Chiaki, who studies at one of the top music academies of Japan, dreams of being a conductor. But that is an advanced subject, and so he choose to study the piano until he can specialise in conducting -- if any of his teachers will take him as their pupil. But Chiaki is an impatient hot-head, which gets him on the bad side of his piano teacher -- and so he is moved to the teacher who has all the 'hopeless' cases. Obviously, Chiaki sees this as a demotion (and it is), but the teacher has some things to learn Chiaki.
He has Chiaki perform together with Noda, a total slob who has a very unpolished style of playing the piano -- as if she is singing the music. Chiaki, who has studied classical music all of his life, can't stand that Noda is so playful, while she can't really get to grips with the seriousness with which Chiaki treats his music.
It turns out that Noda lives next door to Chiaki, and she doesn't take care of herself (or her apartment) at all. Chiaki whips her into shape -- not only in the aspect of taking music more serious, but also in taking care of herself (though that last one means she simply comes over to his apartment when it's time for dinner...).
But Noda also influences Chiaki. He learns that just playing the best that he can, isn't enough -- if he wants to be a conductor, he must be able to get the best out of the individual players in his orchestra. For someone with Chiaki's hot-headedness, that is a tough lesson to learn.
Chiaki's big chance comes, when Franz von Stresemann comes to teach at their academy. Von Stresemann (nicknamed 'Milch' by Noda) is a famous conductor, and after various manipulations, he agrees to take Chiaki as his student in conducting. But Milch is full of tricks: he has a thing for booze and women, and gets Chiaki to make the various arrangements for him. And when Milch forms an orchestra of sub-par musicians, it is only because he wants to go out with the various cute women -- and then he abandons the idea.
Chiaki steps up to the challenge, and he manages to coach his musicians into a glowing performance.
Meanwhile, Noda sees Chiaki work so hard for his dream, which in turn inspires her to work hard as well. She even manages to compete in a concours. But she feels as if Chiaki is passing her by. Only when they both get a grant to study in Europe (which is a major thing for Chiaki, as he is afraid of flying), do they resolve to forge their futures in music together.
Visually, the series reminds of Honey and Clover (same character designer), and the whole college-thing adds to that feeling: these are not schoolkids, these are grown-ups who have their own relationships and life goals. And, like with Honey and Clover, there are moments of genuine comedy and moments of genuine sadness -- a tough one to pull off, but this series does it. The characters really grow into their roles: it is really good to see Chiaki and Noda learn the tough lessons any grown-up has to learn.
Obviously, with a series about music, the music is a very important aspect of the series. The opening and closing are easy pop-tunes (again, as with Honey and Clover), but the music during the episodes is obviously classical music. We always get a title and composer, which is nice if you want to look for a particular piece, but we simply get the full orchestration. When the 'second-choice orchestra' performs, the music isn't really any different than when the A-orchestra performs -- at least, to my un-trained ears. So when Chiaki gets mad because someone made a mistake or doesn't play with the right 'feeling', that is somewhat surprising. But maybe someone who is more educated in classical music will hear the difference.
- Genuinely funny;
- Great visual style;
- Great character development;
- The mid-section of the series is kind of depressing and drags a bit.
If you liked Honey and Clover, and/or if you like classical music, you will like this one. It's full of emotion, nicely drawn, funny and has some great character development. I'll give it a 8.