I told a friend right after watching the first episode of Mashiro no Oto that I had no idea what was going on. It was a narrative mess. It felt as if they’d crammed what would have otherwise been a three-episode story arc into a single pilot episode that ended with hardly an introduction to a single one of the characters in the story save for the protagonist. I couldn’t keep up. Things were happening too quickly. It was beautiful to look at, but the episode was all over the place.
But that first shamisen solo at the end of the first episode. God damn.
That same friend of mine described Mashiro no Oto as shamisen-meets-3-gatsu no lion. I thought that was ridiculously high praise for a show, because I personally hold that 3-gatsu no lion is one of the best anime ever made. Watching that shamisen solo at the end of the pilot made me realize what my friend was talking about. I was so into it. I don’t have the slightest clue about the shamisen, just like how I have neither passion nor knowledge for shogi – and yet, watching protagonist Setsu tear away at the strings of that delicate wooden instrument, I couldn’t help but shout. The music alone was fantastic. The way the animation, while subdued in art style, took us through the internal journey taken by Setsu throughout the duration of his piece and the significance it held between him and his late grandfather, his lifelong inspiration, had me riveted for the whole three minute runtime. It was incredible, as incredible as the most powerful shogi scenes from 3-gatsu no lion.
The following episodes carried a similar level of quality. I’m thankful the writers managed to pull themselves together, because the story thus far has been much slower and far greater than what was teased in the pilot. The characters that we’ve been introduced to are interesting as well, with agency and motivations. Most of the cast are characters in their own right, and seeing them exist alongside one another is looking like it’ll be a pleasure. And the music – god, the music. The music is so good. I’ve heard shamisen pieces before. Anyone familiar with Japanese culture must have at some point listened to the shamisen. But I’ve never heard it played the way it’s played in Mashiro no Oto. I’ve been spellbound with every performance thus far.
I’m only three episodes thus far, but Mashiro no Oto is quickly becoming my favourite show of the season. The rotoscope animation, while great, takes a little getting used to if you’re used to more traditional anime art styles and the first episode is honestly quite the slog to get through. Get past it, though, and there’s a wonderful little music piece waiting at the end. I hope it hooks you as hard as it has apparently hooked me.
Praying to God the quality keeps up for the rest of the season. I really want to love this show.