Alternate title: Mashiro No Oto
Manga Adaptation by Shin-Ei Animation
Streaming on Crunchyroll
Setsu Sawamura is the grandson of a master shamisen artist, and a talented player in his own right. After being rebuked by his grandfather on his deathbed, he travels to Tokyo seeking new meaning behind his music.
In theory I’m quite into this – after all, it’s a serious drama about a subject that you don’t see in anime every day, one which connects Japan’s traditional past to it’s hyper-modern present. There are definitely flashes of potential in this opener, what with its mix of relationship drama and musical angst. And yet, something about the whole thing leaves me a little underwhelmed. Part of it is that our main character just isn’t that compelling. It’s tough to care about his moping and his relationship with his grandfather when we barely know either of them yet, and perhaps some of the things we learn here should have been held back for later reveals. There’s also the presence of Taketo, who’s an unambiguous cartoon bully who both feels out of place, and who the narrative somehow expects us to have sympathy for. It’s hard to find fault with any major part of the construction, but the whole just ends up a little hollow, almost like it was so obsessed with being a serious drama it forgot to inject any life into the story. Still, there is potential and it might be worth keeping an eye on.
On paper, this is exactly the kind of show that should be right up my alley. A drama/slice-of-life centered around a traditional Japanese craft or artform, whose misfit characters are just trying to do what they do and make ends meet on the basis of their still-burgeoning skills and not necessarily altogether positive life experiences? Count me in. Problem is, Mashiro no Oto doesn’t strike me as particularly grounded at all. Shamisen material aside (I’m happy to assume the show knows what it’s doing there, and it definitely sounds great in that regard), this series is all about the draaamaaa, complete with improbable situations with improbable solutions, dialogue that couldn’t be more on the nose if it tried, and the more interesting characters being almost immediately shunted aside to make room for far lousier ones. In short, Mashiro no Oto feels like it lacks any kind of subtlety… plus, I spent most of the episode sulking about just how much of a loser Yuna’s boyfriend is (followed by a good several minutes fuming over the fact that they kept him around yet shoved Yuna herself unceremoniously out of the picture).
Compounding these issues is that the pacing seems way off. Everything happens at rapid speed, scene A leading to scene Z with no development in the middle, giving zero breathing room for any of the more contemplative moments (melodramatic as they feel) to actually work. It’s not that I mind moments of random humor – not every drama needs to be deadly serious at all times – but having not read the manga at all, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this premiere attempted to cover a bunch of material that could have easily taken up about 3 episodes. Nearly every scene felt either needlessly rushed, poorly timed, or both, and I dearly wish the potential I saw in the scenes that did work for me were given their due. Combined with the lackluster animation and somewhat pedestrian-looking art style, Mashiro no Oto just doesn’t quite hit the right notes for me.