Director: Shinichiro Watanabe
Writer (of original manga): Yuki Kodama
Animation Studio: MAPPA & Tezuka Productions
A little while ago I came across an article listing the top 20 most genuine romance anime according to a poll from some website or other. It had a lot of the shows you might expect, such as Clannad, Toradora, the first season of Sword Art Online and the like, but it was also lacking some very deserving titles. Golden Time was one of the series I would have voted for, and though I hadn’t watched it at the time Sakamichi no Apollon would have also made my list. It’s down to earth, simple and well made for the most part, with endearing and believable characters that easily kept me entertained during each sitting. While the ending is unfortunately rushed, Sakamichi no Apollon is an easy recommendation to make for anyone interested in the romance genre.
Kaoru Nishimi has been forced to move in with his relatives while his father is out to sea. He’s used to moving, though, and doesn’t expect his new home to offer anything different from the norm. When he runs into the class delinquent, Sentarou Kawabuchi, however, his expectations are shattered. Over the next year Kaoru comes out of his shell as he discovers a love for jazz music along with his new friend, as he falls in love, and as he faces the trials and tribulations of teenage life and relationships. Whether the future holds joy or the same loneliness he knew as a younger child, he will never forget the time he spends with Sentarou.
You may or may not know that Sakamichi no Apollon’s MAL entry doesn’t feature a Boy’s Love tag (or equivalent). Why, then, does the summary only feature male names? While straight romance is one major feature of the show it’s the relationship between the two friends mentioned that forms the backbone of the plot. It’s great fun to see how the two very different personalities interact, clash and influence each other over time. While BL subtext does feature from time to time, it’s unobtrusive enough that it shouldn’t make you uncomfortable if it’s not your thing, while still being present to be enjoyed if it is. I found myself regularly laughing at some of the more obvious hat-tips in that direction.
Sakamichi no Apollon fits together really well. It doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting, but both the fun experienced by the characters and the tension between them at times are transmitted through the screen wonderfully, making it difficult to get bored while watching. Love triangles and various other shapes do show up but overall the whole romantic ordeal portrayed by the series is less sensationalised than most which means it’s a great deal more relatable that what you may be used to and may even appeal to viewers who don’t usually enjoy the genre.
Unfortunately I can’t stick to only making positive comments, as Sakamichi no Apollon falls down in a couple of different areas. The ending compresses and misses out a lot of information from the original manga with a massive “Eight Years Later” time skip that leaves a fair few plot threads waving in the wind without a solid conclusion (which therefore limits the closure afforded to the show’s audience). The epilogue makes for an incredibly disappointing cop-out in which those threads are all mostly ignored and everyone shows up for cameos and a happily ever after conclusion that wasn’t particularly satisfying. Looking up what had been missed made me feel even worse about the ending we were given, though I’m forced to admit there wasn’t enough material for another season either. On a more personal note, one of the relationships portrayed struck all the wrong notes with me and felt like more of a tacked-on aside compared to the others. However, I’m fully willing to admit that other viewers may not have the same problem.
The show’s art isn’t spectacular on its own but fits the show well. It complements the 1960s setting and despite a lack of fluidity in some scenes it ended up boasting some of the best animation of musicians I’ve seen to date (especially considering some of the questionable computer generated stuff we’ve seen in other recent series). While I’m not expert on jazz the featured music was certainly enjoyable and added to the experience. I’ve seen another reviewer complain that there wasn’t enough jazz, and the official synopsis certainly suggests there would be more, but it showed up often enough for me.
Summary – Sakamichi no Apollon is a straightforward and fun romance anime that fits the word “genuine” more than most others I’ve seen. The conclusion can only be described as botched, failing to grant the satisfaction one might have expected, but that doesn’t stop the show from being a great watch. Each episode was grandly entertaining and the events portrayed are backed up by both some very fitting art and enjoyable jazz music. The Geek Clinic happily recommends Sakamichi no Apollon.
Score: 8.5/10 – Good