Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya is easily one of my favourite manga series ever. To get a sense of its popularity, the manga series has not just spawned two seasons of anime but also one season of a live action drama followed by two specials which were then followed by two movies. So what is it all about? Well. I’ll tell you!
The titular character is a piano prodigy whose name is Noda Megumi but who goes by the nickname Nodame but the manga is focalized on both Nodame and Chiaki Senpai (he has a first name but he is usually addressed like this so that’s what I call him. Senpaii, if I’m not incorrect, means someone not necessarily older but someone who has bee doing something longer than you. In this instance, Chiaki is actually older because he is in an advanced class in school. The word is generally used at school or in the workplace to denote respect.)
So how would I account for the success of the manga? Ordinarily I would say the music but in book form, you cannot hear the music. In my opinion, it is the strength of the characters and the sincerity of the narrative that wins readers over. Chiaki Senpai is possibly the only in the series who knows what he wants and is serious in nature though he, too, has his own issues. He cannot go to Europe which is the centre of all things musical (classical music) because he has a phobia of flying and even traveling by water due to a trauma he suffered as a child. Nodame even though she is majorly talented as a pianist has no ambitions to become a professional, content to play around and dream about being a kindergarten teacher and eventually Chiaki Senpai’s wife. The manga depicts her evolution as a person, as a musician. Tomoko Ninomiya does a lot of research about musicians, their history, their inspirations and the pages are filled with the glories of their music.
And then there are the many colourful characters who pop up, stay a bit and then go only to return at a later point in the series, having gone through their own rites of passage. The manga is a bit slapstick and there is some physical humour but it deals with relationships in a very delicate fine manner that brings out how vulnerable each person is to the world and to each other. I thought that was lovely. The manga is aimed at older teenagers because the story takes place at first in a college and then later in Europe without the backdrop of a college though there is a conservatory around.
Where the manga was unable to transcend mediums, the anime and the live action versions brought the music to glorious life.
The live action drama stayed true to the manga, even in the actors they chose, and brought to the manga even better music.
And here’s the music!