Sakamichi no Apollon – 02 Review

Sakamichi no Apollon 02 – Cockblocking?

Altogether another fantastic episode with a superior first half, but I have some doubts about brining religion into a series that already has such a full plate. Also, I couldn’t manage to figure out what’s going on in this love triangle – who likes who, exactly?

Synopsis:

The episode opens with a short recap of last week, when Sentaro accused Kaoru of playing jazz too stiffly and without enough swing. In a brilliantly funny and cute scene, we see poor Kaoru doing his damndest (during the one hour he has while his terrible aunt is out of the house) to get a feel for the syncopation and expressive rhythms inherent to jazz music. While figuratively beating his head against the piano, Kaoru is fantasizing about being able to play the piece Moanin’ perfectly – and thereby impressing Ritsuko and one-upping Sentaro.

With his head full of music, Kaoru is approached by some of the school bullies. While it may seem like everyone in his school is a bully, these guys are extra bad and they mean business. They order Kaoru to follow them and submit to their mistreatment. Being a total wimp Kaoru goes with them without even once trying to fight back. The bullies tie him up at a shrine on a main road where students from the girls’ school have to pass by as they walk home. The bullies’ intention is to “pants” him – meaning they intend to tie him up and take his pants away so that he will be forced to flash every girl that passes by. These lame bullies – instead of just beating him up, they want to utterly humiliate him in front of tons of new people in a new town. How wrong!

Lucky for Kaoru that Ritsuko just so happened to be walking by when the bullies nabbed him, and thank goodness for him, Ritsuko runs and grabs Sentaro’s help. In a feat of bad-ass-ness, Sentaro leaps down a couple flights of stairs and takes out the main jerk-face-bad-guy with a flying kick, knocking out his teeth and spilling some blood. Only then does Sentaro realize that the guy he is saving is Kaoru. While Sentaro is opening up a can of whoop ass on the bad guys, Ritsuko cuts Kaoru’s bonds and encourages him to flee with her. However, Kaoru’s pride can’t handle the fact that he has just been rescued by the girl he likes and the boy who is his rival, so he jumps into the fray, only to trip over a root, fall flat on his face, and make an ass of himself. Ultimately though, Kaoru’s brave move resulted in he and Sentaro to winning the fight and providing viewers with some laughs.

After the fight, the three friends go back to Ritsuko’s dad’s record shop. Downstairs, a guy named Jun is waiting for them. He is like an older brother to Sentaro and Ritsuko and also happens to be a pretty damn good trumpet player. An impromptu jam session breaks out (they play “Bags’ Groove”) among the men (unfortunately, Ritsuko is left to watch the store while the boys have fun). Sentaro convinces Kaoru to join in on the piano, and even though his playing isn’t great he seems to be having a fun with everyone and starting to let loose a little. Afterwards, perhaps inspired by the jam, Kaoru works up the courage to ask Ritsuko if she’d like to get together for a study-date over their summer break, and she willingly accepts. She tells him to meet her next Sunday behind the church in town.

On the appointed Sunday, Kaoru arrives at the church. From outside he hears the congregation singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, and he pokes his head in to check it out. He is more than surprised to see his new friends, Ritsuko and Sentaro, worshipping inside, and generally seeming like good Christians.

Not long afterwards the three meet up and, to Kaoru’s surprise, they *all* head to the coast. Kaoru is bummed out that he hadn’t properly conveyed his intention of having a one-on-one date to Ritsuko, but the three manage to have fun anyways. Or are they having fun? It’s not entirely clear what the relationship dynamics between the three are. Who exactly is cockblocking who here? And if things weren’t confusing enough already, they just so happen to run into a girl being harassed by bullies on their way home. Sentaro pulls out his bad-ass routine and saves the girl, and promptly falls in love with her at first sight. How will this development affect the happy trio?

Review:

Sakamichi has once again delivered some awesomeness. The anime was stylish, the sound was fantastic, the characters were even better than last time… Basically, if you still (for some unknown and bizarre reason) haven’t watched this, you need to go do that right now.

This episode introduced some things I wasn’t expecting though…

The first half was amazing! I loved it. I especially loved at the very beginning when Kaoru is running back and forth between the piano and the record player trying to perfect “Moanin’” – that was absolutely brilliant. His facial expressions and his playing really exemplified the whole classical versus jazz themes from last week, but what I liked most was his honest (and somewhat naïve) determination to get it right to “prove it” to the others. Of course, just then when I was really starting to like Kaoru a lot, he turns out be a big wimp getting pushed around by bullies… And, what is wrong with this town anyways? Why is every guy around insisting on being a jerk and a bully? Is there something in the water? Anyways, Sentaro comes to his rescue and it kinda makes you lose some respect for Kaoru…. That is, until Kaoru rushes headlong into the fight… and fails miserably.

I loved that scene just because it was so anti-anime. Kaoru didn’t get a shounen-power up at the crucial moment. Not one bit. Kaoru just got to the point where not standing up for himself was more painful than actually doing something, and therefore he took action. And who cares that it didn’t work out? What did anyone expect? He’s a nerdy city-rich-glasses-literature boy who obviously doesn’t know the first thing about fighting. He’s not strong, he’s not a hero, he doesn’t really even have a very good personality. He ran out into the fray and ended up tripping over a root and falling flat on his face. That’s perfect!

To me, it seemed like this was Kaoru’s first real introduction into learning jazz – the art of improvisation and swing. As I’ve said, I was a musician for a long time, and the feeling of jumping head first into an improvisational solo is the same sort of exhilarating rush that you’d get from any situation requiring a lot of courage and a lot of action. You can’t *think* too hard about what you’re going to do, you just have to *do* it. This moment was the first time that Kaoru’s done that in the series. Even practicing “Moanin’” on his own, he was over thinking things (and it came across in his stilted playing). For him to rush headlong into the fight was a massive moment of character development, and everything about it was handled wonderfully.

The impromptu jazz jam session was cool. It really flowed well with Kaoru’s coming out of his shell during the fight and felt like a natural extension of Kaoru’s personal growth and development. Remember, in the scene they said he’d been practicing jazz for two weeks, and I think having that amount of time to play around with the music makes the scene much more believable. Obviously, “Bags’ Groove” is great, but I was a little disappointed with the fact that the song name and author weren’t explicitly stated like they were in the first episode. I would personally like to see Sakamichi take the extra few seconds to make an effort to educate viewers on some of the classic jazz standards. I suppose you can’t have it all though.

For the record, I would like to see Ritsuko do something cool. Play an instrument, beat somebody up, whatever. I just want to see the main girl do something but act like an overly compassionate air head who serves cold drinks to all the talented boys. It also kind of weirds me out how she is trying so hard to get Kaoru and Sentaro to be buddies, but I think that will be explained soon enough.

Unfortunately, the second half of the episode wasn’t as great. Don’t get me wrong, it was still far above average and kept me plenty entertained. The “beach” scene was nice since it seemed to deepen complicate some of the love-triangle dynamics between the three. I like how it’s sort of unclear what’s going on between Ritsuko and Sentaro, even though I’d bet that they’re not much more than just childhood friends. Of course, there was the introduction of the new girl… I’m excited to see what happens with that. Sentaro rocks, so anything more about him and his inner world is fine with me. There was also that strange bit about the crucifixes and Sentaro being “special”… I didn’t really catch all that. I hope it’s explained, as long as it’s not to the detriment of the story as a whole (or the jazz music).

The biggest thing that made me wonder this time around was the church stuff. It just seems like there is waaaay more than enough stuff to cram into one season *without* introducing any sort of religious-affiliation subplot. Maybe it was just a device to point out how Kaoru was feeling threatened by the closeness between Ritsuko and Sentaro? I can’t be sure, but it seemed like a bigger deal than that. For your listening pleasure, I’ve included a YouTube video of Aretha Franklin doing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” at the end of the post. It’s a popular hymn, and since jazz is so closely connected with southern gospel music, I thought it’d be good for your education for ya’ll non-Southerners to hear it. :)

So, this episode was great – even better than last week’s. My worry continues to be about the pacing and limited number of episodes, and this week’s installment made me wonder if Sakamichi hasn’t bitten off more than it can chew. There’s so much “meat” to this story already, and although I didn’t see a preview for next week, it looks like we’re still quite a ways from having all the cards on the table. No worries though – I’m still confident enough in saying that Sakamichi is fantastic and you should go watch it right now.

Rating: 9/10

“Bags’ Groove” by the Miles Davis Quintet:

Aretha Franklin singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”:

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About kelfio

Keepin' it real down in the sweet sunny south.

Posted on April 20, 2012, in Anime, Reviews, Sakamichi no Apollon and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Yes, it’s out! Thanks for reminding me.

    Sad day though if you read manga, Bakuman has completed :(

    Will post after viewing.

    D

  2. I’ll start with part B of the episode. I suspect it is just setting up further plot developments, which is why it feels less than satisfying. You’ve already picked up on that though, seeing the future girlfriend and clues as to Sentaro’s background. I’ve read about this far in the manga, and the anime is pretty much an exact replica scene for scene. I’m not sure yet how Christianity will work into the story. I find it funny that they are singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” when the denomination is apparently Catholic. That is not a standard Catholic song, at least not when I was growing up. I too would like to see more brief id’s of the jazz used.

    Another quick observation… doesn’t it seem like everything from the moment he meets Sentaro (and I suppose Ritsuko) is about Kaoru learning to let go, relax, be free? Each interaction seems to lead him a bit further into this. Including learning to swing. I play piano, and I play from scores. I understand this difficulty with swing. I can hear it now, might even be able to play it to some extent, but I was very much like Kaoru growing up–rigid and by the notes. I wonder if he’ll return the favor and “free” his friends as well. I’d like to see that kind of growth all-around in the characters.

    Thanks for reviewing this. I’m looking forward to blah-blahing about it.

    • I’m looking forward to more of you “blah-blahing” too. I really enjoyed your comment! :)

      I hear what you’re saying about the second half being more for introducing some new plot elements. I guess that I just found the first half so entertaining that the second half wasn’t as good in comparison. And it’s always good to know that those of us who haven’t read the manga aren’t missing out on anything huge.

      I’ve noticed that Christianity pops up in a lot of anime, but I think it’s typically used more as a generic character trait or plot device than anything else. I imagine that since Christians are very much a minority in Japan there’s probably some sort of “fascination” with it, similar to Western curiosity about Buddhism or Shinto or whatever, and for that reason it’s somewhat of a trope. I’m also interested to see how Sentaro and Ritsuko being Christian will play into the story, because the way it was handled in this episode made me think it will be explored more than just being an easy characterization showing how close Sentaro and Ritsuko are and emphasizing the distance/unattainability that Kaoru seems to feel towards Ritsuko. And you’re right about the hymn – I’m not overly educated about various denomination’s musical preferences, but I know at least enough to know that “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” isn’t a particularly Catholic song.

      And yes, I totally agree with you about how Kaoru is loosening up since he met Sentaro. I’m really enjoying the way that it’s being shown – it’s subtle enough to make it seem natural.

      I’m looking forward to next week’s episode! :)

  3. My thoughts that there may be a love triangle were somewhat squashed at the end of episode 2 when Sentaro had a love at first sight moment. I really loved the jazz session in the beginning and was definitely bobbing my head. The cockblocking was getting annoying at first but looks like that may end. I really hope so because I’m not one to watch shows with love triangles and unrequited emotions running around. Leaves everyone a bit frustrated.

    • I agree with you in thinking the love-triangle stuff will probably die down from here on out. After all, it looks like Sentaro’s got someone to think about now rather than just annoying Kaoru and Ritsuko. I’m not a generally a fan of angsty-unrequited-love-triangle teen dramas either, so it’s encouraging to see things moving in a different direction. :)

  4. Would be intersting that they dedicated a few seconds to explain some things about jazz, as you said.

    PD:Sorry from my english, i am from Colombia

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