The Tsugaru Shamisen Appreciation Club’s first meeting begins with Koyabu-sensei presenting everyone with rented instruments as well as a flyer for the “Matsugorou Cup” suspiciously funded by Setsu’s mom’s cosmetics company. Of course, his classmates aren’t aware of who his mother is or even that the competition is named after his gramps.
Koyabu also introduces the rest of the club to its fifth member (necessary to compete in the group division): Nagamori Rai, Setsu’s neighbor who was taught by his mother and has already played for his dad’s rakugo performances. Still, as the most experienced shamisen player, Setsu leads the instruction.
Despite Wakana urging him to have patience with novices, watching the others continue to struggle mightily and not sure where to start helping them to improve only adds to his own personal musical frustration. He lashes out by saying he’ll refuse to “lower himself” to their level and it will be impossible to get them in playing shape for the competition. But while he comes off as a haughty jackass here, he’s actually not angry at any of them, but at himself for not being able to help them.
Then Umeko shows up in Setsu’s room unannounced, and while she doesn’t cop to putting him in high school just so she can devise the Matsugoro Cup and make him enter, she’s dead serious about using her authority as his mother to ensure that his talent won’t “smolder in obscurity” like her father’s did. She couldn’t force him into the spotlight he deserved, but she’ll drag her child into it—kicking and screaming if necessary.
When Shuri finds Setsu sulking on the school rooftop, he surprises her by apologizing for being a jerk, admitting he’s more frustrated than anything by being unable to achieve his gramps’ sound. That’s when Shuri passionately defends Setsu’s own sound, as her grandmother described. That gentle sound healed her as well as her gran, and inspired her to try to get a little closer to it by continuing to practice.
Shuri, Setsu, and the whole Shamisen Club is bowled over to find Koyabu-sensei has brought Kamiki Seiryuuu to offer some pointers. She had reached out to him via email with a recording of Setsu playing “Shinbushi” fiercely and wildly with picking all over the place. This second listen is all Kamiki needs to accept Koyabu’s request.
Even if it would create competition for him—maybe because it would—Kamiki is desperate to hear Setsu’s true sound unleashed. So when he arrives, the first thing he asks is that Setsu play “Shinbushi” for him again. Setsu agrees, and his performance is so much softer and more nuanced than the recording that it almost sounds like a different piece to the novice ears.
But Kamiki sees that it’s more than that: Setsu is unable to filter out his mood in the now when he performs, so however he happens to feel, that’s how he’ll sound. That’s why he’s so “all over the place”, and why Kamiki whips out his own shamisen and starts to play—not over Setsu, but with him.
A musical dance ensues, with Kamiki leading with his sprawling sound, letting Setsu dance and skip over it like a rock over water. Setsu’s feeling changes within the performance as he realizes that Kamiki’s sound is supporting his, focusing his emotions and thus his performance. When the two reach an equilibrium playing together, Shuri likens it to a chemical reaction. Considering emotions are chemical signals in the brain, she’s not wrong!
If I could be a little gross for a moment to create a metaphor: Setsu was musically constipated (he calls it “shackled”), while Kamiki’s instructive play was the Metamucil Setsu needed to “loosen things up”. It’s probably a coincidence that after Kamiki leaves, Setsu heads straight to the bathroom, but as he heads there, everyone notices how light Setsu looks as he walks…he even starts to skip!
Setsu knows what Kamiki pulled, and while it “irked” him, it was also a lot of fun, leaving him feeling happier than he’s felt in a good long while. Kamiki’s playing also used the most basic phrasing, meaning the whole club could learn it. So there’s hope for them yet. As for the individual tournament, I imagine he’s not far from committing to that. Umeko, Kamiki, and the Tanuma siblings are only a few of those who’ll be bitterly disappointed if he doesn’t!