For those expecting something akin to Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, look for a different concert program. And before I stop using these weird music metaphors, let me say that Nodame Cantabile: Finale should more aptly be titled Nodame Cantabile: The Movement That Never Resolves Its Leading Tone. Or perhaps The Movement That Never Ends With a Perfect Authentic Cadence. Or even better, The Movement That Ends Up Only Being a Cadenza. (<It's awesome, but unsatisfying by itself.)
(I would apologize for the jargon, but I’m figuring that anyone who has gone through the first two movements of the Nodame Cantabile Symphony and plans on continuing to the third probably knows what I’m talking about anyway.)
Okay, I do apologize. But for those music lovers who’ve not had their musical appreciation sullied by the calculations of over-analytical theory teachers (like me), this final season may seem a bit like the mumbo-jumbo I’ve written up above. Think of Nodame Cantabile: “Finale” as an extension of Paris. The story picks up without a hitch where the previous installment left off, takes on a slightly episodic feel, lacks strong thematic material, and contains a lot of the dialogue suddenly tailored for music majors. It avoids the jargon, but I still get the feeling that many of the viewers who started loving classical music in the first season would be scratching their heads over a language they suddenly cannot understand.
In many ways, it makes sense. Playtime is over for our beloved couple – particularly for Nodame. Music becomes serious business; it’s not something she can just feel anymore. For people who can relate to her situation (like me), the show blossoms with maturity. But for people like my anthropology-major friend, the music doesn’t exalt like it used to, and the meandering plotline is unable to make up for it. Perhaps my assertion is unfounded (after all, I can’t really understand from a non-musician perspective). I still have to say, though, that much of the magic from the original Nodame Cantabile, while sparking a couple times, never unfurled again in its fully glory.
Hope is not lost, however! While Finale’s story lacked the type of intrigue that makes one devour every episode in one sitting, its sentiment and integrity are immensely rewarding, especially for me personally, who at the time had been undergoing a lot of the same struggles and transformations as the titular heroine. One can feel the urgency, the drive, the ambition. On the surface it looks like the story hasn’t really changed, but the charge makes a heartwarming return. (Not to mention that the humor makes a comeback too, albeit in a subtler way).
Bottom line: Finale would have been a fine work, if only it wasn’t the last.
If the unique animation style of Nodame has bothered you in the past, don’t expect a dramatic change. However, the effects are stunning: Ranging from profuse sparkles to ethereal dream sequences to vivid strokes of color, they heighten the comedy and enliven the music to boot. I always used to cringe whenever the original installment panned over certain performing scenes with still frames, but this season’s broader use of CGI, while a bit obvious, gives the orchestral concerts much more visual appeal.
A thing you can always count on with the Nodame franchise is its outstanding opening and closing themes, and Finale has outdone itself with two impossibly catchy tunes and some nicely done choreography. In addition, its soundtrack (apart from the classical music selection) reprises a few upbeat ditties from the original season and mixes them in with the evocative, sultry sounds of Paris. Revolving around the piano, the classical music selection features those areas of the standard repertoire in which French musicians particularly excel: Ravel, Chopin, and Bach. This season is truly a pianist’s season, and while the variety of the classical music library is compromised, the show focuses on each piece with a little more care.
Excepting moments of brilliance by Ayako Kawasumi's Nodame, the voice actors never get their verve back, but they do their jobs sufficiently. Their performances are naturally forgettable when placed next to the brilliance of the Ravel Piano Concerto or the complexity of a Beethoven sonata. I’m not one to judge, but the seiyuu probably didn’t understand half of what they were saying.
Ooh. This section is a bit tough. If you want a bittersweet ending where each of the main cast enjoy their moment in the spotlight and you almost cry from the fact that you won’t see them again, don’t look for it here. The Finale looks at the characters sort of how a grad student bored by the flurry of social politics would look at his own friends – they come and go, dishing out their company when they’re there, but you’re busy with your own life. This happens to Nodame, with basically everyone – with her friends in Japan and Paris, and with her beloved Chiaki. (Gasp!)
To tell you the truth, I witnessed the pinnacle of their relationship at the last episode of the first season. (I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about.) After that climactic moment, Nodame and Chiaki seem to settle down, and their riotous bickering deflates into the stilted conversations of an awkward couple. They’re only maturing, but it makes for just a less entertaining viewing. One can catch snatches of that old raucous magic here, but in general, when Nodame isn’t driving Chiaki crazy, neither of them know exactly what to do. They can only turn to their music, the thing that connects them.
As such, Nodame turns inward to herself, and her own pianistic goals. If you love to see a lot of personal development, where a struggling individual confronts difficulties, competition, and psychological problems, you will not be disappointed. Nodame is as emotionally fragile as ever, and as you root for her to succeed, she takes some mystifying turns in the road that continually keep you intrigued. Everyone else treks through their own lives. The show eventually becomes a series of snapshots, focusing primarily on Nodame but providing little glimpses into people loosely connected to her but otherwise concerned with their own problems (particularly Tanya and Rui). Chiaki flits in and out of Nodame’s life, and their relationship loses steam, turning into an unconvincing side story. Basically, this season is about personal development, not interaction. Look for one, not the other.
“When we know that there’s land on the other side of the ocean, we can’t help but to set sail.”
Nodame’s right. She’s finally decided to set sail, with her eyes on the prize. The rough waters of musical immersion may not be to everyone’s taste, but for those who want to sail with her on her journey, hop aboard!
Chiaki and Nodame are still in Paris, ready to take their music-making to the next level. Nodame especially begins to display an unprecedented motivation for the piano, but she learns that with newfound progress comes newfound obstacles. Continuing to taste both frustration and triumph, she slowly realizes that the road to pianistic stardom seems more arduous and distant now than ever before. Everything is rising to a feverish pitch -- will her maturing relationship with Chiaki help or hurt her?
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."