I truly felt I was in for something different, unique, and just breath-takingly inspirational from the very first panel of this opening episode. The background noise of the wind and the splashing waves were brilliantly met with the sound of a traditional Japanese shamisen playing, which gets faster and faster as we are shown inside the lighted up home.
Moving onto the plot, the first few scenes we see are essentially a flashback of our main protagonist, Setsu Sawamura (Nobunaga Shimazaki), gazing upon his grandfather playing the shamisen in front of a group of people. The look in Setsu’s eyes are nothing short of star-gazed, and the animator’s did a great job with this scene to establish the main source of our protagonist’s inspiration, that is, his grandfather and his shamisen skills.
Years later, Setsu’s grandfather had passed away, and that shine in his eyes he had as a child is now gone. Armed with nothing but his shamisen, he leaves home for Tokyo, a place he hopes will have more “noise”, as the death of his grandfather had created a void which he cannot fill in his now “silent” hometown.
Next, we are introduced to the beautiful Yuna Tachiki (Rikako Aida), a young Tokyo girl who is working at a hostess club, motivated by a significant other to push through this job she clearly dislikes. It is upon her first encounter with Setsu that the show establishes its themes of comedy, as Setsu is constantly losing his balance and falling onto strangers because of an inability to handle the bright city lights. This comedic relief scene is emphasised when he is beaten up by gangsters on the street, only to be saved by Yuna, who hilariously kicks their asses with some swift martial arts kicks!
Setsu and Yuna’s friendship is established here, and things start to move pretty fast, as the two then meet up with Yuna’s boyfriend, Taketo (Tetsuya Kakihara), who is the lead performer of a band, and somewhat of a self-proclaimed star. When Yuno catches Taketo cheating on her, she does not hesitate to break-up with him, and instead grows a liking to Setsu, who openly disapproves of Taketo’s treatment of Yuna.
The final bit of this first episode just took my breath away. The plot was cleverly accommodated to set the scene for Setsu’s first shamisen performance in front of a large crowd. As Taketo loses his will to perform in front of his fans, after having a fight with Setsu and Yuna at backstage, Yuna asks Setsu to perform with his shamisen as not to let the crowd down.
The ending scenes of this episode end much like how it began, with the beautiful sound of the shamisen, this time being played by our main protagonist in front of an audience, just as his grandfather was doing in the opening segments. It is a story of the passing of the torch, and the reigniting of a flame, as we are given breath-taking moments of Setsu and his grandfather in a dream-like flashback, as the grandfather is shown passing this musical piece on to Setsu, calling it “Jongara”, which he claims “is freedom”. He then asks the question “Now, Setsu. What kind of sound will you give it?”
As someone who loves the philosophical side of anime, I feel this scene was so well done. Setsu’s grandfather never taught him how to reproduce his songs, but rather taught him the real essence of the shamisen, and that is to express that which is within you, and find your own style of play to share with the world. In essence, this first episode establishes themes of loss, self-identity and the passing of the torch, while also exploring the pursuit of dreams, romance and passions with a touch of comedy, to give you a neatly packed summary and feel of what this show is all about.
Looking forward to seeing this series really spread its wings!
ED: 「この夢が醒めるまで」 (Until I Wake From Dreaming) by (Miliyah Kato and The Yoshida Brothers)