Sakamichi no Apollon – A love letter to jazz


There is something truly evocative about music, it has an ability to conjure up images of the past, inspire us and drive out imaginations. While not all music can have the same effect on us, there is still something about the medium itself that continues to move people’s hearts and minds, creating new friendships, reaffirming old ones and creating strong and lasting links between individuals and groups. Sakamichi no Apollon captures this beauty almost perfectly, it demonstrates that no matter what differences there may be between people there will always by the commonality of music, it also touched me in quite a deep and specific way, largely because of the jazz theme.

 

One of my great loves has always been jazz music; it is cool, infectious, and continually evolving, moving away from its roots in the Southern States of America, and continually bringing influences from other types of music and parts of the world. There is an infectious quality to this, like all music, with its ability to evoke strong reactions in those that hear it, and while, like many other forms of music it might have an egalitarian quality, there can also be an element of political and social engagement involved.

There was a curious moment right when Sentarou started playing the drums that encapsulated something Kaoru was missing in his life. Kaoru was struck with this strange, unfamiliar music, he was attracted to that infectious rhythm that Sentarou was producing, it was a moment of sudden change that went unnoticed due to the subtle way that it happened. This moment also effected me in quite a curious way, making me remember about my first time listening to jazz, my first time playing jazz, and even my first time performing in front of others. In a sense I was affected much like Kaoru but that rhythm, it got into me and while in Kaoru’s case it changed his whole outlook on life, it conjured up memories of things that I thought I had forgotten.

 

Kaoru is constrained by his view of life, his inability to change, and unwillingness to change. That he feels like retching when under any form of pressure, and needing to rush to the roof in order to calm down demonstrates how Kaoru is controlled by his own feelings and thoughts, with the roof symbolising an escape from reality and from himself. His rigidness and unflinching opinions of every school he goes to is further demonstrated in his music skills. He is perfect, too perfect; he plays the music without feeling it, just like his attitude towards school life, he may study and attend school, but he does not interact with the school, appearing as a fleeting spirit soon to disappear.

Sentarou introduces an element energy into his life, showing Kaoru the simple joys that he had been missing, the rain on his face, and the joys of music, even though he has yet to fully realise this. Sentarou can be seen to represent the unknown, he works on instinct, and follows his life the way he plays the drums, by ear, by feel, by instinct. But he lacks direction, it is one thing to play music by feel, but there needs to be an order, a beat, a rhythm. I could play my saxophone by feel, but that may not fit with what the rest of the musicians are playing, and it would add an element if discord into the piece. Kaoru and Sentarou are opposites, but it is this juxtaposition between instinct and order that is so fascinating.

 

That this moment can affect and draw two people who are polar opposites together and form such a strong bond, one that neither has yet noticed, further demonstrates the ability of music to move and change people. The change is an important one, but it is so subtle that neither truly notices what has happened, even during the end sequence when Kaoru begins to question is view of the world, there is still no recognition of the importance that this single moment has had on his life. But at the same time, Sentarou begins to see other people around him, he begins to notice things that he had otherwise ignored as inconsequential, it is a moment of mutual change within these two characters.

However, like all such moments, it comes and goes without anyone noticing, and the change that has occurred during these few seconds will only become apparent as the characters continue to move forwards and adapt to their new outlook on life and music. That a single drum solo can produce the same kind of reaction and change a character in such a way further demonstrates the value and power of music. To further demonstrate the impact this single scene had on me, I began tapping along with an old pair of drumsticks while watching, and once finished with the episode got out my Saxophone. It was not the piece of music in particular, it was the feeling that the music, and the overall aesthetic of the show that brought back memories of my past performances, which produced such a strong reaction in me.

 

There are numerous series that use music effectively to convey emotions, ideas, and promote the notion that music can bridge gaps where language and ideologies cannot. Macross is an excellent example of music being central to the entire franchise, with Macross frontier most recently demonstrating the ability to match a soundtrack to the story in an excellent way. However, such series tend to go about this in a grand fashion, with large scores used to convey these emotions, often resulting in spectacular set piece sequences that are both stunning to look, but also pleasing to the ear. Sakamichi no Apollon however, goes about this in an entirely different way, there is a subtlety to its use of music that is often missing from some anime. That a single scene with a drum solo has the potential to convey as much as a large set piece with full band and even popular idols singing demonstrates the power of even the simplest of music.

Sakamichi no Apollon to me is one of those rare shows that is capable of communicating what any number of words would fail to do, simply through the use of music. It is a story of loneliness, and one of friendship, of losing things important to you and finding something that you may have never realised existed. But more than that, it demonstrates how a single moment in time can change your outlook forever. I may be a jazz lover, but you do not need to listen to, or like jazz to recognise how much music can change your outlook on life.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

6 Responses to Sakamichi no Apollon – A love letter to jazz

  1. This is one of the few shows I’ll try to follow this season. It’s promising, has a subject I usually like (music) and characters that seem to have a lot of developing potential. I’m not particularly a jazz fan, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Nodame Cantabile for example. This and Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai) are my 2 current favorites.

    • illogicalzen says:

      I nearly didn’t pick this series up actually – I hadn’t really looked at this seasons shows and this was one of those anime that I very nearly dismissed entirely, after the first episode im glad I didn’t.

      While the series is largely based around the introduction of jazz music to Japan, I dont think you have to enjoy jazz in order to really enjoy the series. It’s really a story of friendship really, with jazz music as the way these different people are capable of interacting.

  2. GoodbyeNavi says:

    I became interested when it was mentioned on Twitter that it was about jazz. I enjoy jazz, the melodies, the instruments, I find it to be a true and sincere form of music. The sounds aren’t synthesized, the voices are pure (when there is singing), grew up listening to jazz. I tend to gravitate towards anime series about music which is why I was attracted to Nodame Cantabile. I’m looking forward to this series and hoping for the best.

    • illogicalzen says:

      I am almost guaranteed to enjoy a series it if has a jazz soundtrack, those soundtracks are always the best, the music fits the animation, and there is something inherently ‘cool’ about jazz in general. i like anime about music, even the sillier/cheesier kinds of series, since they will always have something great no matter how small.

  3. A really good article you wrote here.
    I’m really into music myself so I can definitely related to what you’ve been saying about the effects music can have to your life.
    If you don’t mind would you share a bit more about your experiences with your instrument? You said you’ve been playing in front of people so have you been in a band? I’d like to hear some more details on that.
    I myself play the electric guitar. I guess growing up in the 80s with its fantastic Heavy Metal songs and also getting to listen to a lot of 60s and 70s Rock & Roll because of my parents has greatly influenced me on that. Though I’m a lover of most musical genres.

    • illogicalzen says:

      I have played a few instruments before, started the trumpet while I was in school, but for several reasons including having a rubbish teacher I stopped. I also used to play Jazz Drums, but again i stopped (cant entirely remember why), and then finally settled on the saxophone. I play alto, although I do have a tenor as well, which has the sexiest sound any instrument can ever possibly make.

      I did play as part of several bands in school and college, along with the orchestra, performing for school events like plays and such. There were very few saxophonists at my school, but a metric ton of guitarists, so I was a rare find for the music teachers I think. I have never really played in a band for long, mostly getting gigs as a session musician – the feeling of playing can be exhilarating, and very often i have completely forgotten that there is an audience present. I think thats partly because your lit up on stage and everyone else is in the dark, so your blinded and cant actually see anything half of the time.

      I love most kinds of music, being a big fan of rock, metal and so on, but I also listen to music from all over the world, there are spectacular musicians wherever you look. I did once consider picking up guitar because of rock, and actually still do, but im now more interested in the steel guitar largely because of one particular guitarist that I have had the pleasure of watching and meeting on several occasions called Bob Brozman.

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