A Tale of Two Cantabiles

by mrdimples

I am the only one out of the 3 reviewers who has watched Nodame Cantabile Live Adaptation (J version/J drama) so I was saddled with the unenviable task of writing this review with reference to the J drama. I have never written a drama summary review like this before but then again, following Tomorrow Cantabile was one unforgettable experience.

NC poster


Nodame Cantabile J drama



Tomorrow Cantabile – K drama

Truthfully, I watched Nodame Cantabile only to prepare for Tomorrow Cantabile. Let’s just say if I had accidentally chanced upon the J version, I would not have made it pass the first episode. Nodame Megumi was too wacky a character for me. If I had no knowledge of the character at all, I would have thought she suffered from some developmental disorder. I found out later that she was supposed to be an eccentric genius. That’s how Japanese comedies are and that’s why I never watched them.  But I persevered and was surprised at how much fun I had watching the goofballs. If you are looking for pure laughs and not witty humor or satire, Nodame Cantabile delivers.


I also committed the highest atrocity (according to Nodame Cantabile music lovers) while watching the drama, I fast forward most of the music playing scenes. I am at best neutral when it comes to classical music so those scenes were boring to me especially when they went on and on. In the end, my takeaway from Nodame Cantabile was the comedy. It’s not my style but it did make me laugh and once I ignored the nonsense, it was enjoyable.

Fanatic Fans


After I watched Nodame Cantabile, I started to worry about Tomorrow Cantabile. How can they make an engaging show from this? There was no central conflict, no set up for suspense or twist to keep viewers engaged and the romance was almost non-existent by Korean drama standards. I was hoping KBS and Group 8 knew what they were doing. After all, Nodame Cantabile was hugely popular in Japan, won awards and had a cult following in and outside Japan. The fans made it seemed like it was the greatest show ever and while the drama made me laugh, I don’t agree.

KBS and Group 8 probably didn’t foresee how poorly received this drama would be. If this can be considered a gamble, then they placed their bets wrongly. Group 8, KBS and all that were involved in the making of this drama made a mistake in reading the market. This error obliterated everything else. This drama had good writing, production values and the best cast. However, it was doomed from the onset.


When Tomorrow Cantabile’s rating for the first 2 episodes were 8.4% and 7.5%. I worried but kept it to myself because others were saying it’s a good start.  To me, it was not a good sign to start below 10% for what KBS made to be a highly anticipated drama. If there were indeed such interest and following of Nodame Cantabile in Korea, surely there should be more people watching? Usually in the debut, you will have people checking it out and this being a famous adaptation, I assumed even the detractors of the ‘remake’ should be tuning in to find fault.  I found the numbers underwhelming.

Ratings for the second week fell to 5.8% and 6.1%. I knew that the drama could not attract new viewers. Another possible reason for the dismal ratings was that fans of Nodame Cantabile were not watching either. In fact from what I heard, many were bashing Tomorrow Cantabile online.

NC bash

There were those who from the very beginning said Korea should never remake Nodame Cantabile.  In a way, it is technically wrong to call Tomorrow Cantabile a remake because it is not a remake of Nodame Cantabile the Jdorama but rather an adaptation of Nodame Cantabile, the manga. That aside, is there a rule in the universe which says a drama cannot be remade or adapted by another? I find all these arguments laughable. It is as if another version would obliterate the first.

I wonder if this is isolated to Japanese dramas. I do not see any Taiwanese drama fans protesting when Korea decided to remake My Queen or Fated To Love You. I do not think it’s because Taiwanese dramas has lesser appeal than Japanese dramas, I think it is about respecting others.


Many online comments sound fanatical to me. There are some dramas and movies which I love but I have never placed a single drama or movie on such a high and lofty pedestal. I have this image of them enshrining the Jdorama and worshipping it. Call it sacrilegious but if you read those comments, you will understand why I felt that way. They want to live happily in their make-believe world so the idea of another adaptation irked them because you know “What is made perfect can never be made again.” I think the word “Drama Extremists” or “Drama Police” would be suitable to describe such fans and explain their behavior.

Sushi and Kimchi

I do however agree with some online arguments about Korean adaptations of Japanese mangas. They said they have a terrible record. For this reason, I was iffy when it was announced that Group 8 would be the production company for Tomorrow Cantabile. I do not know why they have a penchant for adapting a particular type of Japanese mangas like Itazura Na Kiss (Playful Kiss) and Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers) and manhwa like Pretty Man.

Boys Over Flowers was a huge success but I thought it really wasn’t a good show. However, I could see why Boys Over Flowers worked with the Korean viewers whereas Pretty Man and Playful Kiss did not. Boys Over Flowers had all the ingredients of a typical Kdrama hit – rich chaebol heirs who behaves like jerk-o, candy girl who gets tossed around in a love triangle and evil parent bent on separating the young lovers. Sounds familiar? Even if you hate this, you have to admit these stories bring in ratings and fans.

Crazy NC

When I watched Nodame Cantabile, I already had reservations on how Group 8 was going to make a hit out of it other than banking on the manga/anime fans’ interest. I don’t think the Japanese brand of humor would work on the Korean audience. Well, there are of course Koreans who watched Japanese comedies and enjoyed them but it’s another thing to see it being played in a kdrama.  In the J version, I felt like the actors jumped out of the manga onto screen. They didn’t seem real. It is the Japanese style of manga adaptation. Chiaki was throwing Nodame around like she was a rag doll. By this, I mean literally and not in the Korean drama way. They toned it down in Tomorrow Cantabile but it came off weird. I am sure it didn’t sit well with the viewers. If you have no knowledge of anime/manga, you would think Nodame was being abused by Chiaki.

Korean dramas are famous for getting viewers emotionally invested and addicted. I may sound like I hate makjang but I tell you there’s an uncanny force that makes me glued to the screen weekly to get my dose of hand wringing, cussing and crying at the implausible plotting and twists which the drama generously tosses to its viewers. I saw nothing in Nodame Cantabile story that will have this effect on the viewers. Chiaki and Nodame had backstories but nothing as traumatic as those in Kdramas. The story was lightweight and mainly appealing to manga and/or classical music lovers. I wondered whether classical music appreciation is at the same level in Korea as it is in Japan.

During the same time, Liar Game another Kdrama adapted from Japanese manga was drawing much better ratings and new followers. Liar Game’s story was of a different genre. There were mystery, suspense and cliffhangers aplenty to draw viewers in. I don’t see how Liar Game and Tomorrow Cantabile can be compared even though both were adaptations from Japanese manga.

One counter to all these arguments is that there are many Korean fans of Nodame Cantabile who love the Jdorama and should therefore look forward to the Korean adaptation. However, I think the anticipation is gone once you have seen the first adaptation. And as I had mentioned earlier, there is a difference to enjoying a Japanese comedy and having the characters act out the same way in a Korean drama.

This show reminds me of the Korean Gimbap or Kimbap.  If you expect your usual rice sticks, Tteokbokki with the ubiquitous Korean red pepper paste, this looks nothing like it. For those who stick by their sushi and nothing else, you will scream heresy because they added sesame oil instead of sushi vinegar among other “atrocities”. However, unlike the Gimbap, the Koreans did not take to Tomorrow Cantabile.

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

Joo Won


On Dramabeans, before the drama aired, there were already many people writing all kinds of terrible things about Tomorrow Cantabile and Joo Won. It actually started way early when they broke news of Joo Won being casted as the character Chiaki. Fans of Tamaki Hiroshi and Joo Won’s detractors swore Joo Won is inferior and that he can never be Chiaki. Together they make lot of noise about why Joo Won should not be cast and how bad he would be. The number of Joo Won’s anti-fans must have grown and now they are joined by fans of Chiaki. Perhaps fans of Japanese actors are more outspoken and aggressive than K actors’ fans? They were unabashedly promoting their bias and some repeatedly put Joo Won down to elevate Tamaki Hiroshi and I thought it was totally uncalled for.

TH conducting

Some were less virulent but remained skeptical. It is kind of sad because Joo Won has proven his acting prowess and versatility in a wide range of roles and very demanding ones at that. They were a lot more positive and optimistic on Shim Eun Kyung who impressed with her roles in namely Sunny and the huge movie hit, Miss Granny.

Shim Eun Kyung


When the drama started, I began to read more and more negative comments on Shim Eun Kyung’s portrayal of Naeil. I was not on board yet with her acting in the first week but I thought she was true to the character. The only flaw I saw was that in certain expressions, she had traces of her Miss Granny character. Either those were hers or she hasn’t shed the character. As the drama progressed, Shim Eun Kyung eased into the character and made Naeil lovable and someone we can relate to. Shim Eun Kyung especially shone in emotional scenes.

Let me digress a bit on making funny and ugly faces. Not many actresses can make funny faces without being overly conscious and therefore not achieving the intended effect. So I give it to Shim Eun Kyung for not caring how she looks when she makes all those weird and yes, ugly facial expressions. Ueno Juri on the other hand is blessed with an almost perfect face. It seems impossible for her to look ugly no matter how she tries. In Korea, which is famed for plastic surgery and everyone seeks perfection; Shim Eun Kyung is an anomaly. She can look “better” with plastic surgery but she won’t look like Shim Eun Kyung. Frankly, I am tired of the many actresses and kpop idol who all look alike. I am bringing this up because there were comments from netizens who decried her for not looking beautiful enough. Shame on them.


Most comments centered on Shim Eun Kyung being a disappointment. They felt she was overly exaggerated and annoying amongst other less civil words. I do not know how many of these comments came from people who watched Nodame Cantabile and how many are watching with no knowledge of the manga or anime or J version. Nodame or in this case, Naeil is weird. The only argument I would accept is that weird female character like her is plentiful in Japanese dramas especially manga adaptations. Korean dramas on the other hand have no female character like Nodame as far as I can recollect. Some found Naeil to be a disservice to the female gender. What type of girl keeps throwing herself at a man who pushes her away every single time? Has she no self-respect? Has she no proper upbringing? I actually do not find Naeil as terrible as the character Cha Eun Sang in Heirs. It may look deceiving but it is Naeil who has Cha Yoo Jin wrapped round her little finger as the story progressed. Cha Eun Sang just had me pulling my hair out and this has absolutely nothing to do with Park Shin Hye who I heard is doing an awesome job in her current drama, Pinocchio.


Seol Naeil is not the typical Kdrama heroine. The problem always arises when the Koreans adapt from Japanese manga. The male characters have it easier because they are always handsome and cool. The female characters however tend to look ditzy and half-witted at first impression. I am sure they are not but because I never got beyond the first episode, I never got to see the other side of them. This was probably what happened to those who were not acquainted with the character Nodame Megumi in the manga or anime or J version.

Joo Won has a way of silencing his critics. I first noticed this in Good Doctor where many were casting doubts and unkind words even before a single episode aired. The same happened in Tomorrow Cantabile. But on both counts, Joo Won’s acting put paid to all those doubts and critics except for those will disparage him no matter how well he does.


I was cautiously optimistic that he would pull off the character of Cha Yoo Jin but there was always this nagging doubt in my head – “Is there anything that Joo Won can’t do?” Having watched all his projects, I had felt his greatest weakness was in comedy. In Tomorrow Cantabile, he has proven he is more than capable at comedy. Cha Yoo Jin is a character which is impeccable and cool, a sharp contrast to goofball friends. But Joo Won was a delight to watch in all his reactions to Naeil and the others’ crazy antics, he was simply hilarious. This was not all.  Joo Won  was able to interpret and give his character so many nuanced layers that we could see beneath all Cha Yoo Jin’s stiffness and careless attitude, you just know that he is actually one big marshmallow with a heart of gold.

Tomorrow Cantabile

In the end, Tomorrow Cantabile was sadly never given a chance. Some fans said it was a carbon copy, no originality. Yet others say it deviated too much. There were many nitpickings over how it differed from the J version. They picked on everything from the cast’s looks, the music, the size of Naeil and Yoo Jin’s rooms to the leaves. Yes, they claimed those beautiful autumn leaves were placed there to distract viewers.


Those new to the story were a little thrown off by the quirkiness of Seol Naeil in the first couple of episodes and when they read all these negativity online, many got affected and dropped the show.

I think it’s a pity because this is truly a unique and cute little gem of a drama. To me, it was an amazing, deeply satisfying adaptation of the manga. There were some deviations but they did not feel unnecessary and even added some color to the story. Tomorrow Cantabile turned out to be one of the most enjoyable dramas I have watched in while.

Whenever I am asked, I find it hard to describe this drama. It should be easy because fans describe the story of Nodame Cantabile as one which centers round music and the growth of Nodame and Chiaki. Yet, Tomorrow Cantabile is so much more. It is a story about growing up, a story about overcoming yourself, a story about stretching one’s imagination and opening one’s mind, a story about friendship and unity, a story about love between a man and a woman so different from each other yet deeply connected as soul mates.

I give credit to this drama for giving us a beautiful story about people rather than one which focused on music. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of music but the music never stood apart from the story and its characters. Instead, the drama used music in the narrative and by doing so; the music flowed so naturally into your consciousness till it resonated as one with your emotions. I will borrow Yoo Jin’s words, “Music that cannot communicate to the audience is worth nothing.”

NC S oke


S oke TC




note: I decided to do a separate summary review of this drama. It will be done in a different way by revisiting some noteworthy, swoonworthy or side splitting scenes instead of writing at length. So look out for it^^


7 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cantabiles

  1. I don’t care what the critics are saying, they really did a SUPERB job in Naeil’s Cantabile. The characters had so many layers, the drama was focused on the growth of our two beloved couple: Yoo Jin and Naeil and the people that surrounds them. 🙂

    I am saying this as a fan of the original. I have become accustomed to adaptations from Manga and Novels that I no longer expect it to religiously follow the original material.

    Having said that, this has been the best and well-done manga adaptation I’ve watched. Best cast ever. 🙂 Thank you Joo Won and Shim Eun Kyung! ❤ I love how they take their craft seriously.

  2. Very well said! I’m not a fan of slapsticks comedy, hence, Jdoramas never worked for me. I tried watching Nodame Cantabile after finishing Tomorrow’s Cantabile just to see what the fuzz was but couldn’t sit through 1 episode (and I still have not finished the first episode to this day). So I guess it’s just a matter of preference.

    I thought Tomorrow’s Cantabile did a great job and

  3. …and the casts were amazing individually and collectively. Character-based stories may not be palpable for some audience but I love it when the material is done right. That said, congratulations to the casts, staff and crew of Tomorrow’s Cantabile.

    • And I don’t mind if I read Naeil’s Cantabile as a novel as well. Very good character development I have seen in a drama, the other dramas may be entertaining and angsty—but they simply don’t have depth as this drama.

      I have noticed that whilst the ratings are low, it has a solid, consistent following. That SAYS a lot of things, right?

      Thank you writer-nim, PD-nim and the whole cast and crew for this beautiful show. Please continue to churn out well-written dramas and acting in the future. Mwah mwah mwah! I hope Joo Won and Shim Eun Kyung gets to read our wonderful comments. The critics may push them to do better, but the thing is—it’s the fans who are the ones who brings out the best in that.

      That said, we love you and please continue making magic in the screen!

  4. I think, despite the rating, this drama is still good, for me. I like how everyone in the drama has good chemistry with each other, not just among the 2 main characters. I think shim eun kyung (the main reason for me to be watching the drama) and joo won had done really wonderful job. Especially, joo won. I even forgotten that he is joo won by the time the drama ended because he was so perfect as cha yoo jin. I think it is truly not fair to compare him with chiaki. Chiaki is not even real, and I’m referring to the anime version. I don’t know why but I always find the anime version to be more exciting than the Japanese live action version. I don’t think the producers of tomorrow cantabile are worried though. The drama may not be so highly rated in its own country but internationally, it will always do well in the end.

  5. I totally agree with everything you wrote here, starting from the haters and their comments about this show. But I couldnt agree more about your thoughts on this adaptation, the casting, the story. Good to know that Im not the only one who appreciates this drama. ,;)

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