Final Thoughts: Nodame Cantabile

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Half a series ago, I gave my “mid-way impressions” of Nodame Cantabile, an article designed to communicate my combined enjoyment and frustration at a series which showed elusive flashes of brilliance amongst stretches of less engaging material. Now, with all twenty-three episodes having aired and been watched, it seems only right to follow procedure and present my final thoughts on the series.

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As I explained in the earlier review, the main thing that drew me to Nodame time and time again was the lure of the two main characters; one, a technical genius determined to strive for perfection through hard work, and the other a more intuitive talent who wants to enjoy music without the pressure of taking it seriously. It was for Chiaki and Nodame that I kept watching, and in that regard I was not to be disappointed.

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At the halfway point of the series, we saw Chiaki establishing himself as the conductor of what I nicknamed The Strongest Orchestra, and although it threatened for a moment to become a shounen-esque tale of “musical battles”, luckily, this was not to be the case. Instead, the orchestra was created at a vital time in Chiaki’s life, when he, like so many of us, faced some rather large obstacles between moving out of the ‘safe zone’ of his life and taking the leap into whatever career or lifestyle we ultimately choose.

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Admittedly, Chiaki’s obstacle was somewhat different to the norm- instead of worrying about money, landing the right job, or finding somewhere to live, his problem was the fear of flying which kept him from going to Europe. Whilst it was satisfying to see him finally overcome this towards the end, the way in which it was resolved seemed a little abrupt, involving Nodame curing him through hypnosis; as something that was so central to his character, I would have liked to see the issue dealt with over time rather than in the space of an episode. Even so, Chiaki’s journey was overall a worthy one to watch, and (dare I say it?) reminiscent of the coming-of-age of the Honey and Clover protagonists.

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Next up we have Nodame, a character who would be incomplete without music, nut who nonetheless lacks the desire to commit to it with Chiaki’s intensity- after all, what’s wrong with just enjoying oneself? In another inclusion which was explored all too briefly, we learn that Nodame was pushed hard by her teacher at a young age, explaining her aversion to being forced into a rigid schedule. Nonetheless, in later episodes Nodame is persuaded to apply herself a bit more, even entering into a competition at one point. Sadly, there is an almost painful inevitability to her forgetting her music in the final round of the competition and then running away back home for a couple of episodes, but overall her character is pushed a little way in the ‘right direction’- for where else but in the world of music can her uniquely oddball personality feel at home? Certainly the demands of a ‘standard’ life would be too much for someone like Nodame to handle.

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Also of note is the relationship between these two characters, who end up forming a close bond whilst staying away from any normal romantic conventions. Whilst it is initially annoying to see Nodame latch onto Chiaki with such amazing speed, in retrospect the relationship between the two is an interesting one. From the start, Nodame openly needs Chiaki (both for emotional reasons and just to get fed regularly), and whilst Chiaki seems perfectly capable of getting on without her, somehow she just slots into his life. For much of the series, it seems as if Chiaki’s main interest in Nodame is because of her musical ability, combined with a duty to take care of someone who can barely be bothered to look after herself, and yet in the ending his visit to Nodame’s home and the embrace he gives her at the end seem to indicate that his feelings may run deeper than that- that, in Nodame’s words, they are now an official couple.

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Sadly, as I mentioned before, not everything in this series ended up being to my tastes, and for this reason, the series cannot be elevated to the list of all-time favourites. Although the quirky and off-kilter humour that I never really liked seemed less prominent in the series’ second half, I still had issues with not being able to connect with the supporting characters. Elements such as the relationship between Mine and talented violinist Kiyora felt far too rushed and not properly developed, to the point where it was hard to muster much enthusiasm for them. Had these characters been given just a little more exploration, such things would have been fine, but as it was, the supporting characters just seemed too shallow to really want to spend with.

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Sadly, another flaw that became apparent in the second half was a problem with pacing; as mentioned above, certain important plot points seemed to be tackled all too quickly, whilst in other episodes it felt like barely anything happened (in one case there is an eight minute long sequence of stills and CG hands whilst the orchestra performs). There is nothing wrong with listening to classical music, and certainly it needed to be included in such a music-centric series, but even so, within the confines of a twenty-five minute episode of what is supposed to be animated entertainment, another round in the editing room would have been welcome.

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Final ThoughtsrnNeither excellent nor poor, Nodame Cantabile showed elements designed to tantalise me into looking deeper into it, before falling back on less edifying shallow jokes, bland episodes or rushed material. There is no doubt that on the whole I enjoyed watching it, but it ultimately never reached the heights I hoped for- even so, bring on season two.