Nodame Cantabile, Vols. 6-10 (Del Rey)

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nodame-header.jpgThis award-winning fan favorite about a group of misfit orchestra students comes highly recommended, but only certain readers may find something to toot their horn about.

 

 

192-224 pgs. ea. B&W, $10.95 ea.

(W/A: Tomoko Ninomiya)

Nodame Cantabile came highly -- even glowingly -- recommended. The series won the 2004 Kodansha Manga of the Year Award, and since then, its storyline has been adapted into an anime series, a live-action drama, and a Japan-only video game for the Nintendo DS. Apparently, in Japan, a comic about an eccentric young piano student and her wacky orchestra buddies equals major success.

 

I tore into Vols. 6-10 of Nodame Cantabile with great anticipation, and no small amount of concern for its subject matter. Writing about music has always been a problem, in any genre of fiction. It's extremely difficult to transfer the playing or listening experience to the page. In Nodame Cantabile, author/artist Tomoko Ninomiya wisely attempts to use the social structure of the Momogaoka College of Music's orchestra to create an ensemble cast of intriguing characters, but unfortunately, only two of those characters get any appreciable screen time. Megumi Noda, a.k.a. Nodame, is a gifted, yet socially-challenged piano student who doesn't see herself as a professional musician. She frequently speaks in third person ("Nodame wants to eat sushi too!"), which you'll either find endearing or irritating. I'd go with the latter. Frankly, Nodame is so childish, it's hard to accept her as a believable romantic lead. She's like Edward from Cowboy Bebop gone horribly wrong.

 

Nodame's somehow fallen in love with Shinichi Chiaki, a stern piano virtuoso who spurns her affections despite his obvious, almost overbearing interest in her musical success. He has a deep -- and convenient -- phobia of water, planes, and boats that prevents him from traveling to Europe to pursue his classical music dreams. Nodame and Chiaki's romance is a series of misunderstandings, professional mishaps, and things left unsaid -- typical shojo.

 

With all of the above in mind, there are more than a few things wrong with Nodame Cantabile. First of all, every time the orchestra plays a concert, or Nodame performs a recital, the occasion is marked by boring, dialogue-less sequences decorated with musical notes. We get no insight into the characters' thought processes as they play, and no sense of movement or music, even though we're told which esoteric classical piece the characters are performing. Secondly, there are so many undifferentiated, underdeveloped supporting characters, it's genuinely hard to keep track of what's going on, and therefore hard to care much when someone quits the orchestra, fails an audition, or gets drunk. And thirdly, Nodame Cantabile is one of those books that leaves you scratching your head and wondering why its characters are so clueless.

 

Art-wise, there's a lot to like here -- Ninomiya's linework is clean, realistic, and well-plotted, easily drawing your eye into the story. The problem? The story's desperately boring.  If you're a musician, a conductor, or a crazed 21-year-old pianist who acts like she's in kindergarten, I'd give this one a shot. Otherwise, steer clear. | J. Bowers

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To learn more about Nodame Cantabile, visit the Del Rey Manga website.

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