Saturday, June 2, 2012

Anime Review: Nodame Cantabile Season 1

I had so much fun writing that last anime review, that here I am writing another one, but this time for an anime series. The series that this review will be focusing on is 'Nodame Cantabile', adapted from the manga of the same name by Tomoko Ninomiya.

The title character, Megumi "Nodame" Noda, is a 20 year old piano major in her second year at Momogaoka Music Academy. An eccentric young musician, she favors playing by ear, rather than following the sheet music. In the world of classical music, where it is key to strictly stick to the score, her free-spirited musical stylings are deemed clumsy and careless, and she is relegated to the "failure's class". On the other side of the spectrum, we have her third year fellow student, Shinichi Chiaki, who is pretty much the exact opposite of Nodame. An arrogant perfectionist, talented it both piano and violin, he has aims to become a conductor like his childhood mentor, Sebastiano Viera, though being stuck in Japan due to a fear of flying and the ocean, he is prevented from furthering his career and taking the world stage. Also forced into the "failure's class" for telling off his elite piano teacher, this odd couple strikes up an unlikely relationship based on their common passion for music. In season one of 'Nodame Cantabile', we get to follow Chiaki and Nodame's music school lives as they develop their own friendship as well as make others, strive to advance their musical skills, and ponder the future of their musical careers.

My opinion on the animation quality of this show is mixed. While the art is crisp and clean, and the colors vibrant, there is a noticeable lack of motion that hindered my enjoyment throughout the entire season. This issue is most evident during the orchestra scenes. Rather than show us exciting scenes of the whole orchestra working in concert, we get a series of still shots to music. Instead of dynamic performances full of motion, we get feigned animation tricks like panning and strafing. Occasionally, we are treated to a quick close-up of a CG rendered violin being bowed or fingers striking piano keys, but this was not satisfying. During non-musical performance scenes like conversations between characters, the lazy animation is still there, but it is less apparent and not really a bother. For instance, during a conversation between two characters, the common thing to do was to zoom in on their heads and just make their mouths move. Still a bit lazy, but as I said, I am fine with it in these types of scenes. 

Being a series about music, it is no surprise that the soundtrack is fantastic. An orchestra was put together specifically for this show and the live action version, and they recorded classical pieces from the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, as well as many others. Every episode features at least one classical performance, and whether you are a fan of classical music or not, I'm sure you will find the music pleasing to the ear for the most part. The original score background music isn't very memorable and is overshadowed by the classical pieces, but it certainly wasn't bad and did it's job of subtly helping to create the proper atmosphere of each scene.

I thought the English dub voice acting was really well done and along with the great characters, pretty much made this show for me. The cast was very natural sounding. A lot of the time when you have a bad anime dub, it is because the voices don't sound like they would come from those characters, but the voices fit really well, and were all very distinct sounding. The dub also synced up well with the characters mouth movements and actions, helping you forget that you are even watching it in a dub at all. Unrelated to voice dubbing, but on the related topic of making the show viewable by an English speaking audience, there is one problem I have with this production. There was often on screen text that went untranslated. For every classical performance, a text box pops up revealing the title and composer of the piece, but it is left in Japanese, leaving me unable to read it. It would have been nice for them to translate that so I could identify my favorite pieces of music from the show. Also left untranslated were pieces of text meant to enhance gag scenes. You can still enjoy the show without this, but it just seems like such a simple fix that would make me enjoy the show more.

The strongest part of this show is the characters. Specifically, the two mains, Nodame and Chiaki. Both are very likeable and receive their fair share of development. Nodame, being the goofy eccentric, brings most of the comedy and fun to the table. Despite getting less development than Chiaki, she remains the star of the show with her winning personality and as a perfect foil for the serious Chiaki. That's not to say she lacks in the development department. Lacking ambition at first, she really only wants to play music for fun and rebels against the strict nature of the classical genre when pushed. Eventually though, she develops the desire and aspiration to improve on her musical ability so that she can continue to be with the musically impassioned Chiaki. The antithesis to Nodame's personality, Chiaki, at the beginning of the story, is quite arrogant in his ways. His personality flaws aside, I didn't think him unlikeable. This has to do with the way his relationship with Nodame develops. On the outside, it would appear that he dislikes and is annoyed by Nodame, but often finds himself thinking about her and subconsciously enjoys cooking for her. Nodame helps him lighten up throughout the show, which is instrumental in his success as a conductor, helping him to connect with his orchestra players, rather than thoughtlessly bark orders at them, and expect them to understand what he wants.

Although this show does have it's flaws, I loved it from the first episode to the last. The great characters and excellent sense of comedy more than make up for the just passable animation. So you would think that I would recommend this show, right? Wrong. I cannot recommend this show to you. It would be too cruel if you ended up liking it. You see, not until after getting hooked on this show, did I realize that seasons two and three are not available for English speaking viewers. A little lazy research revealed to me that season one was dubbed specifically for the satellite anime channel, Animax and their Southeast Asian viewers, and was never intended for a DVD release. I only came about the first season through the Sony-owned(Sony is an Animax shareholder), video streaming service, Crackle. So with seasons two and three not available, and the North American manga release being canceled at volume 16, there is no way for me, or other English speaking viewers to get the whole story. So, yeah...Despite loving it, I'm kind of out of luck, and I don't want you to feel that way too. The first season does have a satisfying ending, but knowing there is more and not being able to access it is truly disappointing. So unless you speak Japanese and can access the Japanese language DVDs or manga books, or you don't mind not being able to complete the story, I sadly can't recommend this awesome series to you. If you do decide to risk disappointment and frustration at not being able to finish, you can watch season one for free on Crackle.

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