Connection. It is a topic that’s meaningful for many of us. Whether it’s connecting more deeply with yourself, making time for self-care, simply connecting with others, or wanting to feel connected in life. When you’re watching a sporting event with your friends, you’re experiencing connection. When you gather with your family for dinner or open up and express your authentic feelings to another person or find you have something in common with someone, you’re experiencing connection. 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.
But really, connection is where the good stuff happens. Our relationships with others encourage growth, insight, and new ways of thinking. Connecting with ourselves teaches self-love and self-acceptance. Kono Oto Tomare embodies all of these things through the lives of its characters. It is also a story about a Japanese instrumental called “Koto” which is the centerpiece that helps connect the characters to each other and the audience, through music. The music also serves as a mechanism for the characters to connect with the hearts of those they feel disconnected with. When words fail, music speaks. This is a character-centered and a character-driven story that encourages us to share parts of ourselves through the sounds that are strung together. When telling their stories or channeling who they are with music, an awareness develops and their bond solidifies. Music exists to speak the words we can’t express, a theme that resonates throughout this series.
This juicy school drama, that is also shounen, has a premise that should feel all too familiar with the audience. Just as Kimetsu no Yaiba makes its hay by executing one type of shounen very well rather than by breaking new ground, so it is with Kono Ono Tomare. But this is a very different sort of shounen, obviously. We’ve seen these tropes many, many times—the club which will be shut down if it doesn’t get new members, the misunderstood delinquent, even the kindly kouchou-sensei with a connection to the club’s past, etc. But mangaka Sakura Amyuu shows that she has a deft hand with the material and she’s a genius when it comes to character and character dynamics. As well, this series just has unbelievable amounts of heart—heart which it very often wears on its sleeve. It’s an unusual hybrid of shounen and shoujo traits makes its course harder to predict than you might think. Learning the koto must surely, I image, be an undertaking that both requires and rewards patience—and watching Kono Oto Tomare! is no different - albeit much easier.
There is never a dull moment. This is not a series that lets moss grow on its feet. There’s always something happening here, always movement—in many ways a sort of metaphor for adolescence. It’s not so much a matter of pace but volume—there’s just so much detail in every character arc that little space is left over for the incidental or trivial. Things are always in motion, and there are parallel tracks to be observed. The recurring storylines plot out slowly and gradually, but within that framework, the more immediate stuff tends to happen pretty quickly. That’s a pretty accurate depiction of adolescence as it happens—in my view anyway—so this dualistic narrative style works very well. And if you don’t especially like how something in Kono Oto Tomare is playing out, you won’t have to wait long for it to change or for the next thing to come along. That’s just the sort of rolling stone this series is.
This way of storytelling doesn’t leave much room for lots of breather episodes, mind you. That, I would argue, is a direct reflection of the fact that it doesn’t employ throwaway characters—it has a big cast, and fleshes each of them out as individuals with their own lives. That’s a good thing because everyone matters in this story. 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. There are genuine character chemistry and character dynamics, some of the best I’ve come across. Takezou Kurata is timid and plagued by self-doubt, and Chika Kudou is all brashness and snarling defiance. Satowa Houzuki is the prodigal talent, formidable and brutally honest. These characteristics were fostered by their upbringing or past traumatic experience and masked their internal pain. This is what is projected on the surfaces but deep down, they are scarred souls looking to connect and feel connected.
The dynamic of Takezou being the club leader but lacking in confidence, and his two subordinates are a professional-level koto player and a boy far tougher and more decisive than he is an interesting one. How does he stay relevant in such a situation? The same thing with Satowa and Chika also immediately clashes, unsurprisingly, both being as strong-willed as they are. There’s also a larger theme of what it means to be an artist coming through, and it’s an important one with this series. Where does the line between ambition and ability lie, and how much does each contribute to achieving artistic greatness? The dynamic of the club has fully calcified here. Satowa and Chika are the irresistible force and the immovable object, constantly in conflict, and Takezou is forced to go completely against his passive nature in trying to make his voice heard in the middle. Satowa teaches as she was taught— “Spartan” style, as Tetsu reminds Chika.
Everyone at the center of the story has something they’re struggling against. Not only for our trio protagonists but also Chika’s posse and the latest member of the club in Hiro Kurusu—connections are the hardest thing in the world—and severed connections the greatest source of their pain. The emotional palette of Kono Oto Tomare, I think I’d say “using the negative to highlight the positive”. This is not a carefree and happy story by any means—the characters are all pretty troubled. They’ve gone through a lot of pain, and a lot of painful things continue to happen. Progress is a marathon, not a sprint. But it’s definitely not a story for cynics. There is a “possibility vs. regret” dichotomy here. But it’s a series that always wants us to believe that possibility can triumph as long as we have the will to let it happen. Personal growth is such an essential component of Kono Oto Tomare—if you want characters that are finished products, this is not the series for you. The depth of strong characters is definitely one of this series’ most potent narrative weapons.
Good shows of this genre tend to make you feel such deep and genuine affection for the characters—in younger viewers, it’s probably mostly camaraderie, with older ones a sense of protectiveness. These are such good kids, all flawed in ways we can relate to but genuinely trying to do their best. A sense of belonging somewhere is an incredibly important lifeline when you’re an adolescent to be sure, and that’s something anime frequently tries to capture but rarely with this level of success. Again—sincerity, authenticity, and real characters that feel like real people instead of archetypes. Character chemistry simply oozes, drips, and sizzles from every blessed episode. One duo in particular—Satowa and Chika. They spar almost from the moment they meet. Their arguments are earnest, but their energy is always aligned. Their chemistry together lifts simple exchanges of dialogue or action beyond the status of basic information and into “entertainment”.
Furthermore, both are united in purpose but divided in outlook. The differing worldviews of the two characters push them apart while their common grounds struggle to pull them together, creating not only great interpersonal conflict but extremely resonant inner conflict as well. Personally, I think that Chika and Satowa are a match made in heaven. I love their chemistry together and it results in the shows best individual moments, and moments in general. They clash, they fight but are perfectly in sync and bring out the best sides and their most vulnerable sides of their personalities. Studio Platinum Vision brought out the best of the characters and their relationships with its gorgeous shot composition that really defines who they are within the story. The art style and character designs are very appealing for being something familiar. Trendy attires, detailed backgrounds, and a color palette that is very light, soft, gentle yet vibrant.
The animation has its moments, especially during the koto performances where its poetry in motion. Also, there are manga style stills, but the kind that is very dynamic. It generously uses pan and zoom during moments of conversation as well as lingering shots but never without failing to highlight the emotions and spotlighting their state of mind. In saying that, there is always something moving—and in these moments there is fluidity and smoothness to them. The casting is pitch-perfect, each seiyuu really bringing the characters to life, matching their personalities and emotions with their wide range of vocal skills to project the voices of the characters from loud to soft, change the tone between high and low, and adjust the speech patterns from fast to slow to develop the personality of the characters. The soundtrack is beautiful, with a variety of tunes that compliments each scene perfectly. The koto performances are usually the “wow” factor and leave you mesmerized.
Before Spring season commenced, I picked this series out as something I would really end up loving, and my gut-feeling turned out to be correct. Kono Oto Tomare is one of the best drama’s I have seen with lots of well-timed comedy, weight behind its emotional punches, and subtle romantic beats. The characters are so likable, charismatic, relatable and are a joy to follow. In my opinion, this is the most underrated shows to air this season and I highly recommend giving it a go if you’re into a story like this. It really is rewarding but does require patience, it doesn’t reveal all the cards in its hand at once. I can’t wait for the second season this Fall, to see where the story takes its characters and what new messages may come from it. The message of this series that I got from it is that in order to connect with others, first, you have to let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are.
I like to end on Satowa's view on koto and dragons: "Dragons are said to connect heaven and earth, the world of the living and the dead, joining together two unconnected things. So kotos, which are created to resemble those same dragons, connect the hearts of the players and audience. I believe it embodies this wish." How beautiful is that?