Consider the setting of Sakamichi no Apollon. Even on its surface, it is distinctive compared to most of the other anime airing, residing in an unusual time period and in an uncommon location (Kyushu, rather than say Tokyo or its suburbs). But that alone has a trivial effect on what makes this anime exceptional; the story and characters could feasibly be transplanted to any number of eras or localities in Japan and retain most, if not all, of its qualities. No, the paramount characteristic of the setting that elevates Sakamichi no Apllon above the rest is not its unique time or place but rather how realistic the setting is portrayed and utilized. This authenticity and accuracy of the real world bleeds throughout Sakamichi no Apollon and is responsible for how remarkable the setting of this anime is.
Present-day Tokyo or its urban and suburban equivalents have become the prevalent setting in current or recent anime. Though there are slight variations and modifications between every setting, it is the dominant choice for modern anime. Due to the sheer volume of anime airing each season, there are always several that branch out from this norm and depict a setting unlike the rest. For fans of varying settings and styles, it’s enough to make us jovial but it often does little to impact the story or the characters: the setting is often arbitrary in these stories and they could easily revert to present-day Tokyo or something else without altering the anime too much. Even Sakamichi no Apollon falls victim to this test given its basic perimeters. However, it is not this distinctive trait that allows for the setting to have as powerful an influence though the unique time and place seem like the obvious choices. Rather, it’s something rooted deeper within the setting.
For Sakamichi no Apollon, what makes its setting down-right outstanding is how realistic it is. It would be impossible to change this characteristic of the setting without having a significant and negative impact on the anime. Going back to the previous example, the slight variations employed by anime on the present-day Tokyo standard often is substantial enough to differentiate itself from the rest of its kind. Among the most common are spicing up the setting with elements of fantasy or science fiction, such as giving the characters superhuman abilities during fights or incorporating giant robots or aliens into the story. These adjustments are often required for the anime to tell its story and, as a consequence, remove some of the realism in the setting. Even for comedy anime that have no such elements of either can have the realism is undermined, often seen in physical humor or characters who are way too wacky or strange to be believable. Sakamichi no Apollon has no such complications. Given the stringent restrictions, it’s often rare to find an anime where every character in its cast is plausible and there are no elements of fantasy or science fiction that would weaken its illustration of the real world. Altering this unique characteristic of the setting would have drastic and detrimental effects for the anime.
So what is it about this realism that is so essential to Sakamichi no Apollon? To begin, the realism allows for each character’s personal problems to feel more authentic and their solutions to be just as such. In anime with less realistic settings, there are often components of the environment or era that are affecting the characters and that play a role in solving their problems. The cast of Sakamichi no Apollon have no such advantage, no hope of magic or robots or alternative dimensions will lend a hand in dealing with their problems. The fact that we see these characters deal with these problems, think them over, and act on them gives the anime a genuine feel to it and this appeals to the audience. The characters deal with the problems like how we deal with the problems (though the world we live in has an impressive assortment of technologies and strategies to solve them compared to rural Japan in the mid-1960s). It is this realism in the setting that allows us to connect more effectively with the cast and understand their issues and though-processes to the point where we can relate to their challenges and experiences.
Though Sakamichi no Apollon has a distinguishing setting by taking place in a sleepy seaside port in Kyushu during the surging economic growth that revitalized post-war Japan, the strength of the setting and its influence in the anime lies deeper in how is represents itself. By being as realistic as possible and ignoring elements from other genres, Sakamichi no Apollon is able to strengthen its story, its characters, its themes, and its message and generate a lasting and impressionable effect on the audience. Without such devotion to a genuine world, the anime would become less authentic and the story and characters might worsen as a result. This, the realism of Sakamichi no Apollon, is the most significant and persuasive aspect of the setting in this anime and a crucial reason why the anime receives the admiration and acclaim it does.
Though I always like the final part of my episodic posts to cover a topic different than what was covered in the main part, I’m going to continue on the realism of Sakamichi no Apollon but through another angle. The art plays an important and necessary role in keeping the anime grounded in realism, too, given its style, animation, and use of visual effects. The art style gives the characters all the clothing that is typical of Japan in the 60s, ranging from the style the kids wear when their out on the town (Yurika and Ritsuko were an optimal example of that on the date in episode 3) to the brief-style bloomers the girls wore during gym class. The level and prevalence of detail in the art, too, also assists in the realism of this anime by constantly giving us thorough and comprehensive shots and environments. Because of this, we never feel shortchanged when it comes to the details in this anime. The animation, too, has a function in enhancing the realism of this anime by giving everyone lifelike motions and kinetics rather than becoming sloppy or lazy and leaving it up to our imagination. Really, the setting is not the only component of what makes Sakamichi no Apollon realistic but a variety of factors working in combination with each other. Beyond the setting and art, the story, characters, and even sound all play roles in creating an anime with a realistic backdrop as what we are currently watching. I believe it is one of the most significant and influential aspects of this anime and I wanted to flesh out the topic to see what I could learn about it or what others thought or realized about this characteristic. And, knowing about this subject now, it will be fascinating to see how the realism of this anime plays out for the remainder of the anime, whether it continues to be a dominant aspect to the series or if the anime will ever deviate from its path and incorporate new storytelling elements to complete its story.