Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life
Season Two BR
The Tokise Koto club has grown from being only Takezo to being seven members strong, and now their dream of playing at Nationals has gone from a fantasy to something that's very possibly achievable. Despite the fact that four of their members have had to start from the ground up, they're steadily growing as musicians. But when Hozuki's past comes back in a very real way with the introduction of the new heir to her family's koto school as a teacher for the club, will their chance at success be sabotaged?
Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life may be the heaviest show about playing music in recent years. While it doesn't have some of the tragic elements that something like Given has, it still is rooted just as much in its characters' personal traumas and tragedies as it is in the classic Japanese string instrument they all play. That doesn't always make it easy viewing, but it does make it rewarding when things finally begin to go the club's way after a series of setbacks both real and lurking.
That said, this season does open on a slightly lighter note with the obligatory school festival storyline. While the culmination of the festival is the club's performance – which is once again tied to their existence by the assistant principal, who has been the most obvious school antagonist – the nature of the storyline and the fact that the club members are largely in the same two classes allows them to spend time with each other in a different capacity. Generally speaking, this means that the two budding relationships get a chance to be the focus of the story for a couple of episodes; Hozuki and Chika begin to see each other as more than just vaguely antagonistic friends while Hiro and Takezo get the opportunity to understand that neither of them is exactly who they assumed each other to be. While it's clear that the “main couple” of the two pairs is Hozuki/Chika, in some ways the Takezo/Hiro couple-in-waiting is the more rewarding relationship. Largely this is because of how the two sets of characters have grown over the course of season one; Hozuki and Chika have been struggling to get past very real, intense personal tragedies that involve the loss of a parent-figure and being blamed for things that were beyond their control or not at all their fault, and have never been anything but authentically themselves. Hiro and Takezo, on the other hand, have struggled with standing up for themselves and being strong and secure enough to present their true faces in a school or social setting. Therefore when Hiro shows vulnerability or when Takezo stands up against bullies, either his own or those after Hiro, it's a major triumph and a distinct sign of character growth. They're almost taking the opposite trajectory of Hozuki and Chika: the former are learning to be secure and strong, while the latter are softening towards others.
Both are important developments as the season approaches its climax, because they allow the characters the confidence they need in order to succeed on stage. They also bring all seven of the club members closer together as they help each other and grow together as friends, something that's very much needed when the demons of Hozuki's past show up. That she invites them in makes the entire debacle that much worse – when the koto club needs a second seventeen-string koto, Hozuki humbles herself and asks her mother to lend her one, which of course means returning to the home she was (horribly) thrown out of. To make things even worse, Akira Dojima and her grandmother are present. Akira was an acquaintance of Hozuki's before, and with her expulsion from the family and koto school, Akira's grandmother managed to get Akira named the heir to the school. The woman is not happy to see Hozuki back at the family home and decides that she can use the fact that the former heiress to the illustrious Hozuki School is now in a no-name high school koto club to her advantage. To that end, she manages to get Akira named as the teacher for the club, planning to use whatever knowledge Akira can glean to destroy the club and Hozuki.
To say that this is reprehensible and despicable doesn't quite feel like enough. Even if we ignore the fact that a grown woman is using her (adult) granddaughter to pick on a group of children, the sheer gall of the woman is appalling. She's ignoring the wills of multiple people, and it's only when the club members band together to take a “turn the other cheek” approach to Akira's too-strict teaching that Akira starts to realize she's too much under her grandmother's power. Akira's evolution as a character is one of the most impressive pieces of the story for this season, because she never really has an epiphany about her situation – she simply changes the longer she's with the koto club and comes to realize that first impressions aren't always correct, and that maybe her elders are fallible as well. It's ultimately Akira who soothes the situation for Hozuki and her mother, and while we may not necessarily think that Mrs. Hozuki deserves forgiveness, the show does a good job of reminding us that it's not our call and that Hozuki really does need her mother. Her relationship with her mom is also used effectively as a foil to the reconciliation Chika never truly got to have with his grandfather, and the final scene of the show is also one of its most beautiful.
While the series absolutely deserves the twenty-six episodes it has, there is a little drag towards the end with episodes focused on the two main competitors that Tokise faces. It's not that their differing attitudes and skills where the koto are concerned aren't interesting and don't merit exploration, but more that they feel a little shoehorned in and not quite enough has been done to make us really care about them. The music, however, is amazing, and we get a real sense of each club from their competition selections, all of which are diverse and wonderfully different. (As a lapsed cellist, I find the way the koto is played fascinating all on its own.) Sub and dub casts are nicely comparable, with the only voice that I found to be strikingly different being Hozuki, who sounds a bit more vulnerable in the Japanese track.
Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life has a strong finish, and despite a couple of episodes that don't feel quite as significant as they could, its second half is well done overall. While we could have wished for a soundtrack as an extra, the four art cards it comes with instead are printed on very nice stock and are a cut above the more commonly seen postcard-style. It would be lovely if someday we got a third season (or the manga), but if this is all we ever get in English, it still feels like a worthwhile thing.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Good character development, wonderful music. Takinami starts acting more like a decent teacher.
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