The seventh episode of Sakamichi no Apollon presented enough evidence to materialize a subtle theme during the concert at the end. No, it was not the latter musical performance, the one composed of equal parts outstanding, phenomenal, and influential, but the former one, the performance that proves that high schoolers have always had a terrible taste in music. Upon learning that Seiji’s motivations to becoming a rock icon are grounded in his belief that it is a means to support his impoverished family, the ever-present but habitually disregarded theme of delusion revealed itself again and stronger than ever before. While delusion is an unremarkable subject in anime, especially considering that Apollon deals with high schoolers, it is worth noting it’s ubiquitous throughout the main cast and to virtually every character in the series. Though common and simple on its own, the sheer amount of delusion in this anime adds up to make it a rather noticeable theme. But what, if any, does this really mean for Sakamichi no Apollon?
But before we can even attempt at drawing meaning from the delusions, disillusionment, and misunderstandings of Apollon, we need to see wide variety and uses of it in the anime and how it relates to every character. This episode pushed Seiji’s delusion to the forefront, explaining to his band members that his ultimate goal through this project was to attain enough stardom and finances to support his struggling family. Of course lesser motives exist given the flamboyant nature to Seiji’s personality, so it’s not like this is the only reason for his actions but that reason is the one that’s most important to him. What immediately registered with me after learning this was how wrong Seiji was in his pursuit for assisting his family. For one, their needs are immediate and the profits from widespread musical success are distant even in the remote chance he makes it big. And in the impossible chance that it should happen, his family will have grown and their financial situation could be different or siblings may have graduated school and found jobs on their own to support each other by then. What his family needs is money now and prancing around on stage and drawing girl’s attention is a not the same as working as a construction assistant or store clerk or something that would provide the necessary support now. Working is nowhere near as fun as standing on a stage before a crowd and becoming drunk with the blend of noise, lights, and euphoria, but it is not what Seiji should be doing if he wishes to help his family. After sorting through those thoughts, I recalled similar impressions of some of the other characters, too, and their highly questionable actions. And the first to come to mind was Kaoru.
While no one suffers from delusions of grandeur as much as Seiji, Kaoru often toys around with fanciful ideas in his head and has been known to act without proper thinking. Perhaps the most obvious case of delusion was when he took his best attempt at ruining his stable relationship with Ritsuko by kissing her unprovoked. I want to believe Kaoru knew nothing good would come from such an action but the fact that he did such a thing leads us to feel as though nothing bad would result from it. What actually resulted was some of the hardest and most strenuous days of Kaoru’s life as he had to live with himself after doing something so foolish. More recently and perhaps fresher in our memories was how the previous episode ended with Kaoru throwing a tantrum and becoming overly emotional at the sight of Sentarou mingling with other men. The delusion here stemmed from the fact that he believed Sentarou was abandoning him after the strain in their relationship but this was the product of misunderstandings and refusing to listening to others. And unlike Seiji’s disillusionment which have had no real effects on the character or story, Kaoru’s issues have been a prevailing force in the series. Without these actions or beliefs or thoughts, Apollon would be an entirely different anime.
Delusions are also not limited to how a character feels about various subjects or events but how other characters perceive and interpret each other. Perhaps the best disillusionment in the series is actually Jun’s character who is held in the highest regard by Sentarou, Ritsuko, and Yurika despite him being overwhelmed by problems and becoming a drunken mess. Though his image has diminished, Jun is still revered and honored by the cast of Apollon, and the reactions to Sentarou clobbering Jun show his regard has yet to drop significantly. Even more telling are the fact that Yurika still harbors feelings for Jun despite him being a different man than the one who dazzled the sailor’s bar many moons ago. The way everyone treats Jun like it was at the peak of his popularity despite being nothing like that now shows a fallacy or mistake on the part of the cast for not recognizing the change in Jun’s character and helping him deal with the problems he simply is no match for. Rather than do what needs to be done to help their friend, they continue to admire Jun as some untouchable or saintly figure who is beyond their reach. What needs to happen is someone needs to correct the misconception of Jun and help him in his current state.
Beyond this noticeable or clearly evident examples of disillusion are some lesser examples that also hold some weight in the story. Among the other examples we witnessed in this episode were Sentarou’s reasoning for helping Seiji was to help him with his dream, Shigetora’s misunderstanding of Sentarou’s character despite knowing that Kaoru and Ritsuko were best buds with him, and Jun’s condensing attitude toward Sentarou and the other students. Delusion and its related concepts have always been a problem for the characters of Sakamichi no Apollon and has had multiple significant effects on the series to date, but is there a deeper meaning to it than just the superficial results we see? There are a few ideas on the subject of delusion that match some of the themes of Apollon but there are no obvious correlations.
With the setting pinned during an era known for growth, liberalization, expansion, and change, Japan in the 1960s is an optimal timeframe to highlight delusion given the prosperity and energy the nation held. And with success and happiness, delusion closely follows and can blind those from negative trends that can prove to be the downfall after a period of supreme pleasure and development. This strikes as the having the most meaning but without any direct indication to either the prosperity or delusion in Apollon, this is nothing more than a delusion of my own. Another obvious one is that the cast of Apollon are still kids and that their understanding of the world and the others around them are still lacking. Unable to wrap their minds around every aspect of their lives and the world around them, they substitute the unknown with positives or negatives that proceed to dictate their actions or emotions and lead to a continuation of this theme. However, with so many anime involving teenagers and showing these traits, it means there is little individual meaning to Apollon in this theme and that it’s there simply due to human nature. And as always, other ideas on this theme exist but aren’t in my mind at the moment and likely even more farfetched than the two listed above. With that said, it doesn’t appear that delusion holds much weight in the meaning of Apollon but it does possess a commanding force in directing the anime and the characters we’ve come to appreciate and enjoy.
Now I can’t ignore the latter musical performance in this episode, the magnificent display where Kaoru and Sentarou mesmerized the audience with a spontaneous jam session that spliced My Favorite Things from the Sound of Music with Art Blakey’s Moanin’. But what captivated me during the concert was actually how well the animation matched the music, not in terms of equating and translating the emotions but in terms of timing with the music when it showed the instruments being played. Animators can’t be lazy with the drums which require perfect timing and a wide range of motions to match the music, so watching Sentarou absolutely dominate the drums impressed me given the requirements for animation and music. Kaoru’s piano also requires a hefty amount of skill, too, perhaps more than the drums given the number of keys being played and the variation of pitch and tone each key is paired with. However, the motions do not nearly cover the same amount of distance as with the drums, so I favored Sentarou’s part more, but had it been Kaoru alone on the piano, I would’ve saved this final paragraph just for him and his performance. I can only hope to see more of these performances as the anime continues since this, undoubtedly, became my favorite moment in this anime and perhaps the entire anime season.
#1 by ojisan on May 27, 2012 - 4:40 PM
It’s a great post – adding some background to it, “My Fabvourite Things is more than a good “Sound of Music” song, it’s one of John Coltrane’s signature numbers, and Kaoru does a great variation on it foir piano. As seen earlier in the show, Coltrane had died that day- so it’s both a tribute to Coltrane and also a reconciliation-themed song for Kaoru, about the things and people you treasure.
#2 by avvesione on May 27, 2012 - 8:57 PM
Thank you so very much. What you said suddenly makes everything make a WHOLE lot more sense. I figured since Ritsuko said she never saw the Sound of Music and that Kaoru learned that song for her. He then played it the way it sounded in the movie. But now that you mention it was a hallmark of Coltrane, whom I remember was mentioned earlier in the episode as having just passed, it makes more sense that he’d play that then as tribute. Ritsuko also said the song sounded much different meaning it was the jazz version (has the soul/emotion to it) that gave it that melody and the response of the crowd. Also add in the fact that Sentarou knew the drums for that song when Kaoru was learning the movie version for Ritsuko which he shouldn’t have known about. But since he learned about Coltrane’s death, it made more sense on his part, too. It all makes sense now, so thank you for clarifying that song selection for me. I appreciate it!
#3 by ojisan on May 28, 2012 - 1:37 PM
You’re so welcome! I totally choked up at that scene, both as the best the show’s given us so far, and because I’m a big Coltrane fan and the old man saying “I’m in mourning” really struck me. The show takes its period-exactness seriously, and it’s made by people who love jazz & know it, not just those who use jazz to add flavour & coolness to a storyline.
So if Kaoru knows Coltrane’s version, it’s because the old man at the shop has been educating him, I imagine.
There’s something beautiful too in how Coltrane played saxophone, and had a brilliant pianist (and a great drummer too) in his best recording of “My Favourite things” – and in the anime, the pianist & drummer play a tribute but with no saxophone in the middle – he’s gone.
I’d forgotten about Ritsuko mentioning The Sound of Music earlier, though – I guess that’s why they showed a quick shot of her & Kaoru looking out of the window of their classroom together?
#4 by avvesione on May 28, 2012 - 1:53 PM
Yeah, those flashbacks with Ritsuko are what pushed me toward thinking it was about The Sound of Music rather than Coltrane but it only explained her side of the concert and not anything about Kaoru or Sentarou. You mentioning that it was originally a Coltrane song really fills out the rest of that scene and just makes it even more emotional and influential.
Also, thanks for those extra bits of information on Coltrane. It just shows go show the level of depth and detail in this anime is phenomenal.