The recently-maligned noitaminA timeslot seems to be back on track. Their new shows are just the sort of things we expect of them: intelligence, eccentricity.
Sakamichi no Apollon stars Kaoru, a smart rich kid who’s moved too much and is completely miserable for understandable reasons. Another new town means the same thing to him, more idiots and bullies at school and at home a father who’s never around. Worse yet …
Interesting that while Sentaro pushes Kaoru around a lot, he never really bullies him. In fact, he helps Kaoru out at his own expense getting a roof key from senior goons. And for some reason class rep, old friend of Sentaro and official go-between Ritsuko likes the idea of the two becoming friends. As she says, Kaoru acts naturally around him, not like a victim. The two boys will have none of it. Not even when it becomes known that they’re both interested in music, albeit different types, when Ritsuko invites Kaoru to see her father’s record shop–and the basement.
So the show will be about bonding between class and culture through jazz, which we knew going in. Some of it works well. Sentaro is an interesting character, a bit of a thug, but with a playful side, and passions that Kaoru can at the moment only admire. We get nice little moments, such as when Ritsuko complements Kaoru on his looks and Sentaro begins to fidget for attention behind them. On the other hand, nothing much in Kaoru stands out yet, and his transformation to jazz-lover moves a bit quickly. Not that he’s wearing a beret or anything by the end of the episode, but his sudden strutting while walking down the street didn’t feel right. And Ritsuko isn’t given much to do so far. Still, this looks like the type of noitaminA show they used to do, meaning there’s little else running now like it.
Tsuritama is another kind of show noitaminA used to do, and it too features a high school boy who’s transferred too many times settling in a new place and finding his soul, but the similarities end there. Sakamichi no Apollon is grounded in reality and has a gritty, slightly dirty feel and a look that feels dulled by age. Tsuritama is fantastical, modern-day, and is bursting with colors and imagination. After we’re told an Enoshima legend and meet a young man who seems to be communicating with fish, while other sea metaphors swim by, I got a Kuragehime vibe (Clara!), but even that show has a realistic core. In Tsuritama we know Haru is the alien he claims to be because fish seems to do his bidding and a triangle sometimes turns slowly around his head. I also got an Azumanga vibe, since some but not all of the music is played by the same group. Since I consider Azumanga to be one of the greatest anime things ever, this, too, is a good thing.
Yuki, the hero, is not troubled by the dull masses but by crippling anxiety which causes him to make a frightening face and imagine himself drowning in the ocean. But he’s otherwise alert, delighted by his new sea resort surroundings and his grandma/guardian, Keito (She’s not bad either, taking whatever comes her way with a smile). He’s even eager to start his new school even though it means getting on a train full of strangers and introducing himself to his new class, where the waves of anxiety crash down on him, almost literally.
So imagine what happens after his nervous intro when Haru ambles in (it’s his first day too), tells the class he’s an alien, and singles out Yuki as his new BFF. Then imagine if he had a squirt gun which … well, I’m not sure what it does, but when Yuki’s hit by it he winds up somewhere else more fun, or doing something more fun. I need one of those squirt guns–to use on myself. As the story hops weirdly along they wind up in a fishing gear store where they meet a classmate, the grumpy fishing expert Natsuki, and are observed by a dangerous man. You can tell he’s dangerous because he has minions, wears a suit, a turban, and talks to a duck named Paprika (tequila!).
How things will go from here it’s impossible to tell. Apart from getting Yuki to relax there’s no story going on here. Fishing isn’t a dramatic activity. But if they keep throwing us beautiful images and eccentric characters, who cares? This is the most fun I’ve had watching an episode in a while. In fact, after I watched it rather than writing this I realized it was a beautiful day outside, so I went for a walk. I hope the future episodes can have even half that effect on me.