Nodame Cantabile v1
Written and illustrated by Tomoko Nimomiya
Translation by David and Eriko Walsh
Lettering and retouch by Michaelis/Carpelis Design
Nodame Cantabile is the winner of the 2004 Kodansha Manga of the Year Award. I enjoyed the last Manga of the Year winner I read (Cromartie High School), so I figured I'd give Nodame a try too.
Shinichi Chiaki is a musical genius - but he finds Japan's musical culture stifling and dull. He's just about to drop out of the conservatory when he runs into fellow student Megumi Noda - or Nodame for short. Nodame is everything Shinichi is not - she's undisciplined and messy, and has extremely poor form. But she has one thing Shinichi doesn't have - inspiration - and the two set up a strange complementary partnership.
Essentially Nodame is a musical adaptation of the Odd Couple, with Shinichi as Felix and Nodame as Oscar. Artist Tomoko Nimomiya avoids the obvious trap of making Shinichi and Nodame perfect opposites - if Nodame is selfless, that doesn't necessarily mean that Shinichi is selfish. This allows her to introduce new characters who play off the Shinichi/Nodame team, like Shinichi's self-absorbed ex-girlfriend and the passionate (if stupid) violinist who threatens to drive Shinich and Nodame apart.
Unfortunately, none of these characters are particularly interesting or memorable. Nodame in particular is a real cipher - so childish and unsophisticated she seems developmentally disabled rather than innocent. When the weak characters are combined with the lack of a strong plot, there's very little reason to return for a second volume of Nodame Cantabile.
However, Nodame's real problems are artistic. I couldn't remember any memorable sequences to spotlight, so I flipped to a random two-page spread...
Nimomiya has a formidable challenge here - she has to depictit a tense piano duet where one of the participants is nervously trying to remember the tune and the other has to rapidly tailor his playing style to suit her whims. Furthermore, she has depict all this abstractly, since she can't bundle a copy o f Mozart's Piano Sonata #2 with every comic. Unfortunately, her drawing skills aren't up to the task.
As Professor Takekuma might say, there's too much "manga notation" on this page. Many emotions are depicted with stock mouth and eye positions, repetitive tone patterns and sparkles, which robs them of nuance and impact. The stiff, unrevealing poses are culled from the same stock. There are speed lines for the sake of speed lines, tone which covers up poor underdrawing, and panel borders which are tilted just for the sake of being different.
I do like the treatment given to Nodame throughout the spread - We start off with long shots of her back, but as she loosens up and finds her stride we swivel to her front and zoom in on her head. It's an effective way of drawing us into Nodame's rapture, but the rest of the page layout undercuts the motif and prevents it from having real impact.
Incredibly Specific Trivial Detail They Got Wrong
Despite what the end notes claim, "Koshien" is not an amateur baseball team - it's a baseball stadium in Hyogo prefecture, and Japan's answer to Wrigley Field. Koshien is best as the home of Japanese National High School Baseball Championship Series and the Spring High School Baseball Tournament - indeed, the association is so great that both events are colloquially referred to as "Koshien." The stadium also plays host to the Central League's Hanshin Tigers during the professional baseball season.
I knew all this off the top of my head, but then again, I'm a trivia-obsessed baseball fan. But I was able to confirm my recollections with a quick search of Wikipedia. Why can't Del Rey?
Interestingly enough, they don't try to explain what a Dutch wife is in the end-notes... Though I suppose one can find a definition of that in any unabridged dictionary.