Nodame and Chiaki may have been cream of the crop in Japan, but now they’re both moving to Paris, where the standards are higher and mistakes are less easily forgiven. Whilst Nodame must cope with the dual tasks of learning French and adapting to the disciplined curriculum at the Conservatoire, Chiaki is confident he can make a splash in the conducting scene- but when he is tasked with reversing the fortunes of the ailing Roux-Marlet Orchestra, even his prodigious abilities may not be up to the challenge.
The first season of Nodame Cantabile was a bit of a mixed bag for me- I liked the main characters and the flashes of potential, but at the same time the off-kilter humour and wacky supporting cast held only limited appeal. Still, by the time season two came around, I had read ahead in the manga, meaning that whilst I knew exactly what was coming, I also found that the series had grown on me.
Content-wise, there is little to fault in this season, which sees Chiaki and Nodame thrown into a new environment where they must level up their skills in order to keep up with the competition. At the bare bones level, it’s the old Shonen Jump formula, but the strength of this series has always been in taking that formula and making it fresh and interesting. This isn’t about watching generic stereotypes undergo training and tournament arcs- instead we see likable, fleshed-out characters grow and develop. For Nodame, this means gaining technical knowledge without losing her individual style, whilst Chiaki must deal with the logistical nightmare of restoring a failing orchestra. And of course, as always, there are the trials and tribulations of all the supporting cast to add a little spice to the proceedings.
As always, central to the story is the relationship between Chiaki and Nodame, which continues to develop here. Although the core state of Nodame adoring her cold ‘senpai’ remains, in this series we see Chiaki begin to express his feelings a little more, whilst in an interesting reversal there are times when Nodame is too busy with her music to come and see him. Although it is still hard to imagine a full-blown, completely reciprocated relationship between them, it is still interesting to take note of the way Chiaki has come to expect Nodame to always be there, and to miss her instead of being relieved when she isn’t around.
As with Hikaru no Go, Nodame Cantabile is a series where supporting characters come and go, continually getting left behind as the leads move on. This season, the vast majority of Chiaki and Nodame’s friends from Japan take a backseat as a whole new set of European characters take their place. Fortunately, there are plenty of memorable faces both old and new, such as “gloomy” Kuroki or Tanya, a Russian girl who seems more interested in landing a man than perfecting her piano; in fact, overall the retooled supporting cast is more likable and less irritatingly ‘wacky’ than it was last season, so even though you can’t help feeling those left behind have their stories to tell, overall it makes for an improvement.
Visually, Nodame season two sticks with the simple yet well-executed “Honey and Clover” look, although the irritatingly fake CG hands remain an issue. Background music is forgettable, although the classical pieces used in the series are well played and always worth listening to- one advantage the animated version has over the original manga.
Like the first season, the Paris arc of Nodame Cantabile sticks closely to the manga, and with both versions having gone through the settling-in phase, they each show a distinct improvement. If you liked season one, then you’ll definitely be up for this, and the good news is that with a third season on its way, there’s plenty more goodness to come.