OP: 「Tone」 by (Shouta Aoi)
「新入部員」 (Shin’nyuu buin)
We’re in the midst of one of those days when it seems like most of my most highly-anticipated series premiere all at once, as seems to happen more and more often lately. It was a close call this season, with no clear standout and all of the other contenders having some qualifiers holding them back, but Kono Oto Tomare! was probably my top show going into the spring. Certainly there are others that had the chance (and still do, I believe) to be better, but none which were so likely to be at least really good.
As with Mix, Kono Oto Tomare is yet another adaptation of a manga I’ve been following for a long time. And as with Mix I was it seemed inevitable to me than an anime would happen – the manga sells very well (approaching 3 million volumes now), and it has all the ingredients to do well as anime (at least artistically). Some series we like more than our head tells us we objectively should, and some less – and for me, Tomare is definitely the former. I have a deep affection for this series, even though it sometimes drives me a bit nuts.
While it would be wrong to make too much of the comparison, I’ve always kind of felt that if Chihayafuru is a shoujo that’s published as a jousei but plays like a shounen, Kono Oto Tomare! is a shounen that plays a lot like a shoujo. And for me there is some kind of middle ground where Chihayafuru and this series meet. Between the look of the character designs and the general tone – not to mention the premise – Tomare has always put me in mind of Chihayafuru. But as I said, that comparison only goes so far, and the deeper you dig into it the more you realize this one is very much a different animal.
Kono Oto Tomare is the story of the Tokise High School koto club and the kids who provide its beating heart. Third-year Kurata Takezou (Enoki Junya) in an under-confident incoming president who’s inherited the club from his upperclassmen and is its only remaining member. First-year Kudou Chika (Uchida Yuuma – again) is a boy with a very bad reputation which precedes him, stemming from a life of crime in middle school culminating in a nasty incident at his grandfather’s house and koto workshop. There are plenty of other members to come, but we’ll get to them in time – the depth of strong characters is definitely one of this series’ most potent narrative weapons.
It isn’t immediately clear who the protagonist of this series is, and maybe it’s best to say both Takezou and Chika are – though I have my own feelings on that question (and it was clear to me who was originally the protagonist, and that it changed over time). For now it’s all good, as these two make a very good contrast – Kurata-kun is timid and plagued by self-doubt, and Chika all brashness and snarling defiance. But of course it’s a snarl that masks a lot of internal pain, which Takezou can’t see at first but eventually does with the help of Chika’s best friend Takaoka Tetsuki (Hosoya Yoshimasa, for once perfectly cast).
Just as Kimetsu no Yaiba makes its hay by executing one type of shounen very well rather than by breaking new ground, so it is with Kono Ono Tomare!. But this is a very different sort of shounen, obviously. We’ve seen these tropes many, many times – the club which will be shut down if it doesn’t get new members, the misunderstood delinquent, even the kindly kouchou-sensei with a connection to the club’s past. Yes, as with Kimetsu and Mix too, Kono Oto Tomare! will likely feel very familiar at times. But mangaka Sakura Amyuu has a deft hand with the material and she’s almost a genius when it comes to character and character dynamics. As well, this series just has unbelievable amounts of heart – heart which it very often wears on its sleeve (so don’t say I didn’t warn you).
There’s one other element that’s crucial to this series that I haven’t talked about, and that of course is the koto. As with Chihayafuru (and Hinomaru Zumou, and Kabukibu!, etc.) we have a series about a traditional Japanese cultural icon in club form. And as those series do, this one expertly paints a fascinating portrait of a subject most Westerners (like me) know little about. And this should be an area where Tomare can soar as an anime even more than as a manga, because we’ll be seeing the club’s koto performances (it’s hardly a spoiler to say they’re plot-critical) brought to life by actual performers. The early returns suggest it’s going to do very well in depicting those moments, and with two split cours to work with, Platinum Vision and director Mizuno Ryouma have enough time to give viewers a real sense of this ongoing story, and a natural stopping point to aim for. I’m not going to say Kono Oto Tomare! is the spring show with the highest potential, but I won’t be remotely surprised if it ends up being the one with the most rewarding results.
ED: 「Speechless」 by (Yuuma Uchida)