Fans of the original Nodame Cantabile, don’t start squealing yet. Actually, let’s just pretend the sequel never happened. As one wades through this eleven-episode piece of thick blancmange, it will feel like meeting an old friend, only to behold that friend very much changed.
The show brings its share of giggles -- but only if you're paying attention. Compared to the snappy, energetic hilarity of the original series, Paris unfolds into a mélange of slow, drowsy filler, torpid characters, and charmless bursts of narrative. Despite promising beginnings, the plot quickly retards into a tempo largo, inviting questions like, “Why am I still watching this?" or "What happened to the good old school days?” Somehow, studying at a music conservatory just doesn't look exciting anymore. Moreover, Nodame and Chiaki’s relationship mutates into a weird pseudo-romance, complete with kisses, fights, and insecurities, yet emotionally offering nothing.
Not only is the requisite charm lacking, but the story itself buzzes along like an aimless shoujo, lacking any dramatic moments. In the original Nodame, concerts are euphoric climaxes, and romantic moments cute teases of things to come; in Paris, events resemble the impersonal ticking on an electronic metronome. Let’s face it: even a hardcore classical music enthusiast like me isn’t going to be too excited about the inner facets of Chiaki’s conducting career. It’s as if some soft pedal is filtering out intrigue and padding the whole thing with an inexplicable dullness. Quelle horreur.
The art in Nodame Cantabile is strange enough to begin with, but it's pulled off well. In Paris, however, the light, faded colors only heighten the show’s sense of dryness. I do applaud J.C.Staff’s efforts on recreating the ornate architecture of the Old World; while sometimes appearing cheap, it casts a completely different atmosphere from the original Japanese setting. Unfortunately for me, the exotic locale wasn’t enough to appease my longing of once again seeing those crowded telephone lines and whitewashed walls of tranquil suburban Tokyo.
Paris’s portrayal of instruments and use of CGI animation remain, alongside Piano no Mori, the best among classical music anime. Still, I am disappointed with a noticeable lack of effects compared to the prequel. Before, lightning would electrify Beethoven's violin sonatas; flowers and blended colors would enrich Debussy's L'Isle Joyeuse; heck, even mongeese costumes would spice up Rhapsody in Blue. Now, orchestra is orchestra, and piano is piano: Classical music becomes plain old classical music. As Beethoven once said, "Putsch, putsch!". Much of those aesthetics from the bygone days appear to have been abandoned for the sake of perhaps a more realistic, yet also more forgettable, concert performance.
The musical selections derive from a lesser known, yet very agreeable, corner of the classical music library and aptly focuses on the compositions of the French greats. Unfortunately, the show chooses to only skim over these works. They are drained of deserved value, and in the end, one could forget what these selections were even called, let alone what they sounded like. The musical standouts of Paris happen to be the opening and closing themes – clever pop-renditions of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto and Ravel’s Bolero.
Paris soft-pedals the voice acting as well. Ayako Kawasumi and Tomokazu Seki perform incredibly as Nodame and Chiaki in the original version, but perhaps the change of scenery gets to them in Europe and makes them think it's vacation time. Excepting a few moments of brilliance, their voices do nothing more than reflect the aftereffects of a sleepy storyline. They aren’t the only ones. Voice acting for the other characters is done decently, but with not nearly the verve of what I was expecting.
Apparently the characters, along with everything else about the show, have been suffering a sort of perpetual jetlag. Chiaki finally starts paying attention to Nodame, and with their relationship’s neat lead-up back in Japan, one would expect an explosion of quirky, entertaining romance in "La Ville d'Amour.” Instead, we receive a heaping plate of mood swings, missed long-distance calls, and mundane conversations. Both Chiaki and Nodame mature and settle, which is understandable, but it takes a huge toll on their likability as characters. While they retain their superficial qualities, they seem to have relinquished the extremes of their personalities, transforming them from zany, multifaceted lovers-haters to mildly boring versions of their previous selves.
The supporting cast fades from both importance and memory, as most enjoy one or two brief scenes of glory before melting into the oblivion from whence they came. This is excepting the Russian student Tanya and the oboist Kuroki, whose own romantic side story presents the best of Paris’s character development. The screen time on Nodame and Chiaki tires so easily that I literally sat up straighter when Tanya and Kuroki emerged to rouse me back to a waking state.
Few streaks of cleverness aside, the show, in the end, proves to only be a studio faux pas. Perhaps if Nodame Cantabile didn't reach such Bach-like proportions, Paris might have escaped its predecessor's shadow. If you listen to classical music, and if you are curious about musical study in France, this eleven-episode series could still be worth the watch, but no doubt we'll be looking towards the final season to make up for this disappointment.
Chiaki and Nodame have both made it to Paris in pursuit of their futures as musicians. Chiaki begins his training as a world-class conductor and, in typical fashion, is quite successful; yet on the other hand, Nodame struggles as she starts to seriously learn about music for the first time. However, even though the two have worked tirelessly to meet the demands of their newfound musical lives, their relationship continues to progress slowly and frustratingly. Can Nodame and Chiaki balance both their new careers, and each other?
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When I first stumbled upon the anime scene, I demanded only slice-of-life high school romance and Naruto (Weird combination!). I've opened up a little bit since then, but I suppose the high school shoujo type will always be my "comfort zone."