Humor is a storytelling device used for a variety of purposes. Some anime rely on it heavily to deliver entertainment whereas others use it as an adjunctive to lighten the mood or to alleviate tension. Placement and timing of humor can produce significant effects, too, such as modifying the direction of the story or revealing sensitive character information. Still, humor can serve no meaningful purpose as well and exist simply to generate a few laughs. Because of its numerous outcomes and generally positive influence on the scene, characters or story, humor is ubiquitous throughout anime. Sakamichi no Apollon is no exception either, and it uses it quite effectively to narrate its story as we saw in this episode.
Although Sakamichi no Apollon is not a comedy anime, elements of humor are persistent throughout. And while they do lead to some laughs and some smiles from the audience, the purpose here is not to chiefly to entertain but rather assist the story in in various ways. Perhaps the most notable was when Kaoru was reconnecting and rediscovering the mother he never knew. With a tense and uneasy atmosphere thickening around the characters in that tiny café, the mother brought up the most sensitive subject in the series with Kaoru’s unfortunate love life. After reading Kaoru clearly and realizing he’s developed beyond her distant memories, she began to laugh uncontrollably at the whole situation she was in. Though pained about the questions, Kaoru was caught off guard and caught the infectious humor and began to mimic his mother in terms of laughter.
Here, humor was used as a way to introduce a socially sensitive topic in a way that is light on the characters and somewhat amusing to the audience. Rather than continue with the heavy atmosphere of the scene, the swift question, sudden reaction, and bizarre consequence were placed here to show the distance between the characters close and a true bond form between the disconnected mother and son. And though not nearly as funny for the audience to watch, it served as a way to dispel the serious mood in the scene and show the two characters finally warm up to each other. In addition to that, it also accomplished another purpose by resolving the painful heartache that shackled Kaoru the entire episode which was another intention of fleeing to Tokyo for a while. The humor here lead to a newfound freedom for Kaoru which resulted in our protagonist returning to his preferred life and rejoining his friends in their lives, too.
Another and different example of humor in Sakamichi no Apollon is one that the audience can appreciate better in terms of involving them in the fun. After discovering the life that Jun left behind in Tokyo is not nearly as glamorous as preserved by Kaoru and Sentarou, the two are invited to a tiny gathering in the dorm for fried fish and water. Though it already sounds woefully boring, an ‘honest’ mistake by one of the residents for mistaking sake for water lead Kaoru and Sentarou to become quickly intoxicated by the available alcohol. I don’t have to explain why this scene was funny (for some) or not (for others) since you probably already know but its effect on the characters is certainly worth mentioning.
This scene placed our heroes outside their usual selves to an even greater degree than simply being tourists in Tokyo. While already strangers in a strange land and away from the eyes of friends and family, they were able to release their personalities from the bonds of social norms and behave in a way that represents their true characters more. Though the alcohol was a bit much for Sentarou and kept the lad quiet, Kaoru developed into the chatty and outgoing one and went on about his travel partner. And while the whole scene was played for laughs, a magnificent line about love and friendship capped it off and showed the value behind a primarily humorous scene in Sakamichi no Apollon.
The effect was two-fold for Kaoru. The indirect message had the more meaningful effect for the story but it would be wrong to ignore the direct message here as it served an immediate purpose. For the indirect, it was Kaoru who disregarded his friendship with Ritsuko and instead chased after her with the intention of unequal love. The intended meaning of the advice was to reinforce his friendship with Sentarou whom Kaoru was ragging on while blitzed. And though out-of-it for most of the scene, the communication was successful for Sentarou who also took a moment to reflect on the wisdom that was contributed to them by the college student. So while the humor was not the most significant aspect of the scene, it did essentially set up the most meaningful part as well as generate some laughs for the audience and especially for the characters involved.
Of course, there are other examples of humor used throughout the series too for a diverse range of purposes and that have resulted in an even broader range of outcomes. Though some of the other examples are less humorous, less substantial, or less recognizable, Sakamichi no Apollon makes sure to use its humor effectively as a means to tell its story. There are hardly any instances where the humor does not serve a greater or grander purpose. Instead, the humor here is just another method of delivering the story to us, just as it is for almost every other anime out there.
Jun always seemed like the best character in Sakamichi no Apollon. For the guys, he was a positive role model, an excellent jazz musician, and accomplished student. For the girls, his personality and appearance made him tremendously attractive and his compassionate and thoughtful personality allowed for him to be approachable and comforting. The way he was idolized by the jazz circle made sense in their eyes but the us, he seemed just a little too good. Turns out, even Jun has some flaws, too. While in the boarding house, it was rumored that Jun fled Tokyo to Kyushu due to some conflict with a faction within the city and that he is currently in hiding. Depending on the severity and the faction, this point might come to play a major role later in the story given his position with the cast and the effect it would have on said characters. I had always assumed his fault would be that he’d return to Tokyo and leave the whole romantic scene in tangles but that might actually come to be. Something happening to Jun while in Kyushu certainly leaves room for a wider range of results, including revealing him to be a different man that he appears to be or perhaps even the victim of a violent crime. Whatever the result, something will happen to Jun eventually that will affect everyone else in the story and that could potentially shift the series in a completely unknown and unwelcome direction.