There's a long standing argument that the book/manga is always better than the animated/live action adaptation. More often than not, the adpated version is often presented in a condensed form (Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy for example), and proponents of the book/manga will argue that relevant, even necessary, parts of the story are left out, and that the overall story is somehow "spoiled" because of this.
It's interesting then that Nodame Cantabile is one of the few manga on which people generally agree that watching the anime or live action adaptations only serves to enhance the story.
The manga, created by Ninomiya Tomoko in 2001, has become one of the most well known romantic comedies in manga, andthe anime and live action adaptations have proven to be extremely popular with fans from all walks of life.
So what is it that makes Nodame Cantabile "different" from other shoujo or josei (it's been categorised as both at one time or another), romantic comedies?
The story follows the lives of Noda Megumi (Nodame), and Chiaki Shinichi, two music students who attend the Momogaoka College of Music. The two meet by accident and Nodame quickly falls in love, however the pair are as different as chalk and cheese in almost every respect.
One of the things that attracts many people is the maturity of the series. This is no twinkly teenage romance, but a more mature, if somewhat off-the-wall, tale of finding one's place in the world. The humour, whilst being decidedly offbeat, also has a realism that is missing from other rom-coms. The same thing also applies to the plot as well, especially the manner in which the characters develop over the course of the series.
Nodame, being the main driver for much of the comedy, is a truly unique character, and her relationship with Chiaki often develops both of them in some surprising and unexpected ways. At times childlike, combative, moody, but with a determination and talent that is sometimes inspiring, she should be the ideal match for Chiaki, however she's also lazy, messy, tends not to wash for days, can't cook, finds it easy to lie, and an otaku.
Chiaki, on the other hand, represents the "straight man" in this comedy duo. He looks after himself and is talented, well educated, good looking, a good cook, likes cleanliness and tidiness, and has a strong sense of responsibility. It's ultimately his sense of responsibility that proves to be his downfall though, especially where Nodame is concerned, and it's interesting to see how Nodame's influence changes his perception of the people around him.
The sometimes odd relationship between the two forms the core of the story and is the driving force behind many of their thoughts and actions. Chiaki's propriety and Nodame's "gyabo-ness" create some interesting situations for the two to overcome, especially as they both become more well known in the world of classical music over time. It also sets the tone of the series as even though there is a serious element running through the story, this is very much a lighthearted affair.
Aside from Nodame and Chiaki, there are a fair number of supporting characters that, more often than not, have a direct hand in how Nodame and Chiaki's relationship proceeds (although admittedly it may not seem that way at first). A nice thing to see is that Ninomiya has refused to go with stock one-dimensional characters and, especially during later chapters, manages to give the supporting cast a bit more "soul". The deviations from the main story may, at first, seem like fillers when in truth they are actually efforts at fleshing out one or more characters. Come the end of the series it's nice to see that a fair number of the characters show at least some development.
One thing that I've mentioned already is the sense of realism about the series, and it may surprise many to know that the character of Nodame is actually based on a real person called Noda Megumi. Ninomiya was inspired to write a comedy about a sloppy music student after Noda posted an image of her messy room onto asite that Ninomiya managed. Noda, who is now a piano teacher in Fukuoka (which is also Nodame's hometown), has been consulted extensively throughout the series, and wrote much of the thematic music for the anime. In addition, she co-wrote (with Ninomiya), the lyrics for Nodame's notorious "Fart Song".
As with any long running manga, it's easy to see how Ninomiya's drawing style has progressed over the years. At first she tried to take a slightly more detailed approach to the character design, however she adopts a more simplistic, yet highly expressive, style later on which, in all honesty, is one of the things that makesthe series great. Ninomiya's ability to visualise facial expressions, and to switch between detail sketch and simplistic cartoon, can sometimes confuse people, but once the reader is caught up in the story, everything just seems to work.
That said, this isn't the most well drawn series that I have read, however context is everything here. In terms of manga as a medium it is only average, however in terms of comedy manga it works extremely well.
This is a highly enjoyable series that brought back memories of my stint at university. Students are the same no matter where they are, after all. The developing relationship between Chiaki and Nodame is a joy to behold, especially given Nodame's "quirky" personality. The many realistic threads that runs through this manga, from the character inspirations to the classical music itself, all serve to add a depth to the story that is both remarkable and unusual.
If you thought classical music and comedy didn't mix, then prepare to be proven wrong.