- Titles: Mashiro no Oto, Those Snow White Notes
- Genre: Schoo, drama, music
- Episodes: 12
- Studio: Shin-Ei Animation
Sawamura is a young man preoccupied with sound. His whole life he has chased after a sound, his grandfather’s sound specifically. A crisp, imposing shamisen sound like a wild spring breaking through winter. But now his grandfather’s gone, and he took his sound with him. So where can Sawamura go now that the thing he has been chasing after is no longer there? The place all of us want to go when we’re a little lost: High School in Tokyo! Sawamura will quickly discover that the word is larger and more complex than he ever imagined. And it’s brimming with sound. Maybe he can finally start discovering his own sound!
I sometimes talk about Sports! anime that don’t have a sport in them. They have a similar plot structure and will often use similar plot devices and tropes. Sometimes they even have the same character archetypes. They just don’t have any actual sports in them. At least not what we traditionally consider a sport. It’s how I described Blue Period. And it’s also how I would describe Those Snow White Notes.
I usually write my reviews shortly after finishing a series. But for several reasons, I couldn’t get to this one until now and it’s been a week. I find that my memory of the technical side of Those Snow White Notes is fading fast. Don’t get me wrong, I would still recognize all the characters, but nothing jumps at the forefront of my mind as something I should particularly talk about.
Actually no, there are two things. Wakana’s character design sticks with me. For some reason, I find him very striking. I think it’s the combination of traditional slightly slacker big bro looks with the very obvious freckles. I like it.
Second is the sound design. It’s not that the sound design is that amazing. I think Sound Euphonium did a better job in that respect for what it’s worth. But by simple virtue of being a show filled with shamisen music, it sounds quite unique. At least to me. That was an interesting change.
Story & Characters
Like I said, to me Those Snow White Notes is pretty much a sports! anime where the sport is shamisen. It mostly follows the character evolution of Sawamura, a stoic boy who is trying to figure himself out now that his world has drastically changed and is being pulled in all directions by those around him. However, it also does give some time to the creation of the shamisen club and how all the new members have to learn to play together, as a team. And of course, it all culminates in a competition where they are the underdogs.
The rest of the cast doesn’t get much chance to have character arcs of their own, they mostly just have little moments here and there. And although I do generally prefer ensemble casts to single character-driven stories, considering the emotionality Those Snow White Notes is aiming to convey, a more restrained and personal drama was probably the way to go.
And it does get a bit dramatic towards the end. I might have appreciated a bit more restraint in the last few episodes. This said it was very in line with the character’s personality and all in all made for a satisfying ending. This isn’t exactly the same as enjoyable (although I didn’t not enjoy it).
One thing that made it a bit more difficult for me to simply lose myself in the story is the fact that shamisen is somewhat of an acquired musical taste, and I just haven’t quite acquired it yet. Shamisen and a lot of traditional Japanese music uses completely different phrases and tempo from what I’m used to and it throws me off. It occasionally sounds offbeat to me, even though I can clearly tell it’s not.
To be clear, I’m not at all saying it sounds bad. I’m saying I haven’t developed my ear for it at all. As such, when watching the show, I really couldn’t appreciate a lot of the details. One performance was great and another flat but if the dialogue didn’t explain it to me, I wouldn’t have known. They both sounded good as far as I could tell. There’s a lot of plot importance given to Sawamura playing his own sound rather than imitating the grandfather he worshiped. And in one scene, he actually goes from one to the other in the middle of a performance. And the background visuals change a lot, and the tempo speeds up a bit but otherwise, I really couldn’t have told you that anything at all changed. t sounded like the same piece to me.
It meant that I couldn’t always align my emotional response with what was happening at the moment. Sawamura felt off and didn’t play well, I had to wait until the show either made it visually obvious or had a character explain that he doesn’t sound as good as he usually does. I couldn’t tell by myself, so my reaction was filtered through the dialogue And it made me one step removed from the story.
There is a flip side to this though. I learned a lot about shamisen. A whole lot! And I honestly found it quite interesting. It’s such a unique instrument that is rarely seen outside of Japan at all. Because of that, watching Those Snow White Notes felt like a story that really should be told through anime!
It’s difficult for me to properly explain the show. I do think it’s well made and well-paced. I enjoyed watching it a lot. The more obvious flaws are the fact that story doesn’t really pay attention to anyone except Sawamura. His mother also gets a decent arc but she’s a secondary character. Everyone else could have used more attention. But that has more to do with the time limitation of a 12-episode run than an actual flaw in the writing. I rather have less developed characters and keep all the shamisen playing in the show. That part made it feel special.
Those Snow White Notes is also a no-nonsense sort of a show. Except for the last few episodes, it’s neither a comedy nor particularly dramatic and tends to err on the side of realism. At least as far as I could tell. Once again, I know nothing about shamisen playing and maybe the team’s progress was completely ridiculous.
The pacing throughout the series was good except for the first episode. In the first episode, Sawamura arrives in Tokyo and meets a bunch of eccentric characters that help him find his place in the city. They all have stories and are actually really well developed for it being just the first episode. But then, in episode 2 everything changes and we never see them again. Well, we do see one of them for a few minutes towards the end.
And it’s odd. That time Sawamura spends in Tokyo before his mother enrolls him in high school is actually very eventful and it builds up to some great momentum, but it feels like it is a fragment of a plot wedged into a different plot. Or like a set-up for something that just never happens in the first season of the show. It’s unresolved and makes me wonder why they included it.
On the other hand, if the production is hoping for future seasons, then I would love to see them pick up those plot threads.
And there is potential for a second season. The first season ends in such a way that they can easily add another one but it’s ok if they don’t. It sort of tells us how Sawamura decided to find himself but not how he actually did. And I think I should clarify something, I think the show became a bit dramatic with the cinematic language but I really did like the actual events of the ending. Those were impactful and I respect Those Snow White Notes for sticking to character integrity over artifice in that respect.
You might like this anime if:
If you are interested at all in shamisen music you have to watch this anime. If you enjoy art-focused anime this is a pretty good one.
My favourite character:
Wakana, not just for the freckles. I thought he was a great foil character. Also a little Umeko. She certainly knows how to stir things up!
- Every time Setsu gets hit – take a sip
- Every time we see Grampa – pour some out
- Every time anyone works up a sweat – get some water
- Every time anyone says the word “sound” – breathe in
- Every time Yui is no-nonsense – take a sip
- Every time any girl does an impressive kick – raise your glass
- Every time – take a sip
- Every time we see a snow storm – take a sip
- Every time there’s a touching mother-son reunion – take a sip
- Every time Kaito gets mad – take a sip
- if it’s over Shuri – nod knowingly
- Every time Sakura prepares food – get a snack
- Every time Mai blushes – take a sip
I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.
7 thoughts on “Those Snow White Notes – An Acquired Taste”
After slogging through the entirety of Naruto, one must consider oneself an expert in the art of shamisen. Okay, that’s a stretch. Still, the show’s two composers took great care in imbuing Naruto’s ancient ninja world with traditional Japanese instruments. Koto, taiko, shamisen, shakuhachi… You name it Naruto has it, and it often blends it with Western sounds to produce some S-tier bangers.
So yes, I think that helped me appreciate Mashiro no Oto. I loved listening to the show’s performances! Man, just remembering Setsu’s duet with his headstrong mother sends shivers down my spine. And I quite enjoyed comparing the various performers’ individual quirks, different as they are. Unfortunately, there’s something else this show shares with Naruto. Namely, an incapacity for the side characters during fights to just. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. Every note is met with an interminable monologue from at least five characters (if you’re lucky) who describe their experience using increasingly wackier metaphors. I don’t wanna hear your ridiculous rambling, or your redundant play-by-play, or your armchair psychoanalysis of the performer’s state of mind. Please let me listen to the music! What’s worse, they all remain in this suspended state of shock — as if they’d just been told Santa Claus didn’t exist, then magically forgot about it, before getting slapped by that horrible truth all over again.
In conclusion, thanks for reminding me to find this OST.
I hope you find it
I remember really liking the first episode, and then it sort of became… a school anime. I can now say it wasn’t very memorable. I barely remember any characters beyond the main’s family, which is odd since most of the school kids had more screen time.
The shamisen music, though, was great. I, too, don’t know much about the shamisen, and I pretty much said the same thing: when they talk about the development of the sound… I just don’t have the ear. But the performances were great and I enjoyed them a lot.
It does become a school anime. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but the setup is missleading.
Nothing wrong with school anime; it’s just that the portion wasn’t all that interesting, plus it followed on the heels of the Koto anime Kono Oto Tomare, which was better in terms of being a schools anime.
I know! I actually watched it right after Those Snow White Notes and now I mix up the two nonstop.