Review: Sakamichi no Apollon

Sakamichi no Apollon

If there was any show I was looking forward to this season, it was this one. As a massive fan of music, jazz in particular, I honestly couldn’t help but be excited for a show centered around it. There’s a certain charm in shows which dedicate such love to music, and Sakamichi no Apollon was looking to be a show with that love in spades. There was also some guy Watanabe and Yoko whatsherface working on this, first team-up since Cowboy Bebop, something something hype.

Taking place back in the 60’s, Kaoru Nishimi is a straightlaced navy kid who’s just moved Kyushu . While he’s not very adept at acquiring acquaintances, he catches the eye of the apparant delinquent Sentaro Kawabuchi. And it’s these two who then form a bond which stemmed from Sentaro’s love for jazz music. Yet as much as the show is about music, love of music is used as a tool to explore romantic love, for Kaoru it’s Sentaro’s childhood friend Ritsuko Mukae, and a love held between best friends. It’s these relations what make Sakamichi the show it is.

Which is to say, a very very good one. The growth of Kaoru as he’s exposed to more of Sentaro and attempts to pursue Ritsuko as something more than a friend, as he begins to understand the appeal of jazz and closes the distance he’s conditioned himself to keep with others. Most of Kaoru’s progression, and the focal point of the story, is his relation to Sentaro, and it’s these two characters who we do end up enjoying the most. The characters are genuinely endearing, never so much so as when they full force throw themselves into their music. And it’s a spectacle every time they play.

I’ll get to the music in a bit, but just the animation value during the jam sessions is something to comment on. The show holds itself to a simple charming style, but the energy that goes into music scenes is a sight to behold on it’s own. There’s a crazy amount of passion that went into this… man. Those are some nice drums. The rest of the visuals are not as enthusiastic in their presentation, but rather take a more subtle approach in which small details shape the scene from good to something truly memorable.

The score borrows from famous jazz pieces such as Moanin’ and But Not For Me, and the amount of passion that went into these arrangements is equally clear. The music in Sakamichi is it’s most defining point, and it stands out spectacularly. I cannot stress enough how outstanding the music is, furthermore with how integrated it is with the lives of those involved. Some songs, such as the aforementioned Moanin’ are used on multiple occasions, yet their sound can vastly differ on the scene they’re tailored to. Even the soundtrack outside of jam sessions are a joy to listen to, the show is a veritable masterpiece for the ears.

Not a single moment really feels unneeded, Sakamichi is likely one of the most efficient anime in a long while. It’s wholly refreshing to have the pace move at such a brisk pace, never stalling, never overloading the viewer with the unnecessary. It may at times move even a little too fast for it’s own good, but as a package Sakamichi is incredibly focused on what’s relevant. This allows for it’s highest points to truly shine, never much muddled or watered down by in-between babble.

The appeal of Sakamichi is in all of it’s sublimity, the many moments within which just strike you. As Kaoru’s first encounter with Sentaro’s jazz is a breathtaking experience, Sakamichi stole my breath away on more than one occasion. It’s a show capable of hitting the high notes multiple times throughout it’s run, so high few other shows ever do the same. Just as the great passion which was involved in its creation, Sakamichi is a show that I can’t help but love dearly.

Doofus’ Score: 9 Meeps out of 10 (Great) (Revised from 10)

Dusk’s Score: 8.5 Meeps out of 10 (Very Good)

Sakamichi no Apollon Episode 12

All Blue

And so here we are, the final episode of Sakamichi no Apollon.

True to the title, the first half of the episode hits those depressing notes. With Sentaro gone, those stupid grades are rising again. With Sentaro gone, those dumb kids get to play on the roof now. The world is a much darker place with him missing, and with every attempt to push Sentaro further out of his mind, something else comes up to remind Kaoru of him. As his best friend has in essence abandoned him, and his attempts to forget about him end up estranging his love Ritsuko, with words which really put forth the breakup of the group, the somber mood carries on.

Yet despite his melancholy, Kaoru shows growth of character after all his time in this small town and doesn’t shy from addressing Ritsuko after his previous actions. Dad also eavesdrops, and it’s at this point when I realized, I will never ever remember his name. With Ritsuko being accepted into a college in town, and Kaoru heading off to the city, the only clear course of action here is a bittersweet train station farewell. Dad plays his farewell cool, and at the last moment, Ritsuko appears to wave Kaoru off with a tearful smile. So comes a close to Kaoru’s time at the small seaside hill town.

Time passes, now 8 years later. Kaoru, now a doctor of some sort or whatever, is in dire need of a haircut. If only Dad were here to tell him that. But other than that atrocity, Kaoru seems fairly pleased with his current life. That is, until he sees that punk Seiji on TV, now somehow a big star on television. Thankfully Kaoru was in a hospital when this happened, as he very nearly appeared to suffer a stroke. The world of the future is a dark dark place. In a more pleasant surprise, Kaoru happens to run into a pregnant Yurika. During their short chit chat, she shows Kaoru a photo with a young familiar looking priest.

In a mad search for the long lost friend, Kaoru finds himself in another small seaside village, and eventually the town church. There is a drum set at said church, god bless his soul. In the final session of the series, the young priest follows the sound of the church piano, where the two finally meet each other once again. We revisit Moanin’ one last time, as if the two men had never been apart in the first place. As what I could only imagine to be the head priest comes and scolds Sentaro for playing the drums, the two run off as they had back in their youth, rushing down the hill with all the joy in the world. This ending was perfect.

Oh, and Ritsuko arrives there too and they’re all together again or something.

Sakamichi no Apollon Episode 10 and 11

In a Sentimental Mood

Starting right off with last (last) week’s end, Kaoru is legitimately puzzled by the mittens he finds in his piano. And he really can’t be blamed, having already been rejected once by the knitter herself. Poor guy attempts to justify Ritsuko’s actions, but when he finally speaks to her, Kaoru goes and demeans himself. To the girl who had, after much effort, mustered the confidence to display her own affections. When the boy who played One Day My Prince Will Come for her and her alone… some amount of time I don’t remember ago, is now lacking in any confidence, it’s bound to shaken her spirit. The song is ingrained in her mind, as well as the courage it took Kaoru for his confession. Huff. At least this is where Sentaro comes in to push Ritsuko to meet Kaoru during his sick leave, which while at first is more of Kaoru’s unwillingness, turns into another memorable confession. This time less dignified and more of an outburst of emotion. What a sight to beho-And then it was Summer.

The rest of the episode is more dedicated to Sentaro, so let’s go back to before the sudden passage of time, even for this show’s brisk pace. We have a moment with Sentaro in front of Yurika’s painting, silently giving his farewells, as it’s being taken away, being the product of an eloping student and all. For all his misgivings previously, he’s now at peace with what had transpired with his crush. This may be at core the sort of character Sentaro is, the smiling boy in the rain from the first episode and the angelic child present in the flashbacks.

Now moving back to Summer, Kaoru hasn’t any progress with Ritsuko whatsoever. That’s… a feat in and of itself after two heartfelt confessions. He’s a special one, he is. Nearly a year having passed since the previous school festival though, Seiji the Rocker has issued the jazz playing infidels a challenge. And as excited as I should be for this, news of Sentaro’s dad return may hamper a triumphant school festival return. Sachiko’s despondence over the news almost mustered a whimper out of me, I could sympathize pretty well with her concern. A man who’s defining feature may as well have been the stench of alcohol, it’s a scary thought to have a return to violence. Sentaro manages to calm her down well enough assuring that Ma’ said he’s no longer like that, but clearly the issue weighs on his mind as well as he writes and fails to write a goodbye message to… wait. No. What are you doing man.

He… he released the pigeon. No Sentaro, no. Where are you going.

Left Alone

 

Continuing right off from last week’s end (sorry), Sentaro is just about ready to leave everything behind when Kaoru is there to intercept. Yeah, yeah, that’s my boy, I told you all he was special last week…! Knocking some good ol’ fashioned sense into Sentaro by bringing up the cowardice of his actions, Kaoru successfully manages to give a wake-up call, leaving Sentaro to meet his old pop when he returns. The sweet moment between Kaoru and Ritsuko is also a very sweet addition to the overall sweet scene.

Sentaro’s father finally does arrive, and the children are overjoyed to greet him. Yep. Dad makes for a great hat and baseball glove. Dad is great. But while the children are delighted, Sentaro and Dad here are naturally relatively quiet. But the father is attempts to make amends with a present for Sentaro as well, a fancy ball point pen. Estranged father son dynamics or not, the present is taken to heart. Extra words aren’t spoken and can’t be spoken yet, but the gesture is duly noted.

While the previous episode had a very sudden jump from it’s first half to the second half, this episode flows much much better from scene to scene, and I can’t help but picture it as if we’re running down the hill now. It really helps that we’re isolated to a smaller time frame, and that the entire episode is sprinkled with great scene after great scene.

Now back to the matter with the festival, Ritsuko’s dad proves to be one of those understated but overall really enjoyable characters. I mean, that would probably mean more if I didn’t always call him Ritsuko’s dad. But the main duo ask for his help with the festival. And on a more surprising note, they ask Ritsuko to sing for them as well, as she walks into the basement humming My Favorite Things. They practice and practice, and Ritsuko has a pretty decent voice on her. Sprawled on the floor, as they share they’re favorite things, that was pretty much just 100% adorable. Sentaro singing his things in tune made up most of that. *swoon

And yet. Here it comes, the moment when it all falls to pieces. Sentaro ends up in an accident when attempting to return Kaoru’s notesheet. Although when Kaoru arrives at the hospital, it’s Sachiko who’s in critical condition, bless her poor soul, and Sentaro scraped by with minor injuries. Nowhere to be seen though, Kaoru accurately predicts exactly where he is. And I know it’s dumb to point out at this point that ‘good god I think the soundtrack to this anime is might be amazing’, but the song that plays when Kauro arrives on the school rooftop is so different from anything else in the show, electric guitar accompanied by the sound of choir, really providing emphasis on the entire scene. In allusion to the first episode, Sentaro rests underneath a white sheet, which I only now realize as I type is pretty much the whole dead person treatment. Fitting to Sentaro’s current state of mind, but the “angel” Kaoru creates yet another touching moment, allowing Sentaro to weep freely. *sob

And then he wakes up to find Sentaro gone. Gone from everywhere. Sachiko luckily does manage to wake up as well, bless her pretty little soul, but nobody knows where Sentaro went, the ones closest to him nor the priest at the church. Leaving behind only his rosary on Sachiko’s hospital door, the rosary which Sentaro wished to never leave behind in fear of being abandoned by the world. As Kaoru ‘plays’ Sentaro’s drums in frustration, he realizes that he will probably never come back.

No Sentaro, no. Where are you.

Sakamichi No Apollon Episode 9

Love me or Leave me

Come on Kaoruuuu, sing along, the words come naturally! Babababa-baaaang~

Haaah, with a show like this, I keep on resisting the urge to say “This was great”, leave the post like that, and then scamper off to listen to the jam session all day. When every part of the episode is used to progress some strand of the entire whole, it creates a very connected experience with which is easy to fall in love with, to drift away in the enthrallment, I almost run out of words to say. I’m not just saying that either, it’s honestly refreshing to have a show come together so well, it’s just…

It’s really nice.

But this ain’t the last episode, so I gotta stop acting like that. But as far as stories go, this episode appears to wrap up Jun bro’s, and in what a way. Receiving a proposition to form a publishing company with his injured comrade, Junichi is finally taking the steps he needs to get over the last year or so and continue on with his life. However in order to do this, he would have to move to Tokyo full-time, leaving behind the small seaside town. This includes the clearly dismayed Yurika and the distant Sentaro.

Starting from the latter. After their last encounter where Sentaro had his heart broken, and the one previous where Junichi nearly experienced the same with his jaw, the two ain’t on good terms. Kaoru’s sentiments echo in this regard, how Sentaro’s previous adornment of his older brother figure has turned into something so sour, this is the last chance for either of them to bid farewell and not leave their ties in such a mess. And with his letter of challenge, it’s pretty clear that even Sentaro realized that. But when words won’t do anything but deepen whatever rift the too have developed, they take their one remaining tie and duke out their feelings with music. And as is with every music session in the series, it hits all the right chords of emotions. Extra note to Ritsuko’s dad who nearly tears up as Junichi leaves, after which he essentially says ‘get a haircut hippie’. He really doesn’t play a prominent role, but man, he’s a good dad with some choice advice.

Moving on to the former. Yurika faces Junichi with her words, although not before having some with Ritsuko. And what she says contains what I think is one of the most important life lessons around. Sentaro approached Ritsuko about her feelings, and it turns out to have been a mistake once she turns him down. But it was the mistake of someone brave enough to even get that far, for someone who dared to be mistaken in the first place. And it’s these people feel pain, but they learn, they live, and these are the people who open themselves up to an impossible amount of great possibilities. Ritsuko took this to heart as she went to retrieve the half-knitted woolen mittens she had thrown away, in the process passing along the lesson to Yurika. And she confronts Junichi at the train station as he’s about to leave. And her daring pays off as she gets dragged on board at the last second, a totally satisfying end to their story. Another train scene for the history books~

And it conveniently paves the way for the main trio for the final three episodes. Ending with yet another memorable moment, one of the sweetest gift givings I’ve ever seen, Ritsuko is finally ready to confess to Kaoru. Considering Kaoru, this might take a while to get used to, but more important is how Sentaro pictures into all of this, and if his mistakes will finally pay off.

Sakamichi no Apollon Episode 8

These Foolish Things

Coltrane may be dead, but at least we have our ol’ pal Bill Evans.

And it seems our Kaoru’s school life has been given new life with a legion of fan girls doting over him (even Maruo seems to have a new fan). Well, with Kaoru it’s only natural, even I was quite smitten by his performance. The jam session this episode was especially lovely (⊙‿⊙✿).

But like the rocky performance, we’re approaching increasing turbulent terrain. Yurika manages to confront Jun bro in his new cheap apartment, the man still a wreck. In an age where student politics were as boisterous as the emerging rock and roll, Junichi appears to be a victim of the strife involved. Pushed into giving a speech at a rally, the the not-yet-a-wreck clearly not particularly invested, Junichi inadvertently inspires a sax playing friend of his to pick up his banners and fists. Feeling responsible for his actions, he promises to take up the friend’s position in the student movement if something were to happen.

Obviously something happened. So did Junichi take up megaphone in hand and spoke, spoke like he never had before. Of course when his friend, who I just remember is called Arita, returns with his hands in packages, Junichi realizes he was responsible for ruining a young musician. Thus as he questions what in the world he’s doing, he leaves college, is disowned, picks up booze and pills, what we have left is this charming husk of a man. Huh. Well now I’m sad. The good man attempts to do good and ends up going bad. Ain’t that the life. Really concise flashback or not, it managed to pretty effectively paint a sympathetic figure out of Junichi.

As sad as it is to see why the role model of the earlier episodes became what he is now, Yurika has now plunged herself into his life, gradually dragging him out of his rut. Though even that has repercussions on her life as she is berated at school and home, her mother even reserving a time for the gynecologist. Oh myyy. Mercy me, here we have quite the strict and overprotective parents. But that practically went hand in hand with student activism. Yurika shows to be as strong willed as the movement though, proving that her love for Junichi is certainly backed up by strong convictions. They now have each other, although it’s far too early to discount any role they’ll have in the following mess.

Which leaves us with our original love triangle, Kaoru -> Ritsuko -> Sentaro. With Sentaro becoming privy to Yurika’s current relationship, Kaoru hints at a path he’s forsaken but which has always been there for Sentaro. Of course, this is the absolute perfect time for Ritsuko to start discovering her feelings for Kaoru. Which in turn means that Sentaro will definitely understand the meaning behind Kaoru’s hints, causing an elusive love-triangle reversal bonanza resulting in Kaoru <- Ritsuko <- Sentaro! And Kaoru here still no doubt loves Ritsuko! Me oh my, these poor adolescent hearts will be torn asunder at this rate. Kaoru’s good intentions have led to fairly unpredictable results, and I can only hope that the main friendship between Kaoru and Sentaro can withstand whatever’s to come.

Sakamichi keeps comfortably rollin’ down it’s hill like nobody’s business.

Sakamichi no Apollon Episode 7

Now’s The Time

Amazing. Sakamichi blows it out of the park, this was just everything and more.

Kaoru’s fear of abandonment continues this week as he grows further apart from Sentaro, a strong gripped fear with which I can sympathize. Despite that, Kaoru actually manages to socialize with some of Ritsuko’s friends, breaking away from his self-imposed solitude through his own actions. That’s right girls, the guy ain’t a sourpuss, he just needed some positive attention. Which I’m sure he’ll be receiving after the performance he put on later this episode.

Sentaro on the other hand continues to practice with Seiji’s rock and roll band, unable to reach out to the evasive Kaoru. Another relation or two of his also get turned on their heads as when he leans in for a kiss with Yurika, our wreck of a pal Jun slurs some wreck-like slurs. The aftermath of we see is Yurika absconding with tears in her eyes, and Jun being slugged by Sen-boy. As rash as Sentaro can be, it’s nice to see how he actually has some grasp of the situation at hand when he notes Yurika eyeing Chet Baker’s album; Jun who had sung his But Not For Me way back when. Appropriate song for the character, mmh.

And so the day of the school festival arrives, Seiji’s “The Olympus” band the target of obsessive drooling for the girls. That fang of his drives all the dames wild. But really, the band was… decent. Sentaro, along with Maruo, played well, but the song was just… decent. Something you would hear at a school festival. However the shows is cut short as technical problems pop up, and the electrical equipment cease working. Kaoru as a school committee member searches for the issue, but overhears Sentaro’s desire to return to jazz and his “partner” once the festival is over. With a clever little touch of a letter arriving at little Kaoru’s mailbox, begins the best 5 minutes of anything ever.

Kaoru takes charge, and starts off with a rendition of My Favorite Things, an invitation to Sentaro as the song they played last.  Students rush over as the song transitions to Someday My Prince Will Come, an entirely different version from what we heard Kaoru play before. As the previous version was played for Ritsuko, this version is meant for Sentaro, the two reconciling as they “bicker” through the music. As a final sign of their re-established friendship, their very first song together Moanin’ takes the stage. A feeling that only the two of them can share, a bond that began and begins anew through their music. Kaoru stands up to land the final note on the song. The crowd is stunned silent. A roaring applause, and two run off down the hill.

Beautiful.

so friggin’ beautiful (◡‿◡✿)

Sakamichi no Apollon Episode 6

You Don’t Know What Love Is

Love. It’s a friggin’ pain. In the midst of it all, Kaoru tries his very best to maintain the relations he currently has. With his feelings for Ritsuko still very much apparent he can only attempt to add her and Sentaro together, dropping himself from the equation altogether. I like the touch with Ritsuko’s moment as she hears My Favorite Things being played outside, a comparison of her lost chance to be together Sentaro to how she missed her chance to see The Sound of Music. Plus My Favorite Things is always a great song. Hopefully we get to hear more of the show’s rendition of it, Sentaro’s drums gave it a sweet sweeeeet kick.

At the same time, he cherishes his good friendship with Sentaro and wishes for it to remain that way. As a kid who has many times been through friends abandoning him due to his navy background, he views Sentaro agreeing to join Matsuoka’s rock and roll band as an act of leaving jazz and him behind. Kaoru recognizes how bratty it may seem, but it’s how he’s grown up into adolescence. He’s made it this far on his own. What a poor guy.

I love it. I’ve always viewed this show as more about Kaoru and Sentaro bonding through love of music, and that all this actual love mumbo jumbo has been a means to that goal; secondary to the ultimate picture.  After all, like last episode said, unlike love affairs, friendship is forever. It’s a complex relation between the two, but with Sentaro sympathetically pitching for Matsuoka’s rock and roll effort, I can only imagine that Kaoru’s feelings will come to a head during the band’s show at the school festival. at least. well. maybe. god I hope so. there could be so much gooooood music.

And hey, what’s this. I’m pretty sure, but is that… is that Jun bro? What has he been doing… what a wreck. With hair like that, he’s starting to remind me more of the visual kei scene.  Poor, poor guy. So, so good.