I’d wanted to put off this compare-contrast piece till maybe nearer the end of Cantabile, but inspired by javabeans’ (from Dramabeans) article, I’ve decided to (virtually) pen down my thoughts of the 2 shows thus far. javabeans has given a balanced view of other Korean adaptations or remakes we’ve seen this year (and past), so I won’t be analysing other shows besides Nodame and Cantabile.

Some things which could have been better

I understand that to fit Nodame into k-pop culture and in particular, kdrama’s familiar tropes, certain elements which are missing or not obvious in the J-dorama’s Nodame will have to be introduced or reinforced in Cantabile. For some reasons, a number of Korean shows enjoy playing up the income divide, or drawing a distinct line between the haves and have-nots. And the “haves” are always abusing their power and position to bully the “have-nots”.


So, in replacement of J-dorama’s lukewarm, neither-bad-nor-good side characters like Nodame’s stern piano teacher during her stay in Europe, we have Teacher Do and Chairwoman. Both of whom are representatives of the “haves”, and are not juz merely rigid in their views of music, but they come across as overly protective of their wealth and/or statuses. And this group of characters are usually annoying and do nothing constructive but sabotage each and everything in their pursuit of self-preservation. Teacher Do at least respects musical talent, which redeems him a leetle bit in our eyes, but the the Chairwoman falls squarely into the “bully” category.


In line with themes of the underdog and/or the income divide, music in Cantabile becomes associated with glory and wealth, instead of as a form of Art. Thus, the dissolution of either A or S Orchestra becomes a big deal in Cantabile. Like javabeans put it, the disbanding embodies the inequality between the elites of A Orchestra, backed by the powerful Chairwoman and Teacher Do, versus the cast-offs in S Orchestra, backed by nobody (Stresemann doesn’t count). I remembered in Nodame, the Special Orchestra does get disbanded, but instead of dwelling on it as a form of power struggle, it juz happens. I certainly don’t get the strong unfairness, or the sense that the S Orchestra’s members are being “punished” for daring to dream big.


Talking about annoying characters, another of kdrama’s much-used trope is the spiteful 2nd (female) lead. In Nodame, Chiaki also has an ex-girlfriend, Saiko, but she does not come across as hateful as Do-kyung. At least, I haven’t seen her putting Nodame in her place when Nodame is down, like what Do-kyung did with a Nae-il who is obviously cramped up and in pain. The typical below the belt blow from kdrama’s 2nd female leads. I have no idea why kdrama feels that women who are spurned muz become monsters. Whereas men who are second fiddles remain gentlemen from start to end.

Changed, but acceptable

Cantabile definitely lends a stronger romantic angle to the story. Unlike Nodame — which till the end of the J-dorama series (and even after the two movies), we are still playing a guessing game of how much Chiaki-sama likes Nodame. And because the OTP’s romance is centrestage in Cantabile, there are changes made to the Nodame-character, aka Nae-il. For one, Nae-il is less child-like, even though she acts like one in the beginning. In the recent eps7-10, we begin to see Nae-il, the adult. Starting off with her change in wardrobe from wacky off-coloured co-ordinates, to conservative, trench coats and more subdued colors; Nae-il is shaking off the childish image which was introduced to us earlier.


Then in eps9-10, we see Nae-il conversing with her imaginery younger self, and admonishing her(self) that she muz grow up and accept the “curse” of her musical talent. In addition, her interactions with her Yoo-jin are no longer cutesy cling-to-my-Orabang moves. She falls back on calling him sunbae-nim and starts to deal with him as a woman to man. I consider the scene in ep9 where she stands outside his apartment and ticks him off for being heartless and proud as 100% kdrama material. This is a familiar segment where the Candy in the kdrama stands up to the pigtail-pulling of her chaebol almost-boyfriend, and tells him she will leave him alone from now on. (and thereby inciting a panic attack from chaebol at his loss)


Frankly, I prefer kdrama’s version of Nodame and welcome the change kdrama’s adaptation has given her. Nae-il becomes more accessible as a character than Nodame — she displays the responses we’d expect of anyone when faced with a frustrating relationship.

The same can be said for Yoo-jin. Unlike Chiaki, Yoo-jin is able to get in touch with his emotions and is more aware of the importance of Nae-il and his new friends in his life. Thus, he is more proactive than Chiaki in taking steps to understand Nae-il and also preserve his friendship with Il-rak et. al. It’s also more fun to watch a squirming, discomfited Yoo-jin when he faces off his competitor, Yoon-hoo. Chiaki appears only faintly disturbed when faced with Nodame’s admirer (Kuroki).


Yoon-hoo is a newly created character for Cantabile, strictly for the sole purpose of pushing the romantic front between Yoo-jin and Nae-il. (and to give us second lead syndrome) He is the archetypal 2nd male lead; gentlemanly, caring, warm, talented, good-looking…everything which Yoo-jin is and isn’t. Since Nodame is not purely a romance story, the competitors are never that strong. They are there — Kuroki, Saiko, Masumi — but never as threatening.


I suppose the emotional maturing of both Nae-il and Yoo-jin has to do with the compression of the meandering Nodame franchise into 16eps. But I’m not complaining. To tell the truth, I had always wished that Nodame had more romance and romantic angst.