Out of every show that I watched this Spring Season, Sakamichi was one of my favorites the whole time. I was actually really excited for it because the premise sounded interesting and it was another josei. I went into the show with pretty high hopes, although as I did mention before, it wasn’t because of the magical reuniting of everyone’s dream team Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno who are most famous for their work together on Cowboy Bebop. Well, I can see why everyone was so excited. Sakamichi no Apollon is a great show with fantastic production values and a cast of characters who deviate from the typical high school stereotypes that are so common in today’s anime world.
Sakamichi no Apollon is a series that takes place in Japan in 1966 and mainly focuses on the influence of jazz during that time period. Now, I know next to nothing about Japan during this period and am way too lazy to look it up, and I also know nothing about jazz. In fact, going into the show, I had the same attitude towards jazz that Kaoru had towards it at the start: it was just loud noise. But by the end, I’m surprised and happy to say that I have come to see jazz in a completely different light. Now, to me, jazz is more music that may have a harsh sound at times, but has a lot of feelings put into it and is really interesting to listen to once you get used to it. Since such a large aspect of the show is focused on music, the music in this show really stood out to me more than it ususally does in a series. This show has a great soundtrack full of a lot jazz pieces as well as softer pieces and is a joy to listen to (my personal favorites are “Someday My Prince Will Come” and the medley that Sen and Kaoru do).
Another impressive thing about Sakamichi no Apollon production value wise is its animation style. I think that it is absolutely beautiful. The character movements are really fluid, some of the backgrounds are just gorgeous, and this show actually animates every single time a character plays an instrument. For a show about music, you may be thinking that this isn’t such a strange thing, but what it actually is something that should be commended for being so well done. The only other show with music in it that doesn’t always have stills when the characters are playing is Nodame Cantabile, but even then it isn’t very pretty to look at. Sakamichi animates its musicians and their movements beautifully and correctly. One other thing that I would like to give this show credit for is its character designs. You definitely won’t see any one in this show running around with multi-colored hair that sticks up in impossible directions or girls with huge jugs or any useless and annoying fan-service at all. I really liked everyone’s designs and though that they really fit who that person was-even after eight years, I think the hairstyles told a lot about the person. Honestly, one of the things that I’ll miss the most about this show is the animation which was just so gosh darn nice.
While Samkamichi did have some really nice production values, it really shines through when it comes to its characters. There are three main characters: Kaoru, Ritsuko or Ri-chan, and Sentarou or Sen. Kaoru has moved around due to his father’s job for the longest time and, as a result, has become a bit of a loner of sorts. Well, this all changes when he meets the infamous Sentarou. Sentarou is a guy who is a little bit of the typical tough guy, but he is actually a lot more than that. As a character, I found Sen way more interesting than Kaoru. He’s a guy with an incredibly big heart when it comes to his family and those he cares about, but he is deathly of causing them pain I think partly because of how he reacted to his father’s indifference and generally uncaring attitude toward him as a child. Sen is also a surprisingly religious person and that was something that I admired him for because, even though I’m a Catholic too, I can only wish to have the same kind of connection and faith he does in his religion. Although these two don’t seem like they would mix very well, they actually do have a great chemistry together. While they do have their moments where they aren’t the best of friends due to some misunderstanding or difference in their background, they always manage to make up typically through music. Music is the thing that they really connect through and that’s why I said early that, after watching them perform, I think jazz is a type of music that is very emotionally connected. As for Ri-chan she was Ri-chan. She is the really caring person she appears to be and is the type of person that tends to avoid conflict, although she does end up creating quite a bit. However, that’s not to say that she didn’t have her own interesting characteristics. All three were portrayed extremely well and each had great moments of development and growth. Together, all three make a pretty interesting combination of personalities which leads to a lot of the drama that pops up. Whenever Kaoru isn’t being angry or upset in some way with Sen, he was busy pining for Ri-chan. Okay, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the romance that Kaoru kept trying to flame between himself and Ri-chan, while addressed early on did not really reach a definitive conclusion until the last episode where I think they both kind of saw that it would never work out without Sen there which shows just how much of an influence and presence Sen had over both Ri-chan and Kaoru. The only reason I bring up this romance is because it was a pretty big part of the show and a ton of angst was created because of clashing interests. The romances, in general, in this show never really came to fruition which, despite the romantic inside of me, I think fits the whole theme of growing up and how life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
As for the side cast, Sakamichi no Apollon had a pretty interesting one. The side characters weren’t bland at all and were as interesting to watch sometimes as the main cast. In particular, I really liked Yurika and Junichi. They were both characters that actually had quite a bit of development for just being side characters. Yurika was the refined and mature rich girl who ends up falling for the mature but not so rich Junichi. Even though I know others would digress, I thought that they’re relationship, while plagued with trouble, had a wholly satisfying ending that I haven’t seen in a while. Yes it was reckless, yes it was irresponsible, yes is was probably highly unrealistic, but I thought the way it ended up was touching. I mean if you’re going to live for something and risk everything on it, it might as well be love.
As for the story in general, it was pretty much one that was about friendship and growing up. All of the characters learn that life isn’t fun all the time and that sometimes it can be pretty horrible, but at the same time they learn how fun it can be and how to value the relationships they form with others and each other. All of the main characters, despite their differences, had a really strong bond and when one member disappeared, they all kind of broke down and, while I think that is really kind of sad, I also think that it shows just how fragile a relationship between people can be. But at the same time, there is a strength that can withstand the test of time and allow them to have the same chemistry that they did way back when. While I am not normally a fan of time skips, I think that it was a really good decision to make for the ending because it showed a lot of characters fulfilling their dreams or being in a place in their life where they are content or satisfied in some way. My favorite part about the time skip, though, was that it showed that Kaoru and Sen could go back to those times in high school without any major problems. It really showed that, despite being apart for eight years, their bond was still the same.
One last thing I would like to mention is that I really the show’s use of the time period. While, there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on it, it still had a large presence in the series. Other than jazz, the time period explored things like post war friction between Japan and countries like America, religion, and the communist movement. Though these things weren’t really focused upon, I still found it refreshing to see the time period used as an influence rather than just an old backdrop.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Sakamichi no Apollon. I thought it was a really well done show with a refreshing cast and a lot of great music. I would definitely recommend this show to anyone who is looking for a change up from the regular high school dramas so often shown today, or anyone looking for a good show in general.
Overall Score: 9/10