What’s it about? When Sawamura Setsu was a child, he always dreamed of becoming a great shamisen player like his grandfather and worked hard to imitate his grandfather’s sound. Unfortunately, after his grandfather died, Setsu felt he lost “his sound” and decided to leave for Tokyo in the hopes of finding joy in playing the shamisen again.
Does anybody remember Baby and Me? Anyone? Well apparently, Ragawa Marimo is the mangaka for this series, which is a nice surprise for me. I don’t remember much about the series except that it had nice slice-of-life moments about a kid trying to be a good older brother while his father struggled to manage a single-parent household. Those Snow White Notes definitely captures those small sad quiet moments that Baby and Me had, and I think that alone will make the series worth watching…but damn is this show overdramatic.
It’s hard to know where to begin, since the protagonist of Episode 1 was a 22-year-old woman named Tachiki Yuna. I’m not sure why the theme this season seems to be adults having to take care of runaway kids trying to find themselves, but I don’t like it (she didn’t have to give him a goodbye kiss). Having said that, you quickly feel sorry for Yuna since she’s struggling so hard to become an actor, yet her dreams are constantly crushed by her agency’s attempts to push her toward the porn industry instead. It also doesn’t help that most of her money from her host job goes to her boyfriend, who’s trying to become a musician. It’s easy to see how depressed Yuna feels that nothing is working out for her, and it gradually begins to take a toll on her.
The problem is, I’m not a fan of Setsu being the one that points out how messed up Yuna’s life is. There isn’t anything wrong with the “power of music” helping Yuna find some clarity, it just feels a little forced; especially since her story was also used for Setsu to find his own sound so he can play the shamisen again. I know that sometimes sports or music shows want us to feel completely awestruck by the protagonist’s talent, but in this case the build up to Setsu’s performance at the rock concert was silly. While it was a cathartic moment for Setsu, I do appreciate that he isn’t a prodigy that has everything figured out. He’s still a kid who’s not sure how to handle his grief and doesn’t have a long-term plan for the future.
I don’t know if any of the adults in Episode 1 are going to stick around since they too are a mess, but at least they’re honest about the fact that they are flawed people. Since Yuna’s story is implied to be over, I’m hoping the next couple of episodes will have better adults around Setsu to give him proper guidance, and hopefully he will be closer to a long-term plan about what he wants to do with his shamisen career. The biggest problem about Episode 1 is that it tried to do too much and didn’t know how to balance all the intense emotions it was throwing at me. I hope this issue gets fixed, because I think the main emotional high notes will have a harder time resonating with the audience if this problem continues.
However, the shamisen sequences in the show are good, and the fact that the animators were able to capture the fast finger movements during the musical sequences deserves so much praise. Honestly, I’m just happy to see a show about the shamisen—not only is there so much history about it, it’s fun to see how contemporary musicians like Wagakki Band are creating new innovative ways for a newer generation to enjoy live performances with traditional Japanese instruments.
Those Snow White Notes isn’t a perfect series, but it’s worth checking out a couple of more episodes just to see if it’s going to be a decent ride. If nothing else, I might stay for the shamisen performances.