Anime Review

Anime Hajime Review: Those Snow White Notes

Original Run: April 3, 2021 - June 19, 2021
Number of Episodes: 12
Genre: Drama, Music
Based on the Series Created By: Marimo Ragawa

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Those Snow White Notes. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

When his grandfather, a shamisen master, died, Setsu Sawamura (voiced by Nobunaga Shimazaki) felt as though the most beautiful sound has left the world forever. Setsu, an accomplished shamisen player in his own right, leaves home and travels to Tokyo to find meaning in his music.

Though Setsu resigns himself to wandering the streets, his distant mother decides that no son of hers can squander musical talent such as his. She enrolls Setsu into Umezono Academy, where he then joins the shamisen club.

Due to his skill  – and his mother’s unapologetic need for recognition – Setsu and his new friends sign up to participate in a recently established national shamisen competition. Yet, unlike himself, Setsu’s clubmates are complete novices.

Setsu agrees to teach what he knows, and along the way, he remembers what drew him to the shamisen in the first place.

Series Positives

Those Snow White Notes wasn’t a poorly made show. Still, by and large, it was underwhelming and, ultimately disappointing — a rather unfortunate end since it didn’t have to be that.

This series started well. It had commendable, even admirable, elements throughout its run.

The first episode set the stage for what could have been a different take on the music anime genre. Therefore, you can probably imagine the gut punch when this series went from potential uniqueness to far more familiar – a.k.a., far more generic – territory.

I apologize for throwing my dissatisfaction into the Positives section of this review. As stated, there were good elements about this show. But many of the things Those Snow White Notes did well already exist in other anime with a high school music club trying to win a national tournament. Simply replace the shamisen with the koto, an orchestra, or, heck, an idol group.  

Knowing that, why would it matter if Those Snow White Notes had stellar animation, nice music, and an emphasis on a unique classical Japanese instrument?

Nevertheless, let’s save this series’ negatives for later. But despite saying that, what, in all honesty, is left for me to praise about Those Snow White Notes?

Well, if this series is your first time with the music anime genre, then, sure, you’ll get more out of it than someone like me. Those Snow White Notes was not broken; it followed a time-tested narrative many similar shows have had success with.

Will you want to cheer and support Setsu Sawamura and his fellow Umezono Academy shamisen players? Yes. After all, they are a likable group. Throughout this series, we get to see them improve their craft and gain the confidence to play beautifully in front of a crowd.

Beat for beat; Those Snow White Notes was competent. For me to say this series produced something unwatchable would be wrong.

Be that as it may, this show was most impressive at its beginning, the time before Setsu joined Umezono Academy. At that point, our protagonist’s motivations for playing the shamisen struck a more resonant chord. He didn’t want recognition or titles; he just wanted to make a sound that was meaningful to both himself and his listeners. It was clear that Setsu loved the shamisen and that it had the power to enchant people.

Setsu leaving his home for Tokyo was a way for him to discover what was out there. He asked himself, “Am I a musician, or am I merely someone content with replicating someone else’s sound?

To tell you the truth, initially, I didn’t think Setsu was a high school student. I was ready to accept that he was about to become a modern-day wandering minstrel, playing for people instead of judges (perfectly mirroring the life his beloved grandfather had). Thus, it was jarring when Those Snow White Notes shifted gears and became something more akin to Kono Oto Tomare and Sound! Euphonium (two shows I do enjoy).

What kept me somewhat interested in this series was how it never abandoned the idea it established in the beginning. The competition this story introduced appeared to be more of a means to an end. Setsu, at heart, wanted to learn what the shamisen meant to him, and numerical results would be unimportant. But, no; that is not how this show went.

And yet, who knows? Maybe this series will get there should it receive a second season.

Granted, at the time of this review going live (September 2021), I know of no news regarding a Those Snow White Notes 2. I only offer such a suggestion because this show had nothing resembling a conclusion. In actuality, this series’ finale indicated that a part-two is necessary to finish the story.

Do I think a continuation will come? I’m not sure. But I’m also not sure I will care enough if it does.

Series Negatives

Those Snow White Notes’ muddled its message. I cannot tell you what this series considered to be the more important goals: Recognition or personal growth. Oddly enough, it seemed as though this show wanted to do both. But if that were the case, its execution was contradictory.

This series pointed out that things like stage presence, though amicable, mean little when in competition. To a judge, technique was all that mattered. And when you are playing for points and numbers-out-of-ten, that makes sense. As a result, a wild performance might be a crowd-pleaser, but it is also bound to have mistakes.

Setsu and the Umezono Academy shamisen club always managed to wow their audience. Had there been a spectator-favorite award, they would have been unbeatable. And to throw in a minor spoiler, they actually did win such a prize. Too bad not a single person in this series appreciated it.

If I had to condense the biggest hurdle Those Snow White Notes never cleared, it would be the music of this show itself.

For transparency, I don’t have an ear for the shamisen. Consequently, I couldn’t tell you if or how one piece was better than another. To me, they all sounded pretty good.

That notwithstanding, you always know what emotions this series’ music tries to convey because it explains itself every step of the way. This show gave us images of snowfields, falling raindrops, sunsets, and spring. Not only that, but the characters were also quick to express what they were feeling and what they were seeing in their mind’s eye. Due to the visuals, we can know what Those Snow White Notes considered to be its better songs.

That was a problem.

Those Snow White Notes never trusted its music – and the music alone – to get its message across, which undermined what Setsu was trying to do with his shamisen. This show was less about heart and more this-is-how-you-are-supposed-to-feel, no deviation allowed.

The best music anime, even those with competitions and tournaments, don’t need to do this. They let their sound speak for itself; you can hear the difference between a subpar performance and something truly memorable.

Those Snow White Notes could have done this, and, frustratingly, it was on track to do this. Sadly, all the promise this series suggested it might have, went to waste. In the end, this show was nothing more than a paint-by-numbers, if-you’ve-seen-one-you’ve-seen-them-all music anime.

Those Snow White Notes

Final Thoughts

Music anime can no longer impress me with pleasant visuals and the same “heartfelt” story I’ve seen a hundred times already. These types of shows need to have something more.

Like I said earlier, if this is your first time with a music anime, then you’ll most likely have a different and far better experience. In fact, you might even think I am being unfair to this series and that I should have looked at it in its own isolated world.

To that, I would respond with, “I did.”

This show was not remarkable. It was not impressive, it was not memorable, and it is not worth your time.

You can skip Those Snow White Notes.

But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise Those Snow White Notes? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m Odyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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