Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life
Episode 5

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life ?

Watching Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life has encouraged me to seek out koto music. I've been listening to it on YouTube and there's a clear divide between traditional and contemporary styles: the classics allow one note at a time to resonate while modern music is more intricate, showing the full range of the koto's capabilities. By episode five, “Let Our Sound Resound and Reach Them,” we already knew the club was practicing to present the complex contemporary Ryuuseigun piece (which you can watch here). But nothing prepared me for how emotionally evocative their performance would be, especially when portrayed alternately with scenes from Chika's memories. The combination of powerful sound and emotional impact made this the most unforgettable episode yet.

“Sound is another language for those that can't communicate well. It's perfect for clumsy and easily-misunderstood people like you lot.” Those are the koto shop proprietress' words to the club, as well as the theme for this week's episode. In a way that rings painfully realistic to any teenage experience, our club members' shared weak point is their difficulty in conveying how they feel to one another. This is particularly crystallized in the episode's initial conflict, when Satowa learns that Chika never actually damaged the instruments in his grandfather's shop, but was merely framed for the crime. I didn't realize Satowa felt this way, but it explains a lot of her prior behavior—when she refused to let Chika help carry her heavy 17-string koto, I thought that was a reflection on her own trauma, not her opinion of him. In a rewarding moment of character growth, Satowa is able to articulate how sorry she feels. “Sounds reveal a person's true nature,” she thinks to herself. Chika may seem rough around the edges, but the sound of his koto-playing tells her what kind of person he is moreso than his actions. It's a huge moment in their deepening relationship when she asks him to carry her koto.

A revealing conversation between the koto shop proprietress and her old friend, the school principal, shows that the club was never in any danger, no matter what the evil vice principal may think. I laughed to discover that the president put up with the VP's scheming just because he wanted to hear some good koto music. But for all this silent support from the sidelines, the overt reception to the koto club's school assembly is chilly to say the least. Though everything seems to be against them, it's entirely believable that the surprising sound of the koto performance is enough to convey how passionate these kids are about their club. It's also charming how everyone's low expectations have the opposite effect on these misfits: “No one's gonna listen anyway, so let's just give it our all!” Additionally, Satowa's brusque pep talk about mistakes turns out to be prophetic; after one member screws up, she's able to adjust her play style to get everyone back on track. It's another great example of how Satowa is growing as a person, and how much easier it is to express herself through her music than through her words.

As the soundtrack improves, the animation becomes increasingly minimalist. There are lots of still images with low-effort panning that accompany some of the episode's most pivotal scenes, from the performance to Chika's memories. Backgrounds have gotten sparser, and sometimes we just get blank walls. We also see the exact same shot of the audience twice. This was clearly not meant to be an animation-intensive project, so it's lucky that the storytelling is relying more on the incredible instrument at the heart of its premise. After this episode, I fully believe that the club's koto-playing will be able to move peoples' hearts.

Rating:

Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life is currently streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.


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