Why Nae-il’s Cantabile Is My Comfort K-Drama

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I’m not sure if anyone has noticed this, but the world feels really intense right now. It’s times like this where you want to snuggle into a pile of pillows, turn on a movie or show and just escape. A friend of mine called it “Depression-binging,” but it’s comfort food. Something hearty without feeling heavy or overly important.

For me, one of those shows is “Nae-il’s Cantabile” (or “Tomorrow Cantabile”). Based on the Japanese manga, “Nodame’s Cantabile,” it’s a great drama with remarkably low stakes and yet tackles trauma.

Mild spoilers for the first six episodes.

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The Plot

It follows our leads Seol Nae-il (Shim Eun-kyung) and Cha Yoo-jin (Joo-won). Yoo-jin is the son of a famous pianist and can hear perfect pitch. He’s even able to hear if one instrument in an orchestra is out of tune. He dreams of going back to Vienna and learning from his idol, Sebastiano Viera (Yeol Levi). Unfortunately, Yoo-jin is incredibly arrogant, and due to his legendary father and skills, most don’t check him.

Nae-il, however, is a “leftover” student (those deemed average musicians) and gets ignored by most of the school. She hides in class, hardly does her homework while working on her masterpiece, “The Flatulence Song.” Before you judge her too harshly, please know that Mozart himself has songs with, um, unique titles.

It’s not until chance throws these two together that Yoo-Jin realizes Nae-il is actually a piano prodigy. Around this time, a new conducting professor arrives on campus, the eccentric maestro Franz Von Streseman (Baek Yoon-sik). He has a grudge against Yoo-jin’s father, and he has some of my favorite K-drama looks.

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It’s a rather large cast, but I also want to mention a few key characters. We have Yoo Il-rak (Ko Gyung-pyo), a violinist who dreams of being a rockstar; Choi Min-hee (Min Do-hee), a bass player who is woefully smaller than the instrument itself and Soo-min (Jang Se-hyun), an energetic timpanist. (It’s the giant drums.) Also, if you want to see Park Bo-gum in a pair of leather pants, he joins the cast at episode six as the cellist, Yoon-ho. Just in case you’re the curious type.

I just showed up for a good time, not for all of the feels

The show then gives us a hint of what the drama’s true conflict is. As a child, Nae-il’s teacher discovered her skill and strove to push her to be the best. Unfortunately, the evil harpy the overambitious instructor mentally abused Nae-il, hitting her with a ruler whenever she made a mistake. From then on, Nae-il decided she would only play the piano if it was fun and vowed never to play in any competition.

Yoo-jin, on the other hand, had a traumatic plane experience as a child and now has crippling panic attacks whenever he tries to fly or even swim. He literally can’t move toward his dreams until he overcomes his fears. The show follows them as they learn, grow and eventually heal. Rarely does it do any of the stereotypical Big K-Drama Moments. (No Rain Scene or K-Drama U-Turns!) Many of their scenes are small, quiet moments. But for these two, it’s exactly what they need on their journey together. 

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And before I make this sound like the heaviest, most dramatic show ever, it really isn’t. The first two episodes really lean into its manga origins with Yoo-jin’s stoic attitude and Nae-il’s “NOTICE ME, SENPAI!” energy. From Il-rak’s fanboy father to Franz’s adventures, everyone has a hand in keeping this a fun and entertaining drama.

What amazes me about it is the low stakes. It’s not saving the world or trying to expose a corrupt government. It’s them trying to save the Leftover orchestra and whether Nae-il and Yoo-jin reach their goals. I won’t spoil anything, but the core theme of the show is having faith. Time and time again, conflicts are resolved because a character trusts their friends to have their backs. To catch them when they fall. It all works out fine. Later, another character has a crisis in faith, and again, the power of friendship saves the day.

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This show gently tells the viewers simple but powerful messages. Your friends believe in you, even on days where you don’t believe in yourself. You are not your trauma and you can heal from it. Always try to listen and empathize with others because you might have more in common. I honestly can’t think of anything more beautiful than that.

(Drama Beans [1][2][3][4], HanCinema.)

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