Sakamichi no Apollon 04 – Unable to Catch a Break

The intersection of 2 childhood experiences never to meet.

The 4th episode of Apollon ends with a distinct feeling of cruelty as idealism seems to lose out to a cruel humanity as experienced by Sentarou. The episode begins with the music shop quartet finding out they will be playing a gig at a bar. Meanwhile, Kaoru continues to chase after Ritsuko, but the feeling of love is not mutual. After seemingly being rejected, Kaoru lashes out at Sentarou, who then forces Kaoru to the church where we get a brief and all too tragic life story from Sentarou. The gig comes and Sentarou once again has to deal with the same abuse he’s had to deal with his whole life.

It’s a rather dream like scene, a rare December snow in this part of the world.

If I had to choose one major theme I got out of this episode, it was the destruction of dreams by reality. This can be seen in the three major scenes in this episode; Kaoru kissing Ritsuko and the ensuing rejection, Sentarou revealing his childhood to Kaoru and everything after the drunken racial abuse at the bar. For as much as the two friends seem to aspire for something better than what they have, it seems society will not let them have it.

Off come the glasses as Kaoru wants to burn that smile into his memory before he moves in.

First is Kaoru’s kiss, which was a classic case of getting lost in the moment. In his head, he was pondering whether it was enough just to keep his relationship as it was with Ritsuko. He could have played it safe for a while, but then it started snowing. She was filled with joy at a rare December snow. Kaoru took off his glasses after seeing her smile because he had already made his decision to move in. So without being able to read facial cues he went for it. She reacted by crying and running off, and inside Kaoru probably realized that he could never beat Sentarou for her feelings.

Surrounded by many people, yet he feels like the loneliest man in the room.

Which led nicely into the next scene, which was really a comparison of Kaoru’s and Sentarou’s lives at home. Kaoru had never felt like he had a place at his rich aunt’s home since she seemed intent on leading him down the respectable path to becoming a doctor. This was very important as he was the only male heir in the family. So Kaoru let Sentarou know that he was upset at how he was unhappy because his home life seemed unhappy compared to Sentarou’s modest living. That led to a trip to a very unhappy place.

Sentarou was definitely not the happiest child

The photo album featuring innocent pictures of Ritsuko and Sentarou as children covered up what was really the worst period in the latter’s life. It turned out that his father was an American serviceman. His mother fled without him and she was disowned by the rest of her family. He then had his grandmother die right in front of him. Then he was abandoned by his cuckolded father who had already become an alcoholic himself. The only two things that seemed to be keeping him together were the rosary that his mother left behind that he wears as a necklace and Ritsuko’s companionship. After hearing the story, Kaoru was left in tears while also angry at himself for thinking that his love of Ritsuko was more important than his friendship with Sentarou.

That he seems so well adjusted after incidents like this is remarkable

Having spent much of his childhood having to deal with racial abuse from his family and other children at school, in jazz, Sentarou had probably thought that he had found something that he enjoyed that was completely untainted by that. Alas, that illusion was broken in his very first live performance. The drunk man at the bar insulted the quartet for their jazz sounding “too black” only using racial epithets that would not have been out of place in this story’s time period. Sentarou responded by refusing to continue to play because that would be giving in to what the drunk racist at the bar wanted. His principles mattered more to him than playing jazz or trying to impress Yurika. Which ultimately proved fatal for his chances with the latter.

The American son…What do you know about this world anyway?

Jun took the pragmatic approach that they should lighten the mood before they stopped for the night so as to not end on a sour note. The choice of song, “But Not for Me” was actually quite brilliant. It is a Gershwin song written for the musical Girl Crazy in 1930, however there’s a delicious irony in that choice of song as a response to complaints about “black jazz.” In the years leading up to Apollon‘s setting in 1966, the song had been covered by the likes of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but it was the 1962 version sung by Ketty Lester, which became a top 10 hit. In effect, Jun was responding to a call to play “white jazz” by playing a song written by a Jewish man of Russian descent, popularized by an African-American musicians and now being played by a pair of young Japanese men. There was indeed a very good reason this song was chosen by Watanabe and Kanno.

Kaoru, along with Jun, ultimately saves the night. But was it a pyrrhic victory?

As for the future, Yurika seems enchanted by Jun’s charisma like everyone else up to this point. Which I think means the circle of unrequited love and idealism will continue until morale improves. It just feels like as much as Kaoru and Sentarou’s lives are out of control, they are actually stuck in set paths that they cannot seem to break. Kaoru’s probably going to end up fulfilling the typical family heir role and Sentarou and Ritsuko will probably end up together, even if it is not out of idealism.

11 thoughts on “Sakamichi no Apollon 04 – Unable to Catch a Break”

  1. Can’t really blame Sen for losing his cool. But, yeah, bad timing, as it looks like the romantic story just got even more tangled.

  2. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I was wrong. Brilliant doesn’t even come close.

    1. I know, right? The background on this is surprisingly well researched. Unlike other period series, there is no glossing over the past here.

  3. “There was indeed a very good reason this song was chosen by Watanabe and Kanno.”

    You mean by Kodama Yuki, the mangaka. Just giving credit where credit is due – Watanabe & staff are doing a great job on the anime but they’re not getting very original with the manga material. (Although this episode in particular had some anime-original embellishment that I didn’t like – I thought the grandma vomiting blood and getting it all over Sentarou was over-dramatic and too heavy-handed.)

    1. I guess I’m guilty of having not read the manga. If it was in the original, full credit to Kodama. I didn’t think the embellishment of Sentarou’s terrible youth was that heavy-handed though. In this case, I think the scene works with or without the excessive blood.

      1. Sorry for replying so late – I didn’t mean to imply that it’s bad that you don’t read the manga. It is, as I said, just giving credit where it’s due. This is a great anime and all, but people often seem to forget that it’s an adaptation, and not an original creation of Watanabe. He and the writers are doing a great job (I guess Kanno as well, though I’m not enamoured with the soundtrack), but the story, the characterization, the song choices, etc. all come from the manga.

      2. I’ve actually thought about the soundtrack some more, and the Kanno supplied bits are well understated in my opinion. It isn’t jazz, but I think it reflects the mood of the scenes well. There just isn’t much of it though.

  4. “Which I think means the circle of unrequited love and idealism will continue until morale improves.”

    In my opinion, Yurika and Jun are the best match. It’s a kind of natural pairing really, almost effortless in that they mixed with a perfect amount of conflict and clarity.

    1. I’m actually interested in it for the fact that this story is centered around Kaoru. His experience of seeing Jun and Yurika pairing up is probably tinged with thoughts of horror that Ritsuko and Sentarou could end up together.

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