by Melissa Harper,

Nodame Cantabile

G. Novel 5-6

Nodame Cantabile
Some books you can tell by the cover, and the covers on Nodame Cantabile give a pretty telling picture of what is contained within. Simple, clean artwork on simple clean backgrounds depict Nodame trying her hand at various instruments, a string bass on the fifth volume, and a French horn on the sixth. Likewise, inside these lovely covers you'll find simple and clean artwork, and a lot of talk about music, and how it affects the lives of the students at Momogaoka Music University.

Volumes five and six contain some high points for this series, as each one centers on a pivotal event for the S orchestra gang. In the fifth, they are preparing for the school festival performances. The S orchestra is working hard practicing their “costume orchestra”, but Chiaki has been invited to play a piano solo with the A orchestra, which mean lots of extra practice for everyone. Members of the S orchestra keep growing closer and working together better as a team, and Chiaki explores the feelings involved with making music.

In volume six, the festival is over, but Chiaki's performance has earned him the attention of the media. As he and several other members of the S orchestra go through graduation, they start to explore what it is they want to do with their lives. This is especially difficult for Chiaki, who still hasn't overcome his travel fears. A large portion of the volume takes place at Chiaki's childhood home, where he is forced to look at all his options and figure out what he can or can't do staying in Japan.

The artwork in Nodame Cantabile is a little different fare than what you find in most shoujo manga; there aren't large splashes of flowers, or intense screen tones, and Tomoko Ninomiya seems to enjoy keeping the panels relatively free of clutter and background distractions, which makes it easier to concentrate on the characters. She also has the intensely difficult task of drawing musical performances to be dramatic scenes. She does this to great effect by showing force in the performances as well as conveying the emotion the audience feels to the reader through facial expressions and the reactions of the other characters.

As far as the characters, they are also drawn very simply, but it is easy to distinguish the characters. Keeping with the rest of the art style, there isn't a lot of minute detail on the characters, whether in their faces or clothes, but they still look good, and their emotions come through clearly. Character development is also subtle, but that doesn't mean it's not there. In volume five, Nodame has been rather complacent about the piano for a while, but she is motivated by Chiaki's Rachmaninoff performance to try harder. This in turn motivates Chiaki to do his best, for both their sakes, in volume six. Each character has a real and lasting effect on others, in the way real people affect others; they often don't realize why or how, but a change is made. . Mine wouldn't strive to be the best if he weren't competing with Chiaki. Chiaki in turn is driven by Streseman's opinion of him, and Nodame's enthusiasm.

The subtle interactions between the characters drive the story, along with the big events of the volumes. Ninomiya neatly balances the story between the music and the daily lives of the characters. The musical sequences are the dramatic high points in the story, but they wouldn't mean so much if we weren't given all the details about what the students went through to prepare for them, and what they mean to each individual. Likewise, after graduation, when we see the group no longer bound together, the story realistically shows the uncertainty and fear we all have at that point in our lives; who will be around in a couple months? What will I do? Will I get a job? Will I make it? The story is excellent in its simplicity, which is rather what a cantabile should be: simple, lyrical and flowing.

Nodame Cantabile walks the line between refreshingly simple and boring; it could fall to either side, depending on how severe your personal case of ADD is. Don't look here for fast-paced action or heart-wrenching drama, but if interesting characters and a complex, realistic story are what drives your interest, then you can't help falling in love with the quirky cast of this series.
Overall : B+
Story : A
Art : B

+ Real characters and situations the reader identifies with
art is almost too simple, even boring at times

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Tomoko Ninomiya

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