Sakamichi no Apollon – Episode 2

Sakamichi no Apollon Episode 2 - Kids on the Slope - Anime Review Analysis Episodic MAPPA, Shinichiro Watanabe

Continuing right where we left off with Sakamichi. Sorry for the gap between this post and the last, I was busy at an anime convention, there’ll be more regular updates on this series analysis going forwards!

A Warm Welcome

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After waking up from that feverish dream with tears in his eyes, the first thing Kaoru confronts in this new household is the grand piano, the reason why he’s here. Well, it’s not strictly the true reason why he’s here, and as he contemplates, the giant piano pushes him to the edge of the frame.
Walking down the elegant stairway, a girl with an unfamiliar accent, but her familiar tone way of addressing him implies that this must be the daughter of the relatives he has moved in with. She begs him to play the unused piano, though it’s not like she’s actually curious about Kaoru’s playing, she’s bored and wants to see some use out of this prominent and unused piece of furniture in their household…

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Her smirk and general playfulness with the piano, as if its some kind of toy, is at odds with Kaoru’s closed eyes as he gently plays, reminiscing about his dad while he plays, shutting out everything around him. That is, until he’s interrupted by his aunt. As he’s about to point out that his cousin asked him to, Mariko herself quickly cuts him off with a disinterested sigh tone “See, this is why I told you not to”.

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So, not only is Kaoru stuck in an environment that’s somewhat hostile to his musical inclinations, but he’s formed a bad first impression with his aunt already. He is chastised for “putting the blame on others”. And then she goes on to lament the absentee father that raised him, and the mother that left him, poking unrestrainedly at sensitive feelings.
All to which Kaoru cannot respond to, his kind and polite demeanour accepting the words with only a slight grimace.

A Clumsy and Awkward Crush

While doing chores at school, Ritsuko and Kaoru get the chance to chat. While Ritsuko expresses joy at the fact that Sentaro has found a friend finally, because everyone else was scared of him, Kaoru is taken aback, clearly not reading their interactions at the level of friendship. Smiling widely, she expresses her hope that he and Sentaro can become buddies in future, but all that’s on Kaoru’s mind is Mukae-san herself, who he’s clearly flustered around. We know Kaoru has had very little positive interaction with his peers, let alone the female ones up to this point, so he’s unused to this.

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Unsure how to react, also notice he’s casually taken his glasses off again. Trying to show the “pretty face” Mukae-san had complimented him for earlier.
Upon hearing that Mukae-san and Sentaro have been childhood friends, he first mutters that that must have been why they had been using each others first names. She’s quick on the uptake though, offering that “Nishimi-san” too can call her by “Ritsuko”.

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Safe to say, he’s clearly smitten with her at this point, and his derpy faces betray a slew of expressions he had always kept under wraps, or rather, never was prompted to reveal.
Just a small cut, but we see that one of the older boys who was teasing Kaoru earlier stare over at the two of them talking, and crack his neck. Ominous.

Switching the topic to that of music, Kaoru asks if Ritsuko knows any record shops around town. You’ve seen this show, you know that Ritsuko’s family runs one, and that Sentarou hangs out there – fast forward.

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Imagination on fire, Kaoru steamily ponders “Things are moving way too fast, is this how Kyushu girls usually behave?” 
Anyway,the point is, Kaoru has a big fat crush on Ritsuko and he’s now found a place he wants to be, and something he’s pursuing and seeking out himself. Now to the record shop, in which we have another key turning point I’ll be focusing on.

Moanin’

So, Kaoru’s dragged down into the store’s basement area. In his flustered state all he knows is that it’s a place that’s scary and foreign, a place that he maybe shouldn’t be. Ritsuko’s father warns “Outsiders aren’t allowed in there”.

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But Ritsuko is quick to become familiar and get carried away, notice the body language.
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So, the complete silence and lack of ambiance is emphasised here, and as Kaoru walks down the stairs, each footstep reverbs strongly.
His hesitation quickly forgotten upon spying the piano, Kaoru rushes over to it. The crash of the cymbal catches him off-guard, like an alarm bell.

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Ritsuko jumps in to tell Sentaro “the news” that Kaoru can play piano. Though Sentaro already knows this and is unimpressed, the prescribed “stuffed shirt” nature of classical music boring him – “Jazz is the only music for me”
He then launches into a frenzied drum performance, and it sure is intense. The camera frames his entire body’s movement before zooming in upon the crash of a cymbal, a beat of the base drum, and the flicker of his drumsticks. It’s an impressive sequence, with detailed instruments and deft, realistic motions that really sell Sentaro’s experience and skill with the drums.

(It’s also a real technical feet, which I believe was achieved with animating on one’s with the assistance of rotoscoping a real drummer, to achieve this silky smooth animation)

What stood out to me the most though, is at the very beginning, how Kaoru flinches at the surprising loudness of the first clash of the drums, and proceeds to half-cover his ears initially. I have been through that exact same moment when I visited a friend’s house and I watched him play the drums in-front of me “Wow, they’re actually that loud” was the thought going through mine and Kaoru’s head.

Ritsuko then wants Kaoru to play the piano, but “only jazz is allowed in here!” Sentaro exclaims, then attempts to play the only tune he knows on piano, albeit amateurishly with only one hand (his left).

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Kaoru can’t bear to hear it, now he’s inspired to show off his musical talents, throwing aside his meek body language.
But still, Sentaro is not impressed:

“Wrong, that ain’t even close!”

“What are you talking about!? I played it exactly right!”

“There wasn’t any swing!”

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Ritsuko jumps on the opportunity of their disagreement, proposing that Kaoru and Sentaro play a session together. Sentaro is skeptical, saying that Kaoru doesn’t understand jazz, but Kaoru defiantly says that learning so will “be a cinch”, and he leaves the store, “Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers” Moanin’ record in hand, to the surprise of Ritsuko’s father.

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The Musical Itch

The next day at school, walking under the rainy weather with an umbrella, a montage shows Kaoru throughout the day, bobbing his umbrella up and down, tapping rhythmically on his desk during class, walking in a jaunty step, much to the confusion and amusement of Ritsuko.

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Sentaro sprints past them with a fleeting acknowledgement. Kaoru looks on in aghast as he realises – “You’re running down this slope that I hate so much like it’s nothing” 
The spark has hit, the slope that summed up his dissatisfaction and oppression of being relegated to this village is forgotten, as Kaoru listens to Moanin’ and drinks it in, transcribing the notes by ear, taking every opportunity his aunt is out to practice it on the grand piano.

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The new challenge of mastering how to reproduce the jazzy feel and incorporate it into his own playing as a new form of expression… well it’s literally the reflection of his changed attitude towards life he “borrowed” from Sentaro last episode.
The hurried sequence that follows, the rinse and repetition of Kaoru running up and down the stairs, playing the record, making notes, and dodgy practical attempts on the piano shows us his proactive side, the idea motivating him through his frustration is being able to show up Sentaro and impress Ritsuko.

Sentaro notices that he’s taking this seriously as he sees Kaoru playing with his fingers on the desk, but only acknowledges it silently, but only the faintest trace of a smile. On the other hand, Kaoru is so caught up in this zeitgeist that he’s completely stopped caring about how he looks to others, his anxiety and self-consciousness all but forgotten. But that’s going to come back to bite him…

Thunder and Lightning

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The bullies from before take this opportunity as Kaoru rushes home by himself, to take him aside and “knock him down a peg”. (Ritsuko sees this and rushes to call Sentaro)
While the boys don’t do anything physical (though they do intimidate him with it), their main intent is to humiliate Kaoru, tying him to a statue infront of the shrine, and pantsing him on a path by which many people will walk past.

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Sentaro’s having none of it. No-one is allowed to tease Bon but himself!
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And while the rough scuffle is similarly accompanied by upbeat jazz like it was in the first episode, Ritsuko comes in to free Kaoru, though she’s a bit embarrassed.  
Ritsuko tells him to run off like the scaredy cat he is, but in this ashamed state where “Ricchan literally caught me with my pants down”, he hands his glasses to her, and rushes clumsily into the fray himself! Aiding Sentaro (mostly via distraction) when the boys had played dirty with sand and pinned him to the ground.

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Appropriately, the drums are replaced by an almost comical-sounding piano track and Sentaro roars with laughter, rejoining the fray. Also, look at this sequence, which is quite literally a reference to Benny Hill, I kid you not.
After the bullies run away, defeated. Sentaro’s brief recognition is communicated to Kaoru through only the line “Are your… fingers okay?”. 

The Live Session

Back at the record shop, Ritsuko’s father seems undisturbed by the fact they were just in a fight, it’s a regular thing apparently. What he does say is that somebody’s waiting for Sentaro downstairs.

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“Jun-nii?” – Sentaro’s face lights up, and the awkwardness between the two is forgotten as he excitedly pulls Kaoru downstairs with him, so eager to introduce Kaoru to this important person. They Friends Now.
Clearly this Jun-nii’s arrival is quite remarkable, as he’s studying at University in Tokyo, it’s not often he comes home. Ritsuko’s usually stoic father is stirred too, asking Ritsuko to mind the shop so he can stay downstairs “just one tune”.

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What this mystical event is, is actually a jazz session. The routine as they set up seems overeager and hurried, as the three musicians are itching to play with another.
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They look comfortable, at peace, with each other. The implication that they get a lot of satisfaction and release out of this is evident. It’s similar to how Kaoru played to try and cope with the absence of his father… but warmer, happier, healthier?
Sentaro beckons Kaoru to join in, but he’s reluctant, almost scared to join in and ruin the magical musical moment they’re having. Sentaro has other thoughts “Just make some noise, that’s all!”

Kaoru’s initial entry into the musical dialogue surprises the other two, but they change to accommodate him, while still jittery, Sentaro’s line here is easily applicable to Kaoru’s social skills as well “Don’t sweat the details, just jump in!”

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Banging on the keys without a specific goal in mind brings Kaoru great joy, as Jun and Ritsuko’s father give him encouraging smiles, always happy to share this experience with somebody else.
The shop is embraced by the freeflowing jazz, presumably for hours, as Ritsuko smiles to herself inside the store even after it has closed…

Closing Message

Hey everyone! Hope you’re enjoying these posts, as with last time I want to know your thoughts on Sakamichi too (avoid spoilers please!), and if you’re going to be watching along with me, tell me what you found really interesting about it so far!

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See you next time!
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One thought on “Sakamichi no Apollon – Episode 2

  1. This has still got to be one of my favourite episodes of the entire series – the scene in the second half especially where Kaoru is running up and down the stairs, replaying the record over and over again and attempting almost feverishly to replicate the same sound and feel on the piano, really worked for me. That feeling of urgency felt particularly well done and returned during several other of my favourite scenes throughout the show as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

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