Tag Archives: Sakamichi No Apollon

The Brotherhood of Angst: Tsuritama, Kids on the Slope, and Male Bonding

On the surface, Kenji Nakamura’s Tsuritama and Shinichiro Watanabe’s Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon) couldn’t be more different. One series is a gently surreal, whimsical sci-fi fishing story with garish color choices and over-the-top acting. The other is a more realistic, musically inclined and historically rooted romantic drama. Yet, the structure of their stories and the way they use their central conceits are actually similar, and both are unique in that they spend more time than usual in developing the bonds and friendships between the male protagonists. They are quintessential teenage stories, but they don’t wallow in the adolescent mindset that a lot of lesser anime series inhabit.

Kids on the Slope (Apollon) is actually the more conventional of the two, in that it follows some fairly standard shoujo/josei romance dramatic tropes. The male characters can be slotted into well-known archetypes: studious-yet-sensitive bookworm (Kaoru), troubled-yet-kind outsider (Sentarou), rakish-yet-fascinating older man (Jun), even flamboyant boy (Seiji, though he is not presented in a positive light). Ri-chan fits the yearning schoolgirl caught between two loves, and Yurika the rich girl longing to break free from social expectations.

Of course, one could slot almost all the characters in Honey and Clover similarly, too. What counts, as always, is execution and character development, and in that Watanabe has excelled in giving the characters rich dialogue and subtext, amplifying the emotional conflicts with superb jazz performances—almost too superb to be believable, honestly, but as a dramatic device for expressing character feelings, it sure beats exposition.

The jazz performances, in fact, are the outward expression of the men’s inward bonds of friendship and family. Kaoru’s initial inability to swing and improvise reflect his cautious, timid nature, as Sentarou’s free drumming showcases his free spirit. They play well or badly together depending on the state of their relationship. Sentarou’s love of jazz was mentored by Jun, and whether Jun is there to play along on trumpet is a measure of how things are going in his life too. Not playing together is the ultimate sign of alienation. The “reunion” show between Sentarou and Kaoru is one of the most emotionally powerful concert scenes I’ve ever seen in anime, rivaling the Haruhi “God Knows” concert, in which the interplay between the piano and drums forms a kind of dialogue in itself.

Not only is it emotionally effective, but it gets the way jazz performance in particular really is a kind of dialogue in itself: the soloist is always playing off the rhythm section, the melody line, with plenty of call and response between instrumentalists. As unrealistically spectacular as these high school musicians are, I’m pleased to see that Watanabe and Kanno really understand deeply what the spirit of the music is. I won’t be surprised if this show leads many to start listening to the old masters and standards. It’s a lot more effective to show why the music is so emotionally compelling than simply give a technical or historical lesson.

I’d say actually that the male friendships depicted in the show are more interesting than the more conventional opposite-sex romances. Despite a few gestures here and there to get the BL fangirls excited, it’s actually a believable portrait of straight, close male friendship. There’s always this element of competition between Kaoru and Sentarou amid the musical rapport and sharing of their lives. Sentarou and Jun really are like brothers, in that they share similarities in personality and interests, one has closely mentored the other, and there is this contentiousness that constantly challenges them. Coming from a broken, mixed-race home, as well as being a religious minority as a Christian, Sentarou also has the burden of conflicted identity on top.

The real emotional heart of the series is how he and Kaoru deal with their upbringings and forge a bond despite their difficulties, with music as a catalyst. This is where the similarities with Tsuritama come in.

Tsuritama may use a completely different set of tropes and starting points than Apollon, but oddly enough ends up in a similar place in the character arcs of the main protagonists. In fact, with opposite sex romance virtually non-existent, it spends even more time on building up the male bonding than Apollon, and through a classic “man” activity to boot—fishing.

Look beyond the childlike, Prince Myshkin-esque Haru (who, oddly enough, actually plays a similar role that Sentarou does for Kaoru—he’s just a happy rather than troubled free spirit until recently) and you see another mentor-like relationship between Yuki and Natsuki. Natsuki and Yuki both have broken families in one way or another, and are both looking for brother and suitable father figures in their lives. Both Natsuki and Yuki end up expressing their developing selves through fishing: the training, equipment, and mastery of it, not unlike the way Kaoru’s learning of jazz and playing together with others signals his social growth. Tsuritama is, admittedly, much more a “fishing” show like Apollon is a “jazz” show, in that the equipment and technique is more lovingly detailed and explained—but this fades over time and the casting of lines, searching for the right bait, and the journeying out into the water become metaphors for what the characters need to do.

The sci-fi plot aspect of it, with Haru and his sister and Akira’s DUCK organization (a truly inspired comedic creation, I might add), almost seems incidental. The poignancy of it comes from seeing the recent episode’s troubles as an expression of Haru’s pain and desperation to hold on to friendship. Yuki’s grandmother, of course, sees it right away. Key to resolving the plot is resolving whatever is troubling Haru, and it won’t happen unless Yuki, Natsuki, and others who have become bonded through fishing work together to aid his quest. This is, of course, a classic quest plot in many ways, and it has emotional heft in the midst of the silliness because of the bonds that were built earlier through the fishing scenes.

It’s an interesting coincidence that Apollon and Tsuritama, which are possibly the two premiere series of this spring and helmed by great directors, would share that much in common. Perhaps this is a sign that anime is heading elsewhere after a few years of creative stagnation, and it’s going to be exciting to see where things are headed in this age of transition. Nevertheless, the virtues that both of them display—an understanding of how to work with theme, interesting and deep character interaction, and competent pacing and directing—are timeless. They both have, to borrow the slogan of one of my favorite burger joints, “quality you can taste.”

My dearest Ri-chan

My dearest Ri-chan,

Screaming in the dark
I howl when we’re apart
Drag my teeth across your chest
to taste your beating heart

Park that car
Drop that phone
Sleep on the floor
Dream about me

Je jure de n’être plus sage
Je promets d’être sot
Tout mais pas l’indifférence

Yours Forever,

The Paper

The Magic Numbers – This Is A Song

The Submarines – Tigers

Snow Patrol – Set the Fire To the Third Bar

Barcelona – It’s About Time

Athlete – Half Light

Young Heretics – The Lost Loves

Agnes Kain – Keep Walking Or I’ll Kill You

The Do – On My Shoulders

Polly Scattergood – Please Don’t Touch

CALLmeKAT – My Sea

Macdonald Duck Eclair – Tip Tap Mac

Shrag – Rabbit Kids

Taken By Cars – Unidentified

Thrushes – Used To You

EMA – Marked

Avenue D – My Dirty South

Hello Saferide – 25 Days

Lucrecia – Counting Backwards

Bridging The Gap: Anticipation 2012

Whoa. 2012 is has been off to a brisk start, and Spring seems to already be in the air. And even though the year has started off without a surprise breakout a la Madoka, one cannot help but feel like some greatness in the form of old favorites, the long awaited return of a genre-bending master, and more seem to be on the horizon. And not merely in regards to shows and films (although there are a few worth making noise about here), but in ventures that could very well change the anime market landscape for the better. To be completely honest, it has been a truly long time since someone like me has felt any real modicum of excitement about the coming months.

So let’s give a few moments to consider these potentially mark-making projects, and what they could possibly offer.


1. Uchu Senkan Yamato 2199

You guys have no idea how thrilled I am for this massive revival project. Far better than any of the previous movie attempts to resurrect Nishizaki/Matsumoto’s science fiction allegory classic, this big budget retelling of the Voyage To Iscandar has an equally large pedigree of talent and familiarity. It’s a project so large in ambition, the first 50 minutes of the series is to be premiered in a few weeks in select theatres in Japan on April 7th. Sporting modern animation, featuring some unique takes on all-time favorite characters via Nobuteru Yuuki (Escaflowne, Harlock Saga, X/1999,etc), and impressively updated mechanical works by way of Makoto Kobayashi (Super Atragon, Last Exile, Steamboy). For seiyuu fans, seeing Daisuke Ono cast as Susumu Kodai was definitely an eyebrow raiser. And most standout is the appointing of former mecha-design icon, Yutaka Izibuchi (Patlabor).

This is perhaps one of the more standout decisions for me as I remain in that cult of folks who happened to deeply enjoy his directorial work on RahXephon, so when considering such a huge heritage inheritance, this in many ways feels very appropriate. And even if the rest of the series won’t be seeing TV screens until next year sometime, there is no shortage of high hopes for what could very well be a stellar reinterpretation of one of anime’s greatest sagas. Among the recently developing news regarding the project continues to come in, noted fans like Tim (www.starblazers.com) Eldred , and August Ragone have been doing a bang-up job keeping English speaking fans up-to-date. Most recently through the pipeline is an announcement that the upcoming Blu-ray release of the first two episodes will be coming complete with English subs!

Yamato remains to many as one of the medium’s most heralded mythologies, and it looks like no expense will be spared in the months to come—all in hopes of bringing such a universal story to an entirely new audience while being deeply reverent to fans of the past.


2. Sakamichi No Apollon

A long injustice seems primed to come to an end. Despite a few scattered projects where his hand could only be seen in select areas (Star Driver, Michiko To Hatchin), director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) returns with a secret weapon for this period series centering on young jazz lovers during the 1960s.

There isn’t a whole lot to report regarding this at the moment, but mere words cannot express just how long the medium has felt something wholly missing. And while the criminally underseen Hatchin contained a great deal of Watanabe’s signature touch, there simply hasn’t been much of a truly international flavor to anime in a while. Budget concerns from studios aside, a void has certainly been there without Watanabe’s knowing, confident vibe permeating through a television work. Not to mention that his last big series, Samurai Champloo, despite its deserved place in the pantheon of wildly original pieces of “ought” anime shows, was also missing an element that made Bebop such an iconic achievement: Yoko Kanno. The very idea that Kanno is hard at work complimenting the aural space of Apollon is reason enough to celebrate. But to consider that they haven’t worked on a major project since Cowboy Bebop: Knocking On Heaven’s Door (2001), is just plain perplexing as their styles feel synergistic to a fault (even going back to their mutual work on the OVA favorite, Macross Plus), and considering the source material in Yuki Kodama’s manga. It’s very possible that we’ll be witnessing something of a mutual labor of love, which can translate into some truly unique, personal work.


3.) Feature Films

There’s also feature films waiting in the wings, such as the latest from Mamoru Hosoda, as well as the return of a massive revival which seems primed to delve into uncharted territory.

Well, the early teaser pretty much confirms it; Hosoda is ready to assume the populist throne from Miyazaki with his latest movie effort, The Wolf Children Ame And Yuki, a lushly animated tale that takes place largely in the countryside, centering on a single-parent family with a pair of wolf-children. It’s really hard to say where it will be going, but there is definitely a Tonari No Totoro vibe going on here, which is interesting. Being almost completely bereft of technological imagery does give off a feeling of newness to Hosoda’s usual repertoire, so it can go either way quite easily.

And we don’t really have to spend too much time left speculating what Studio Khara has in store for Evangelion fans when the third Rebuild film, Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo comes this Fall. And in lieu of very real disaster, it will be truly fascinating to see where this rendition of the mecha classic will go. Having pretty much obliterated the original story with the finale of 2.0, we(and the creators) will now be in completely virgin territory which can only remind one like me of the days between episodes of the original series, which seemed like a painful eternity. So, magnify that by a couple of years…I’ll wait..


Lastly-

Is the stunning, hint-laden bombshell that was shared over at ANNCast last week. It was dropped by anime simulcast translator & subtitler Sam Pinansky, who also shared quite a bit regarding the process of keeping up to speed with bringing anime to streaming screens. But what he could only talk around at the moment hints at a future of not only anime, but media in general that could very well take a large, positive leap for a more democratized media sphere.

For the whole thing, click me!

For those looking for the jist? (Skip to 31:00 minute mark!)

Mr. Pinansky is hard at work preparing for an ambitious undertaking that is happening via Yomiuri and several other media entities. This group of companies are looking to take a giant step forward by creating a one-stop streaming/Kickstarter business for not only recent, but classic anime, as well as television shows and movies! Pretty much open to redefining what we know as the classic distribution model, fans from all over will be allowed to put their money where their mouths are, even going so far as to allowing more independent artists and personalities to be supported for potential projects. And as mentioned at the beginning, a streaming home for many an older series that had yet to ever see the light of day in subtitled form. A hybrid site akin to Youtube and Kickstarter sounds like an idea too ambitious to be true, but it seems ready to roll out come late summer/early fall.

Think of it: all content, all directly supported, and zero middle-entity. This is the kind of thing that many have long feared that the Japanese networks and studios were completely unwilling to venture into, and it suddenly seems near time when the other shoe finally up and drops. If this risky gamble works, it could help rewrite the media market narrative, and that is simply thrilling.

So that’s what I’m most eager for this year thus far. How about you? Anything on the path in the anime/manga worlds that has you owned for the year?