Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Anime Review: Nodame Cantabile

Sorry, would've had this up yesterday but, in addition to homework and such, I also got a 24 hour bug that left me a little woozy. I'm hoping that by the end of the week I'll have a better grasp on my schedule and will be able to get these reviews out on a more timely pace, fingers crossed!
Since Nodame Cantabile is another noitaminA show it’s been on my to watch list for a little while but, since it wasn’t licensed in the US, I was holding off on it and watching other stuff in the meantime. So I was delighted to see someone post on the ANN forums that was legally showing it, albeit dubbed (by Animax Asia), trotted over to see it, and really liked what I saw.

Nodame Cantabile

Summary: Shinichi Chiaki loves music and some would call his piano and violin playing skills genius but what he really wants to be is a conductor. However, due to a fear of flying and traveling by boat he is confined to Japan and accepts that he’ll never be able to realize his dream. Megumi Noda (Nodame) is a piano major who wants to be a preschool teacher rather than a concert pianist even though her playing (while unorthodox) is amazing. The two of them meet and often end up in the same places (to Nodame’s delight and Chiaki’s chagrin) and navigate their last few years of college while trying to figure out what they really want to do.

The Good: I was a bit worried that this series would turn out a lot like Honey and Clover (which I do like, don’t get me wrong) in that the eventual romantic subplot would eclipse the “music students learning music” part of the plot. Happily that doesn’t happen, probably because Nodame already has a crush on Chiaki and Chiaki doesn’t seem that interested in romance for most of the series and the rest of the romance is played for laughs. There is also a well-defined story arc (again, another problem I had with Honey and Clover) covering Nodame and Chiaki’s lives from their junior year until graduation and the story manages to feel wrapped up while leaving room for a sequel (and there are two). Unlike most noitaminA series, this show is 23 episodes long and the length of the series worked out perfectly for the story it wanted to tell. Having never read the manga I can’t say how faithful this adaptation was, but the pacing felt good and the anime can stand on it’s own without the manga.

The Bad: I’m rather curious as to why Nodame is the titular character of this work instead of Chiaki since the story seems to focus more on him. Not only that, but his backstory (ie, why he can’t leave Japan) is elaborated on while Nodame’s is hinted at and then gets a three minute explanation in one of the last episodes which simply was not that satisfying. Actually, the series has a rather large cast of side characters and most of them don’t get much character development over the course of the series as well.  While it is fun to watch them all play off of each other, Chiaki and Nodame are the stars here and the show ultimately revolves and them and their struggles (I’m also told the side characters don’t appear in the sequels so it could also be that the manga-ka didn’t want to waste time on developing them, it still feels like a bit of a waste however).

The Art: One thing Nodame Cantabile is noted for is the motion capture technology used to accurately show the placement of the musicians’ fingers while playing (they do this for the strings, woodwinds, drum, and piano players). It does look a bit uncanny valley-ish but I liked all the extra effort put into it. Thankfully most of those scenes are close-ups of the hands instead of shots showing the hands and traditionally animated faces and bodies (which would have looked even stranger) and there are also quite a few still shots during the orchestra performances and those make up the majority of those scenes. Kudos to JC Staff for taking on a project that presents such a tricky visual challenge and dealing with it quite well, it would have felt cheap to use just still shots and the use of CGI was rather creative thinking. The art for the rest of the series is fine as well, some of the background characters start to look similar but remain distinctive from each other and everything seemed consistently well drawn.

The Music: Since this is a show that focuses on a music school it clearly has a lot of music in it, specifically it has quite a bit of classical music in it (I even recognize the names of more composers after seeing this show). The music seems very solid, I can’t tell if the music really is off when the characters are playing it wrong, but the orchestra scenes were done very well (not too long but clearly the high point of the episode and there wasn’t a performance every episode but there was a practice almost every episode, ie, the characters seemed like real students who were improving over time). The opening and endings are catchy (although not classical music) but I liked the imagery there better than the songs. As for the dub, the first thing I thought when I saw it was “wait, when did Izzy get interested in music?!?” and I’ve never seen digimon, that’s just how young Chiaki sounded and so I have nicknamed the series “digimon goes to college.” Looking at the dub cast* just as many of them worked on Code Geass as Digimon and it was certainly a competent cast. One thing I also noticed looking at the list is that they have a lot of people doing four or five minor roles (the cast actually struck me as a bit small for a series with so many background characters, many of the orchestra members have at least one line and orchestras are big) which would explain why some of the background voices sometimes sounded a bit cartoony, the VAs were probably doing as many voices as they could. But it sounds fine so the fact that this is dubbed shouldn’t deter any but the most hardcore sub fans from watching the series.

I’m honestly surprised that this show hasn’t been licensed in the US yet (I could see either Section 23 or Rightstuf picking it up but I have heard that this was one of noitaminA’s more successful shows so maybe the licensing cost was too high) since it’s a solid slice of life series that you don’t have to be a music lover to like (I’m about as unmusical as they get and I clearly loved this series). I’d buy it in a heartbeat if it ever came out here (if not, maybe I can import it from somewhere) but in the meantime I’ll cross my fingers and hope that crackle gets the second and third seasons to stream as well.

*All American actors, which is odd since this is the Animax Asia dub but, since they are usually known for bad dubs and this isn’t one, maybe that’s why they used US VAs?