After much anticipation, we finally get to see Setsu’s solo performance in Those Snow White Notes episode 11. This is the moment the entire series has been building up to. The whole reason Setsu left his rural hometown for Tokyo at the beginning of the series was in an effort to find his own sound. In this episode, Setsu faces an internal struggle trying to reconcile his desire to preserve his grandpa’s sound with his need to cultivate his own.
Before Setsu gives his climactic performance, we get to see the ending of Kaji’s performance. Everyone in the audience is suitably worried for Kaji, having broken one of his strings mid-performance in the last episode. It’s always painful to see live performance mishaps, and it’s something that no artist wants to happen to them. In these situations, there are realistically only two things an artist can do: cease performing, or soldier on despite the disadvantage.
Our adorable boy Kaji chooses the latter option. With only two out of three strings left, he picks up his bachi and continues to play. It’s an uncharacteristically gutsy move from a character that is known for playing things safe. However, according to the numerous shamisen experts in the audience, it’s one that also compromises the proper sound of the shamisen.
While Kaji’s ability to adapt his performance so abruptly is a testament to his talent, he’s very much aware of the possibility he’ll place last. But, like an athlete spurred on by pure adrenaline, it’s this realization that prompts Kaji to go all out. Setsu notes that the “scent of wind” has returned. In other words, Kaji’s motivation at the thought of losing allows him to reintroduce his true sound.
His courageous recovery incites cheers and applause from judges and audience members alike. Maybe it’s his endearing personality, or as Kousuke coldly puts it, maybe it’s ‘sympathy for a tragic hero’. Either way, I can’t help but join the audience in rooting for Kaji. Though we’ll have to wait until the next episode of Those Snow White Notes to find out whether he’ll lose significant marks for not maintaining his shamisen properly.
Over the past few episodes, it’s become evident that Setsu’s mother Umeko does not have his best interests at heart. This is once again demonstrated in Those Snow White Notes episode 11 when she approaches Setsu before his solo performance and chastises him for not representing his grandpa Matsugorou’s sound well enough. Rather than championing Setsu’s self-discovery, Umeko is concerned with Matsugorou’s legacy above all else.
While her loyalty to her father is admirable, her insistence that Setsu recreates his style comes across as very manipulative. Especially when she threatens that Matsugorou’s sound will disappear if Setsu fails to do so. Setsu’s adoration and respect for his grandfather run deep, and it’s one of the driving forces of the series. Faced with the possibility of losing his grandpa’s sound forever, of course, he’s going to give in to his mother’s demands.
The Shamisen Appreciation Club find Setsu outside of the stage door and immediately ascertain that something is wrong. Setsu’s older brother, Wakana, is quick to guess that Umeko is the source of the problem. I swear Wakana is a considerably better parental figure to Setsu than both Umeko and Kamiki. Despite some lovely affirmations from his fellow club members who all want to hear his sound shine through, Setsu seems defeated.
As he approaches the stage to perform, Umeko looks positively villainous, smirking in satisfaction that her words have swayed him. It turns out that she has also organized her posse of American security guards to do a little chant for Setsu. The trusty Shamisen Appreciation Club turn this into an impromptu chanting competition, in an effort to drown out Umeko’s influence.
The most adorable contribution to this is little Sakura. She declares that she added “Be Delicious” power to the rice balls she made for him. I can only imagine how confused the rest of the audience would be about all this commotion. As Setsu begins to play, the scene feels appropriately significant. Everyone is waiting in anticipation of how Setsu will decide to perform.
In an era where so many musicians are putting a modern twist on the traditional instrument, Setsu’s calm and gentle style comes as a breath of fresh air to the judges. They recognize the maturity of his sound, which is no doubt a by-product of having such a seasoned musician as a mentor. After Ushio’s bold and enthusiastic performance, a performance like Setsu’s could easily be written off as boring. But everyone in the audience seems to be captivated by it, thus illustrating the merit in simplicity.
The visual metaphor we are given for Setsu’s sound is that of raindrops; clear and beautiful. But those in the audience familiar with Matsugorou’s sound recognize that Setsu is borrowing his style. Even Kousuke thinks to himself that Setsu’s usual sound is livelier and more volatile. Halfway through his performance, Setsu recalls a childhood memory of being comforted by his grandpa on a bad day.
For Setsu, his grandpa’s music was a source of comfort in and of itself. The two always bonded over music. It’s no wonder he would feel an obligation to preserve his grandpa’s sound, given the weight of these memories. However, as he attempts to play in his grandpa’s style, Setsu realizes it’s a pale imitation.
Suddenly, Setsu begins to reflect on all the moments that got him to this stage; namely his move to Tokyo and his newfound friends. We even get a flashback to the girl who took him in during the pilot episode (the one who kissed him and then disappeared from the show altogether). Thinking of the notion that prompted his move in the first place, Setsu finally begins to give his own sound a chance to shine. Frustratingly, that’s where the episode ends. We’ll have to wait until the next one to find out the results of Setsu’s performance. Will the judges prefer his more traditional Matsugorou sound?
Those Snow White Notes episode 11 is available to watch on Crunchyroll. You can also vote for it in our weekly episode polls. Next week is the final episode! Let’s hope for a satisfying conclusion for Setsu and the gang.
All images via Crunchyroll