Those Snow White Notes
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Those Snow White Notes ?
You really have to feel for Setsu. All this kid has wanted to do this entire show is play his gosh darn shamisen and properly grieve his grandfather in peace. Yet with the exception of a few friends, it seems like every other person in his life is obsessed with dragging him into their own drama over lineage and reputation. We've seen it with Umeko. We've seen it with Mai and Souichi. And now we see it brought to its ultimate extreme with his father, Kamiki Ryuugen.
Yep, it would seem there's a whole 'nother layer of drama going on in the Sawamura family tree. We'd had an inkling since episode 5 that there was something up with Setsu's heretofore absent father, but even I didn't expect Mai and Souichi's barely present dad to be the culprit. That both adds a whole new level of tension to the kids' one-sided rivalries, as well as explaining some of the sheer animosity we saw between Umeko and Mai's mother. There's an entire shamisen-themed soap opera going on behind the scenes of this tournament, and our moody hero would give just about anything to get away from it. That's actually what makes this twist work for me most of all: in other shows this could simply serve to make Setsu more of a super special protagonist, what with him being the descendant of two storied and important family lines, but here it's exactly that legacy that he's trying to get the hell away from.
It's especially exemplified in the awkward little family reunion Umeko and Ryuugen have backstage. The pair may not be together anymore, but they're certainly peas in a pod, playing tug of war with their son's future all while his brother is sitting right there in the room to witness it all. Yet for all they argue about what's “best” for Setsu, what he “needs” and who he should belong to, there's never a word spared for what their son actually wants for himself. It's clear that whatever affection they may or may not have for Setsu, his potential talent takes priority, and the only disagreement they have is over whose family name he'll serve to immortalize. Wakana says it perfectly: these people are exhausting and it shows both why Setsu was so attached to Matsugorou and why he would skip town to get away from all of this.
Thankfully, in spite of his parents' attempts to railroad him, Setsu does have an avenue away from all their garbage. While the rest of the club are taken aback by this whole revelation (well, Yui does have other concerns, but don't worry: Mai and Shouichi aren't Ryuugen's biological children, so that rivals-to-lovers ship she's writing can still avoid the “incest” tag for now) their very presence proves they're a better support base than two-thirds of his living relatives. What's more, even if this whole tournament was a setup to rope Setsu into their mess, it may also offer the example he needs to escape in earnest. Whilst the adults are busy arguing over the best way to use the next generation to further their own agendas, those same kids are up on stage making statements for themselves, regardless of what the old folks have to say.
First up is Arakawa, who absolutely earns his showboating status in what I can only describe as a rockabilly shamisen performance. Like before, his piece isn't as lavish or layered as Setsu's have been, but it's undeniable how much fun it is to watch. Dude throws caution and tradition to the wind to just rock out, and I once again have to compliment how on-point this show's musical work is. Despite a dozen different players working with the same instrument, no two characters have ever sounded the same, and that attention to detail and sonic diversity means moments like this pop in ways they wouldn't with a lesser production. Arakawa isn't going to win anything, and he's far from the most important character in this tournament, but he leaves an impression all the same and does it with palpable style and confidence.
Kaji is decidedly less confident, but in a sequence that perfectly demonstrates the positive sides of this whole competition, seeing Arakawa rock out gives him the motivation to push himself for the individual competition. The resulting performance is a little lopsided, but that's entirely on purpose as we follow this puppy dog of a boy trying to step out of his comfort zone for the first time. It unfortunately doesn't end well for him – broken strings are the nightmare of so many musicians – but that's actually part of the point. Being frustrated or nervous, wanting to do better and grow as an artist, are essential and meaningful parts of the creative process, and the exact kind of drive that will help Kaji, Setsu, and all these other kids grow into their own. That's ultimately what makes any of the judging or tournaments worthwhile – not the praise of victory or the glory of recognition, but the chance to learn something you couldn't on your own.
That's at least where I'm hoping these final verses take the show. Those Snow White Notes has done a remarkable job of balancing its over-the-top character drama with just enough grounded emotion to carry it this far, and this late-hour reveal has made me all the more excited to see these kids carve out a place for themselves. Also, somebody please buy Wakana a drink after all this. Yes, I know he's still under the drinking age despite looking 32, but he deserves it.
Those Snow White Notes is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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