Author: Ninomiya Tomoko
This is probably the first book I review that’s NOT Boy’s Love but which I want the whole world to like because it’s a manga that captured my heart 5 minutes after flipping open the manga. This series is LICENSED and you can purchase the English version but I recommend the Japanese version if you can manage because translations are never reliable. This manga is made into both TV drama and anime. I prefer the drama version much better because I find the anime version failing in terms of delivering the impact of the manga.
The story began with one genius Chiaki Shinichi (CV: Seki Tomokazu) in frustration. He was frustrated because he had all the talent to become a “star” in the musical world but he couldn’t simply because he couldn’t board a plane. This means he COULD NOT leave Japan and though Japan has a pretty good reputation for Classical music (leading in fact in Asia), he wouldn’t be able to do much if he could not leave Japan because after all, the “REAL STAGE” is in Europe and America. On top of that, he just had a fight with his elite piano teacher Etou and ended up being thrown to follow Tanioka, the teacher for students who couldn’t catch up. While he was depressed and totally ignored by his “girlfriend” Ayako, he fell asleep in front of his apartment and was “picked up” by his neighbour – Noda Megumi (more popularly known as Nodame) (CV: Kawasumi Ayako). She was a strange entity because even though she had large hands and could instantly compose music or recite music even if she heard it only once, she could not read the scores very well. At the same time, her room was the biggest mess in human history and it was so disgusting Chiaki could not tolerate and had to clean for her. One day, Tanioka assigned Chiaki to team up with Nodame to play a duet. The music is Mozart Sonata in D major (for four hands). Chiaki was annoyed because there was no way he could play with a girl who would play so freely and on her own pace but Tanioka said he could do it because he had the “leading quality” in him. True, Chiaki’s dream was neither to be a violinist or pianist (though he excelled in both), he wanted to be a conductor, like the conductor Sebastiano Viera whom he admired. He had the opportunity to meet Sebastiano when he was very young and the latter even agreed to be his teacher but the experience was shortlived as his parents soon got divorced and he had to move back to Japan with his mother. As Chiaki tried to play with Nodame, he also started to notice her talent and gradually he guided her through and somehow they succeeded in the performance. Soon after, Chiaki seemed to naturally fall into the role of taking care Nodame, cooking and cleaning for her. One day, Nodame met a violin student Mine Ryutaro. Mine was not really interested in classical music so much as electronic music but he needed a pianist for his test. While Mine and Nodame were practicing hard for the test, Chiaki was getting lonely :p and then came Ayako who asked Chiaki to keep her company. Nodame saw the two and bursted into hysteria 😕 Anyway Nodame was in trouble because she had to play Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in F Major, Op.24 “Spring” but she could not synchronize her performance with Mine’s and she was in trouble so she asked Chiaki to help her by playing the piece with her. However, on the day of the test, Nodame had a flu and could not play so Chiaki played in her place and somehow he CHARMED the examiners and Mine passed.
Just a note on the title: Nodame Cantabile – Cantabile is derived from Italian and means “singable” or “songlike” (Wikipedia). As a result, this story is a glance into the life of Nodame who herself is like a song in a way 😀
B-R-A-V-O! Yeap, you’ll see me use this word throughout my review for this series. I simply love it SO VERY MUCH because it talks about music school, something which I like but never have the talent to go to. I play the piano but never “well” and like Nodame, I’m the kind who prefer to play with “freedom” than to be confined by the “techniques” because for me, music is there for people to enjoy and not to torture. If I don’t like the pieces, how can I play them well? Another reason why I never can succeed is because I have very small hands T___T. So small I can’t even reach an octave and I practiced by stretching my hands all the time. That’s why I can stretch my hands more than some of my friends though they have more elegant fingers (sigh). Back to the story, I think what makes this story an instant hit is the set of characters. The contrast between Chiaki and Nodame is probably the best part of the manga and the focal point that supports the whole manga. This story basically has two arcs. The first arc was based in Japan and consumed about 9 volumes. The stage of the second arc moved to Paris (and gradually probably will extend to Italy, Germany, Austria, and New York eventually). The first arc is definitely more “gig” based but the second arc would be more “serious” and really looked into the lives of “musicians”. It’s a personal preference really but I love both arcs equally for different reasons. I’ll gradually highlight the differences between the two as I continue to review the later volumes. For now, let’s move onto the characters:
Chiaki is T.S.U.N.D.E.R.E! Period. That’s what he is really in the end of the day…one who is arrogant on the surface but gentle and timid beneath. He’s got pride because he had the talent and HE KNEW IT. However, he also had a COMPLEX (the inability to travel) and so he was frustrated. He is your typical “prince like” character who gradually softens his heart when he meets a girl that is completely different to him. Chiaki is really “typical” hero in shoujo manga and not particularly interesting when left on his own. However, when with Nodame, he became a million times more interesting (laugh).
Just as Chiaki put it (not in this volume but much later), the relationship between Chiaki and Nodame is “beauty and the beast” (dies laughing). If you want to summarize in one sentence what Nodame is, then I’ll say she is Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu In C Sharp Minor, Op. 66. I will say this because she’s “dreamy”, “has a soft side”, however also has a burst of energy. That in fact was the piece Ninomiya sensei chose for Nodame to present her talent when she was still a child (sorry that was a spoiler for volume four). Anyway, Nodame, when left alone, was simply a wild genius who had half the talent and no ambition. I’d say half the talent because while she could PLAY HER MUSIC, she could not PLAY other people’s music because she was so carefree in her style of playing, and also because she could not read the scores very well. If there’s one thing that brings success to this manga, it’s got to be this fascinating characterization of Nodame.
Mine would play a significant role in the Japanese arc but sadly, we would see very little of him thereafter so. Anyway, he’s the “modern” violinist I suppose who prefers to interpret aged old classical music in a contemporary manner. He’s an interesting character but I have a feeling that he’s just there to enable Nodame to understand the difficulty of synchronizing with other people when playing. It’s all about wanting freedom and being tied down by the stupid rules from the music world. That’s why it’s sometimes not strange to find qualified musicians playing on the streets. In fact, there was one musician from the London Symphony Orchestra (and also played for Lord of the Rings) playing on the street and finding himself earning more that way ^_^;; It’s a tough world inside and outside of music I suppose and as long as there’s the spirit, music can be played in all forms and still entertain.
In terms of the two pieces chosen, I don’t have much comment for Mozart’s Sonata in D major because obviously that was picked because it’s (four hands) so it would make sense for Chiaki and Nodame to play together. I’m more curious with the pick of the Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata”. Well, “season” may just be a it’s easy for the audience to imagine (not to mention it’s intended for piano and violin) but I quite like the choice because in a way “meeting Nodame” ends the “winter” in Chiaki’s heart and gets him ready for “Spring” and a new life.
As I said this series is wonderful if you LOVE classical music but I suppose many “real music school students” may find faults with the details here and there. Being incapable of entering that beautiful and ugly world myself, though, this series is as good a substitute as it can be. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.