「初めての響き」 (Hajimete no Hibiki)
“The First Sound”
I’ve used this analogy as it applies to Mix and Cross Game, but I think it applies to Kono Oto Tomare and Chihayafuru too. Chihayafuru – like Cross Game – if like a torrid love affair, where the first date is a weekend in Paris (though unlike Cross Game this affair has lost its spark for me). Kono Oto Tomare is a first date at the neighborhood flea market and a cafe au lait and a too-greasy croque monsieur afterwards, where you think “they were pretty nice” and exchange a few texts about your pets. There’s something genuine about it but you don’t see fireworks – and we all want fireworks.
Well, here we are. No question in my mind Koto Oto, like Mix, is a series that amply rewards – nay, requires – patience. But this was the point in the manga where if not fireworks, I started to see sparklers. Among the many qualities I value in a series, “genuine” is one I would rank very highly, and I think Tomare has it in droves. In addition to that, as we begin to settle into the routine of trying to learn an enormously difficult art from scratch, the series’ deliberate approach seems like the only possible one it could have taken.
Given that this was where the manga clicked for me, it was an important acid test for the anime. And for me at least, it passed that test with no problems. I felt exactly the same way I did reading this material in the manga, and it’s the characters that are the main reason for that. The symbolism of the dragon is not coincidentally – or at the very least, it is fortuitously – introduced at this point of the story. In Koto Oto Tomare it’s the connections that matter. This entire story is about connections, in some ways we’ve seen and in some ways we haven’t yet. It all springs from the connection Takezou felt with the sempai in the koto club, and it builds from there.
Everyone at the center of the story (and Chika’s posse is very much included) has something they’re struggling against. For Satowa, connections are the hardest thing in the world – and severed connections the greatest source of pain. She’s unable to connect with Chika and the others as a teacher because of her inexperience with others, and also because koto came so easily to her. It’s a truism in sports that the superstar players very rarely become great coaches or managers, because they only know how to approach the game from the perspective of someone with great natural talent for it. Backup catchers and utility infielders tend to make the best baseball managers for a reason.
While Satowa is unable to offer Chika anything but unhelpful criticism when he asks why his finger-plucking tone is so weak, Takezou immediately jumps to the heart of the matter and explains it to that Chika gets it – his fingers are too soft. As with any stringed instrument callouses are crucial, though the acquisition is painful as hell. For Takezou the struggle is to matter, to be relevant, and to believe in himself. Will he ever be as sublime on the koto as Satowa? No way – but he has things to offer as a teacher that she simply cannot match.
What makes Obaa-san willing to let Chika and the other boys practice at her shop? Her connection to his grandfather, with whom Chika’s connection is the reason for his desire to play in the first play. And why do Kouta, Sane and Michtaka work their butts off to become competent after joining the club as “paper” members? Because of their connection to Chika – and it’s after Kouta reveals this to Satowa that she finds her calcified opinions about him start to waver, just a little. All of this is why I loved the scene at the monjayaki-ya so much, because it’s all about Takezou realizing that building connections within the club is critical – certainly with Satowa, but amongst the others as well.
Satowa – and Takezou – find their opinions about Chika start to change in another way as well after they hear him fooling around with the first koto portion of “Ryuuseigun”. They hear what his grandfather did – that Chika has an innate talent for this, even if the diamond is still very much raw and uncut. What Chika really needs is a teacher capable of bringing out the latent talent inside him, but with Biscuit Krueger unavailable that’s no easy task. Both Takezou and Satowa know enough about the koto to see the potential in Chika, and about themselves to realize they aren’t skilled enough to bring it out of him. But then, we’re still in the very early stages of the story so there’s no need to get ahead of ourselves…