Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 30th 2010
Corda D'Oro ~primo passo~
DVD Collection 1
Seiso Academy has two distinct tracks: a General Studies program and a rather elitist Music Department program. Second-year student Kahoko Hino belongs to the former, and has never played an instrument in her life, but she still finds herself as one of six students chosen to participate in the irregularly-held but highly-regarded school-wide music competition for a special reason: she can actually see and hear Lili, the resident music fairy, while no one else can. To give Kahoko a chance, Lili gifts his reluctant protégé with a magical violin, one which can allow her to play with great competence if she attunes herself to a particular piece of music and lets her emotions guide the playing. Gradually Kahoko does develop an affinity for playing the violin, but relying too much on the magic in hers makes her feel like a fraud (she is, but that's beside the point), so she also begins to diligently practice – sometimes too diligently. Fortunately most of her competitors are an agreeable, friendly lot and all but one are sparklingly pretty bishonen, but she still must face off against specialists in flute, cello, clarinet, trumpet, and violin while dealing with the sometimes-disagreeable behavior of other music students and taking a crash course on what it means to be a musician. Later on a piano prodigy disguised as a bishonen General Studies athlete also joins the competition.
The anime version of La Corda d'Oro, whose title translates from Italian as The Golden String (a reference to one of the strings on Kahoko's magical violin) is based on a series of RPGs for the PC and PlayStation platforms which were targeted at female audiences. This should not at all be a surprise, since many aspects of the anime's construction and progression give the distinct impression of a game or visual novel format. In fact, if the series is regarded in a cynical light then viewers can tic off the relationship points Kahoko earns by interacting with each of her potential bishonen suitors in turn. The one other female character amongst the competitors hardly poses any kind of romantic threat or competition, while other female characters are either supportive, mindless groupies, or unattractively catty – in other words, no meaty competition, either. There are even two adult bishonen tossed in for good measure: a laid-back, scruffy teacher and an alumnus who regularly works with the music students.
At least some of the cynicism is warranted, as the first 13 episodes of La Corda frequently allow themselves to be propelled along by standard reverse harem conventions. The distribution of personality traits and physical characteristics is stereotypical almost to a fault: you have the brooding perfectionist who acts like an arrogant jerk (the other violinist); the tall, serious-minded athlete who looks out for the heroine (the piano player); the stunningly gorgeous and perfectly-mannered effeminate pretty boy (the flutist); the exuberantly innocent free spirit (the trumpeter); and the angelically cute, short young one (the cellist), whose dominating quirk is his perpetually sleepy state except when playing. These episodes have all the expected staple scenes, too, like one of the guys saving Kahoko from falling down a staircase, various ones practically pinning her to a wall to talk to her, Kahoko having to nurse one of them who becomes ill from overexertion, a devoted fan club/guard for one of the hunks, girls constantly swarming around some of them, and so forth. The series does throw a slight twist in one of the late episodes of this set by revealing that one of the guys has been two-faced the whole time, a revelation which makes him seem rather creepy from that point out and certainly adds a new layer of tension. Other than that, though, none of the relationship stuff progresses any beyond the norm.
The two defining gimmicks here are, of course, the fairy and the music. Lili is more a device to get the premise to work and push Kahoko along than an actual involved character, though, so after the first episode his infrequent appearances are more flavor and cute infusion than directly impacting. The music gimmick works much better, as it gives the series a focus beyond just having Kahoko dither around about matters of the heart amongst the various boys; in fact, she remains so consistently concerned about musical issues that she has little time to ponder romance. Seeing her grow to take very seriously something that she was initially practically forced into, and actively strive to not have to rely completely on her magical crutch, is the series' greatest strength, and her ongoing guilt over having her magical advantage gives her greater depth and credibility. The series also uses her as a window into the world of classical music for an outsider, allowing it to introduce a wide variety of classical sounds and styles as well as performance attitudes, preparation methods, and the elitism inherent in the discipline. (That degree of confidence is practically required to be a top-level performer, which makes timid clarinet player Shoko stick out like a sore thumb.) By comparison, the scenes focusing on relationship dynamics and character development away from music often seem stiff and manufactured. Keiichi, the cellist, even quickly gets irritating with his intensely laconic behavior.
A series focused around classical music study and competition might reasonably be expected to have a top-quality soundtrack, but the classical music numbers here are punctuations and isolated set pieces rather than backing music and storytelling devices, as they are in Princess Tutu. Fans of classical music will be treated to selections from Schubert, Chopin, Boccherini, J.F. Wagner, Kreisler, Pachelbel, and Paganini (amongst others), but those who are not classical music aficionados will still likely recognize most of these selections, as they have been widely-used outside of the purely classical music realm. The quality of the performance pieces varies enough to line up with criticisms leveled at the performances by various characters and support comments on the different moods and/or energy being conveyed by the performances. Connecting music consists of varied instrumental, orchestral, and piano pieces, with each characters seeming to have a theme keyed to that character's instrument and play style. Later in this set the overall audio effect flows more smoothly, but early on it sounds more like backing music for a video or computer game. Opener “Brand New Breeze,” whose lyrics are about half in English, sets a nice, breezy tone for the series, while closer “Crescendo” is sung in a J-pop boy's group style by the five lead male seiyuu. Word of advice to them: never forget that voice acting is your rice and miso.
Animation production comes courtesy of Yumeta Company, a studio which mostly specializes in support work but has taken the lead on projects like Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time and Neo Angelique Abyss. Most of the time their artistry is clean, bright, and sharp, especially in the character renderings, but occasional lapses in quality control can be noticed by vigilant viewers. Character designs clearly highlight the guys, giving them diverse looks slavishly in accordance with shojo art styles, while girls typically look modestly pretty; Shoko is, in fact, rather plain, and the way Kahoko's hair is drawn gives her a somewhat frumpy look when not dressed up for performance. (Is there a Japanese equivalent to “white trash?”) The animation gives an interesting range to Kahoko's expressions and does attempt in places to animate the finger and arm movements involved in performance numbers, but it is a half-hearted effort compared to elite displays seen in series like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Angel Beats! The animation takes an abundance of shortcuts elsewhere, including recycling footage in crowd shots during the two concert performances.
Sentai Filmworks has not offered an English dub for this one at this time. Amongst the Japanese performances, Rieko Takagi (probably best-known to American fans as Kaolla Su in Love Hina) gets a rare starring turn and makes the most of it, beating out a fairly impressive list of leading male seiyuu to turn in by far the series' best performance to date. Granted, it helps that the script gives her a greater range than any other character, but Takagi admirably hits all the right notes without making the performance seem stereotypical.
As is typical for Sentai Filmworks release, this one has only clean opener and closer for Extras. Subtitle grammar/spelling flaws were minimal but still present. The “Lili's One Point Classic” bits at the end of every episode, which highlight musical terminology and composers, are fully retained.
La Corda d'Oro is arguably weakest in its earlier episodes and does start to come together better as it forges into the double-digit episode count, with the revelation of the façade one character uses giving the series a much-needed jolt out of being absorbed with shojo clichés. It never really more than flirts with being good, and wavers on whether it wants to fully embrace its classical music elements or treat them as a gimmick, but its musical focus is enough to keep it from ever getting bad. Fans of serious-leaning reverse harem series, and those with a strong taste for classical music, should find the series at least palatable.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Plentiful classical music compositions, lead heroine is stronger than most in the genre.
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