, I believe, and both were exaggerated and portrayed in a very bad light for humour’s sake, which is very poor taste on the mangaka and director’s part. I also didn’t like a story choice they made with the characters in the first orchestra, though that’s another plot complaint, not a character one.

And finally, the OP/ED tracks. Two made it to my list – the ED for the Paris chapter, Tokyo et Paris by Emiri Miyamoto and Solita, which had beautiful violin and vocals and was symbolic of the gulf between the two characters, plus the OP for the final season, Manazashi Daydream, by Yuu Sakai. But frankly, both got tainted by my associated memories with this show. It could have been such a perfect show if the writing was better…

  • Base: 9
  • Mood: -1
  • Plot: -3
  • Music: +1
  • Misc: -1

Final Score: 5/10