I had been a fan of the Nodame Cantabile manga for a good 2 years when, in 2010, the manga unceremoniously ended for health reasons of the author. When this happened, I raged. I had had so many hopes for where the manga was going, what it could do with all the characters and the relationships still underdeveloped, to say nothing of the fact that the main couple had yet to perform together on an international stage together. All this potential greatness was being wasted. And I stewed on that for a while, and I realized that it didn’t matter.*
I should probably actually tell this story before getting to its moral. In 2008, I was a strapping young lad who, for various reasons, gave the anime a try and found any number of things to love about it.** The male lead, aspiring conductor Chiaki, wasn’t a genius-in-the-rough like so many other protagonists of shows geared at introducing audiences to an activity, but a practiced-from-youth hardworking music expert who had his skills thanks to years of effort. The female lead, pianist Nodame, was a genius-in-the-rough character, but dealing with Chiaki and his demanding personality quickly forced her out of that siple archetype. The way she and Chiaki interacted, one managing a personality that kept her from fulfilling her potential, the other managing a personality that made him a pain to work with, provided a fascinating dramatic framework for the series.
The author, Tomoko Ninomiya, puts meat on those bones with some fun romantic comedy elements and some of the best side-characters in manga. There’s Franz von Stresemann, a genius playboy German conductor who serves as Chiaki’s mentor. There’s Kozuo “Harisen” Etoh, Nodame’s piano instructor, who struggles to balance his harsh teaching methods with Nodame’s lackadaisical personality. And there’s Yoshizaki Mine, a violinist with middling talent for music but supreme talent for networking and showmanship, who finds his groove promoting an orchestra of rising Japanese stars. These characters and their exploits lends a real vastness to the surprisingly hip classical music landscape the manga depicts.
Rock opera violins? Rock opera violins.
In the face of all that, the ending of the Nodame manga was atrociously anticlimactic. Essentially, it consisted of an arc where Nodame fought with Chiaki for the Nth time, almost gave up piano, and got back together with him in the end. With much of their respective career arcs, not to mention the ultimate fate of their relationship, unresolved, the manga thudded to an abrupt halt.
So why doesn’t that end up being important? Two reasons. First, the romantic relationship between Nodame and Chiaki was not the only appealing aspect of the manga. There was the music, the side characters, the world in which it took place. When the romantic subplot wrapped up poorly, it didn’t instantaneously nullify everything else the manga had to offer. Which leads into the second point; even if the romance subplot didn’t have a satisfying ending, it still packed a great beginning and a fantastic middle. The only way to lose the impact from that was to spend all my time depressed over how the ending went.
After realizing that, I’ve spent far more time enjoying the excellent body of the manga than getting hung up on the ends. If I were evaluating a work of art, sure, that ending would be a flaw. But manga to me is entertainment, something meant on a fundamental level to simply produce enjoyment, regardless of the means it uses. A series that accomplishes that on a very high level shouldn’t be disregarded just because it doesn’t close as strongly as it opened.
*I’m aware Opera-hen exists, but this article is about my reaction to it at the time, when the end of the manga appeared to be the end of the franchise.
**I was just off my first couple of months following seasonal anime and completing the Hajime no Ippo manga after finishing the anime a year ago.*** I loved that series to bits, and as there was literally nothing else from it available at the time, I went for the old standby and tried to find something like it. In my search, there were a couple of sports series (Touch, Slam Dunk, etc.) recommended to me, but this was before the Steelers and Pens won championships within 4 months of one another, so my interest in sports at the time was not the passion it is now. Instead, I was drawn to a series recommended by the proprietor of a prominent HnI site, one about composers and musicians. The relation did not seem obvious, so my curiosity was piqued.
***Am I excited for the third season? Yes I am. Fall 2013 is going to be full of capital-S Sports.