Those Snow White Notes
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Those Snow White Notes ?
With our introductory arc concluded, it's time for Those Snow White Notes to dig into that most classic of anime premises: the school club! Last week our high school cast agreed to formally join the club, but of course that only accounts for 4 members, and every anime knows you need 5 to form a school club! So it's time to spend an episode or two recruiting a new member to- wait, what's that? Rai from last episode goes to their school? And he just joins immediately because he's been established enough that we don't need to convince him to join as an introduction? Well then. Say what you will about this show's expedient pacing, it doesn't waste your time.
The next hurdle – actually teaching these amateurs and novices to play – is not so easily cleared. Setsu is a great player in his own right, but teaching is a different matter entirely, especially since our boy is one of those annoying musical prodigies who never had to bother learning sheet music. And while he tries to be as patient as he can, Setsu must bear witness to the horror every middle school band and orchestra teacher knows all too well: watching a room full of newbies trip their way through the basics. It's a remarkably authentic sequence, as we hear the rest of the cast (sans the more experienced Rai) stumble over their own fingers. My biggest gripe is that, with Those Snow White Notes' patented speedy plotting, we don't really see much of the nitty-gritty of the characters practicing. Partly that's frustration on my part, as I'd really like to know more about the granular details of the instrument, and a training storyline like this would be the perfect place for it (ala the early episodes of Chihayafuru) while also fleshing out the rest of the club. But for now, this is still centered squarely on Setsu, with the others just crossing in his orbit.
Setsu himself would also like to stop being the center of everyone's attention. While last episode allowed him to find some level of peace towards his grandfather's passing, the rest of the Shamisen world seems dead set on tearing that down. His confrontation with Umeko takes center stage, and despite some attempts at slapstick, it's a heavy and uncomfortable scene. Umeko was already established as a bullheaded parent with a bad penchant for steamrolling her son's own interests, but it's here that we get context for why: Umeko sees the talent and fire in Setsu that she did in her father, and is dead set on pulling him into the spotlight to prevent his gifts from, in her words, “smoldering away in obscurity” for his whole life.
There's a lot to unpack in that one line, including the implication that Umeko is just as twisted up inside by Matsugoro's death as Setsu, and it brings the lingering conflict of shamisen competition and prestige to the forefront. Setsu's no longer trying to emulate his mentor, but finding his own sound isn't as simple as just practicing on his lonesome. There's a whole world of musicians out there that he'll have to encounter in some form or another, and with his family's legacy that will likely involve intense expectations of him. Whether his journey means rising to those expectations or defying them, his development is inextricably tied to others, and defining what constitutes “his sound” in that tumultuous mix is anything but simple.
We do get a hint of what his answer could look like with a (sort of) friendly visit from Seiryuu Kamiki. His impromptu duet with Setsu makes for this week's central performance, and while not as lavish with its imagery it overall makes for a fantastic sonic premonition of where Setsu might end up in the future. In contrast with the frenetic duel with Wakana, Seiryuu instead inserts himself as backup, all while subtly challenging and steering Setsu to break out of his comfort zone. It's a sharp move, and does indeed light a fire under him, offering a new perspective towards the competition Setsu has so far avoided. Turning art into competition can make for a miserable, soulless experience, but in the right environment it can push people to grow in ways they never would have if left on their own, and that's potentially a valuable lesson for our hero. Plus the guy's such a smooth operator that he even makes sure their session is just the right length that the rest of the club can use it as a basis for the upcoming competition. As far as rivals go, Seiryuu's top class.
Visually, this episode finally sees the series taking a breather. The central musical number is as excellently staged as ever, but outside of that there's a lot more panning over stills of characters playing, and in general it's just a much more modest production than before. That's far from a bad thing though, as it means we can settle in a bit more with the other characters and start building a rapport with them. I especially like Rai, who acts as a solid middle ground between the experienced Setsu and his neophyte clubmates, being the only other person to pick up on what Seiryuu was doing during his visit. Plus the boy appreciates a hot man in glasses, so you know he's good. But that also makes me want to see more from these characters, to dig inside their head and see how they feel about the shamisen, music in general, or just themselves. We've firmly established Setsu's conflict by now, and it's been great stuff so far, but I really do hope we can start looking outside of him moving forward.
Those Snow White Notes is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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