Friday, May 25, 2012

Sakamichi no Apollon - 07

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Well, that’s certainly going to give the fujoshi something to talk about…

NoitaminA steamrolls along in spectacular fashion for yet another week, and Sakamichi joins Tsuritama in delivering peerless episodes that build on everything that’s come before. It was interesting that Crunchyroll finally subbed the OP and ED this week. I love both, with Motohiro Hata’s ED being possibly my favorite anime theme of the season – but now that I know the lyrics of it in detail, I see just how spoilerific it is (and I haven’t read the manga, just made a lot of educated guesses). If you don’t speak Japanese I’d avoid those lyrics if I were you, because they don’t leave things very open to debate.

The inclusion of “My Favorite Things” as one of the musical centerpieces of the show makes sense now, as it’s been tied into the death of John Coltrane – which places the events of this episodes somewhere in late July of 1967. All of the relationships important to the story are at play in this ep, but they all revolve around the one between Kaoru and Sentarou like planets orbiting a star. I saw a lot of complaining about Kaoru having overreacted last week by storming off and declaring his friendship with Sen at an end, but having had quite a few friends whose Dads were in the military, it rang pretty true with me. The fear of abandonment is a pretty powerful thing, and the aftershocks of the quake were still being felt this week.

The thing is, of course, life goes on. Sen is still practicing for the school festival with Seiji and “The Olympus” (don’t forget the Tokyo Olympics were held just three years earlier) and Bon is still just as much in love with Ritsuko as ever. And he’s also pleased with himself when he suddenly becomes quite popular with her friends after breaking his silence to “defend” her from speculation that they’re dating – all of a sudden they turn to him for advice on getting good grades, and even more, the two of them become the subject of their matchmaking – drafted to be on the festival registration committee together.

Things, meanwhile, come to a head between Sen and Yurika – perhaps irredeemably so it seems to me – after he catches her looking at “Chet Baker Sings” in the Mukae’s shop. There’s a lot of subtlety in this scene but the implication is not lost on Sen, and things get even worse when he’s moving in for a kiss only to be interrupted by the stumblebum mutterings of Brother Jun, who’s been crashing in the basement studio. No word yet on what sent Jun down this path - given that it's 1967 and he's a Tokyo college student many possibilities naturally suggest themselves - but when Yurika leaves crying and Jun runs off his mouth a little, Sen cracks him a good one (I thought for a moment he’d seriously injured his hand) and yet another relationship is torn asunder.

The thing is, Bon knows the fight between Sen and he is pretty stupid – it’s never more apparent than when he stammers through a conversation while making Sen fill out the application form (I loved the before-after eyecatches where Bon corrects Sen’s katakana) for the festival – but he’s a kid, and he can’t quite bring himself to make it right. There really aren’t any villains here – Seiji is just trying to improve things for his family, Sen is sympathetic and trying to help out, and Rock ‘n Roll isn’t evil and never was. Deep down Kaoru knows this but he’s so wounded that he can’t bring himself to risk believing that, and continues the big chill right up until festival day. The Olympus take the stageNobuhiro Okamoto Seiji on vocals, Maruo playing a vintage (well, not at the time) Fender Telecaster, Yamaoka on Hofner bass (just like Paul McCartney) and Sentarou on drums – and in the brief interval before the power goes out, Sen proves himself as adept at rock drumming as he with jazz. He also proves himself a loyal ally even to casual friends, stepping up to defend Seiji from groundless “rich boy” accusations from bullying seniors. Even Maruo (young Murase Ayumu is doing a nice job with this smallish role) is convinced at the point that Sen’s a nice guy after all.

There’s a lot of subtlety throughout the episode, and lots of feelings communicated without words. But the climax of the episode is undeniably theatrical – a convenient power outage prompts Kaoru to take to the piano, and Sentarou to join him on drums. But I’ll forgive the drama, because drama isn’t a four-letter word to me (I counted – it’s five) and it’s well-earned. I especially liked the quick cut to Kaoru as a little boy finding a letter in his mailbox as he heard Sen tell Maruo that he was loyal to him, and through with Rock ‘n Roll after the festival – a callback to the moment where Kaoru’s friend had told him he’d send him letters after he moved away, and the mailbox was always empty. The music itself was tremendous – a bebop sledgehammering of “My Favorite Things” and – just in case Ritsuko wasn’t sure who he was playing for – a refrain from “Someday My Prince Will Come” before finishing with “Moanin’”. The only sad part was that Olympus apparently never got to finish their set, as Sen grabbed Bon and the two of them ran off like Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross at the end of “The Graduate”. Given that Mike Nichols’ film was released in 1967, this is a remarkably clever reference – though whether by Watanabe-san or the mangaka I don’t know.

To everyone about to begin the “Yaoiyaoiyaoi!” complaints, I’ll just say this – spare me. Frankly I wouldn’t really care if there were romantic feelings between Kaoru and Sentarou, but I also think it’s silly to be so insecure as to see them every time two males express any sort of genuine feeling for each other. Fact is, while this is an impressively layered story – history, social commentary, love of music, romance – at heart I think it’s a story of adolescent loneliness and the importance of friendship. I just think Kaoru is an affection-starved kid who’s covered himself in a thick skin of indifference, and Sen is the first real friend he’s had in many years – probably since the mailbox boy. It’s not a question of romance – it’s a matter of this being the relationship that changed him the most, and the most important of his teenaged years. As such, while the closing scenes were dramatic, I didn’t think they were over the top – because if you don’t accept the importance this friendship holds for Kaoru, I don’t think you accept the basic premise of the entire series.

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14 comments:

  1. Another stupendous episode. Your reference to "The Graduate" was spot on!!

    One thing you have to wonder about; Those guitars, and especially the Hofner bass, were very very pricey back in the day, even for Westerners. You'd think they'd be pretty hard to find (rental or otherwise) in a nation like Japan. Then again, they did get a lot of American sailors in those parts, so wwho knows. Oh, the guitar looks more like a Jaguar (or maybe Jazzmaster) than a Telecaster, btw.... or it might just be a "replica" (did Ibanez even exist in the 60's?).... dunno. Th headstock seems Telecaster while the rest of it looks like a Jaguar.

    One more thing, you say it was about 1967. You see the amps they were using, Orange? I have one, and it says "Founded 1968" on the back plate :P

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    1. Good eyes! 'Trane died July 17, 1967 (a day that will live in infamy) so maybe there's a time travel element there...

      It looks like a Telecaster to me, but I won't swear to it. I think Yamaoka is rich (it was his house they practiced in) and the instruments might be his - not Sen said "borrowed" not rented...

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    2. Guess you're right. Yamaoka is pretty affluent. Still, those were pretty rare finds in that era in Japan, I would think.

      Oh, just wanna say that the syncopation Kaoru (& Yoko Kanno) applied at the beginning of the medley was inspired. Made it sound so easy, like butter!!

      Spoiler from manga (edit & remove if you want);
      One part from the manga which they didn't include were Kaoru and Sen's monologue/thoughts when playing. They were constantly battling each other in their heads with regards to the music (particularly tempo). Was quite fun, and I must admit I missed it here in he anime. The production team also seemed to be very tight on budget, judging by the abundance of shots of the students/audience gawking.

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    3. Luckily for me, those of us who are musically inclined could easily pick up on what they apparently left out from the manga anyway. It was pretty obvious to me what was going through their minds as they were playing without needing it to be spelled out.

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  2. I liked the eye catches too, but more than that the animation when all the kids in the school went to see the performance was simply stunning. The performance itself was easily the best and most powerful in the entire run so far.

    The best part of Sakamachi is that none of the main relations are ever static, constantly changing even when things are stable. This episode shook things up more than most full series ever do, but then those series didn't have a man like Shinchiro Watanabe. Masterful direction, up there with the best.

    The homo only shivers I got were still from the Seiji. The run at the end was a bit weird (everyone think must there eloping). Not that it matters.

    I hope Seiji never hears the song "Its raining me"

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    1. Seiji isn't so bad. I dunno why everyone (viewers) hates on him so much. I suppose a reclusive types like Kaoru probably find it difficult to communicate the overly outgoing types, but they usually end up pretty likeable.

      That tooth is more annoying than his character, to be fair. I thought they only reserved that sort of tooth "style" for the neko-moe-whatever type shows.

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    2. haha, not trying to put down here, lshruns. Just finding amusing how one person sees an event and thinks of it stunning and the other (me!) sees it as ridiculous and had to contain one's raging cynicism. I suppose that's why we have a board like this to debate, right? At this risk of sounding conceited, I wasn't too impressed with the Jazz scene since well, I graduated from a Jazz school, so it hit me with a whimper. But that's okay. That's just my take and shouldn't matter to your experience.

      And Litho. Yes, I agree that Seiji isn't so bad...in manga! He's a tool in anime, a bit part character that doesn't deserve any thoughtful insight, I have to say. I have seen both versions and he has not endured the adaptation well due to time constraint. Also actually hearing his singing didn't help, but that's his voice actor's fault, ha!

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    3. Yes, that animation was terrific - the earlier parts of the ep looked a little on the cheap to me, but they really blew the week's budget on those scenes of the gathering crowd.

      I also don't get the hatred for Seiji. He's just trying to get a break.

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    4. I don't really hate him as much as I find him creepy. Think Maki and Hosaka-senpai.

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    5. Well I kinda understand the hate... As a teenager I was a lot like Kaoru, so someone like Seiji you just want any reason to make a bad guy out of him, I'm glad the show didn't give us any, only time for Kaoru to realize that he was wrong, and also for the relationships he has with Sen and the others to take a leap forward.

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  3. First of all, the entire body of students rushing off (with a few students w/ ridiculous hand gesturing motions to gather them -look at them again, I kid you not, those animation cracks me up) to see a couple of amateur kids playing some jazz?? Note to self: "suspension of disbelief" dialed up! I know, I know, it's for dramatic effects and suppose them Japanese kids were not so keen to Jazz in late 60s yet.

    What I worry is that people will start having bad impressions on Jun due to this episode. As you may know, it's very difficult to shake off first impressions. Take for instance, Yurika. Just 'cos she had galls to fall for Jun while "our" main protagonist Sen has crush on her. 'How dare she, she's evil b$tch; all of sudden among some fans. It's very easy to get sucked into tunnel-visions of main protagonists and see things black and white, especially via mediums like TV where you don't need much thinking as it all comes to you while you're engaged passively. Having read some manga in advance, I like Jun very much (and certainly don't dislike Yurika) and hopefully subsequent episodes will clear him a bit.

    By the way, Jun is supposed to be a real good fighter, best during his high school days, AND good academically, which is why Sen looked up to him. But I have to say, he looks very weak, even before he grew hair long and being a tormented youngster now. He doesn't have fighting aura like Sen.

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    1. Mhmm mhmm. I for one felt that having the student body rush off to hear them was completely justified and realistic. Sure, jazz was slowly building up popularity during that time period, but it was the fact that it was an impromptu performance that made it a must-see.

      People back then didn't have the luxury of recording something and sharing it with people. It was either you witness it, or you never get to see it. (Just like how they spoke about the movies in a previous episode)
      So if someone came through the halls saying something was happening in the auditorium, you bet I'd be hauling it as fast as I could to witness it for myself!

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  4. Best episode of the series yet. Everything was perfect. Up until now, I've been annoyed with Kaoru, which made the series difficult for me to embrace...but this episode showed me how much he has changed (pun intended?). He's finally starting to become less self-absorbed (for instance, in that scene where Sen turns in his application, Kaoru is wondering what Sen must be feeling w/r/t the fight with Jun...I think that's one of the few times where we see him wondering what *other* people must be feeling) and he's finally starting to open up (you see it in the way he tore up those ivories and how he runs with Sen like crazy at the end). I feel like I'm finally able to cheer for Kaoru and now I see just how well this series does at portraying the adolescent experience.

    Still can't get that performance out of my head. Think I'm going to have to re-watch it now.

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  5. "and Rock ‘n Roll isn’t evil and never was."

    In fact, for some of us it's the One True Way ;).

    Do want an MP3 of that performance at the end of the episode though.

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