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.