Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya (licensed in North America by Del Ray) is a josei title that has gained wide acceptance in North America (it ranks number 110 in popularity on the One Manga site) and is well represented in public library collections.
The plot unfolds at a music college in Tokyo and focuses on the relationship between the handsome and talented but arrogant Shinichi Chiaki and his fellow student Megumi Noda, nicknamed Nodame.
Nodame is extremely unconventional. She is unfashionable and inelegant, unapologetically covetous of other peoples’ food, shockingly slovenly and unwashed and often expresses herself through loud and unintelligible outbursts of noise. She would be considered unfeminine and even a bit repellent by most cultural standards but behaves in exceedingly sharp contrast to what would be considered ideal in a Japanese woman. Despite this Nodame is an intensely likable character. Her joie de vivre, non judgmental nature and her talent and sense of reverence for music are celebrated throughout the series. Nodame is an artist who neglects everything for the love of her art and the pursuit of its fullest realization. Creative and generous, she does not manifest the tyrannical and perfectionist qualities embodied by the more conventionally talented but self-entitled Chiaki.
When Chiaki first overhears Nodame’s piano playing he is struck by its intuitive and unique quality. Much of their early relationship revolves around his attempts to reconcile his fascination with Nodame’s technique and ability with his revulsion and frustration at her lifestyle and mannerisms. Upon discovering they live in the same apartment building Nodame unselfconsciously imposes herself on Chiaki. When Chiaki insists on cleaning Nodame’s filthy apartment he overhears her playing a song that she has spontaneously composed on her piano. They collaborate in re-constructing the piece and in the process Nodame recognizes the extent of Chiaki’s talent. In a rapture of artistic respect she falls into an earnest infatuation. Much to his own chagrin, Chiaki begins regularly cleaning Nodame’s apartment and cooking dinner for her. On one occasion he even washes her hair which has become so dirty it stinks.
As Nodame and Chiaki begin to spend more time together he helps to focus her skill and energy and she helps him to cultivate a more intuitive and creative love of music.
Ninomiya’s drawings are light and energetic and the page design effectively negotiates the problem of representing the auditory in a visual medium. The frequent illustrations people playing assorted musical instruments never seem redundant or stilted.
Images: character art from Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya