6th Day of Anime: Kono Oto Tomare

I can feel the flames of the 12 Days of Anime licking at my heels as I write this from the east coast and it’s already past midnight. I tell myself were I back home in Seattle, I’d still be a few hours within the safety lines. The holiday activities are ramping up!

Today I bring you Kono Oto Tomare! Sounds of Life, a series that started airing in the spring and already is on a second season as we enter into the winter. The first episode had me teetering on the edge of dropping this show despite my interest in the subject, and I have my stubbornness to thank for sticking with it and finding one of my favorite stories of 2019.

It’s pretty easy to tell hook me in with the right tags: music, romance, pastels. When I read the premise for Kono Oto, I knew I had to watch it–unfortunately, the pilot episode surprised me for all the wrong reasons. While I find delinquents often overdone in anime, I didn’t mind China’s presence in the show. What I did mind was the amount to discrimination he faced from not only his peers, but even his teachers. The unfairness he faced right from the beginning all through to the end of the first episode had me ready to throw my tablet across the room and turn my back on koto.

Luckily, I returned for the second episode. Call me a sucker, desperate, whatever you want, but I came back and gave the series another chance, and this time it won me over. The delinquent storyline wasn’t over, but it didn’t encompass the entirety of the story and distract me from the content I wanted: seeing these kids come together over music.

So let’s talk about the music, which in this case features the traditional Japanese instrument, the koto. You can find stringed instruments all over the globe in some shape and form, though this one in particular is related to the Chinese zheng. The koto brings with it a long history of musicians and repertoire, and I was particularly interested to see how these might change in the show’s modern setting.

One of the earliest conflicts addresses Chika, who doesn’t have the appearance of a proper koto player–one, because he is a male, and two, because of his looks. His reputation and appearance alienate almost everyone he meets at the beginning, and it’s with great effort of his doing as well as a couple of his supporters that he’s able to move past the barriers set against him. The related discrimination levied towards male koto players affects not only Chika, but also the other male members of Tokise High School. Unbeknownst to me prior to this anime, koto were traditionally played by women despite its origin with men.

When and how did koto start to become associated primarily with women? What kind of demeanor is expected from one who plays koto? What style of music is appropriate to play on the koto? As I ask these questions, this show has just wrapped up its second season. I’ve already seen the members grow together as musicians and as friends, and I have my favorite ships among the different characters. Romance wasn’t my top priority when starting this show, but it has become one of my best cases of it this year. These kids have warmed my heart with their songs and their spirit, and I can definitely use more of that in the coming months.


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