Nodame Cantabile Anime Review
US Release By
23 24-minute episodes
2007-01-11 - 2007-06-28
An aspiring classical musician at Momogaoka University meets a talented piano player who aspires to be a kindergarten teacher. That is not the only thing that differentiates Chiaki and Nodame, as the latter's antics drive the former up the wall. Nodame falls in love with Chiaki at first sight but it will be an uphill battle to get the arrogant Chiaki to regard her as anything but an irritating annoyance. As they meet new people and have new experiences, both Chiaki and Nodame motivate each other in different ways to conquer their fears and grow as people.
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Nodame Cantabile is a lot of fun, with a college setting and relatively mature, relatable characters that provide a break from the average high school romance. The romantic leads, Chiaki and Nodame, are two of the most engaging and atypical characters I've encountered recently. Chiaki (voiced by a spot-on Tomokazu Seki) is abrasive and egotistical, but the writing and characterization in the series is so good that he doesn't come across as a total jerk, just someone with a lot of areas that need work. In contrast to his straight-man position is Nodame, who has abysmal personal habits and is prone to all manner of colorful screams when surprised, and is voiced marvelously by Ayako Kawasumi. The rest of the talented cast pulls off the show's sharply-timed and wacky sense of humor as well as the drama. The animation is not impeccable but it's well directed and the series knows where its strengths lie--colorful character animation and evocative backgrounds. The classically-based score has plenty of breadth, and is used for both emotional and comedic effect.
Funny but capable of sincerity, watching Nodame Cantabile's engaging cast of characters grow and mature is as compelling as the humor is funny--a joy to watch.
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I don't know much about classical music, but I like to think I have an appreciation for it. Once in a while it's the only kind of music I feel like listening to. Classical music is timeless, often peaceful and even fun to listen to. That last descriptor also works well for Nodame Cantabile: this show is a whole lot of fun.
College is an interesting time in one's life, and the university setting provides a nice change of pace, since a lot of anime storylines are set in high school. While Nodame Cantabile can be as silly as they come, the characters are able to do things that are more mature and relatable. A high school anime is liable to treat a kiss as the be-all, end-all of someone's life, while in this series characters can imbibe alcohol and spend the night together without it being a huge deal.
Shinichi Chiaki is a musical prodigy. He can play multiple instruments and is acutely attuned to the nuances of classical music. Not only can he tell when an orchestra is performing a piece of music well or poorly, he can dissect exactly why it's good or bad, and, more importantly, when it's close but missing something. That's why he decides he doesn't want to play in an orchestra, he wants to conduct instead. While conducting is his passion, Chiaki also has a fondness and proficiency for the piano, and that is how he ends up meeting the one-of-a-kind Megumi Noda, or Nodame for short.
Chiaki and Nodame are two of the most engaging characters I've encountered recently. Nodame especially is one of the most atypical female anime characters I can think of. It's established that Nodame cleans up well but she is rarely depicted as attractive person; her hair is tousled and unkempt, her apartment is a pigsty, she bathes irregularly, and constantly emits distinctive screams and yells when she's frustrated or surprised. No one quite knows what to make of her, and Chiaki is decidedly not a fan. He can't stand Nodame's eccentricities; however, her unique talent for playing the piano keeps Chiaki from writing her off completely.
Chiaki's behavior towards Nodame shows the strength of the character writing in this series. The way he harshly spurns her advances would make him come across as a total jerk in a lesser series. However, he is so well rounded that his personality does not come across as cruel. Chiaki simply has aspects of himself that he needs to work on, and he does as the series moves along, including wrestling with a phobia he's had since childhood. His renowned talents make it easy for him to look down on his peers, but after some humbling experiences he makes more of an effort to relate to them, both professionally and personally.
Speaking of peers, Nodame Cantabile's supporting cast stretches the show's rubber band reality to its limits. There are a significant number of characters, but the pacing does a good job keeping track of everyone. Of all the fellow music students Chiaki and Nodame encounter, Ryotaro Mine was among my favorites. His impulsive mindset and dogged determination make his antics amusing without becoming annoying. There's also the fancy, afro-sporting Masumi Okuyama who fights a losing battle for Chiaki's attention and develops a hilarious rivalry with Nodame. Fictional German conductor Franz von Stresemann (nicknamed Milch) deserves special mention. He mentors Chiaki for a stretch and is easily the most memorable of the instructors that come through the university. His love of women, booze, and being Chiaki's nemesis made me wish he had stuck around for the whole show instead of being dragged back to Deutschland.
As much as I enjoyed watching the cast of characters in their day-to-day lives, the focal point of the series is music and concert performances. A variety of classical pieces are covered, with mainstays such as Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin represented along with composers that aren't as well-known to modern audiences, such as Richard Strauss, Pablo de Sarasate, and André Jolivet. What's more, classical music is not limited to concerts; various pieces are used in the soundtrack to underscore certain scenes. My favorite example is the use of Moonlight Sonata to comedically enhance dread and foreboding during some of Chiaki's interactions with Nodame.
The series uses images that are effective in portraying the appeal of classical music by representing the thoughts and feelings the pieces elicit from audience members and even the performers themselves. While playing a piece of music with Nodame for the first time, Chiaki feels nostalgic as he imagines fields filled with flowers and foliage. These sequences not only help communicate the cast's love of classical music but also establish the bonds they form with each other over their mutual appreciation.
Nodame Cantabile clearly didn't cost a lot to make but the series is still very visually oriented. What the show lacks in animation it helps make up for in visual cues. In addition to the images shown during classical music performances, characters are given a rich variety of expressions to convey their emotions and carry the show's fairly wacky sense of humor. The character designs are pleasing and in some ways more realistic than average, particularly for female characters--their body proportions are far more believable than the average anime. While the cast are unmistakably animated characters, the comparatively realistic character art is nice to look at. Backgrounds are also well utilized to further convey character emotion and visual gags.
It is genuinely hard and time consuming to traditionally animate fine movement like fingers playing instruments. That is why characters are animated with cell-shaded computer graphics during musical performances. Thankfully you never see a character straight-on when they are animated that way. Although the computer animation is noticeable, the editing does a good job cutting around it so the sequences clean up pretty well. Because of this, Nodame Cantabile actually feels more visually consistent than higher budgeted shows like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex which awkwardly incorporate computer graphics for objects such as vehicles or incidental characters walking the streets.
I thought the Japanese acting was excellent. The voices are cast and acted very well and the comedic timing is sharp all around. Tomokazu Seki, one of my personal favorite voice actors, hits the mark beautifully as Chiaki and Ayako Kawasumi absolutely runs the gamut as Nodame. I imagine it was tiring just watching the latter perform. Although the acting is usually over-the-top, the cast rise to the occasion when it comes time to convey drama. With acting of this caliber I hesitate to start highlighting examples from the supporting cast, but Shinji Ogawa's perversely hilarious Milch, though not very German-sounding, is certainly noteworthy. The opening theme is very chipper and catchy, to the point that I actually watched it at the start of every episode instead of skipping it. I also enjoyed both ending themes.
Nodame Cantabile is a joy to watch. It's funny but capable of sincerity, and watching the engaging cast of characters grow and mature is compelling. The animation is not impeccable but it's well directed and the series knows where its strengths lie. Anyone interested in a comedy that is more relatable to those who have gone on to post-secondary institutions, look no further.
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Piano - The Melody of a Young Girl's Heart is a much more sentimental show but also features Ayako Kawasumi in the lead role, and she sings and performs the opening on the piano. Nana is a show about two young adults with the same name, one of whom is the lead singer in an up-and-coming band; much like Nodame Cantabile, there are both live action and anime adaptations of Nana. Beck is a more serious show about high school characters forming a band that is surprisingly mature and thoughtful. Kanon (the 2006 version) also features a couple classical compositions and music motifs, but is otherwise a fairly different show. Ouran High School Host Club is another show that may not have the highest budget but is still visually engaging and has an even wackier sense of humor.
Notes and Trivia
Nodame Cantabile is, as usual, based on a manga, but the anime is not the first interpretation of that manga. A popular live action television series was aired in 2006 along with a follow-up television special in 2008. Two follow-up films with the same cast were released at the end of 2009 and April, 2010.
The author of the manga, Tomoko Ninomiya, based the character of Megumi Noda on a then-college music student of the same name. The real Megumi Noda acted as a consultant for the musical details of the franchise.
The music for the live-action and anime adaptations was co-written with Ninomiya and Noda and performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Famous American conductor James DePriest, who was the Permanent Conductor of the orchestra at the time, conducted the music. Ninomiya created a character based on DePriest, also with the same name.
In addition to being a talented voice actor, Ayako Kawasumi is also a skilled pianist and performed piano pieces for the show.
Nodame Cantabile was broadcast subtitled on Animax and later aired dubbed in English. Most English dubs that air on Animax are recorded in English-speaking parts of Asia, such as Singapore, and tend to sound lackluster and wonky. However, Nodame Cantabile was dubbed in North America and features voice actors from Los Angeles who are regularly involved in dubbing anime.
The English dubbed version of the show is available officially on Crackle, but is not currently viewable from the US.
US DVD Review
Despite the American dub, this series has yet to be released on DVD in the U.S. and Canada.
However, an English-friendly Region 3-coded DVD set was released in Korea and Hong Kong. Both versions are the same (the latter is cheaper) and feature a well-encoded video transfer, clean trilingual audio (Japanese, Korean and English) and multilingual subtitles (English, Korean, Thai, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Indonesian and Maylay). The English subtitles are pretty good and were clearly worked on by people who are at least highly familiar with English, if not native speakers. Unfortunately there are some typos and timing issues, the borders on the subtitles are inconsistent and the font is a tad small. The biggest problem is how primitive the subtitling is; the subs do not translate Japanese text or titles at the same time as the dialog, so some important signage goes un-translated. Moreover there are no limited subtitle tracks that translate only onscreen text for those watching the English or Korean dubs. The English-language menus provide access to individual episodes but there are no chapter stops within episodes. The last DVD features a couple extras: an amusing half-length OVA episode that takes place between episodes 8 and 9, and a full-length episode of Puri-Gorota, a strange children's show-within-a-show that Nodame is quite taken with.
Although some of the romantic relationships are a little more on the mature side, Nodame Cantabile is still probably suitable for a 13+ audience.
Violence: 1 - Chiaki thunks Nodame from time to time and one piano instructor uses corporal punishment with a fan, but it's over-the-top for comedic effect.
Nudity: 1 - Nodame looks good in a bikini but there's nothing really racy in this show.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - It's established that some characters have physical relationships but the intimacy is never depicted. Alcohol is consumed by some characters more than others.
Language: 2 - The subtitles at least are quite mild.