They say expectation is a harbinger of disappointment, and I don’t think it’s unfair to say that I was expecting a lot out of this show. From what we’ve been offered, though, in just this first episode, I already feel like we’re in for something special.
The show comes across as very genuine in a number ways, in part due to its attention to detail. The subtle difference between the softer, more textured tone of the grand piano at Kaoru’s house and the colder, brighter sound of the upright in the record shop basement stuck out to me. On the character side of things, I loved the way Kaoru almost unconsciously removes his glasses when talking with Ritsuko after being told by her earlier that they obscured his “pretty” face. There’s no other practical reason he would, and he does nothing of the sort at any point previous, and is a clever way to indicate a budding romance.
Speaking of romance, I object to the general sentiment as to how “gay” the show apparently appears. It seems that any time two guys in a show develop as characters and grow closer to one another, people become so insecure and uncomfortable with their friendship that they’re automatically labeled gay. If you absolutely must resort to such fantasies to justify your discomfort, so be it, but let’s hold off on the name calling until there’s actually an episode about them coming out of the closet.
Moving on, despite being a show about kids on a slope, I’d actually like to talk for a second about the roof.
The roof is Kaoru’s comfort zone. It’s where he retreats to stave off his stress-induced nausea, and it’s where he feels safe and secure. A slope is an upward climb, a place where effort and hard work will bring you to a higher place. On the other hand, a roof represents flat stagnation. It’s the highest point of a building where you cannot advance upward, only idly languish at that altitude. Moving between schools so often, he is used to being ostracized as an outsider and find comforts in being alone on the roof, above the pain of others’ stares and judgment. To have this haven disrupted by Sentaro, to have it so boldly breached was his wake up call. It was the point where Kaoru stopped being dependent on this stifling, limiting roof, and became a “kid on a slope,” able to grow as an individual. It might be a slippery slope, one with pitfalls and dangers, but it is an improvement nonetheless.
The rain on his haven represented the encroaching threat of an interloper in Sentaro. He attempted to hide himself from the rain with his umbrella, his fragile façade he’s built up over the years, but it’s cast aside by Sentaro, off the roof and out of his reach. Now bathed in the frightening waters of friendship and faced with all the joy and suffering friendship entails, he ultimately finds that it’s actually not all that bad despite his fear and doubt. In fact, he has been cured of his nausea in the face of his peers, and, in a symbolic water baptism, has been born a new person.
You might remember these lines from the episode when Kaoru played that excerpt from “Moanin'” after listening to Sentaro attempt to play it on the piano:
Kaoru: “I can’t hear anymore. It’s like this.”
Sentaro: “Wrong! That ain’t even close!”
Kaoru: “What are you talking about?! I played it exactly right!”
Sentaro: “There wasn’t any swing! If you play it without feelin’ it, it don’t sound like no jazz to me!”
Considering jazz is a genre where one of the most biting insults you can give to a fellow player is “you sound like an Asian man,” I found this exchange amusingly genuine. “Asian man,” of course refers not literally to a man of the Orient, but moreso the stereotype that Asians tend to be sorted and uptight – two traits that are not often encouraged in jazz music. It refers more specifically to someone playing something in an overly straight, clunky, and monotonous way. Players starting out from a classical background will almost always have this tendency and must be taught the proper way to “swing” notes in the typical jazz/blues style.
I just thought that this part of the scene perfectly captured this particular dissonance between jazz and classical. It’s a natural mistake for a jazz newbie to make, but, in jazz, the right notes played in the wrong style is worse than wrong notes played in the right one.
This, I think, neatly encapsulates in a musical context the thrust of the main conflict in this first episode. It’s the organized, safer, closed “classical” life of Kaoru versus the freer, swinging, looser “jazz” view of Sentaro. It’s the difference between fearfully going through the motions of playing notes on a page versus daringly playing the music of life with feeling, style, and emotion.
Ah, yes, speaking of music, there really wasn’t that much of it. There were a few short sections of a bass comp playing with some drums, but it’s obvious the show hasn’t hit its stride with regards to Yoko Kanno’s contributions quite yet. I suspect we’ll get less of the big band numbers from Cowboy Bebop and more smaller combo setups with some solo piano numbers this time, judging from the setting of the show. As for the OP and ED, I am extremely disappointed that neither has even a hint of jazz to it. They sound like they could have been used in any generic josei drama and don’t stand out to me in any way other than being decent pop songs.
The show seems pretty set from here to start digging into the meat of its story. It doesn’t seem as if the show will pull any punches in terms of storyline, but it remains to be seen just how deep they go into the jazz rabbit hole.
This week, enjoy Jeff Coffin and Victor Wooten melting your face with Coffin’s 17/8 time “The Mad Hatter Rides Again.” Keep an eye out for the section where he plays two saxophones at once. Two of them.