Saturday, April 14, 2012

FIRST LOOK: Sakamichi no Apollon

Yes! It's finally here! My most anticipated series for this season. I first got attracted to Sakamichi no Apollon (lit. "Apollo on a Slope") because of its promo poster, having no idea what it's about. Now that I've seen the first episode, I am so happy I decided to pick it up for blogging.

First up, Sakamichi no Apollon is set in the Summer of 1966 so there's a retro feeling to the show. That and the setting, a seaside town with a whiff of American influence to it, paves the way for the jazz themes that are at the heart of this show. Yes, jazz. The BGM is nothing short of amazing. And why not? When it has Yoko frickin' Kanno for its composer? Also, since we're on the topic, Watanabe Shinichiro is on the directing helm. Fuckyeah, dude, this show has pedigree. Anyway, we're getting out of topic.

The first episode introduces us to Nishimi Kaoru, a megane bishie with issues, who's newly transplanted in town. We learn later that because of his dad's job (he's a sailor, methinks), he's been all over places in his short, young life, as a result he's become quite the introvert. In his first day of school, he gets stressed by his new environment and decides to hit the roof to gain back his equilibrium. Once he gets to the top floor, however, he discovers that the door to the roof is barred by someone sleeping on a row of chairs. This guy wakes up and grabs Kaoru, apparently mistaking him for someone else. When the guy realizes that Kaoru isn't that person, the two exchange a few heated words. Just then, some seniors interrupt them, announcing that the roof is off-limits to lower years. Kaoru all but begs them to let him out on the roof but the seniors rudely push him aside. All of a sudden, the guy decides to help Kaoru out and gets into a brawl with the four seniors. He gets beat up pretty bad but he succeeds in taking the key from them. Afterwards, he offers the key to Kaoru but only if he pays 100,000 yen for it.

Later in class, Kaoru realizes that the guy is his classmate and his name is Kawabuchi Sentarou, the resident delinquent. However, Sentarou's reputation precedes him as he happens to be childhood friends with the class representative, Mukae Ritsuko. After some mishap on the roof, which involve Kaoru and Sentarou getting soaked in the rain, Ritsuko orders the two of them to the clinic while she fetches their gym clothes for them. Sentarou whiles away the time by drumming on the table and Kaoru, after listening for some time, realizes that it's jazz. Kaoru reveals that he plays classical piano himself, which doesn't impress Sentarou that much. The next day, Ritsuko invites Kaoru to her family's record shop where they have a practice studio. As she is showing him the piano, Kaoru is shocked to find Sentarou there. It turns out that this is Sentarou's regular hang-out. Sentarou shows off his skills with the drums, leading Ritsuko to tell him that Kaoru can play the piano, too. Sentarou one-ups Kaoru by playing a few notes on the piano. Kaoru happens to know the song and attempts to correct Sentarou's playing. Sentarou, however, remains unimpressed, saying that Kaoru's playing has no swing, therefore, it's not jazz.

Days later, Kaoru can't get Sentarou's drum-playing out of his head. One day, while walking home together with Ritsuko, Sentarou hits him on the head with an umbrella as he runs by. Kaoru looks after him, wondering about Sentarou's outlook in life.

Wow, that's a long summary. So I think this series is one about a young man's coming-of-age through his immersion in jazz music. I can anticipate some Beck parallels but I think this is less about a band and the music and more about the ability of external stimuli (like music) to free a person from the confines of his old life. If that makes any sense.
Visually, the series is beautiful. I love the soft lines and the beautiful character designs. Even the muted color pallet fits the atmosphere. There's almost no color, except for Sentarou's striped red shirt, so that should tell you something about the character. He brings life to the picture, Kaoru's foil and perhaps even the personification of the freeing quality of jazz.
The music is fantastic. I love jazz. I love Yoko Kanno. And having Yoko Kanno work together with Watanabe-sensei once more is such a dream-come-true that I can't even think of words to say.
My verdict? Blogging, definitely.

more screencaps from episode 1: