Tickling the ivories: Of music, free spirits and facing one’s fears

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Change is inevitable. Who you are now isn’t the person you were five, 10 or 15 years ago. But fear traps many folks from realizing their full potential. At least that seems to be the case with Shinichi Chiaki, a young man with exceptional music skills who harbors a deep fear of flying and sea travel. We meet the 22-year-old Momogaoka Music Academy student in “Nodame Cantabile”, a 2007 anime series based on a popular and award-winning manga. There is also a live-action show that was shown in Japan last year.

Chiaki plays both violin and piano at a level beyond most of his peers, composes music and possesses an ear that knows when a piece is being played right or being massacred. He is well aware of his talents and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He walked out on his piano instructor and was dropped from a competition.

He yearns to become a conductor and study under the conductor Sebastino Viera whom he met as a child. But alas, our arrogant musical prodigy cannot leave Japan because he cannot ride an airplane. So he is stuck and seethes at his apparent misfortune as other music students head for greener pastures overseas. During a self-pitying bout at a bar, his girlfriend decided to drop him because he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Chiaki drunkenly collapses outside the door of his next door neighbor, Megumi Noda, another piano student at the academy commonly known as Nodame. She lets him sleep it off inside her apartment which is unbelievably filthy. He is appalled at her abode when he wakes up and proceeds to clean it up. While she is smitten with him, he just wants out of the disgusting place. But he pauses when he hears piano music.

Nodame plays the piano in this freewheeling style that both annoys and fascinates Chiaki. She can listen to a piece once or twice and then play it note for note in her unique style. She gets so obsessed with playing a piece that she can be up for days focused on nothing else. Nodame, however, is a slob and often wears the same clothing for days, forgets to bathe daily and rarely cleans her apartment. She peppers her language with gibberish picked up from her favorite inane cartoon. She also tries to talk cute, acts a lot like a simpleton and mooches food from Chiaki daily. She makes no bones about her attraction to him while he constantly nags, scolds and insults her. Yet deep down, he doesn’t really mind her hanging around.

She has her own fears to conquer. We see this weird couple overcome personal obstacles on the way to becoming better musicians. The series also features a great selection of music the different characters played. I love classical music a lot so I enjoyed most of the episodes of “Nodame Cantabile”. Not all the pieces played are classical however.

Nodame, however, took a lot of getting used to. Her voice, mannerisms and subservience to Chiaki irritated me to no end. I longed to smack some sense into her or at least make her stop her inane exclamations. Although a lot of CGI is used in the musical parts, I’ve seen better animation. The characters are drawn simply. Was it beyond the skill of the manga artist to draw lips?? How about faces that don’t look exactly the same?

Despite the annoying heroine and boring character designs, I think the show works because it doesn’t lose sight of its heart. Love of music, friendship, believing in someone and overcoming one’s personal fears are themes that weave in and out of this entertaining show.

Descent into Hell Take Two

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Gorgeous animation do not a good anime make. An engaging storyline and likeable characters are also required. So it’s kind of sad when a show you know could have been great merely reaches the acceptable level.

Such is the case with the second season of Hell Girl which is actually called “Jigoku Shoujo Futakamori”. Enma Ai is back with her three assistants as they offer a hellish bargain to those who want to have others dragged unceremoniously to Hell. If you’re willing to enter a contract with Ai, the bane of your existence gets whisked off pronto. The price remains a steep one. You go to Hell as well when you die because as Ai says, two graves are dug when a curse is placed.

Like the first season, this one features beautiful character designs and backgrounds plus the same hohum way of telling its stories.

Each episode focuses on Ai’s client of the week and how she deals with their requests. Some of her clients are a waste of molecules, so to speak, while a few deserve to get dispatched to the underworld themselves. There is a little boy who undergoes personal tragedies one upon the other that you wonder how Ai can just sit there and do nothing for him. He is actually a key in resolving Ai’s end and mirrors the persecution she faced in her earlier human form four hundred years ago.

That’s another problem. The director assumes you know Ai’s back story or have seen the first season. Go watch the first season. It helps explain certains things in the second season.

This time around, we learn more about the history of Ai’s three assistants and why they’re working for her now. We also meet a rather unpleasant hell spawn masquerading as a little girl who could double as the Japanese version of the “Bad Seed.” She’s called Kikuri I think. She tags along with the gang and tries to muck up their work.

After sitting through all the episodes even the crummy ones the ending comes as a major disappointment. Aaaargh! It was a let down to be sure. Is that how Hell Girl is supposed to end? I am so tempted to spoil it for the rest of y’all but I won’t be a party pooper.

Anime break

Sorry I have not posted for awhile. My new assignment (translation: job) slowed down my anime watching. I can’t be up all night on weekdays anymore.

I haven’t even downloaded the photos I took at the Anime Expo which was a surreal experience for me.

Managed to finish “Nodame Cantabile” last weekend and saw the last volume of “Shakugan no Shana” today. I’ll post something about the two shows later this week.