Japanese Title: Nodame Cantabile
Related: Nodame Cantabile Paris Chapter (season 2)
Nodame Cantabile Finale (season 3)
Similar: Kids on the Slope
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 23 episodes (season 1), 11 episodes (season 2), 11 episodes (season 3), 3 OVA (1 per season)
- Great setup.
- Main couple’s chemistry.
- Beautiful music.
- Serious about the classical industry, even when hilarious.
- Exemplar of the ‘slow build’ relationship.
- Concerts need more animation.
There was once a time in my life when I had no interest in music. Whether it was dancing, playing, or even listening to it, there was no appeal to me (classic Disney movies were the exception ~Oh rinky, tinky tinky. Tout le monde veut devenir un cat~). Even video game music didn’t matter to me beyond the game itself. I wonder if others experienced this. It wasn’t until my mid-teens when film/TV/anime tracks started to click because of their story context. Listening to a track standalone instantly evoked the emotions I felt from the show. Now that I love music and listen to it every day, stories centred on music have newfound appeal. Nodame Cantabile has been on my list for a decade (thanks to it starring my favourite anime voice actor) and at last, I have opportunity to watch it. Do not let me down!
It took me, what, ten minutes – if that – to love Nodame Cantabile?
Chiaki is prodigy at the piano and violin with dreams of conducting, until his arrogance and a spat with his teacher gets him demoted to the delinquent class. Not all is lost, however, when he hears piano played in an untamed yet inspiring manner. He must find the player! Well, all is, in fact, lost, for the player turns out to be his neighbour Nodame, who lives like a hobo. Flies crawl inside cans, half-eaten noodle packets replace floor tiles, grunge leaks from the very walls, and a general aroma of ‘loser’ fills her apartment. Worse yet, she declares herself his girlfriend after he cleans her pigsty. He pretends not to know her in public because she’s so embarrassingly filthy.
Having seen nothing but the cover art, I expected Nodame Cantabile to be a lovey-dovey romance. I did not expect these characters. Their opposing personalities and styles – her trashy freestyle and his clean precision – create instant chemistry and had me laughing right away. Furthermore, this dynamic isn’t contrived, forced to work because the writer said so. You believe that despite her being everything his isn’t, her random play style enthrals him because it shouldn’t work, not according to his meticulous studies. Inversely, she also has much to learn from him about taking the music seriously when needed.
One of the truly remarkable qualities about Nodame Cantabile is how it succeeds at making Chiaki and Nodame’s relationship a slow build. One major irritation with anime romance is never getting the couple together until the end. Oh, we know from episode one they will be together – it’s obvious – but the same nonsense will keep resetting their progress every episode. Our eyes can only roll so much. Nodame Cantabile never resorts to the one joke or gimmick to keep you on the hook. (See B Gata H Kei for a serial offender.) When Chiaki receives an offer to conduct an orchestra in another city, of course it’s going to set back the relationship. It makes sense. Nodame has opportunity to study under a master? Naturally, it means putting the relationship aside for the time being. Their relationship progression mirrors how it would be putting career first in real life.
Though primarily focused on comedy, Nodame Cantabile knows how to tackle serious subjects such as the worry of being able to constantly one-up oneself – “Have I hit my peak already? Will I ever perform better than this? – and the difficulties of managing a global career alongside a domestic relationship. It handles these issues well in a comedic manner without undermining their severity.
The main thread of the series is Chiaki’s journey to become a conductor, which starts at the academy when he gathers an odd bunch of characters like a rock violinist and a flamboyant percussionist to form an orchestra. Despite Chiaki’s handsome features and popularity with the ladies of the group (they like the way he waves his baton), his expectations of perfection make him difficult to work with. Seki’s inner Coach Sagara emerges here. It doesn’t help that their orchestra teacher from Germany always seeks the punani, even leaving Chiaki in charge just to go on a date. Everyone thinks the teacher must be some evil twin of the real famed composer.
The second season in Paris had me in hysterics. Nodame lives next to an actual Weeaboo, who’s about to learn from her what a real otaku is like. Her freak reaction to the French greeting (kiss on the cheek) is flawless as well. (Pro tip: Don’t greet a Japanese woman that way unless you are already friends. One woman called the police on an Italian tourist for this.)
Lastly, the music itself is top notch. The pieces are indistinguishable from a concert recorded at the Sydney Opera House. It gave me shivers. I found myself leaning back and simply closing my eyes to listen. I now listen to the soundtrack when writing reviews.
Art – High
The style is a bit long in the face. When playing music, the fingers are in sync with the notes for close-ups, but often static at a distance. Good framing and visual style ease the limited technical budget. This would warrant a Medium rating; however, season two improves everything with more animation, more style, cleaner characters, and concerts receive full animation through CG. The CG only falters when focused on a single character trying to move too much.
Sound – Very High
Ma boi Tomokazu Seki! What can I say? Superb as ever, especially opposite the female lead – the Japanese track is a must for the acting chemistry between these two. When in France, hearing people speak actual French is nice. It’s a shame they had locals voiced by Japanese actors with heavy accents. Seki, who’s character is meant to be Japanese with an accent, sounds better than the French waiter who’s supposed to have no accent! They nail the classical music. Any weak music comes from several out of place OPs and EDs, though the Paris ED is beautiful – actual French singer too!
Story – Very High
A hardline classical musician and his [alleged] girlfriend pianist pursue their dreams in music. With a dynamic main couple, great cast, beautiful music, hilarity, and drama where it matters, Nodame Cantabile hits the perfect note.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: Must watch. Nodame Cantabile goes above its genres by never falling into a routine or the predictable path. Even those with no interest in classical music will find reason to love the characters.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)