After the death of his grandfather, Setsu feels alone, listless, and without purpose—not only because the old man was so important to him, but because during the final days of his life, he broke Setsu’s heart by telling the young man she should stop playing the shamisen, a traditional Japanese stringed-instrument of which he was a master. And so, Setsu leaves home to find his sound, that which his grandfather said he lacked, though where he’ll discover it and how, he does not know. He, however, chooses Tokyo as his destination, where he’ll randomly cross paths with a failing actress named Yuna, and their short time together will help Setsu reexamine who he is, and maybe set him on the path toward becoming the man and musician his grandfather would have wanted him to be.
An anime series is rarely as good as its first episode or as bad—I’m trying to keep that in mind before I do what I tend to, which is to lavish unending praise on a superb opener like the one for Those White Notes. Excluding the final minute, which provides a most unexpected cliffhanger, episode one of this series felt like it could be a short film all on its own, telling a lovely and powerful story, one that managed to choke me up on several occasions while still lifting my spirit. That it could be so self-contained while at once needing to introduce an instrument that is, I’m supposing, incredibly uncool in this day and age, speaks to how strong the writing and production is for the series. The lovely animation and awe-inspiring musical pieces convey emotion that even this novice can understand, and when combined with narration, stir the heart all the more. It’s too bad that it seems Yuna, the young woman who helps Setsu find his way while he does the same for her, seems to be a one-off character, but the quality of show’s writing leads me to believe that the series won’t be any worse off for the loss. Of more concern is to see where this anime is headed, as the little that I know seems to have Setsu joining with others (a seinen version of Kono Oto Tomare?) to hone their talents, as would be the natural progression for a show based on a long-running manga. Here’s hoping that even if more tropes sneak in, Those Snow White Notes will keep its special sound going strong.
Those Snow White Notes can be streamed through Crunchyroll.