Greetings! Welcoming the spring season, I decided to review Mashiro no Oto, or Those Snow White Notes. This will be my third series that I’ve ever reviewed weekly and I’m still a baby, experimenting on how I should go about it. A big thank you for bearing with me. I plan on keeping my reviews shorter than I did with Heaven’s Design Team, although today’s post will be long. I thought about what I could bring -possibly- new to the table and decided to write about a bit on the terms used in this episode, on Japan’s understanding of mastery, the concept of shuhari and shugyo (pursuit of knowledge/studying/learning) to the best of my ability and knowledge. 

Getting into a certain culture through one type of media or product makes way to discovering other aspects of the said culture and being interested in those as well. And I find that utterly exciting. For me, there were a lot of sides to Japanese culture that align with my interests and I tried to learn as much as I could about them over the years. For some, I was lucky to experience them first hand. You see, I’m hasty when it comes to instruments (or my hobbies, in general) and shamisen was an instrument I considered learning when I was in the university. One of the many, if I have to be honest. Of course, my interest reverted to just listening and enjoying it as quickly as it came to me. And now I can experience it in animated form as well, lucky me!

Before this turns into an essay on why I can never have my shounen anime debut, Mashiro no Oto is about Sawamura Setsu, who was taught how to play the shamisen by his legendary grandfather Sawamura Matsugorou. On his death bed, his grandfather tells Setsu to stop playing the instrument after he dies because Setsu keeps imitating his grandfather’s style instead of trying to find his own. Taking it to heart, Setsu packs his bags and leaves for Tokyo to understand better what his grandfather means. Thus his journey of finding his voice and a place in the world begins. 

Like any artistry out there, Setsu’s grandfather knows it will take years to hone one’s skills. While it’s easy for a master like him to articulate this idea since he’s probably internalized it over the years, it’s very hard for a beginner, especially a young person to accept this as a fact and persevere. There is a concept called shuhari that is particularly used in martial arts but was also traditionally applied to Go, Chadō (tea ceremonies), or Noh (the traditional form of theatre, along with kabuki). I don’t think I’ve mentioned this recently but I’ve practiced kendo for 8 years (I’m currently a 3rd dan, grade-wise) and shuhari, along with other concepts has always been talked about in kendo circles. I thought it might provide an interesting parallel to shamisen artistry. 

This is kendo, for the ones who are not familiar with it.

Shu (守) is the stage where you basically imitate your teacher. There is no expectation of the student to have a deep understanding of anything philosophical, or theoretical. Once I had a question about a concept like this in mind and talked to a high-ranked teacher after a practice, asked for further reading if possible. I was only told to keep practicing, and maybe read Japanese literature if I’m interested. It’s less of a dismissive older sibling move (“You’re too young to understand this!”), but more like these ideas can sink in only through thorough practice, experience, and passage of time. There cannot be fast-forwarding there.

Ha (破) is the stage where you start experimenting with what you’ve been imitating and separating from your teacher. The process of ‘spreading wings’ can happen gradually, or you may be cut off like Setsu’s grandfather did. Nevertheless, it’s a necessary step in putting what makes you ‘you’ in your artistry. 

Ri (離) is the separation stage where you can no longer learn anything new from your teacher and have combined these teachings with what you experimented with. This stage is, needless to say, very hard, if not impossible, to achieve. 

These stages aren’t well-defined or have no relation to one’s official grade, but are more related to personal growth, talent, effort, and mindset. More importantly, repetition. Another analogy I was given by a teacher was repetition is like a spiral. Look at it from atop, it’s a circle and you may feel like you’re doing the very same thing every day. But in truth, in doing the same thing, we climb on the spiral and keep on fine-tuning that very same action. The reason I wanted to talk about these is that, from a more Western point of view what happens in the first episode might seem a bit too dramatic. However, I’ve met people who are still practising kendo in their 60’s or 70’s, with injuries or wearing bodies who are still trying to find an answer or achieve what they’ve set for themselves. While in actuality it’s frustrating to go through all these turbulences, it at least makes a great story from a spectator’s point of view, and I can’t wait to go along with Setsu on his journey. 

Circling back to the show itself, there were a couple of details I couldn’t understand so I did research. By that, I mean I went on to Wikipedia. During Setsu’s performance, we see flashbacks of his grandfather talking about the winter in Tsugaru. 

  • Tsugaru is a peninsula in Aomori prefecture, where Setsu and his grandfather were residing in. 

Then, he mentions Jongara and its stages. 

  • Tsugaru-jamisen is the genre of shamisen music, which is originated from the Tsugaru peninsula. ‘Tsugaru jongara bushi (jongara song of Tsugaru)’ had, along with other Tsugaru songs, joined the repertoire mid-20th century. Here’s a nice performance:

My personal excitement aside, the first episode did well in not dumping too much information on shamisen. We didn’t learn too much about the family or the situation of Setsu’s household. We weren’t thrown into a high school classroom where we have to meet lots of different classmates right off the bat as well. It’s mainly just Setsu, Yuna and her lying-ass boyfriend and Setsu’s performance. I like it when I’m gradually easing into the cast and the story. I wonder if this is an outcome of Japanese people being already familiar with the details or it’s a deliberate choice however, considering the manga has 27 volumes out and is still ongoing, it might be the latter. The voice acting of Nobunaga Shimazaki seems to fit Setsu well. I couldn’t find much to say on the animation aspect, except that it was one fine kick, Yuna!

Those Snow White Notes is that one anime in the season with a very specific interest told in a shounen type of plot progress. I understand that audience is either interested right from the get-go or immediately bored with these anime. However, considering Kono Oto Tomare! did relatively well, there’s no reason why Those Snow White Notes wouldn’t! 

Did you get to watch the first episode? How was your first impression with the series? Let me know in the comments! As always, thank you so much for reading and see you tomorrow ~

P.S. It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t include anything BL related, and the creator of this series Ragawa Marimo is also the mangaka of The Vampire and His Pleasant Companions (Kyuuketsuki to Yukai na Nakama-tachi ), which is licensed by Yen press!

Other reviews of Those Snow White Notes


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