I’ve written about Sakamichi no Apollon all of one time before, mostly because I expected it to fall under the category of being easy to watch, but not so easy to blog. This was proven quite true, as Apollon is one of the most accessible shows of the season, worming its way into the hearts and minds of anime fans with its winning formula of frustrating teen drama and a jazzy 60’s backdrop. To put it in extremely broad terms, Apollon is good in nearly every respect, but hasn’t made much of an effort to move past that relatively low bar. It’s just so inoffensive to the sensibilities and decent in an overall sense that to find criticism past that is an exercise in frustration.
And yet people have done so, better than I ever could, by criticizing everything from the characters to the way the show tends to tack on its setting like a colorful set of tassels rather than using it to add to the plot. And now, thanks to the tedious amount of drama in this episode, something that’s been building over the past several weeks or so, I can throw my criticism hat into the ring.
The problem with the show isn’t the drama itself, which falls in line with the everything else by being competent enough to keep from getting stale, but not excelling in any particular way. Yes, it’s frustrating to see people acting like they have no concept of how social interaction works, and yes, Sentarou punches people a little too often in ways reminiscent of Nicholas Cage in a bear suit, but it’s frustrating in a good way, one that reminds you that the characters are imperfect creatures, not blobs of blandness speckled with occasional “quirks” that don’t extend past a superficial level. They’re dealing with their problems the way that anybody without life experience would– with as little tact and grace as physically possible.
If Apollon has any shortcoming, it’s that it can’t pace the different arcs worth a shit in relation to each other. So while the first few episodes had the seeds of Kaoru’s crush on Ritsuko planted, it didn’t focus on his problems by casting aside everything else in his life; it paid every character a fair bit of attention, taking care not to let anybody overwhelm the cast. And then Yurika started chasing Jun while shunning Sentarou, and things started going downhill. Again, it’s not that the drama was bad, it’s that there was so little to juxtapose it that the constant barrage of angst became wearisome to the extent that it’s almost silly. The climax of their relationship came so abruptly that the ensuing cliches weren’t as easily dismissed as they very well could have been.
The relationship between Kaoru and Ritsuko is better, finally moving past the angst of not knowing the other person’s true feelings, but it still doesn’t quite work as well as it could. It’s been thankfully cut down to more manageable chunks, but there are still problems with making it feel more organic than Styrofoam, not helped by the time skip of several months and repetitious dialogue.
It’s unfortunate that in a show where “they’re in a jazz band and they do jazz band stuff” is touted in the description, there’s very little actual jazz band stuff going on thanks to the excess of drama in the second half. The past episode was awful with this, tempting me with promises of another musical battle with the school’s resident rock band before immediately cutting out with the notice of Sentarou’s former drunkard father returning home. There’s too little breathing room between the arcs, nothing to ease the tension from one scene to the next. Yeah, this episode had the snowball fight between Kaoru and Sentarou, but it was too fleeting.
Apollon is capable of some truly excellent moments when it decides to apply itself to delivering more than one dramatic moment after another, it just hasn’t been taking advantage of it. It’s definitely not bad, since it goes to extreme lengths not to offend any sensibility, but there’s not enough variety at this point to keep my interest piqued. It’s a good show that I still enjoy, but I’ve long given up considering it on par with some of the season’s other heavy hitters.