Tomoko Ninomiya’s Nodame Cantabile: Experiencing One Work in Three Different Mediums

The Manga

Nodame MangaVolumes 1-25
Published in English by Del Rey

Some would argue that because this work is originally a manga, this medium is the best one for it but I would have to respectfully disagree for reasons I will get into later because right now we should really introduce you to Nodame Cantabile.

If you are into manga and have not yet heard of this series, you obviously are reading the wrong sorts of things. Just kidding. Maybe. Nodame Cantabile though focusing on Shinichi Chiaki (I actually didn’t know what his first name was since I’m so used to calling him Chiaki Senpai in my head) and Noda Megumi (the titular Nodame), is very much an ensemble work with a bounty of colourful characters whose stories run concurrently to the primary narrative.

Chiaki Senpai is an uptight pianist who due to a trauma when he was young has a phobia of airplanes and flying. His dearest wish is to study conducting with his mentor in Europe but due to his inability to fly or take a ship, he is stuck in Japan at a music school filled with (to his mind) imbeciles. Nodame…how do I explain Nodame?

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She’s a piano prodigy but she had a horrible piano teacher when she was a child who pushed her way too far and made her hate the idea of playing professionally. So she has decided to use her considerable musical talent to be a kindergarten teacher. She refuses to take piano playing seriously and her professor despairs of ever getting her to give it the kind of consideration a serious player gives their craft.

One day Chiaki hears Nodame playing and despite his cynicism about the level of talent in his college, he is intrigued by her playing. Then his gf dumps him and he passes out in front of his next door neighbour’s apartment who turns out to be no other than Nodame. Nodame takes one look at him and she sees stars.

Nodame Cantabile is a love story but not in the regular sense of the genre. The love story is between the music and those who create them. People falling in love is incidental. Chiaki and Nodame forge a bond and it through this bond that they help each other get closer to their craft.

As I said, there are colourful side characters and rivals. Splendid settings and stages in Europe where a large portion of the story takes place. However, due to the medium the story is told in and the subjects it tackles, the manga feels silent. In fact, for a manga dealing with music, the series is rather conspicuous for its silence. Perhaps this is because when I started this series, I was not at all familiar with classical music. This problem is missing in the anime version.

The Anime

From paper to screen, the creators of the Nodame Cantabile anime are very faithful to the art style and watching the anime is very much like reading the manga except that now we are able to hear the music. Some memorable music pieces that I was introduced to include:

  • Allegro con spirito from Mozart’s Sonata in D major for two Pianos
  • Poco sostenuto — Vivace from Beethoven
  • Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto

There are others but I don’t know the titles so you’ll have to excuse me.

One of the conflicts in the manga is the distinction between ‘good’ players and ‘bad’ players or in this case those who have the money and time to focus completely on their music and the poor kids who have other obligations that do not allow them to give music their entire attention.

Chiaki is made the conductor of the “S Orchestra” which is made up of subpar players but with Nodame’s help (and okay, meddling) he manages to lead them in a performance that earns them a standing ovation and other accolades. The series focuses wholeheartedly on music and not just in its performance but in the motivations of the composers of the pieces being performed.

Chiaki, Nodame or whichever musician is playing a piece often muses on what the composer was going through while composing the piece and it’s wonderful to see classical music made so accessible and cool in an entirely unexpected medium.

The Live Action Drama – Japanese version

NB: The above clip is the live action version of the same scene that was shared from the anime version. See the difference?

A Korean version exists but the less said about it the better.

As with the creators of the anime, the makers of the live action are extremely faithful to the original work. The actors cast as Chiaki senpai and Nodame pretty much feel and look like they have walked off the pages into real life. The colourful side characters and the manga gags are also present in the live action but rather detracting from your enjoyment, these actually enhance it by establishing the work as fiction. The extravagance of their actions (the comical faces and the slapstick comedy) create a link between the new medium and the anime and manga versions.

The live action is my favourite if only for the fact that because the producers didn’t stint on the budget, the drama plus the two specials and the two movies take place in Europe and Japan, in beautiful theaters and with a full ensemble orchestra and audience.

While the live action is not realistic at all, the viewer is able to see the music being performed and it is somehow a different experience than seeing it being performed in the anime.

Nodame’s struggle to perform onstage and confront her fears feels realer and her despair at being a small fish in a big sea feels more profound. When she plays Ravel’s Mirror in France, you can hear the notes echo in the church she is playing in and just well, it’s grand.

Like Kyoko from Skip Beat get into her characters’ minds and put them on like skins, the musicians in Nodame Cantabile know the music and breathe it in and out.

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