Sakamichi no Apollon – Episode 1

Sakamichi no Apollon Episode 1 - Kids on the Slope - Anime Review Analysis Episodic MAPPA, Shinichiro Watanabe

Hello Readers it’s been a while, oh look it’s a new writing project. Hiatus is over.

The heavy ambient noise of the rain fades out for the non-diegetic drumming, an impromptu chase begins, Sentarou’s laugh along with the upbeat music make for a humorous display.

My High School Debut Was Wrong As Expected

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Sakamichi no Apollon’s first episode kicks off with an oppressive atmosphere, all desaturated colours and unnerving low-pitch string music. What’s interesting to note though, is that the show keeps to ambient sound for the most part, only using music to heighten specifically chosen scenes.

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The sudden cuts to this rhythmic drumming of sticks feel like a countdown of some sorts.
It’s a fitting tone to portray Kaoru’s transfer to this school and his apprehension of the unfamiliar people around him. In fact, I’d go as far as to compare the Kaoru we see in these initials scenes to Oregairu’s Hachiman.

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Right down from his projected disinterest of others to his inner monologue that characterises the students around him as “without a thought in their heads”, Kaoru’s general impression of the people around him is that they want to make him throw up.
However, that’s not just figure of speech, Kaoru’s anxiety is palpable enough to incite a sickly nausea that threatens to make him vomit, as we’ll see later. Before that though, it’s impressive how these opening scenes keep themselves so darkly lit while still emphasising the sun’s dominant presence in each shot. The sun and the heat aren’t the real things inciting Kaoru’s malaise — we heard his thoughts earlier, lamenting having as the heat glares down on him — these overbearing factors mean two things to him: the steep slope is the new school he must attend, and the weather is his new locale, Kyushu, unfamiliar to this “rich city boy”.

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Kaoru’s obvious city origins put him at immediate odds with his peers, who appear to have shunned him from minute one. Interesting that Kaoru’s inability to relate to these new people also manifests in his difficulty understanding their accent. (Visuals: the introduction scene uses shots at angles that de-emphasise the muttering voices of the students around him, making them a faceless entity.)
The Colour Bleeds In

The show does really shortcut itself straight into the abrasion of this environment, with direct-to-face teasing and bullying off the bat, which stretch believability. In general, the exaggerated demeanour of the surrounding students is sketched out in broad strokes, perhaps in service of getting directly to what the show’s more interested in, via Kaoru’s introduction to the other main characters. Speaking of other main characters, here’s Ritsuko.

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As if on queue, directly after this, we get another shot of the drumming sticks, most importantly though, this time they snap, punctuating this moment as a very important one to these three characters.
The piercing stares of those around him in addition to the flagrant gesture of a baseball “accidentally” being thrown directly at his head put Kaoru into a nauseous daze, so he hastily excuses himself from Ritsuko’s school tour and rushes for the roof, holding himself back from throwing up then and there. As he runs up the stairs, his inner monologue hastens, flashing back to the many times his frequent school transfers have gone poorly.

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The unnerving music hastens and intensifies all the way through his desperate flight. The tension is enhanced with jaunty angles and extreme close-ups.
The music is instantly replaced with something more gentle, calming almost, as Kaoru lifts the blanket off the student barring the way to his safety on the roof. And we see the sun’s rays imbue warm light and colour into the show for the first time:

Sentarou, eyes sleepily shut, assumes Ritsuko has come to wake him up, and reaches up to grasp Kaoru’s hand. A moment which is held for a long moment before the calming music is immediately cut as the two snap back to their senses.

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For once the light is “supporting” Kaoru, rather than dominating him.
So apparently some third-year bullies have hogged the roof key for themselves, and Sentarou’s first impression of Kaoru changes immediately upon seeing him zealously stand up to them and demand it back. Sentarou spontaneously decides that he’s going to help, and as the jazz track segues in, he enters the glaring sunlight of the roof to fight them for it.

Suddenly everything starts moving, as the turbulent battle unfolds, the chaotic jazz track roars to accompany this frenetic and rowdy brawl. Which mostly consists of Sentarou getting himself beaten up until the older students get fed up, though having been able to grab the roof key in the midst of things makes this a victory for him!

Lowering The Shield

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Later on in the day. The infamous student that the classmate sitting next to Kaoru had told him about earlier of course turns out to be Sentarou. As he moves his desk directly behind “Bon”, as if to select “a new target”, rumours loudly circle the classroom, the stress of the day overflows and Kaoru grabs the key from Sentarou to run to the roof yet again.

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However, Kaoru’s grim moment is immediately dispelled by Sentarou’s comical and thunderous entrance into the frame, as he announces that “he wants to come too”, despite the heavy rain. As the two boys silently stand beneath their umbrellas on the rooftop, Sentarou tries to ask why Bon has come up here, “it ain’t no fun”. Kaoru, avoiding the question, starts to walk away from him, growing irritated as Sentarou continues to follow him.

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The heavy ambient noise of the rain fades out for the non-diegetic drumming as an impromptu chase begins, Sentarou’s laugh along with the upbeat music make for a humorous display.
Discarding his umbrella, Sentarou encourages Bon to do the same, to loosen up a little, cutting right past his dissent, Sentarou snatches Bon’s umbrella and throws it from the roof – “What are you so scared of?”. The heavy rain becomes a torrential downpour.

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The freely floating umbrella is Kaoru’s newfound liberty as he discards all his fear and anxiety. However, what makes this moment so effective is that it we didn’t see this directly after the aforementioned scene on the rooftop. 
What happened, was a cut forward to the soaked boys and a disapproving Ritsuko, who sends them both to the nurse’s office to dry off with towels. There’s some idle chatter here that I’ll bring up when its relevant later on. The scene ends with Kaoru, in response to Sentarou calling him a ‘fraidy cat infront of Ritsuko, exclaiming that “he’s not scared!”, as he reminisces back on the moment.

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Cutting forward again after this, to the two back in the classroom, after changing into their gym clothes, with the whole class staring and whispering…
But, this time it doesn’t phase Kaoru, his anxiety isn’t flaring up – “Even with everyone staring at me, I can breathe normally. What kind of magic is this?”. The realisation hits, he’s going to toss aside his preoccupation with and distrust of the people around him, resolve to embrace the fears and stressors life will inevitably rain down upon him, and engage more sincerely with the world around him. Sentarou’s approach to life has given him a new paradigm with which to more capably cope with his fears and anxieties.

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Obviously, the changes won’t be immediate, but this is the defining moment of the episode, that will set the tone for Kaoru’s story going forward.
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We cut into a flashback, as Kaoru explains his past, of his father who taught him piano, his frequent absence as a sailor, and why he’s here now in Kyushu…
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“When I play the piano I can forget all the bad stuff and the loneliness from Dad being away” – One of the ways he coped with his fears, and being able to play filled in that empty space and allowed him to feel closer to his father.
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Waking up. His uncle’s house. The one his father suggested he move into because of the large grand piano. “But Dad… I don’t want a grand piano. What I want is…” the words drowned out by the crunching gravel as his father drives away in his truck, leaving Kaoru behind.
Closing Message

So, that was the first episode of Sakamichi no Apollon (well actually I’m lying because this is a better stopping point as the final part of the episode goes directly into the following one), I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my analysis of this episode, and please tune in for the next few weeks as I’ll be covering the subsequent episodes!

Let me know your impression of the show in the comments below (avoid spoilers please!), and if you’re going to be watching along with me, tell me what you found really interesting about episode one!

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4 thoughts on “Sakamichi no Apollon – Episode 1

  1. Ahh, I’ve been reminded how much I love this show from this analysis. Happy to see it getting some attention, think I’ll give it a rewatch and look forward to future posts on here!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I really love this show as well. Anime about music – not just featuring idols or following a bunch of characters in their a school band or whatever, but /music are few and far between, and it’s always a joy to see such very strong visual direction as this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, back when I first watched Sakamichi, it struck out to me as what a musically focused series should strive to be, and 4 years later, it still sets a high standard!

      Like

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