Posted by psgels on 30 June 2012 with categories: Anime Reviews, Sakamichi no Apollon



Last year Kunihiko Ikuhara of Utena fame made a surprise comeback after many years of absence. This year, it’s the turn for Shinichiro Watanabe to direct his first full series again after Samurai Champloo. Sakamichi no Apollon is a full drama. He already experimented a bit with this with the surprisingly good Baby Blue of Genius Party (much like how Masaaki Yuasa’s entry there became the prototype for Kaiba), but here he could go all out with a 12-episode Noitamina series.

Now, this series is a teenaged romance, which unfortunately is a very, very over-saturated genre, so the creators really had to do something in order to stand out. They found several ways. The first way is bringing in music. Playing instruments is a huge theme for many characters in this series, and it deserves to be praised how well the musical performances in this series look. the creators made use of Rotoscoping in order to make the animation of every single musical performance play synchronous with the actual music. This is something i have never seen before in a Television-series, especially with so much detail. Because of this, the creators are able to say so many things throughout these performances alone, and they often are the stand-out moments for every episode.

Second of all, there is the way in which this series portrays its characters, which is a huge level above what you normally see. At first sight they look like the ordinary stereotypes, but they immediately set themselves apart through their acting and by how self-aware they are. The series very subtly shows many different sides of them. On top of that, the series is chock full of events that force them to change and adapt. These are by far the most well-rounded, dynamic and fleshed out characters out of any other series this season. Probably of the entire year.

This season of Noitamina was definitely what the time-slot needed after the disaster that was Guilty Crown. There is jut one downside to it, and that is the huge amounts of angst that the creators use to keep the story going. Kaoru in particular is a character who is hard to like due to his social anxieties, and there is this constant tension between the characters that depends a lot on this angst and social phobia. Unlike other series though, the characters are fully aware of this and it gets used brilliantly for their development, rather than stalling for time.

Storytelling: 8.5/10 – Keeps the twists coming, very well paced for a Noitamina-series. A bit too much angst though.
Characters: 9/10 – Really well rounded characters in the end. Their acting is definitely a step above the norm.
Production-Values: 9/10 – Amidst all of the series with great visuals, Apollon stood out with its amazing rotoscoped musical performances. Plus, Yoko Kanno is awesome.
Setting: 8.5/10 – The setting isn’t the main focus of this series, but really allows the creators to do stuff with the characters that would not have been possible if the time period was any different.

Suggestions:
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Boku-Tachi wa Mada Shiranai
Nodame Cantabile
True Tears

11 Responses

  1. Avatar Litho says:

    Your last line pretty much summed it up. The characters realize their flaws, so the “angst” didn’t really grate on my like it does with so many other anime (Ano Hana being the most recent example).

    Definitely the best show of the season for me, and definitely the best NoitaminA have aired since Usagi Drop. Both showed subtleties that I thought anime producers had long forgotten about.

  2. Avatar komporrhmwn says:

    “These are by far the most well-rounded, dynamic and fleshed out characters out of any other series this season. Probably of the entire year.”
    Like when Yurika and Riko’s whole existence is defined by the boys they like and they have no ambitions or aspirations unrelated to that. That’s some mighty good characterization right there. Reminded me of literary classics such as Twilight.

    • Avatar perrin4869 says:

      Touche.

    • Avatar wicked says:

      I dont know, I mean Yurika’s appearances might be framed by Sen’s admiration toward her and her admiration toward Jun, but it does not mean her character didnt grow from what seems to be an obedient oujosama that sort of went with the flow to a rebellious and independent thinking woman of action.

      • Avatar komporrhmwn says:

        She took action *because* of Jun and went from being dependent on her parents, which is normal for a teenager anyway (and don’t get me started on how convenient her parents were to the plot – convenience being no stranger to the show in general), to being dependent on him. Basically, there was no development or insight to her whatsoever, so they had her cut her hair instead. Was that supposed to be the writer being deep?

        Yurika’s lines are also the most awful and unintentionally hilarious in the whole series. Followed closely by Jun, I guess. They’re a match in being the most horribly written characters.

        • Avatar wicked says:

          Hmm, I thought there was a scene where she was arguing with the teacher, but it seems you never did hear anything beyond the gossip other saying that she lost her air of elegance and out of love. I guess I read too much into those scenes. Though I do feel a gradual change to her personality through the series, but I guess the triggers to all the changes were romance, and in the end she didnt step onto the train herself, but brought on by Jun.

  3. Avatar starry says:

    Eh, I’d say it fell short of my expectations. The jazz always seemed to get shafted over the romance, which was a shame considering the jazz aspect was unique and gave it a fresh breath of air. Not to mention the student politics, racism, christianity, and many more things often relating to the time period were just so well done and more interesting to see then romance, but sadly gets shafted. It’s funny how the series supposedly cherishes friendship over romance, but it doesn’t at the same time

    There’s also the fang kid, who’s just out of place, annoying and never goes away. The characters never really developed outside of their archetypes (tell me what’s the difference between Riko at the start and at the end for instance). The pacing was also pretty fast and cutting out a lot of stuff from the manga made it suffer from that.

    It was good, but not the the best of the season for the above problems.

  4. Avatar Stars says:

    I’d say the saving grace for this series was the jazz. For a romance it was fairly enjoyable, except for that part in the middle where it was incredibly overwhelming but the jazz parts in this series really shined for me.

    The rotoscoping for the instrument playing was amazing. I haven’t seen many other musical anime but Sentaro’s first scene playing the drums was some breathtaking animation.

    My favourite scenes were when they played some pieces and you thought no way it’s going to work with those instruments – and it worked! (Sometimes… That first “My Favourite Things” with Sentaro’s drums LOL) Oh that organ version of Moanin’ at the end, love love loved it.

    I have to applaud Sakamichi for the singing in GOOD ENGLISH too.

  5. Avatar Hunter-Wolf says:

    Personally i love the ending, wished there was more to the epilogue but still i didn’t feel it was rushed (maybe those who read the manga would feel so, i didn’t read it), the final music session they had in the church was quite amazing and it brought everything full circles (along with their escape down the slope and the reunion at its end).

    I also have to say that the love triangle between Kaoru, Ritsuko and Sentarou is one of the most well made in recent memory, the back and forth between all three of them, the moments of frustration, awkwardness, joy, affection and anger were all genuine and heart felt, there was no cheap angst or characters that act weird/stupid just for the sake of creating drama, i also liked the relation between Kaoru and Sentarou, some might consider it BL but i find a very strong and true friendship, the scene on the hospital roof (with Sentaro crying) specifically was very well done and it showed that what friends are really for, the only thing i hated about the ending was that the relation between Kaoru and Ritsuko was left hanging without a clear resolution, despite Kaoru’s efforts to ruin their relationship in ep12 Ritsuko seems to have accepted his heart felt apology that he made outside the shop, yet they didn’t seem to be in contact during the last 8 years jump in the series .. which leaves a lot of question marks here .. will they get together now that they found Sentarou, will they just stay friends, … if anyone read the manga, does it resolve this issue or leave it open for the interpretation of the viewer/reader !!?

    Also i might note that this love triangle reminds me a lot of the one from Berserk’s Golden Age arc (Gutts, Griffith and Caska) .. two males that have a very strong friendship and a female that’s tron between them, and again while the love triangle setup has been done a lot before the way Berserk handled their relations is just as excellent as Sakamichi no Apolllon or Kids on the Slope (despite the genre differences), that Berserk manga arc is fantastic because of that love triangle as well, except it was resolved in a very unsettling way (won’t go into details XD)

  6. Avatar Whisperer says:

    The ending scene was amazing, it reminded me of Champloo’s final minutes and it still managed to impress me. The director clearly likes running… and those outdoor shots :O
    Sentarou was the BOSS of drumming and the best character, and their performances were amazing. The whole series has this whole nostalgic feel to it – psgels is right, this is mainly aimed at adults – it makes you cherish your own childhood memories a little more.

    However, when it comes to “ambiguous romantic ending”, I still think Baby Blue did it better (in just 10 mins total running-time). Hell, the train farewell scene in Sakamichi pales in comparison, and the two characters there were much more interesting than Kaoru and Ritsuko.

    All in all, I give it a 9.9999999/10 becoz I’m such a big Watanabe fanboy.

  7. Avatar excellent says:

    I loved this. Apollon was like a breath of fresh air, as I’ve been watching mostly average seinen and trying to figure out what do see next. The things that blew my mind were indeed the animation, especially in the jazz scenes (well handled, didn’t stand out from the rest of the series almost at all) and the maybe the greatest bromance I’ve ever witnessed. I think the female characters weren’t anything special but it didn’t bother me- this was the story of two young males and their friendship. Only part which really bothered me was the guy with fangs…he didn’t add anything to the story and his meddling was just plain annoying- Sentaro would never leave his passion for jazz just for some crappy schoolband. Also, they never “finished” his character properly and this was the problem with many other sidecharacters. But, again: this level of bromance does not waver because of that.

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