Anime: Sakamichi no Apollon

Can I start by telling you how much I absolutely LOVED the intro Sakamichi no Apollon. It is beautiful and when the anime first came out and I sat down to just check it out to see if I would be interested, the intro just captured me. I watched it countless times and eventually had the song on replay. It was so pretty! That said, the outro is pretty good too and I think both songs and animation sequences capture the heart of Sakamichi perfectly.

When I watched the first episode, like so many other people I gushed about how amazing it looked, how interesting the story started out, how perfect the music was and all that. It was and is a really good first episode. First episodes can make or break an anime, it determines whether people will come back for more, it introduces us to characters, it usually is one of the best episodes in the series. I can still distinctly remember the first episode for Paradise Kiss and how perfect it was in hooking me into the rest of the series. Sakamichi no Apollon comes a close second, I actually watched the first episode twice while waiting for the next episode to come out. However the rest of series just wasn’t what I expected. This became quickly (and in my case, painfully as well) obvious by the second episode.

I hold the josei genre in very high esteem. It has consistently produced my favourite animes and has always pushed my boundaries and expanded my view of anime. It is a genre I look eagerly towards and expect so much of that I guess it was inevitable that I would be disappointed. Sakamichi no Apollon is no josei anime, at most I suppose it can be considered at high school romance and those are a dime a dozen.

Expectations aside, Sakamichi no Apollon is a good anime. I think it was pretty unique in its setting of post world war II Japan. It’s choice of music was unique. It’s characters were interesting. The plot wasn’t as good as it could be, but the characters, the characters more than made up for it.

Two things stood out in the anime, firstly was the use of music to  build friendships. I honestly wish there was more music, but jazz takes a back seat in this anime that seems to be more about love and the drama of teenage life. I was hoping for something reminiscent of Nodame Cantabile, but music didn’t figure so prominently. It was integral to the series, there just wasn’t long sequences dedicated to it. Still it was used appropriately and freestyle sessions were really fun to watch. The second thing perhaps was the similarity between the two main characters. At first glance they look and act so differently, yet they are very much the same. I enjoyed seeing them become friends and work through life together. The series progressed fairly well most of the time, there seemed to be two main arcs. However I found the last two episodes to be a little forced. I though they weren’t actually needed in the anime itself, and were there to add a little drama.

What I didn’t like about the anime, was the convoluted romances. Guy A likes Girl B who likes Guy C who likes Girl D who likes Guy E. I wish they spent less time falling in love and instead cultivated the friendships that would last a life time. As you grow older, you start to realize that love doesn’t play an all-important role in your life. It’s the friends that you make that will leave an impression on you and although that shone through in the last episode, it didn’t have the impact that it could have had. There were too many awkward silences because of all the confused teenage love. And that really is why I cannot consider Sakamichi a good example of josei.

Josei for me has always been about the portrayal of very realistic (sometimes overly dramatic) relationships. The characters don’t need to be adults but they do need to have a certain level of maturity. They need to be practical, they need to have dreams and ambitions, which many teenagers lack. It’s not just about love, it’s about life. The josei genre includes anime like, Usagi drop, tokyo magnitude 8, Nodame cantabile, paradise kiss, chihayafuru and many other very good anime like Eden of the East, the highly acclaimed honey and clover as well as stuff like Kuragehime and Ristorante Paradiso. I’m a huge josei fan and I’ve watched nearly all the anime titles that consider themselves josei. So to put Sakamichi in their ranks just doesn’t feel right. If it has spent more time on the issues that hid behind the characters backstories, if it had dedicated more time to how each character found their own identity then maybe. But it’s not about what could have been shown, but what was shown. Sakamichi  fell into the trap of glossing over all those interesting issues that it brought up. It created a world that was very foreign to most of us but never pushed the boundaries and expanded on what it started. Even the jazz that brought smiles to our faces was just touch and go.

Sakamichi no Apollon is a good anime, it’s well worth the watch but it’s just slightly disappointing to see such an amazing first episode, and such colourful characters be dogged by an uninspired plot. To rush through 3 years of high school in 12 episodes, perhaps it would have worked out better if Sakamichi had been a bit longer. But oh well, another chapter closes on an anime that could have been.


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