Two more finales: Nodame, Hanamaru

Nodame Cantibile – Finale‘s, er, finale is uncertain, with things left up in the air while also trying to give us some closure for the side characters. The manga’s creator, Tomoko Ninomiya, fell victim to some physical ailments, not to mention pregnancy, and you get the feeling that later, sporadic efforts to continue the series left it rudderless. We will probably never know how she intended to finish the series. This is all we get.

Only the manga-ka knows for sure.

The biggest casualty is Nodame and Chiaki. It was assumed that they would become an official couple, well, I guess they did, but then there was the recent strain in their relationship, and the episode does little to clear that up. By the episode’s end Nodame is off doing her things, another concerto, another recital. Her career’s taking off. Chiaki is there, watching her perform at the very end, but you don’t get the sense that they’ve completely made up. She says she always thought these feelings about performing music came about through Chiaki, but she’s discovered she can do it anywhere. So now, in the very last episode of the series, where is their relationship?

Interesting that while Nodame’s career grows, Chiaki is stuck with a little-known orchestra doing gigs at onion festivals.

It’s even odder because they do get together earlier in the episode. Chiaki bursts in and announces he wants to do a concerto with her. She’s worried that she won’t be able to match her London performance. So he drags her off to his family’s villa where he has her do a duet. In a splendid nod to the beginning of the franchise they play Mozart’s sonata for two pianos, the first piece they ever played together—then Nodame jumps him. It’s a great scene, reminding us of the mutual love they have for music, while reminding both of them how the other has matured and improved. But what does it lead to? Are they now just two busy professionals who can’t find the time for each other?

We say goodbye to the side characters. Yunlong returns to China. Tanya stays in Paris and they insinuate that the relationship with Yasunori is going well. Frank and Rui are playing together. We get glimpses of the gang in Japan. In all these cases it does feel like closure. But for the two main characters this story feels supremely unfinished.

Still, it was a good series. I thought it better than the Paris Chapter. It felt more focused and looked better, especially the concert scenes. As for Nodame and Chiaki, well, I see in Wikipedia that a new installment (Nodame Cantabile – Opera Hen) is coming out. Maybe this isn’t the finale after all.

Hanamaru Kindergarten‘s finale again demonstrates what I’ve said: the stories are better when the kids are involved. For this reason, part one works better than part two. Anzu has a christmas wish dream.

All kids Anzu’s age have wild imaginations, and it’s always fun to see just how Sakura’s raising of Anzu has affected her’s. It livens up what is actually a predictable sequence. She goes out to find Tsuchida (dressing first, thank heavens), they meet up, is it destiny, etc. But lucky for us the other characters show up, too.

Grown-up Hiiragi and Koume.

And it’s a lovely touch that when she wakes up, with her friends and parents around her, she is delighted to be with them. Like anything disappointing was going to happen.

The second part combines more memories of Sakura and Tsuchida in school, and adds to that another attempt at confessing to Yamamoto. He told her not to give up on the guy she loved and go for it. Now, Sakura’s told the same thing to Anzu. Go for Tsuchida!

Later, Anzu tells Tsuchida he should do the same thing to gain Yamamoto’s affections, once again tripping up her own plans. Only Hiiragi sees the irony in this. And once again Yamamoto is too clueless to understand that he’s confessing. We’ve seen this before and we know how it would turn out. So Hanamaru’s finale is uncertain as well. If there will be another season will it play out the same stories over and over again? If so, I’m not certain I want to watch. I had a good time with this series. It was often amusing and always cute. The closing sequences were always something to look forward to. But if it’s going to be more of the same I would eventually tire of it. Twelve episodes is a good place to stop.

Cross Game 49, Nodame 10, Letter Bee 23

Cross Game 49 is indeed excruciating to watch. You may think, well, it’s a sports show, so it has to end with victory, but this series has as many letdowns as triumphs. There would be a certain beauty to it if Seishuu loses, and Kou, Aoba and Akaishi don’t realize their dream of playing in the Koshien. There’s no guarantee that they’re going to win the game, and in fact, the game doesn’t end this episode, so we have another week to wait.

While almost every scene concentrates on the game, we get some thoughts about the past. Not only Wakaba’s tragic death, but what happened last year when the two teams met, and Ryuuou won in extra innings. The slugger Mishima remembers it well. So do Kou and his team. But Wakaba is there as well, and later, when the game indeed goes into extra innings, Cross Game eases on the pressure pedal and we get a few moments of memory. Aoba remembers Kou crying. Kou takes out a batting cage token. We see the river Wakaba died in, the spot where Kou and Akaishi always train. At this point we really need to see these moments, because the game, as I said, is excruciating.

We can see the strain and wear on the Seishuu players. The uniforms get dirtier, the faces marked with grime and sweat. There are lucky hits, errors as well as great plays, strikeout after strikeout. After eleven innings both pitchers are still in there—which shouldn’t be permitted. These are still young, still-developing players. They shouldn’t be allowed to extend themselves so much and risk injury. But in the interest of drama I’ll let that pass. Besides, would you want to be the one to tell Kou he’s being relieved? The way he’s pitching?

There are little battles, some laced with irony. Azuma tells Kou that he can do anything today. Moments later a Mishima homer goes foul by centimeters. His subsequent line drive is caught by Azuma. Kou apparently homers off of Oikawa, the opposing pitcher, well, they don’t really officially say it, and the episode ends right there, but I assume from the camera angle of where the ball went that it was fair; they used a similar trick to show that Azuma’s was foul.

Through it all the players on both sides don’t lose their focus or get too optimistic. They are competitors. They know how good the other team is. They won’t let up. A moment or two of jubiliation is all they’ll permit themselves.

But he winds up stranded on third.

And the other characters? They watch and comment. Aoba and Junpei Azuma have some terrific moments as they watch. When Yuhei Azuma hits a triple, his brother is ecstatic. Aoba looks at him, enjoying his happiness. Akane and her parents watch from the hospital. There is nothing any of them can do. And neither can we. And the game isn’t over.

Next episode is the finale. How they’re going to handle the game and all the romantic angles in such a short time is anyone’s guess. It’s not like this series to cram too much into one episode.

Nodame Cantabile Finale ends next week, too. They too have a lot to cram in, like what the hell is Nodame going to do now?

This episode is all about the fallout from Nodame’s debut in London. It quickly got posted in YouTube and now music lovers the world over have seen it. Word quickly spreads to Japan and Paris, to the delight, bewilderment and consternation of the other characters. But the effort seems to have drained her of all passion. She had vanished from Paris, and now she vanishes again—to Egypt??

While people look for her, Auclair runs into Stresemann and admonishes him, but I’m not sure what his point is. Auclair says she was nearly at the point where she was living in music, and that Stresemann screwed that up. But how is getting Nodame to perform with an orchestra screwing anything up? She’s playing music, after all. Perhaps such a big scene was too much for her in her current state, and Nodame’s behavior certainly suggests he could be right, but surely wanting to hide afterwards is a normal reaction for someone new to this. She’s just recharging. Meanwhile, Chiaki can do nothing but brood on what he did wrong and wonder if he’s been dumped, romantically, and professionally.

Therapy, or something.

Nodame returns, after discovering she has fans in Egypt, and a weird moment happens. Tanya and the others start barraging her with questions, and she can’t even look them in the eye. However, kids of Chiaki’s orchestra members have come over, and seeing them she perks up and begins to play with them. Chiaki has wondered if she would have been better off in Japan, away from the stresses of professional music, or maybe this is just he way of recharging her batteries. It does leave a lot to resolve in one more episode, even if Chiaki has decided he will say yes to her proposal.

Letter Bee 23 offers one half of boredom and the other as bewilderment. Connor and Niche are captured by the mob. Lag escapes thanks to Hunt, the monstrous guy who isn’t really a monster, blah blah blah. He’s led off by Ann Graad, who feeds him a backstory I don’t fully understand, but she suggests that Gaichuu are attracted to the sealed hearts in letters, which would explain a lot. Oh, Sarah and Hunt are scam artists, but we knew that.

There’s an equally confusing talk between Connor and Hunt. Normally I would just mutter to myself, but this is the first time I can remember that Connor is good for something. He gets Hunt to talk out, and his completely useless dog turns into a superb burrower. About time those two got to do something besides be fat and lazy.

A gaichuu shows up and starts attacking. The townspeople, thinking the Bees and the government are responsible for them, prevent Lag and Connor from fighting back. So, naturally, they throw in a completely unrelated character …

What is HE doing here?

Strolling into town like Clint Eastwood, Zazie clobbers the gaichuu. While I’m glad to see him, don’t ask me what he’s doing here. Don’t ask me what the backstory is. Don’t ask me anything about this episode. It was dull and senseless with a little action at the end.

Nodame 9, Letter Bee 22

The last episode of Nodame Cantabile confused the heck out of me, until I learned on this site what the music they used at the end was. Faust! Ah! A Faustian bargain with Stresemann! Now it makes sense! However, I’m not sure what the devil has to do with the events that unfolded in ep9. The whole thing is a breakthrough for Nodame, at least professionally.

Basically, Stresemann is going to conduct her debut in London, changing the music at the last minute. Why is he doing this? Because he has enormous respect for her abilities and feels she’s getting shafted the way things were going, I guess. But at that time we had no idea how Nodame is going to respond to all this. She goes around either looking confused or overly determined, woodenly walking out on stage to perform with her face pinched up. I worried she was going to freak out.

But I only worried a little. Nodame has matured since we first met her, and is more than ready to take on the Chopin. It’s a triumph, just as Rui’s performance with Chiaki last episode was. What’s more, in what is perhaps Nodame Cantabile’s longest and best performance scene yet, she does it in her own style, both baffling and delighting the audience and orchestra members, and exhausting poor Stresemann. Well, what did he expect?

Nodame is now officially on the musical map. What will this mean?

Chiaki is there, too, admiring her performance from the audience and also thinking how it could have come to this. No one knew where Nodame went. The first part of the episode has everyone frantically calling around asking about her. Chiaki even calls Japan, and we get some cameos from some of the original series’ characters. It’s Stresemann’s business manager who fills him in (and pointedly asks him how he didn’t know–he’s supposed to be her boyfriend). This is where the sadder side of the story appears. Nodame did this without Chiaki’s help, and after the concert refuses to see him. Chiaki, already stricken by all the events, says things can’t be like they were before, and now he gets a glimpse of what the new situation might be. It’s not good for either of them. Or is it? Nodame ran right past her Paris situation and got herself a new one. In a way, that’s great. But will she and Chiaki both wind up losing because of it? Maybe this is more of a faustian bargain than I had thought … Good episode.

Letter Bee 22 is out of sync, at least the story arcs are. We continue with Mana Jones’ story. The only way to save her job is to get a recommendation from the esteemed herbologist Dr. Hoytman, but they have only seven days to get it, and Hoytmann is ten days away, round trip. Nevertheless, Gauche takes the challenge to deliver a letter to him. And so he goes, up huge mountains, violent sandstorms, violent gaichuu …

... And then it gets a little ridiculous.

And he succeeds! Hoytman gives his recommendation and he returns in even less time (the sandstorm must have been at his back this time, or maybe another tornado blew him home), Mana’s job is saved, all is well. …and there’s still half an episode to go.

So, it’s straight into the next story arc. Thunderland announces they have a lead to Gauche’s current location, a city called Honey Waters. Lag and Connor go off to investigate. There a disgruntled woman and her husband are agitating the masses.

She holds a spirit amber which Lag recognizes as belonging to Gauche. And the episode ends. Now, the Mana Jones story was pretty much a snoozefest, apart from Gauche’s improbable trek, which was just one damn thing after another. This new story looks way more interesting. We got a mystery, angry rebels, that spirit amber, and for right now, potential. Recently Letter Bee has been in the doldrums. Here’s hoping that the return of the Gauche story gives it some life.

Nodame Cantabile 7-8

Nodame Cantabile 7 pushes little plot pieces around while playing with a theme of challenges, not necessarily overcoming them, but getting prepared for the bigger ones that must follow.

For Nodame, newly motivated but still stung by Rui’s getting to do the Ravel with Chiaki (that sounds dirty), it’s a challenge that the Beethoven piece presents to her. She’s too happy at first to perform it effectively, but she takes her angst over Chiaki and begins to use it to fuel her playing—only to have her teacher start her working on some Debussy. We’ve seen her mature in this series, but she’s still easily affected by changes, good or bad. Oh, we learn that Auclair is indeed going to let her enter a concours, but she’s not to know.

Little things affect Nodame.

For Chiaki, it’s the admonishment the concert master gives him when he suspects Chiaki wants to play it safe with the Ravel concerto. Chiaki realizes that he’s right. Chiaki needs to keep pushing himself to keep growing. The same goes for Rui, who wants to play it well, but is also becoming aware of her weaknesses and what she can or cannot do with them. “You’re so grown-up,” says Chiaki. And Tanya has scooped herself off the floor and intends to join a chamber music class and stay in Paris if she can get the funding. It’s all a good life-lesson. Look for new challenges if you’re to grow.

Which makes ep8 such a strange thing to watch. I suspected what would happen at first. The concert exceeds expectations, Rui is triumphant: “She has regained her love of music and a limitless future by acknowledging who she is,” says the review, just as the show hinted at last episode. But it flabbergasts Nodame, who never expected Rui could play so freely and with so much fun (not knowing that Rui’s performance was inspired by Nodame), and falls into desperation. So much so that the next morning:

Out of the blue.

Now, this is weird, even for Nodame, but not completely out of character. She later says she doesn’t know why she said it. Chiaki, whose turn it is to be flabbergasted, treats it as a joke and leaves for Italy, regretting his reaction the minute he closes the door. Okay, so now the show has veered (rather abruptly) back into relationship-mode. That’s not too strange.

THIS is strange.

No, what’s strange is the final few minutes. Stresemann returns to see Chiaki and finds a despondent Nodame. What looks to be a scene of reassurance suddenly goes all weird on us. While Chiaki watches an opera rehearsal (opera’s a possible next challenge) we see Streseman as you see above, in one of those cabalistic circles many anime shows overuse, tempting Nodame to go over to his side. What the hell is he talking about? Is he coming on to her (well, it’s hardwired in him to come on to women)? What else is he offering? This is so out of left field that I can’t even begin to think what it might mean. And so the episode ends. As good as it it so see Streseman back it’s rather disturbing to see what comes of it.

Nodame 6, Baka to Test 8

Nodame Cantabile 6 is one of the sweeter and more focused ones, but it starts as a near-disaster for our couple. Chiaki hadn’t told Nodame that he’d be performing her beloved Ravel concerto with Rui. And though he keeps meaning to tell her, she finds out from someone else first.

The rest of the episode mostly deals with Nodame’s practice and progression, but that only happens because Chiaki has grown up a little. He’s begun to realize what her fears are, that she’s still not allowed to participate in contests and feels like a drag on him, so he does a noble thing: he cancels a trip to Italy (to work with Vieira!) and stays to help her practice.

It’s done very well, and gives us heavy doses of music history via Beethoven and Chopin to boot. She practices, they talk about the pieces, she practices, Chiaki admires her focus, and she practices some more. I’ve never seen Chiaki so full of admiration for Nodame.

Even Auclair is impressed, though he has a few things to criticize. And we wonder what his aim is. Why is he overloading her with pieces to study? Does he think her time is running out? Maybe we’ll find out. In the meantime we get a little of other characters. Tanya and Yasunori make up and he asks her to accompany him for the next concours. Tanya gets an odd little moment where she wonders why everyone else seems so obsessed. But this all happens on the sidelines. It’s Nodame working hard, with Chiaki’s help, that is the centerpiece, to the point where she concludes she must do the rest by herself.

Baka to Test to Shokanju 8 is an enjoyable enough little adventure. The ESB field has gone beserk and the control room is sealed off.

Naturally the Principal makes the idiot squad fix it, or rather, Yoshi. This is after some gags where everyone’s summoned beings appear in adult form, to the embarrassment of all. And the consequent and inevitable boob jokes. Yoshi guides his summoned being through air vents, where there are swamps, and other beings who attack him, and the show decides to riff on Evangelion for awhile.

I wonder how many shows have ripped off the Gendo pose ...

It’s mostly amusing, and there’s a sweet moment where Himeji deliberately lowers her own scores so Yoshi’s being can defeat hers (and they join each other in supplentary classes). That weird girl shows up again and messes things up. But what I really want to know is who the hell that guy is who caused the problem in the first place, by trying to break into the control room? I wonder if they’ll ever get back to it? With this show, it’s anyone’s guess. And did it ever occur to the staff that maybe they should REWARD our heroes for once? Nah.

Nodame 5, Fairy Tail 16

Nodame Cantabile 5 brings Tanya and Yun to a crisis, and drags Yasunori into it as well. It’s all because of those damn concours.

Now, I’ve participated in some artistic contests in the past, and they never made any sense to me. To perform art under the pressure of competition goes contrary to the art itself, and when a career might depend on winning one, like the ones in Nodame Cantabile, it seems especially unfair to the people who can’t compete well. And now Tanya (who performed well but wore a dress a judge didn’t like) and Yun (who can’t handle the pressure) are thinking about giving up and returning to their homelands. All Nodame and the others can do is offer sympathy and pep-talks, and to cash-strapped Tanya an offer by Yasunori to move in with him.

The reaction.

So we move from disappointment to regret to (in Tanya’s case) anger. Contrast this with Nodame, who attends the concours as a spectator and falls in love with the Ravel piano concerto. While the others are all despair-despair she’s all joy-joy, and determined to enter a concours herself. Has she forgotten that she did just that in Japan and it nearly killed her?

This is what Ravel can do to you.

Never mind. Her joy-joy turns to despair-anger when Auclair, her teacher, refuses to allow it. So now everybody’s in despair, except for Chiaki and Frank, who are support-staff this episode. Hard to see where this is going next. Nodame Cantibile doesn’t do story arcs the way some shows do. They might even abandon this bit of plot until later. But it’s sad to see these folks in such a condition, even Tanya, whom I disliked when she first appeared.

Fairy Tail‘s story arcs don’t nudge ahead like Nodame Cantabile’s, they just plow forward, and I have to say this particular arc has been plowing forward for too long. How many episodes ago did we first saw Deliora frozen in ice? And the arc isn’t even over yet. But at least …

Finally ...

The trouble with this arc is they overdo the Gray/Leon backstory. We’ve pretty much figured out what their motivations are, and of course they have to duke it out one more time, but they spend so much time making speeches that the fight never picks up a head of steam. What’s more, they agree not to use magic, making it less like an epic battle with tons of explosions and more like Gatti/Ward, both of them punching the shit out of each other, except Gatti/Ward’s fights were far more exciting.

We know, we know! Shut up and fight!

None of the other regulars are used very well. Lucy and Erza are fighting robed people in the forest and by the episode’s end they’re still there, though they might get some important information. Natsu stops Gray from sacrificing his life but then runs off chasing that little guy to no real effect. At least Leon’s been defeated, and Deliora’s been released. NOW maybe the story can get a move on, two episodes too late …

Nodame 4, Letterbee 17

Nodame Cantabile 4, first thing, takes care of the Chiaki lying to Nodame business.

The wild Nodame, in her lair, waits for the prey to approach ...

To my surprise, Chiaki is contrite. He explains it all truthfully, begs forgiveness, takes a little abuse from Nodame (who’s too surprised at his behavior to get too mad), and all is mostly forgiven. Then the next morning she turns the tables on him again by innocently making him jealous. But, again, all is mostly forgiven. But the whole thing makes me worry and yet doesn’t. Because of their busy and separate schedules they are seeing little of each other. On the other hand, it’s obvious that their love and trust of each other has grown enough to overcome this.

And so the camera moves away to Tanya and her trials. She apparently did not do well at the last concours and seems to be drifting. What’s more, her possible boyfriend Kuroki has been helping out a cute Japanese student named Rima. Her plan to marry someone in Paris now further in doubt, she’s has nowhere to go.

Undercutting this is the fact that Kuroki doesn’t really want to help Rima, and Rima is actually a lost lamb, like Ruroko was at one time, and intimidated by the talent of the others around her. It’s a splendid way to humanize the entire situation. When Rima fails her entrance exam Tanya isn’t sure if she should be delighted or sympathetic. Probably a little of both.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Chiaki shows up in later episodes, since he’ll be jetting (does he jet?) from Paris to Italy all the time. The second half of the show didn’t have him at all, except for a phone call. It might feel a little weird. There’s still Nodame to carry on, but a show with less Chiaki is something I’d rather not see.

Every Nodame post needs a concert pic in it.

I’ve seen episode 17 of Letter Bee before. Was it an OVA? A Preview episode? I can’t remember and it doesn’t matter. It’s still a nice episode. Lag is to deliver a package from Director Largo to some odd place, and their guide is a flea-bitten thing called Darwin.

But, as usual, there are more things going on here. Turns out Darwin was a dingo for the late Elena Blanc, and this was Largo’s plan to get Darwin to go to her grave rather than hanging out on the bridge for years and years waiting for her to come back. Oh, there’s some mystery about pendants which don’t add up to much, and a sidelight where Niche is jealous because Lag is following Darwin …

And every Letter Bee post needs an angry Niche pic.

But really it’s all about a girl and her dog, er, raccoon … whatever he is. Although half-dead, Darwin sees Lag in he same light he saw his beloved Elena, leading to some heroics when a gaichuu nearly kills Lag (the same fate Elena suffered), and a final rest at Elena’s grave. Lag and Niche make up a fresh one for him beside her’s.

But I don’t quite follow. I know Darwin isn’t supposed to understand what happened to Elena, but he leads them to her Grave. The spirit amber memories this time come from the dog tags Darwin’s always worn, so they can’t show him anything new. Why did Darwin need someone to guide in order to go to the grave? Or maybe it was just a way for Largo to deliver a couple pendants?