Nodame Cantabile Volume 1
Although containing more subtly-drawn characters than many manga series, Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya left no significant impression on me after reading.
Shinichi wants to be a conductor, but he’s currently studying piano to improve his overall skills. (He also turns out to be quite the violin virtuoso when the plot demands.) Nodame is the girl next door, an untrained piano genius with a pigsty of an apartment. She’s driven by appetite, stealing other people’s lunches and loyal to whichever boy gives her dinner.
In pages thick with background tones, Shinichi’s purpose is reaffirmed through taking care of Nodame. His discipline and her talent together will overcome her sloppiness to produce great music. The conflict between technical proficiency and playing with emotion creates a tension that I suspect will be more resonant to the Japanese reader than the American.
The subject matter is immensely difficult to pull off on the printed page, since music can’t be conveyed through a silent medium. As a result, we have to rely in many cases on the words of one character praising another’s skills on piano or violin. It has to be about telling, not showing, which pushes the reader further away from involvement.