Sakamichi no Apollon – 05 Review

Sakamichi 05 – The Power of Music

Okay, okay, okay. I have a confession to make.

Sakamichi is starting to lose some of its luster for me.

That being said, I’m definitely still enjoying Sakamichi. It’s just… Well, maybe it’s just that it’s not really what I expected? I suppose I went into it expecting to see a coming-of-age story about a boy (Kaoru) who finally bursts out of his shell after a lot of trials and tribulations and heart-wrenching moments.

And this is sort of that, but not completely.

My main complaint is that I’m not really sure what the story is about. I thought it was about Kaoru’s personal growth and transition into “adulthood” (or at least into being a happy person with a full life). During the first episode, Kaoru’s anxiety problems and lack of social skills seemed like a major part of his character. Through playing jazz and getting to know Sentaro, he loosened up and started being kind of a cool guy. But all that happened way too fast!

For these last few episodes, Kaoru hasn’t been any more awkward, weird, or uptight than even a moderately shy person. He’s got no problem being best buddies and being super tight with Sentaro, he was pretty slick when organizing their group date in Ep 03, he was superbly confident playing jazz on stage in front of a bunch of strangers in Ep 04, and suspiciously smooth in his confession/kissing and dealing with the aftermath of those things with Ritsuko.

Now in this episode, he’s even going to visit his long-lost mother and he doesn’t seem particularly uncomfortable or nervous (with the possible exception of a short moment or two) considering what a huge deal something like that would be for anyone, but especially a guy with terrible social skills.

So what’s up? What’s this story about?

Like I said, I’m still enjoying it for what it is. Even though what it is seems to be just a somewhat arbitrary depiction of events in Kaoru’s life over the course of a year or more (it’s already been about a year inside the story, and this is only the halfway point). I’m actually late on writing this review because I’ve been racking my brain to try and figure out exactly what it is that I feel like Sakamichi is missing. Since it’s still a great show, imperfections or not, I’m reluctant to say anything negative. But I just can’t get over this feeling that something just isn’t quite there, so here’s my best guess at what it might be…

The problem is with conflict resolution in Kaoru’s life.

There’s plenty of conflict in each episode, and it’s done quite well. Unrequited love with Ritsuko, fighting with Sentaro, being heckled during their live show, visiting his mother, etc – they’re all great conflicts and they’re built up perfectly, they flow seamlessly, they’re believable, yadda yadda.

One problem is that each conflict seems like a totally isolated thing – they each *really* only involve one person. Sure, on the surface it may look like a group conflict – for example, when Kaoru and Sentaro were mad at each other, Ritsuko stepped in with a generic, “Boys, be nice to each other,” comment. But Ritsuko wasn’t really involved. She never found out what was going on between them, there was nothing at stake, she didn’t take sides, she wasn’t part of it at all – it was solely between the two boys. The drama between Ritsuko and Kaoru was the same way. Sentaro made a passing remark, “Oh come back to the shop, Ritsuko misses you,” but he never knew about the situation, and he never even asked Kaoru what was going on, at least with any conviction or honest concern.

The biggest problem though, is the resolution of these conflicts. Every single time something bad or stressful happens in Kaoru’s life, it’s resolved by the end of the episode… Simply by playing jazz with Sentaro. What’s the message here? That no matter how many crappy things happen in life, as long as you have a friend like Sentaro and ya’ll go play some jazz music, everything will be okay.

Sure, I’m aware of the “healing power of music” and all that jazz, but this is a bit much. Playing a song or two with your buddy to fix anything and everything is beyond music’s magical powers, or at least it is in my experience. Even when Kaoru suddenly turned away from his friends and music in this episode, all it took to fix everything was to play a song or two with Sentaro. Maybe Sentaro’s got magical powers and he’s just using jazz as a cover up? 😉

The way the conflicts come up and are resolved in each episode leaves me wanting. It’s almost as if all of Kaoru’s personal growth and development is happening off screen somewhere. What’s he do when he isn’t busy fixing the world by playing jazz, anyways? Other than in the first episode, I don’t feel like we’ve really gotten to see how any of these conflicts are affecting or changing Kaoru. Meeting his mom for example – we never really got to find out how Kaoru felt about his past or his mother. It was almost a great moment of character development, and then… Everything was totally okay and no one felt anything but happy and good… Thanks to the “power” of music.

I’d like to hear what you guys think about all this. Do you feel the same way? Does everyone still love Sakamichi or is the excitement starting to wear off for you too?

Now that’s off my chest, there were a few things I’d like to mention about this episode. First of all, does Kaoru’s mom work at a hostess club??? It sure looks like a hostess club to me!

I’m still enjoying the friendship between Kaoru and Sentaro, and I liked how the dudes they got drunk with (Jun’s neighbors) pointed out that best friends are a treasure and worth holding on to for your entire life. That’s some good advice. Kaoru and Sentaro’s friendship, although it sometimes feels contrived, is an awesome portrayal of the best that best friends can be – no matter what happens, even if you fight or disagree, you always come back to the friendship. My best friend and I are like that – our longest fight lasted two years, but we’ve been best friends since we were nine years old and we’ll probably always be close.

The best part of the episode was definitely Jun and the sketchiness surrounding him. What’s up with him? Is he a thug? A drug dealer? A player? I’m more interested in Jun and Yurika than in the other characters at this point. They both seem to have a lot more going on than Kaoru/Sentaro/Ritsuko. Jun’s obviously hiding something (or at least there’s more to be revealed about him) – he said that strange thing at the beginning about the “coincidences” and how “Even the name is similar.” And Yurika is interesting enough. Compared to Ritsuko, she has a far greater range of expression and even though no background on her has been given, it seems like she’s got a few tricks of her own up her sleeve.

Those are my thoughts on Episode 05 and Sakamichi so far. It’s still holding my attention, and it’s still a great watch, but it seems to be losing some of the original punch. It could be as simple as trying to cover too many issues at once – dealing with coming-of-age, jazz, friendship, love triangles, family life, racism, classism, developing at least four or five main characters, all while trying to emphasize the “period piece” aspect of things, is a *lot* to handle. But even with its faults, Sakamichi is entertaining, and I’ll continue watching and blogging it. After all, I want to know more about mysterious Brother Jun, and I want to know who Ritsuko really likes.

Episode Rating: 7.5/10

Hey everyone! Please comment below with your thoughts regarding Sakamichi. Are you still loving it? Or are you also thinking that it feels like something is missing? I’m curious to hear what you all have to say about it!

For your listening pleasure, I’m putting in two versions of the song-of-the-week, “Lullaby of Birdland”. The first is sung by Sarah Vaughan in 1954, and the second is from the Sakamichi no Apollon OST, which is out now (and it’s great). They’re two totally different takes of the song, but both wonderful. See you next week!

About kelfio

Keepin' it real down in the sweet sunny south.

Posted on May 14, 2012, in Anime, Reviews, Sakamichi no Apollon and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. The thing about Sakamichi is that it is realistic at portraying communications breakdown even between friends. While it’s definitely hard to tell from the 3rd party perspective(the audience), as a result there is no clear direction in which the storyline is progressing. This is refreshing. Most other animes out there just sets its direction in stone. Shy X meets potential Y and eventually confesses and walk off into the sunset, as you have brought up.

    This allows the storyline to twist, confuse, and finally delightfully surprise viewers.

    I guess for most viewers the way the anime tries to cover many aspects of the characters’ lives overwhelming, but in that sense it is also real.

    Real life isn’t a nice person who decides to dish out problems at a comfortable rate. This anime aims to portray that.

    Regarding mom and Kaoru, they didn’t have to spell their feelings out for the viewers – their emotions are already written on their faces like a neon signboard. Kaoru is curious about his mom. While he does harbor bitter feelings towards her because she is one of the main reasons he couldn’t have a complete and functional family(which links back to his jealousy of Sentaro), his heart eventually melts and finds he couldn’t blame her for what she has done to him. This means he couldn’t ask his mom why she left him because it might escalate the issue into something he doesn’t want – he and his mom being even more unhappier than they already are. Remember, Kaoru is intelligent and extremely sensitive to his surroundings, and has amazing insight to the situations he encounters, this much is seen from being able to tell that Sentaru has a crush on Yurika when others are completely unable to.

    Anyway, regarding the point you made about “It was almost a great moment of character development, and then… Everything was totally okay and no one felt anything but happy and good… Thanks to the “power” of music.”, in my opinion, other than maybe Sentaru, none of them have reached the point they could call themselves happy people. Having fun is totally different from being happy. Watch House MD and see the perfect example of that: House always has fun, especially with Wilson, but he is most definitely a very miserable person deep down inside.

    Kaoru simply has fun with Sentaro & co, but his bitter feelings towards people who he perceives are more well-endowed than him tells us he is a very unhappy, jaded and discontented person.

    The message of this anime is, you can never be angry or bitter towards your true friends no matter how hard you try. Because amongst true friends, you have too much fun and too little time to be angry. Not simply a case of “play jazz and suddenly hold hands and be friends”.

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    • Also, in my opinion, Kaoru was never a particularly shy person – he is just passive aggressive due to his family circumstances as well as the environment of schools he has been in. If you are alienated by people around you, no matter how forthcoming and active you are you tend not to speak nor interact, this doesn’t mean you are naturally shy, though.

      Sentaro, in the meantime, is more of the shy personality type who overcompensates by being a tough guy.

      When Kaoru is around Sentaro, both of them switch back to the personalities they were “born” with. This shows how they can “be themselves” when they are with each other.

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    • That being said, this anime is perfect – at being imperfect. That is the charm of this anime. As to the interpretation of this comment, I leave everyone to think for themselves what this means to them.

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    • Thanks for your comment – I appreciate a lot of the points you’ve made, and what you’ve said has definitely helped me to view the episode in a better light. 🙂

      One thing though…

      “The message of this anime is, you can never be angry or bitter towards your true friends no matter how hard you try. Because amongst true friends, you have too much fun and too little time to be angry.”

      Yes and no. I think it really depends on the person and the circumstances of your friendship. I’ve been blessed with a fairly large number of those “true friends” in my life – friendships that have lasted 5, 10, 20+ years and are still going strong.

      But I don’t think it’s imperative that true friends always get along perfectly (or even very well). I think so much of what those true friendships are about is learning how to deal with conflict, anger, and disagreements. Perhaps I’m just a difficult person, but the truest friends I have are people that I can really be angry at and fight with till I’m blue in the face as they can (and do!) with me. The reason you can do that with those friends is because you know that your connection will last forever, no matter what happens.

      Really loving another person as a friend or whatever isn’t always fun. Sometimes it sucks *really* bad… Like when you have to watch them do stupid things or when you have to see them suffering or in pain. And you can definitely be angry and bitter at your friends… Because the better you get to know a person, the better you also get to know their bad side and their annoying and jerky qualities. 😉

      That being said, those friendships are *always* worth it. Those friends are more valuable than gold or treasure or booty or career or anything you can think of. That’s why I liked the drinking scene with the older guys telling Kaoru and Sentaro how important friendship is.

      And ultimately, what I like most about Sakamichi is that it’s pretty realistic – the boys fight sometimes, the girl doesn’t automatically love the main-chara just because he’s a main-chara, etc. So thanks again for reminding me of that. 🙂

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      • I guess what I meant to say was “you can’t stay angry and bitter at your true friends forever/for long”. We all know we don’t always get along even amongst best friends.

        Anyway, Sentaro/Kaoru has more of a bittersweet rivalry than a “best buddies” sort of relationship. At least, from Kaoru’s perspective it is. To Sentaro he is a new best buddy I guess.

        Accurately portrays how 2 persons can see their relationship differently.

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  2. I’d have to agree with PosPosPos. I find this anime to be refreshing because it doesn’t adhere to those generic roles. I’ve watched a crazy amount of anime over the years and I’m pretty burnt out. It takes something special to hold my attention for long these days and Sakamichi has brought back that feeling of excitement for an anime again. So far, I’m more impressed with each episode and am always left a little sad and frustrated when it’s over. I love that Watanabe doesn’t simply cop out and use the standard tropes. There’s still enough familiarity for the audience to understand the plot line, but no characters are that easily pigeon holed. Kaoru does have a touch of the “socially awkward guy who slowly opens up to the world” but I agree that he may never have been “shy” in the traditional sense. He was jaded and cynical from having moved so much and gotten rejected and picked on. I was a Navy brat growing up and moved every two years so I totally get where his edge comes from. I have to say, it’s a surprisingly subtle and accurate portrayal. I wonder if someone of the writing team traveled a lot as a child. Sentaro does have a touch of the “tough guy who’s secretly needs a friend” but he’s also not that simple. These guys feel more “real” than any characters I’ve seen lately. The female characters haven’t impressed me as much yet, though I do have hope for them showing some depth down the road (or at least I HOPE they do). I get why you’d feel something is missing. I think it stems from being forced to actually get to know these characters slowly, as if actually befriending them, rather than having a more easily digestible story line. It does mirror real life far more than most shows and that can be tedious and confusing. I have a feeling the wait will be worth it. I’m sure there are some twists waiting for us around that corner.

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    • I agree, a good anime should always leave you wanting. In a positive way, of course.

      A good anime should make one feel like he/she is compelled to know and understand more about its characters.

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    • And maybe I’ve just been too trope-blinded to really see what’s so awesome about Sakamichi. Thanks for pointing this out to me, you’ve made some good points, especially about how moving around can affect a person. 🙂

      I also hope that the girls will get some more development soon. I know the show seems to be primarily about the boys’ friendship, but the girls are main-charas too!

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  3. I’m still loving it, but I think your valid in every point you’ve made. Even the manga compresses passage of time and conflict resolution. There are more details in the manga (as expected) which would answer some of those lingering dissatisfactions. For instance, Kaoru asks his mom why she left. There is some time spent on the answer, but if you think about the family he lives with (his father’s), you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. Also almost completely missing in the anime is the class conflict. You get the barest hints of it with the female cousin’s crappy attitude (hate her) and her mother’s snobbery. Maybe I’ve continued to enjoy it more because I’ve been reading the manga apace with the anime. I agree with you about how quickly issues are resolved. Does it help thinking of jazz as a separate character, one that is more intimately intertwined with every one of the main characters, acting as peacemaker, friend, and lover in a sense? That’s probably just something I’m reading into the story. Even the manga doesn’t give hints that deep. I’ll close with this personal anecdote. I play piano and have for years. When I was younger, if I was upset or angry about something, I’d go play the loudest, most obnoxious piece in my current repertoire. By the time I was done, I felt much better and probably forgot about whatever was bothering me. It didn’t fix problems, but it really helped. Enjoying your reviews. Thank you for them. 😀

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    • And you’re very welcome! 🙂

      I really like your interpretation of jazz as a separate character. Awesome!

      I also played music when I was younger (trumpet), but I was more like Kaoru in that I was very much classically trained. And, probably like Kaoru before he met Sentaro, I would never have been able to just blast out on the trumpet when angry… I would have only been able to think of my crazy teacher, swatting me with a baton, screaming, “Tone quality! Damnit! Tone quality!”. Hahaha!

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      • Lol. 😀 I understand that dilemma. I was classically trained too. So I’m very reluctant to try (also not very successful trying) to ad lib, even less play by ear. I don’t think this is much of a spoiler, but jazz as a character stands beside Kaoru in the next episode. I’m enjoying the series, despite all the nitpicking. I’m pretty sure unless something drastic happens, this will be one I’ll be putting on my shelf to watch when I feel like it.

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  4. I will also have to agree with PosPosPos. Kaoru never came across as a shy person just more on the aloof side. He came across as someone who tries not to get too close to people. He has shown growth because he has allowed Sentaro into his life. I will agree that I am a bit unsure of the direction of the show but each episode has intrigued me enough to keep me sufficiently entertained. I look forward to each show but I am a bit disappointed about the lack of jazz. It would be nice to get more of it as well as to see the female character (see I can’t even remember her name) have more depth to her character.

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    • Yeah, Saranaufogus also mentioned something about the lack of jazz in the series… The lack of jazz (or music at all) really suprised me at first, but now I’ve come to appreciate the pervasive silence that many scenes have – it makes the actual jazz stand out more. 🙂

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  5. You have to realize as well with Saki that there are major time difference between episodes. I can’t remember which episodes they are, but one of them ends, and the next episode is like 5 months later. A person personality is likely to change after that long when exposed to somebody like Sentaro.

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    • Yeah, that part is definitely tricky. I do wish that they would put dates or something at the beginning of each episode, since I think it would help viewers realize how much time has passed. At this point, nearly a year has passed since Ep01, and of course they’ve probably all changed a lot and grown pretty close in such a time span.

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  6. I’m more or less enjoying the ride really…though I believed this ep of Apollon was pretty weak compared to the others. Not to say this episode wasn’t good though…but Apollon’s been pretty satisfying since it started.

    One thing to note, and I got this cleared up on Twitter: you talk about how the conflicts appear and how they’re resolved–I initially noticed in this episode that some of the pacing seemed a bit off. I was told though by someone who was reading the manga how they’re cramming a lot of chapters in one episode–hence why there’s something in the narrative that might be off. Makes me wonder how the next few episodes will be…

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    • Huh. Maybe I should try and follow the manga then?

      Just from watching the series, I get the feeling that the manga has a lot more depth to it than the anime does, as is usually the case. It seems to me like Sakamichi really deserved more than one season.

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  7. I thougth the same thing ¿everything is resolved with jazz?
    I think that Sakamichi is losing the way…

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