「見えない境界線」 (Mienai kyoukai-sen)
“An Invisible Boundary”
The episode after a truly great one is always an interesting challenge for an anime. Trying to top the un-toppable is almost never a good idea (your chops have to be off the charts for that to work, like 1-percenter level), but at the same time you have to avoid a letdown. With Kono Oto Tomare, though, that may be a little easier because in a very real sense, this is the first episode of the main storyline. Everything up to now was prologue, a setup for events to come – it just so happened that it ended with a truly spectacular emotional flourish.
In this instance, the first part of the aftermath is quite literally the aftermath – the moment the koto-bu’s performance ended. Or more accurately, the moment after that moment, which was basically the audience being too stunned to do anything. It’s an appropriately boisterous response – even high school students know when they’ve been bowled over. And Satowa-san displays her mastery of adult psychology again, using the occasion to seal the club’s victory by publicly drawing the kyouto-sensei into the afterglow. Chika picks up on her cue and once he throws his weight behind the act, the bitter old fool is powerless to do anything but act like he planned all this from the beginning.
However, this being Kono Oto Tomare, the phrase “never a dull moment” is one that’s going to get a lot of use. And if it’s always darkest before the dawn, maybe it’s always brightest before the dusk, too. For Chika, at least, things continue to spin to the positive when Obaa-san calls him to the shop (alone) after the performance in order to give him his grandfather’s last gift to him. Straight-grained kotos are purportedly the finest there are (Satowa later tells Chika this one is worth over a million Yen), and his grandfather has even engraved Chika’s name in the base.
The funny thing is, I knew straight away Chika was going to bring the koto to school (of course he would, being as proud as he is and unable to openly express it) and immediately thought it was a bad idea – though of course at the time I had no idea how specifically it was going to play out. First things first though, and first troublemakers – and that would be Takinami-sensei, the advisor of the koto-bu who’s mainly enjoyed the gig because the club’s instability meant it generally required little attention from him. He clearly rubs especially Takezou the wrong way – so much so that his acerbic arrival elicits a rare burst of assertiveness from the president.
Making even more of an immediate splash is troublemaker number two, Kurusu Hiro (Matsumoto Sara). A classmate of Takezou, we did meet Kurusu briefly before, when she expressed concern that he was being bullied by Chika and his friends. The sudden flurry of attention for the koto club has caught her interest, and she has a bit of a koto connection herself in that her grandmother plays. Kurusu tells Takezou that she wants to join, but it’s immediately clear that something isn’t copacetic with her interest in the club, and she wastes no time showing her true colors (though never to everyone at the same time).
I had strong feelings about Kurusu’s introduction when I read this part of the manga, but I fear that to discuss them too much would be difficult to do without spoiling what’s to come. I think the best I can say is that if possible, one should take a step back from the immediate emotional response to her (which I found impossible to do in real-time) and let things play out for a while. The thing is, I did know people like her in high school (unfortunately) and Chika’s reaction suggests she’s not the first of them that he’s met, either. But I would say that the way he handles the situation is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen from him earlier – it’s quite mature, in fact.
As for the club itself, Takezou (who makes a new sign to reflect the dreams of the new membership) proposes an entry into the Kanto high school music competition as a dry run for Nationals. And Satowa suggests that the club needs to first learn a classical piece, which places an entirely different set of demands on them than a modern one. Her suggestion is “Rokudan”, the piece Takezou played at the first assembly – and she suggests that he play it for them, rather than she (this is one of the strings Kurusu immediately starts tugging on, though Satowa has very valid reasons that have nothing to do with what Kurusu suggests).
Finally, the mystery of Satowa’s home life begins to emerge, just a little, when she takes a sick day and the teacher asks Chika to deliver the handouts to her. Satowa seems very defensive regarding anything having to do with her house (another string), and when Chika arrives it’s easy to see why – rather than the elegant traditional villa he expects, she’s living in a dingy apartment building (indeed, the difference between the Japanese and English definitions for “mansion” could hardly be better illustrated). Indeed, the story is really just beginning now, and this is another case where assumptions are probably best kept in-check.