Those Snow White Notes – 09 – You Got Me All Excited

This week’s Captivating Shamisen Performance is the longest yet, clocking in at over seven minutes, but it also features the most shounen battle-style crosstalk by the most characters yet as well. I have to admit, there were times when I wished everyone would stop blabbering (in their heads or otherwise) so I could just listen properly!

Even so, since this is as much a shounen anime as a music one, especially during a fierce competition, there were just as many times when I appreciated the commentary. It turns out Setsu talked with Rai about employing Nagauta-style techniques normally reserved for theatre in their arrangement.

That’s the kind of simultaneously smart and bold tactic that makes Setsu a great leader of his group despite his staunchly soloist background. Having spent so much time with the other four, he knows their strengths and weaknesses and how to best harness the former while minimizing the latter.

For most of their piece, this angers Mai to no end, because it means Setsu is “playing in the shadows” by using his sound to support Kaito and the others. Compare that to her, who didn’t give a damn about the rest of her group and simply dared them to try to keep up.

After helping to make his team’s “ordinary” sound still sound better than all the other ordinary groups that came before, Setsu does eventually bring out his own cold, quiet, snowy sound, a sound that indeed captivates the crowd. It’s quite a journey, from cheering during their playing to being awed into silence by the end. Least impressed in the crowd is Umeko, who only set up this whole tournament to hear her father through her son.

After leaving the stage to raucous ovation, the groups’s very first post-performance high is exhilarating, only to be interrupted by Mai glaring ruefully at Setsu. She’s about to turn about and leave without saying a word, so Setsu speaks up instead, telling her her shamisen was “really stimulating” and “got me all excited.”

Mai’s (and Yui’s) faces go neon pink, but Mai shakes it off and is back to Miss Competitive. She won’t ever utter a compliment about Setsu’s playing, and vows never to forgive him for running away from Aomori. It’s all about winning and being the best for her; the opposite of her brother Souichi, who set aside their impending individual competition and enjoyed his new friend’s sound.

Similar to Souichi and with the additional quality of being far more of a normal young man is Kaji, who praises Setsu’s sound like an eager puppy. Contrast that to loud brash guy (Arakawa-something), who gave Setsu his life story unbidden and eliciting little more than a “huh?” from Setsu. Honestly, it’s an absolute crime that this guy (name forgotten) is in the Individuals while Mai isn’t.

The episode really nails the intense anxiety and tension that comes in the moments before the winners are announced. Only six of the 22 teams get an award and the rest leave with nothing but competition XP. While Setsu’s team initially worries they failed to place, they’re somehow even more crestfallen when they come in third.

Mai’s team beats them, but they still only place second to Kaji’s team. While Setsu and Rai were carrying Kaito, Shuri and Yui on their shoulders and Mai and her teammates basically fought each other, Kaji’s teammates complemented each other perfectly. They truly were the best all-round ensemble.

Setsu & Co. get a brief respite from their third-place despair when they’re awarded the Judges’ Special Award for having the greatest effect on the crowd. But once they’re again off the stage and preparing to leave, their spirits have fallen again. Neither Koyabu-sensei nor Oodawara can shake their blues over losing to Mai’s team by just one point and Kaji’s by only three—that’s a close freakin’ margin!

But the adults in the room are right: Kaito, Shuri, and Yui in particular should be extremely proud of themselves, while Setsu should be commended for helping such green players place third in the entire dang country. Back home at the tenement house while having an understated celebration with his brother and his friend, Setsu lets Sakura know he appreciates how much she’s always doing for him.

At this point, I wanted him to invite her to join them—not as the daughter of the landlord, but as a friend—but instead they part ways, with Sakura quietly wishing him luck in the Individuals. Here’s hoping he doesn’t screw it up!

Those Snow White Notes – 08 – Modern Maimai and Her Fantastic Friends

The Matsugorou Cup’s team division marches on, Team Umezono’s time on stage grows near, and Shuri is scared. Yui encourages her to focus on getting the first notes right and the rest will fall into place, but only adds to her anxieties by announcing this will be the one and only time she plays on stage.

While Mai waits her turn in the green room, and a braggadocious Arakawa Ushio blows past the rest of his team with his signature twang, the sheer audacity of his performance makes Rai jealous, angry, and fired up, spooking Shuri and Yui upon returning to them. Let’s just say everyone’s face game is in top form this week.

I’ll just get this out of the way: our Power Rangers-colored team doesn’t take the stage this week, which after not doing so last week feels at times like the show is intentionally stalling. It nearly overplays its hand, were it not for some great character development that goes on in between the other performances.

For one thing, we finally get a look back at how the dynamic between Yui, Kaito, and Shuri began, with Yui taking responsibility for protecting the “idiotically kind” and guileless Shuri from the real world (and Kaito’s teasing). Back in the present, when Shuri sees that Yui is just as nervous as her, she curses herself for only thinking about herself.

She believes Yui has every right to hate her for that, but of course Yui doesn’t feel that way at all. She’s angry at herself for talking so big only to be terrified of taking the stage out there, and if she fails, she knows everyone will hate her for the “mean-spirited, ugly woman” she is. Shuri shuts down that kind of talk with a big hug and she won’t let go until Yui lets herself cry, promising to help share her worries from now on.

Meanwhile, as soon as Mai hears where Setsu’s team is prepping, she storms there to “declare war” before her performance, only to walk in on him and the others striking energy-releasing (read: goofy) poses, and slinks away. Honestly I wished she had gotten to actually speak to Setsu there.

That’s because when she takes the stage, she puts on nothing less than the best performance yet in the competition. Her sound is alluring, charming, powerful, and wonderfully modern without coming off as tacky or gimmicky like many of the other groups.

Additionally, while her group is called “Her Fantastic Friends”, there’s a much more cutthroat dynamic in her group where she goes off and does her thing and dares her teammates to try to keep up. It’s at this point that I’m starting to seriously consider Mai to be the show’s Best Girl, though she continues to face stiff competition from Shuri and especially Yui!

Mai’s performance also sinks Kaito, Yui, and Shuri’s motivation to new lows, only for Setsu to stand up tall and proud and say his motivation is at its max after hearing Mai. As they prepare to take the stage, Yui notices Kaito’s parents have turned out to see him, and assures him no one (aside from her perhaps) worried about him more after his soccer career-ending injury.

She gives him an encouraging punch to the face, for which he thanks her by patting her head and assuring her that she’s kind and not ugly. This turns her face as red as her samue. After placing a calming hand on Shuri’s shoulder, Setsu smacks both Kaito and Yui on the back and tells everyone to go out there and do it, after having consulted with Rai in secret about doing “something unorthodox” in response to Mai’s performance.

I can’t wait to see what he came up with, and I know the show isn’t going to be so cruel as to let them make fools of themselves out there. With Setsu leading the way and having had more than adequate time to sort through all their smoldering emotions, it’s finally time to play…next week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 04 – Love Could Be Labeled “Poison” and We’d Drink It Anyway

I’m of the mind you’re never too old to cry at anime. I speak from experience! WotaKoi hasn’t made me cry yet, but it does agree with me on this point, as Narumi demonstrates to Hirotaka with a lunchtime screening of Sailor Moon.

It also tells some truths about people who are very into things being drawn to each other, even if they aren’t super-into the same things. That’s certainly the case with our two couples, but it doesn’t change the fact that their partners are constantly surprising one another with how their differing tastes and desires mesh—or clash—with their own.

Hirotaka happily goes along with Narumi’s desire to have him cosplay as a woman for a photoshoot, and the execution is successful enough to fool Kabakura. But Kabakura doesn’t go along with Koyanagi at all, and even if they get along part of the time, they never seem to waste an opportunity to fight with one another…which isn’t always entertaining for bystanders!

Ultimately Koyanagi gets what she wants by bribing him with a rare figurine he’s really into. As we saw last week with the two at Hirotaka’s house, they are capable of showing great sweetness and tenderness to each other, but Kabakura’s embarrassment with certain aspects of their relationship can lead him to lash out, and Koyanagi gives as good as she gets.

In another example of differing styles, Narumi responds with Hirotaka’s incredibly colorful and verbose text communication with a simple, samurai-esque “at your pleasure.” Both Koyanagi and we learn that the two have always communicated this way, and that Hirotaka’s face can’t keep up with his words or moods, resulting in his usual stoic face.

The purpose of his text(s) was to invite Narumi out for drinks, and since Kabakura is also coming, she should invite Koyanagi too. The four revel in going out for drinks for the first time, but Koyanagi proves to be a quick and volatile drunk, and while he seems able to hold his liquor better, Kabakura proves no less volatile.

Narumi and Hirotaka try and fail to keep the two from blowing up, until a botched making-up session results in Koyanagi storming out. Narumi catches up to her, and she’s sobbing real tears.

The booze brought out her most vulnerable and insecure side; the side that worries that Kabakura acts the way he does because he’s not happy with her; that theirs is a relationship of convenience because they’re both otaku; that he’d rather be with a cute girl like Macross F’s Ranka Lee.

Kabakura is hella mean throughout the night (must he keep calling the clearly attractive Koyanagi an “ugly hag”? He does not.), and his joking around and blithe insults come across as callous and cruel considering Koyanagi’s worried state. But at least he has the good sense to stop—eventually—and let her cry on his shoulder.

The things drunk Koyanagi talked about lead Narumi herself to wonder if Hirotaka would rather be with a non-otaku. Hirotaka can sense her unease, but makes it clear to her he’s not dating her because she’s an otaku or because it’s easy, but because he loves seeing her do the things she likes, and always has, even if they’re not always the same things he likes.

The fact this episode featured not one but two incidences of the women being worried about whether they’re good enough for the men made it feel a bit unbalanced. Then again, I can totally buy that Kabakura acts the way he does sometimes because he’s just as anxious about his self-worth as Koyanagi apparently is.

In any case, I’m really enjoying watching the intricacies of the two couples’ relationships unfold before us. One has been an official couple for far longer, but both have history and just feel right…warts and all.