As anime fans, and human beings first and foremost, we live in a harsh world full of uncertainties and more tangible threats raring to chomp us into minuscule shreds with powerful jaws and pointy teeth. It’s difficult to look at the world without having one’s heart fill with doubt over whether we even have a future. Even the most basic aspects of what makes us human, love and fear, have been whittled down to little more than chemistry. If somebody wakes up in the morning, walks out the door, and has everything happen the way that they expect, they’re simply not human.
However, even keeping all that in mind, there are two fundamental facts about the world that we can always count on to keep everything in perspective. One is that people die when they are killed, and the other is that if you air a period piece with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack, it’s inevitably going to sell like gold-flecked hotcakes fried by extremely skilled Parisian whores drenched in syrup—both the Parisian whores and the hotcakes. With most anime viewers salivating over Sakamichi no Apollon for just this reason, it’s a given that I have to at least provide my input on the first episode.
The fact that it’s a period piece with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack, directed by Shinichiro Watanabe no less, should say all that needs to be said about the sheer level of hype that had to be met. Thankfully, and not at all surprisingly, Sakamichi no Apollon lives up to this with a combination of snappy dialogue and an interesting twist on the “apathetic and socially awkward boy moves to rural town in 1966 where he takes up jazz” formula.
Despite this, there’s very little actual jazz played by the characters; only a few makeshift drum solos, an actual one, and some piano. Most of the episode is spent following our lead Kaoru as he adjusts to his new life, a situation that’s entirely alien to him. He’s immediately recognizable and sympathetic as somebody who doesn’t cope well with the move, and as a result is forced to keep himself withdrawn whenever possible. Once he meets Sentarou, the class delinquent with a bad reputation and stellar drumming skills that steals the show, his life begins to take a turn toward the jazzy side of things and his waning interest in the piano picks up again. It’s a refreshing way to begin the series and one that left me clamoring for more once the credits started to roll.
About my only complaint with the episode, and what I hope won’t extend to the series as a whole, is with the potential romance sideplot. It’s shown fairly early on that Ritsuko, the girl charged with showing Kaoru around, has taken an interest in him that may not just be platonic. She makes several awkward passes at him, all met with confusion. While she’s shown herself to be a more important character than this, it’s an ill-placed little plot development that does little to advance what the show’s really about. It’s a pretty big flaw in the otherwise great setup, but as long as it’s not handled too badly it shouldn’t impact the actual enjoyment very much.
There’s nothing much else to say, really. I loved it, and I think anybody with an open mind that gives it a fair enough shot will too.