The whole “horses for courses” thing is a pretty important factor in any sort of fandom, there’s no question about it, and anime is certainly no exception. We like what we like, no matter how objective we try to be. I can certainly acknowledge that a series like Kono Oto Tomare! isn’t going to be everybody’s bag, and even why. It’s a sort of paean to anti-cynicism, a monument of emotional transparency in a medium where those things are increasingly out of fashion (and where being out of fashion increasingly means being out of existence).
Still, all of that doesn’t amount to much for me, as I can only watch and write from my own perspective. And I can say that as it winds down, there were two moments in anime this season which genuinely got me emotional – and they both occurred in Kono Oto Tomare (the flashback sequence of Touma and Otomi’s first meeting in Mix was the only other that came close). And both during musical performances, as well. I’ve seen the (to me) mystifying criticism that this series doesn’t have enough performance pieces, but do you really want to cheapen them through overuse? It’s all about impact, not frequency.
While this wasn’t a finale episode in any real sense (Kono Oto Tomare is a split cour and will return in October), it was still an episode steeped in payoffs. Not just as noted above, but I think it’s in moments like this that Kono Oto reaps the benefits of all of its extensive character development. It can seem cumbersome during the slow periods, but giving so much background to so many characters pays off when they’re at a crucible. The emotional connection is so much stronger when we feel as if we know all of the people involved, as true characters rather than abstractions.
Takezou seems up to the task of keeping his team together when the biggest challenge is Hiro’s freakout over her first stage appearance. But when he learns the truth of Chika’s injury, all the familiar self-doubts begin creeping back in. It’s Takinami-sensei who spots the problem, and he whisks Chika away from the others before he confronts him and orders him to stand down and get treated. Naturally Chika resists, and Takezou overhears all this. Takinami has already extended himself further than he’s comfortable with, so he kicks the can to Takezou to make the final decision.
Holding Chika out of the club’s performance of “Kuon” would no doubt have been the sensible thing to do. Even Takezou admits that his decision not to do so was the wrong one, but ultimately he doesn’t have the heart to after hearing Chika admit what all this means to him. And in truth, given how inexperienced most of the group is I’m not sure how they would have fared with such a drastic change at the last moment – not to mention the emotional carnage of not having Chika play (especially to Hiro). Takezou was caught in a no-win situation, so he indulged his sentimental side. And the way he confronts Takinami over his own involvement reflects how much Takezou has grown into his role as president over the course of the year.
Nevertheless, the performance itself is a problem. Chika’s hand is bad enough that he’s not able to play with his usual conviction, and distracting enough that he eventually loses the tempo in his duet with Takezou. Again, this is where experience matters – that, and the absence of a leader like Kiryuu-kun to shepherd the group through the rough patches. Things go south pretty quickly, and where she should have been steadying the ship instead Satowa’s own performance becomes erratic.
For me, the moment where Kota steps in and props up the team is that moment – like Chika’s solo in Episode 5. For Kota, the weakest and most insecure of the group, to be the one that saves the day is one of those payoffs – and it reflects the nature of the Tokise dynamic perfectly. This is where a suspension of cynicism is pretty much your hand stamp for entry, but there’s something so elemental and pure about the idea of how powerful it is to put the needs of your friends above your own. This is the very reason why clubs (and shounen manga) exist, theoretically, but we rarely see it depicted with such openness and emotional intensity.
This is also why Suzuka-chan is such an important part of the group dynamic, because he represents the antithesis of that purity. He’s not evil or cruel, but he is guarded and detached – for him, involvement is almost always a bridge too far. It would have been so much easier for him if the koto club had failed miserably as a result of Chika’s injury, but the fact that they managed to overcome it through the sheer determination of the lowest among them is a gauntlet thrown down in Takinami’s path. If he chooses not to be involved now he can’t toss off the blame on the weakness of the club or anything else – he can only look in the mirror.
Even knowing there’s another cour to come, I can’t help but feel a little wistful about just how little of the full story (still ongoing) of Kono Oto Tomare that’s really going to cover. We’ve barely scratched the surface, not just in terms of the story but character too, because this series never stops developing its cast. But even so, what the first season did is quite an accurate reflection of the essence and soul of this series – what’s to come isn’t so much different, but more. More depth, more commitment, more side characters with actual arcs. Even if it’s only two cours in the end, that’s still a hell of a lot better than nothing – and Kono Oto Tomare! reminds us that the world of manga is full of great stories just waiting for anime to get its head out of you know where and adapt them.