As the French writer, Victor Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
Music is a language that we all understand. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re from. Four different people can hear the same piece of music and interpret what the composer is trying to say. Emotions run through music as they run through words. That’s why music is a vital tool for bringing people together. It’s a way of communication that we’ve had in our lives for centuries.
And that message is very much prominent in Kono Oto Tomare!, a music-themed drama that aired in Spring 2019. Produced by Platinum Vision (the studio behind Servamp and Devils Line), it follows the daily life of a high school koto club – a koto being the national instrument of Japan. The start of the series is the start of a new academic year. Takezou Kurata is currently the sole member of the koto club, due to the other members graduating. Takezou needs to find new members before the club is terminated, but with some very strong personalities bursting into the almost abandoned clubroom, will the koto club be able to survive for another year?
Takezou is very similar to another music anime protagonist – Kousei Arima from Your Lie in April. Sure, they both have dark hair which is almost blue and they both wear glasses, but their personalities are very similar too. Although their situations are quite different, both are quite defeatist and pessimistic. Takezou, arguably, is a little bit more optimistic at times, but the similarities between the two characters did strike a chord with me.
Because of Takezou being quiet, it didn’t surprise me in the slightest that there was going to be some sort of personality conflict, especially when you introduce the second protagonist – Chika Kudou. Known for being a delinquent, Chika is probably the least likely candidate to join the koto club. Yet, he was the one who barged into the classroom wishing to join. Personality clashes and battles of interest occur, but eventually, Chika is welcomed into the club, along with some other friends – Kouta Mizuhara, Saneyasu Adachi, and Mitchitaka Sakai.
So far, an unlikely story, right? Even with the introduction of Satowa Houzuki – the daughter of a famous koto-playing family – and Hiro Kurusu, things don’t exactly go to plan. The new set of members get to work on learning the koto and improving their ensemble, not only in an attempt to reach nationals but also to impress their club advisor who seemingly has no optimism for the club. The ups and downs of the club involve manipulation, arguing and members going missing in the dead of night, but, ultimately, their newfound friendships come together and they get things sorted!
That’s a summary of the show, but if you left it at that, it wouldn’t do the show justice. There are so many layers to this series.
Of course, the first set of layers relate to the characters themselves. They have such detailed personalities, it’s almost like the viewer is getting to know them personally rather than through fictional means. Each character’s personality is, of course, shaped by their past and no-one’s past in Kono Oto Tomare! is as two-dimensional as you may originally think. Chika being branded as a delinquent from the get-go, his friends being looked down upon, Satowa being looked up to for being a great koto player already, Kurusu being manipulative… They all have their histories which the series goes into detail. Their stories unravel slowly but as the characters open up, the viewer begins to empathize with them a lot better.
Although the show focuses on Chika’s backstory quite a bit (bearing in mind, it is only the first season), I’m very intrigued about two people in particular. We know, from the later episodes of the series, that Takezou has a complicated relationship with another family member and we’ve had hints that Suzuka Takinami – the koto club’s advisor- has a history with music as well, despite his pessimistic attitude towards the club. Takezou and Suzuka are two of the more mysterious characters in the show and I’m eager to find out more about them!
Characters aside, though, Kono Oto Tomare! does offer a lot. Platinum Vision may not have the most positive reputation for their animation, but they did a wonderful job with this show. I love everything from the colour palette to the cinematography. I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means, but it is certainly more appealing than other shows. The character designs are also lovely. Each character is unique in design and I love how they’ve got such a varied ensemble for the main cast. Amyuu Sakura – the creator of the manga – has certainly nailed her character designs.
The main feature of the show, however, is the one that I’m most impressed by. The music. More specifically, the music of the koto. I’ll admit that I was never really knowledgeable about the koto beforehand, but after watching this series, I have a newfound appreciation for the instrument. It sounds wonderful, even when the club members are nowhere near professional level. The insert songs are lovely to listen to. For a taster, allow me to encourage you to just take a listen to this – an arrangement of Amazing Grace by Kasumi Watanabe.
What I didn’t like, however, was the OP and ED. Considering the show is about a koto club, I did expect to hear koto being used in the opening or ending credits. Was I asking for too much? Who knows? Instead, we got an OP by Shouta Aoi and an ED by Yuuma Uchida, both of which are lovely to listen to but aren’t the most memorable or iconic.
Kono Oto Tomare! is one of my favourites from the Spring 2019 season. With music and high school drama involved, with potential for romance, of course, people are going to compare it to Your Lie in April. Although I don’t like comparing shows with others (despite doing it often…it sometimes helps to get a point across!), I do think this comparison isn’t too bad. If you like Your Lie in April, I think you should give Kono Oto Tomare! a go.
With popular anime such as Fruits Basket, One Punch Man and Attack on Titan having reboots and sequels and the other music anime Carole & Tuesday simply just blowing up in the same season, Kono Oto Tomare! didn’t have a chance of being the most popular show. That being said, it did surprise me and I do think it deserves the respect of being a good high school drama. It wouldn’t surprise if the second season (set to be airing in the fall) made it a modern classic…
Where can I watch this?
You can watch Kono Oto Tomare! on Funimation and Hulu, depending on your region.