What can I say? While I had an idea of what the show would be like, nothing could have prepared me for the unabashed glory of sights and sounds lovingly rendered in the first episode. What makes this show amazing, you might ask? Here’s a couple of my thoughts:
The animation quality:
The opening montage entreats us with a shot of Kaoru trudging up the hill to school. If this were any other anime, you’d probably get a close-up shot as to avoid having to render more than the minimal amount, while simultaneously advancing the point that Kaoru is “alone”. However this anime does things different. Every single background character is animated, be it walking or talking to one-another. Seriously, something like this is only ever seen in movies. If that’s not impressive enough, it seems that nothing was spared in the sheer fluidity of presentation. Every single scene with Sentarou tapping out beats is fluid. None of that jerking, repeatedly rehashed frames stuff here.
While the swooping camera angles in the fight scene are interesting, what immediately struck me was the frequent use of shallow depth of field to shift focus during scenes. Here’s an example:
It’s a bit subtle, but it’s these little details that make this anime great. Techniques like this give anime depth, and contribute to scenes feeling like they’re truly tangible, as opposed to boring flatness.
If there’s one thing to nitpick, it’d be the all-too-frequent zoom-into-Kaoru’s-face (with varying stages of shock, disappointment, apprehensiveness, etc). I could’ve sworn that in some close-ups, they were reusing the same frame, with different backgrounds. The fight-scene, which Beowulf already mentioned, is impressive as well. There’s none of the typical facial distortions and overdone fighting (as typical in shounen), and you can clearly see spittle fly with every punch to Sentarou’s face.
This piece is the focus of the episode. The little piano segment with Kaoru and Sentarou playing the intro seems to be the extent of actual music played, other than bits and pieces of jazzy-sounding background music. I’ll assume that Yoko Kanno’s influence will be significantly more apparent in later episodes, when they actually start playing music (as a group?).
Here’s the OP and ED. They’re both excellent, so give them a listen!
Contrary to what Beowulf says, I don’t think Kaoru’s a pussy. It’s more likely a combination of low self-esteem and stage-freight. Some people’s minds just blank when they’re the center of attention. It’s pretty common. Kaoru’s innate response is just feeling bile rise and waves of nausea, alongside the requisite shakes. He also doesn’t behave like the typical “beta” MC found usually in shounen and lower-quality shows. He seems to be more “sullen” and withdrawn than “I don’t want to deal with life/I don’t have any balls”. His shyness towards Ritsuko is easily understandable. In the context of the first episode, only 2-3 days have passed. He’s hardly going to be revealing his innermost secrets to a girl he hardly knows, regardless of how good looking and nice she is.
In addition, I’ve yet to peruse the raws (since manga scanlations have only reached chapter 10, out of 8 volumes in Japan thus far), but I don’t think that this anime will trend towards heavy drama. I’m more tempted to think that this anime will try to showcase the deep friendship and affection that these three feel towards one another, as the story progresses. It’s entirely possible that the story will have a significant amount of Sentarou hijinks, alongside Kaoru’s “opening-up” towards the rest of his class. Hopefully, I’ll have more of an idea on this topic after stumbling through the raws.
One other thing that bothered me a bit though, were the timeline differences between the manga and the anime adaptation. While it’s a given that there will be differences from the source material, it was more than a bit jarring to see the plot rearranged like so in the first episode. Little details such as the reason for Kaoru’s visit to the record shop are completely omitted in favor of “I want to buy some classical piano music”. His original reason was that he broke his record, which seems like a better reason to visit the music store. In the world of today, I’m sure the internet is a better way to find new music than flipping through records and choosing through artist/cover alone.
Another example is the prelude to the fight scene on the roof. In the manga, when Kaoru first encounters Sentarou, Kaoru stands up to him, but ends up walking away (since someone had stolen the key to the roof from him). Thus, Kaoru has to deal with his nausea somewhere else, which logically ends up being the washroom, whereupon he huddles in a stall. There, he discovers the seniors, who have stolen the key from Sentarou. The fight scene then occurs when the seniors go up to the roof for a smoke. However, the anime takes a bit of a shortened route,with the seniors coming up (with the key) just as Kaoru confronts Sentarou. I guess they were short on time?
These differences aren’t major, but they’re still strange. I suppose sacrifices have to be made in order to streamline the narrative.
On a closing note, I do believe that the characters have been cast perfectly. Yuuka Nanri of The Place Promised in Our Early Days‘s Sayuri Sawatari and Nao Yuuki fame is amazing in her role as Mukae Ritsuko. Her voice is just …perfect. Sentarou and Kaoru are well-cast as well.
However, I do have to agree with Beo on one thing. I will be eagerly anticipating next week’s episode, and not even the allure of other shows will be able to temper my excitement.