Sakamichi no Apollon – 1

Kaoru and Sentaro both have well-defined public images.  The fellow students of their school have created generalized profiles for both these young men, one being a wealthy and nerdy transfer student from “the city” and the other an unruly deviant who generates an aura of intimidation simply by being present (I’ll let you guess who’s who here).  But because everyone develops a profile for everyone around them, Kaoru and Sentaro both have individualized profiles of each other.  And they are wildly different than the images the school, and even society, have for our two main characters.

Let’s begin by skipping the already apparent images society has assigned for Kaoru and Sentaro since those are among the most obvious developments this episode.  (If you need further proof, you already know that the wealthy nerd who transferred in is Sentaro and the overpowering brute is Ritsuko… …Ha!) But this is a good starting point since that image is the first one Kaoru created for Sentaro.  Through the third-person, Kaoru learned that Sentaro was a delinquent with no objections toward bullying, fighting, or being a free-spirit.  Without any reason to not believe the general population of his classmates, the image stuck and that’s who Sentaro became for Kaoru.  In fact, it defined him so well that when they first met in the stairwell above before the roof, that Kaoru failed to recognize that the person in front of him was the man he should be afraid of.

Dissimilar to Kaoru, Sentaro’s first image of Kaoru was also an inaccurate one.  Anticipating someone specific, a character we have yet to know or identify,  Sentaro reached out and grabbed Kaoru’s hand.  The image was immediately trashed when Sentaro realized his mistake and presumed to make another one, identifying Kaoru as the thief who stole the key to the school rooftop.  When the true thieves showed up, Sentaro then realized Kaoru was simply a weakling who wanted access to the rooftop, finally an accurate descriptor of Kaoru.  Likewise, Kaoru began to form a more accurate impression of Sentaro, too, a man who has no fear and fights for what he desires.  And though neither character knew who each other was at that time, they began to develop proper images for each other.

It wasn’t even more than a scene later when they both realized who the other was and the overriding public images that are tagged to “transfer student” and “delinquent” override the images the two characters created for each other at the top of the stairwell.  It is quite amazing how quickly their images for each other were replaced by these identifiers and this step took their friendship back a step.  However, the outgoing Sentaro forced his way into Kaoru’s plans and teased him by simply following the boy around the school.  While Kaoru saw Sentaro now as an annoyance rather than anyone to fear, Sentaro saw Kaoru as an interesting character and began to bond with the transfer student in a positive way, perhaps even as a friend.

But whatever image Sentaro formed for Kaoru, he wasn’t ‘friend’ enough to enter the basement of Ritsuko’s record shop where his hidden persona, a jazz-loving drummer, thrives.  Though the two knew of each other’s music preferences and respective instruments, it wasn’t until the basement scene where these values were given significance and application to the story and these characters.  With this scene, the images for both characters evolved for each other to include their respective love for music and the conflict they see in each other’s own passions.  There was a subtle growth in their friendship here, a new connection being born where the two finally shared something in common with each other.  After appearing to be more distant than anyone else in the series, the two main characters now know of each other’s passion in music and are beginning to form their friendship.  And to make this connection possible, the images of each other needed to change from “transfer student” and “delinquent” to accurate representations of who these characters really are.

Though character images and profiles are nothing distinctive to Sakamichi no Apollon and actually present in every anime, it is refreshing to see how these ideas evolved throughout the episode.  Kaoru and Sentaro are bound to have conflict between each other for their total difference in personality and mentality but they shed the stereotypes that society tagged them with and have begun to learn their true selves rather than their labels.  The use of images in the story, likewise, is also quite fantastic.  What began as a means to prevent the two characters from coming together was completely ignored by Kaoru and Sentaro meeting without knowing who the other was and assigning that profile to the person they met in the stairwell.  Had Kaoru and Sentaro been formally introduced to each other as the “transfer kid” and the “deviant”, then there’d be no reason for the two to ever meet, talk, and get to know each other since they are virtually opposites in the school’s constructed society.  However, because they met each other without these labels, they were able to create their own personal images of each other which allowed the two to bond without any concerns.  Though the use of images in this episode was slight and easily overlooked, it was a tool that the anime used to bring these opposites together.  And while the images each character has for each other will continue to change and grow throughout the anime, the growth and development will not match that shown in this episode.  Not only that but any growth in the series will be based off that seen in this first episode.  From here on out, the images Kaoru and Sentaro have for each other will continue to influence their friendship with each other and may reach further and affect that of their friends, classmates, fellow citizens, and, who knows, maybe even music itself!

From what I can understand, Kaoru is assumed to be a rich kid, one of the reasons why Sentaro gave him a nickname.  And from the looks of the home he lives in, one can assume that he’s well off.  But after the interactions from the girl and woman, he’s living with his aunt and cousin.  Kaoru’s father is a sailor which explains why he constantly moves from school to school but it doesn’t sound like he’s as affluent and prosperous as everyone seems to make him out to be.  The house his lives in isn’t his families and it doesn’t sound like his family has much money either.  I am a bit curious to learn where the rumor started or why Kaoru does not simply deny it but it did strike me as odd, especially after his aunt berated Kaoru’s mother and father before him for playing a beautiful song on the piano in the morning.  Talk about uncalled for.  Also, that bit with the family at home seemed weak since the personalities of the cousin and aunt were a bit much, especially for a scene where we’re supposed to see Kaoru disconnected from his new family.  I realize I’m rambling here by continuing on this point but I must say I’d rather have seen the cousin come in the room after he started the piano and ignored him and the aunt telling him to be quiet and leaving him alone after that.  Personally, I’d rather see that but I do believe we’re supposed to identify the family as a terrible one and learn about Kaoru’s mother.  But, learning about the mother abandoning (?) the family and father leaving on a ship does help reiterate my point that Kaoru doesn’t seem to be wealthy but is assumed so by his classmates.

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  1. #1 by Joojoobees on April 13, 2012 - 2:46 AM

    The aunt really pissed me off. He was playing very gentle tranquil music that should have been a bother to no one. After that one experience, I would be looking for a way to stay out of the house as much as possible — that or end up punching her.

    • #2 by avvesione on April 13, 2012 - 6:55 AM

      Yeah, I guess I forgot to mention that Kaoru’s new family sucks, not only in how phony they acted but for how they treated him also. I guess I was stuck up on how they seemed to act rather than what they did and what they did was completely wrong. I can’t blame Kaoru for hating his situation, especially since he seems to have such fond memories of his father, too, who is now out on the sea. I’m curious to see what Sentaro will do to his aunt and cousin once they become better friends. Maybe he’ll punch her for you!

      • #3 by Joojoobees on April 13, 2012 - 2:16 PM

        Hah ha! That would be sweet, but I don’t think it will happen that way. It looks like the cousin is in the OP (I could be wrong), so maybe Sen starts dating her.

        • #4 by avvesione on April 13, 2012 - 3:45 PM

          Speaking about Sen dating someone, I do wonder who he thought he reached out to grab when Kaoru pulled the sheets off him in the stairwell. I thought at first he meant it was the thugs who stole the key but when writing this post, I rewatched it and corrected myself. Whoever it is, they have a serious connection already but that person is still unknown. Doesn’t seem to be Ritsuko either since they are friends and have no romantic feelings between each other evident from the basement scene. So whoever it is, they’re obviously important to the story and probably the 4th main character (the girl from the OP who might also be the cousin). If they are the same, then you have a better eye than I do to these things.

        • #5 by Joojoobees on April 13, 2012 - 4:13 PM

          Also the scene in the nurse’s office makes it apparent Ri-ko and Sen are just friends.

        • #6 by avvesione on April 13, 2012 - 4:24 PM

          Yeah, forgot about that but that’s probably a better example than the basement scene.

          I hope we see how they got to know each other, too, since that’ll could also be why Sentaro is into jazz or something. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

  2. #7 by Zammael on April 13, 2012 - 9:55 AM

    What a great first episode, and you correctly perceived the reason behind the strange bond between Sentaro and Kaoru: a lack of pigeon-holing stereotype predetermined their first meeting.

    I did peek at the manga, upon someone’s recommendation, and found it to be solid. Part of me wondered what period this story was – post-war? 60s-70s? The cars seem to imply the 80s, but I’m not that familiar with Japanese culture to distinguish between post-war and the more recent decades.

    With a deep lineup in Apollon, Space Bros, Fate/Zero S2, and Jormungand, it looks like Spring will easily make the sketchy Winter season a forgotten memory.

    • #8 by avvesione on April 13, 2012 - 12:54 PM

      The anime is set in 1966 is the sleepy sea-side town in Kyushu (my original idea for my first post was on the setting but moving that back to a later episode) when American culture began to flourish throughout Japan and it’s economy began to experience a huge boom (probably not seen as much out here in a rural town).

      Glad you enjoyed my post on image and were able to understand it. I thought some areas were a bit awkward when writing and the subject might’ve been confusing and not expressed in the right way, but I guess I worried over nothing.

      And it sounds like you have a busy season ahead of you, too, with a number of outstanding anime. I still haven’t watched all the ones I wanted to since the beginning of the season but I should be getting around to that sometime this weekend.

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