I may have rated this a bit high, especially because there’s no actual koto-playing in an episode about a koto club, but something about Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life is just so engaging that it felt like the episode flew by. A bit like Mix, this is perhaps better classified as a story about the characters’ development with the koto as the instrument of their change. Not that I don’t expect it to play a larger role going forward, but as of this episode I suspect it of being more of a catalyst for character work than the central, or at least sole, focus of the show.
That’s certainly the case in the series’ opening salvo. Both of the ostensible protagonists, Takezo and Kudo, have had the instrument influence their lives. Takezo sort of fell into it; he empathized with the awful performance the club gave at his opening ceremony as a first-year and when he went to compliment them on it, the girls in the club all assumed he was coming to join. Naturally retiring and not necessarily good at saying “no,” Takezo couldn’t turn them down. Now as a second-year, he’s found himself in the same position they were in last year: he desperately needs new recruits. But unlike the welcoming third-years who have now graduated, Takezo isn’t comfortable just asking, or even accepting, anyone who comes by. Largely this seems to be because he’s become the target of three bullies, guys who have taken over his club room and threaten him physically on what seems to be a daily basis. It’s because of this that he lets his prejudice blind him when a first-year does come knocking.
What’s striking is that Takezo is otherwise a seemingly nice guy, and he does do the right thing by the end of the episode. That’s important not just because it makes Takezo more likable, but also because it sets the stage for the other protagonist, Kudo, to grow. Chika Kudo has had a tough row to hoe for a long time – we don’t know much about his family, but it’s strongly implied that he fell in with a bad crowd and was kicked out by his father, winding up with his koto-maker grandfather. I suspect that Kudo’s dad was at least part of the reason he was fighting in the first place, and it seems like Grandpa might have thought so, too, going out of his way to help Kudo find a channel for his anger and energy. Naturally that’s the koto, a traditional thirteen-stringed instrument played with picks attached to the fingers. (There’s a seventeen-stringed version too, but it’s too early to tell which they’re using.) That no one is willing to believe that Kudo has changed is just part of the tragedy of his life; twice he’s framed for koto-destroying crimes and people are all too eager to believe he did it.
That makes the episode’s defining moment Takezo listening, and believing, Kudo’s one friend and going to stand up for him. It’s big for both characters – Takezo has found his courage and taken off his blinders, and Kudo sees someone who once refused to let him in the club really pay attention and take his side. It feels like this will be the basis for the series, and if that comes with koto playing, I’m up for seeing where it goes. You can also free Kono Oto Tomare! anime watch online and free anime download.
Quite literally the dark horse and the best hidden (diamond) gem of the Spring season that not a lot of people are giving it the recognition it severely deserves. In my view it's no AOTS nor a masterpiece, but it's a really satisfying watch. And this journey to stardom isn't quite over yet, as the 2nd cour airing in Fall 2019 will continue this journey of the Tokise High School Koto Club. And the TGI-Saturdays of highly-intensified music marathon is over for this period.
Like can you believe that the 2nd cour was planned right when the show just started it's pilot episodes? That's some fierce determination right there.
But first, a quick background about the Koto, which is the centerpiece of the series. Made in 13 or 17-string variants, the koto is a rendition of the Chinese Guzheng, and is the Land of the Rising Sun's national instrument, having heralded first in China over many centuries. It is a marvellous piece of instrument with sounds unlike any other (the stringed "Angels" harp doesn't even come close). And so far, no music series has so far encased the use of the koto (as much as I've seen anime and read manga for so many years).
The story goes of the Tokise High School Koto Club, once a club of mediocrity, and with seniors playing for the fact that the tone doesn't strike as "Aim for Nationals!", the small reminder poster in the tattered practice room. To make matters worse, a second-year by the name of Takezo Kurata, is the ONLY surviving member of the club, with his seniors graduating all at once. Not being outdone, as the new president of the club, he tries to recruit people to continue the tradition of playing the koto, though with that said, Takezo is an amateur player. Not to mention that his cowardly-self also impacts the club, right down to his own brother having to coerce him into determination and courage not to back down, and raise the club's morale he (eventually) did.
And then...in comes the school's most notorious person, responsible for in and out-fighting of people, and labelled a delinquent: Chika Kudo. Funnily enough, if you paid attention to the meaning of his name (in Hirakana), his name means 爱, or "love", speculating that his friends call him names for his childish personality. Being a delinquent in his younger years, plus the fact that his grand-dad made Koto instruments for people, IMO the Koto would have saved his younger years (but it wasn't meant to be), but through his harsh lesson to learn and understand to express himself as time passes in this series. But, he's not alone.
With his good ol' bud Tetsuki Takaoka, he was the right-hand man and close friend of Chika whenever he couldn't weaver his way out of any trouble, both major and minor. But Takaoka isn't just Chika's advocator. He also helps addresses issues with Takezo on Chika's past, and whilst helping Chika rekindle his grand-dad's pursuit on the Koto and get back in the groove, for replacing his anger management and violence issues. And I say that Takaoka is best support character, really wished we all had a close friend like him in the deepest ranches of the furnace.
With the duo set in motion, plus the three followers/stooges (Saneyesu, Sakai and Mizuhara) joining in the venture, there stood a powerful figure, one of the most hardworking but underappreciated figures in the Koto world: Satowa Hozuki. Born a prodigy in a harsh family enviromment that is built upon skill and tone, she was abandoned by her mother and the entire family group and left to her own devices, whilst still maintaining a super-strong calibre that at most times with a very stuck-up attiude (that slowly becomes neutral overtime), takes a very heavy toll on both her physical and mental being. As you can tell, being a prodigy, also meant being a teacher to essentially everyone in the club, since they are learning from scratch. As time passes, she becomes the quintessential member of the club, spurring everyone to do their best...
And it would be a BIG sin for me to leave out the truly short but cute and romantic moments between Chika and Hozuki. It's her having a crush on Chika, but at best hiding it from his naivety. I LOVE THESE stress-relieving MOMENTS A LOT.
Hiro Kurusu, the classmate of Takezo's class, is what I imagined to be the series' Malty/Bitch. A stuck-up character caught within the "Waves of Desolution", trying to bring down the club with her double personality. Fortunately, Takezo sees through that personality and warns her to give up this thought, while processing the benefits of the club.
And the final character, the not-as-hopeful Suzuka Takinami-sensei, the club advisor. Knowing the desolute days where the Koto club would not suffice, he has placed less emphasis and brought more criticism to Takezo. But however, like past experiences, with his facade intact, as he saw the Koto club improve overtime, so does his negative thoughts that subsequently faded away. Not entirely, but surely.
To me, this series does a super great and tremendous job at the character development of each and every member related to the Koto Club, be it family members or even rival schools in the Nationals, their quest of overcoming their past identities and forging new links of their own, and it definitely has shown that and more. I can even consider this the "golden (Harry Potter) Snitch" of the series.
To the studio responsible, this is like Studio 8-bit's Magnum Opus (which was the Slime Isekai series), to which this is Platinum Vision's Magnum Opus, the flagship series representing the studio's best and talented efforts. Artwork and animations are super detailed thanks to renowned directors Junko Yamanaka and Toshimitsu Kobayashi who did the manga source material justice, and a whole lot more. Some rough details but nothing too off, and the full experience is wholesome.
But being a musical series, what is there to say if I didn't "Stop This Sound!" about the music, which is the anchor for the series. And I have to give a shoutout to sound director Hajime Takakuwa. Being the SD for the current Black Clover and classics such as Spice and Wolf, there is no one person perfect for this job as this talented man (albeit with a few mediocre ones). The Koto pieces were truly indistinguishable from the IRL ones (albeit with some differences), and this made all the difference. Not to mention that both the OP and ED are great too. And it's been awhile since I've heard a Shouta Aoi song, and his OP song "Tone" really fits the (literally) tone shift of the series. The ED "Speechless" by Chika's VA Yuuma Uchida is a damn perfect ending, as music renders us "Speechless" at its play, and this is my ED of the season. Plus, spectacular jobs and props to the VAs, marvellous and convincing acting.
The only thing I'm sad for is that with the sesasonal battle between this and Shinichi Watanabe's "Carole & Tuesday", I'd wager which series garnered the most attention (and it's an obvious one to boot). Regardless, even if you're NOT an anime fan of the music genre, I highly, HIGHLY recommend that you give this series a second chance to not skimp on it.
Because the journey of Takezo, Chika, Hozuki and the others aren't done yet.
Because of the split-cour decision (2nd cour in Fall 2019).
Because of such an underrated series like this.
Because of all the above, no one series is perfect to a T, but watching it makes your time worthwhile.
Because I believe (and you should too) that it could be more than this, and expectations run high.
More importantly, because being casual is the easiest way to strike a chord, and being comically serious strikes THAT chord into something beautiful.
Awaiting Season 2 / 2nd cour in Fall with greatness.