Title: Kono oto Tomare Season 1 / Stop This Sound!
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Music, drama, comedy
Year of release: 2019
Maybe it’s a bit of a harsh comment, but Kono oto Tomare’s greatest selling point is in its setup. The narrating points are split between three characters, who probably couldn’t be more different, and the only one wearing a typical anime protagonist’s backstory is the spectacled (and oft forgotten) nobody, Kurata. Throw in the fact that the narrative writing feels like a hodgepodge of typically shoujo manga traits with a more typical shounen spin, and Kono oto Tomare might feel fresh – until it falls down the pitfalls of its melodramatic arcs.
As are many of Kono oto Tomare’s story beats, the setup is no stranger to anybody that’s acquainted with general club anime. Kurata is the last surviving member of the Koto (a traditional Japanese string instrument) Club, and needs to make an appeal for more members to keep it alive, and perhaps continue his former member’s dreams of participating in (or potentially winning) the national tournament. He is regularly bullied to the point of black eyes and broken ribs (because, for some reason, half of everybody in this show pole vaulted over being simply a jerk), and the misunderstood, violent delinquent of his school, Chika, steps in to stand up for him. Chika wants to join the Koto club, despite his reputation for burning down a Koto shop, which shows Kurata’s backbone as he says ‘no’ (despite the desperation for club members). Due to a situation to do with the headship of their school conspiring against Chika, and you end up in a situation where Chika’s coming-of-age moment manages to inspire everybody around, and you have him in the group. Then along comes a Koto prodigy and Chika’s friends to pad out the club number, and the story telling and character building begins.
Now, I wanted to go insofar to demonstrate the extremity of its situations – but it goes much further, with Chika’s backstory featuring fighting random thugs on the street, characters dramatically clutching knives with the blood flowing down their wrists, a character later introduced who wants to tear the band apart for fun… etc. I don’t want to sound like the genre police, but Kono oto Tomare seems to regularly forget that its core is a musical competition show and not a soap opera relying on cheap tricks. The blending of its far, far reaching melodrama is hard enough to take seriously as it is, but leaving it as a background component not only exasperates the whole situation but makes the show rather jarring at times – especially as its dedication to loud comedy and oversold theatrics comes across as the show giving 110%, 100% of the time, and it pays the price for it.
Still, many of these issues feel like growing pains. Kono oto Tomare seems to undergo a lot of changes as the show continues into its musical competition aspect. At some point, the theatrics are exchanged for much calmer dramatic arcs; and as Chika’s burgeoning relationship with sassy koto prodigy, Satowa, taking the spotlight, the much more forgettable, actual protagonist in Kurata is largely forgotten. Though, that may be a good thing, as the two that rise to prominence do so out of their naturally high levels of backstory, so the feeling of competence and interesting developments rises above a potential Protagonist Does It All situation – but it still comes across as poor planning. Many aspects of Kono oto Tomare’s longer viewing comes across a a writer changing their mind and being unable to edit priorly released volumes of manga.
As the series leans on its built relationships and less on shock value, it does become a bit stronger, but it doesn’t cover up the fact that this is still a fairly typical music competition anime with all the usual rivalries-to-friendships that you’re used to (and, when they’re introduced near Season 1’s final hours, it mostly just distracts). Throughout mediocre animation that largely focuses away from the articulation of the instrument, the constant monologuing through performances and over-editing the music to make damn sure you’re keeping up with their mistakes, koto fans and potential koto fans might feel disappointed by the inability to just hear the music, so the gimmick separating this musical competition anime from the pack can feel unexplored. It would be unfair to say that Kono oto Tomare misses the cathartic highs and exciting tension, because this show that gives 110% all the time is at least impassioned enough to hit the notes – but it’s not enough to stand out. And, if you couldn’t tell from the chosen screenshots, the show’s sense of photography is a bit weak and its art can be mediocre, so it can’t rely on visual storytelling to help it stand out either.
Ultimately, that’s Kono oto Tomare’s crutch – it doesn’t stand out. There are many much stronger musical competition anime, and the occasionally charming spin on well-worn tropes doesn’t overcome the sloppy melodrama and the seemingly unplanned evolutions in writing. Still, the leads have a snappy rapport and the show has enough gusto that it’s truly hard to dislike, but it just isn’t enough to be more than an average excursion in a crowded genre. It’s important to reiterate that many of its weaknesses are straightening out by the time the show ends, so it might be worth checking in with Season 2 (in October) to see more of the good bits and less of that bad bits, but there’s a lot of work needed to recover from this.