These Snow White Notes: The Spiritual Essence of Shamisen Artistry – Anime 1st Impressions (Spring 2021)

These Snow White Notes (ましろのおと) is a shōnen, slice-of-life drama about a young man named Setsu Sawamura who grew up idolising his grandfather, a supremely gifted shamisen instrumentalist. When his grandfather passes away, his dying wish is for Setsu to stop playing the shamisen until he can realise what it means to him as a person and artist. Feeling a great sense of grief from his grandfather’s passing, and a spiritual evisceration from not being able to play his beloved instrument, Setsu leaves his small town behind in search for the drive to help him connect with his music and the lesson his grandfather had been trying to impart for years and years. The anime is being produced by Shin-Ei Animation and is directed by Hiroaki Akagi.

Classical music—particularly the more traditional instruments such as the pianoforte, violin, koto, and shamisen—is something that I am incredibly passionate about, and they are some of my favourite niches within the anime medium. When I saw that there was going to be a shamisen-centred series airing this season, I became wholeheartedly overjoyed. My best friend used to be an extremely gifted shamisen artist, and watching the first episode of These Snow White Notes brought up a plethora of memories for me that were a strange combination of comforting, exultant, and sorrowful. It’s because of these very feelings and the overall evocative nature of the narrative that I feel this anime is going to establish a special place in my heart.

Another niche that I can’t seem to get enough of is the one involving musician mentors, especially if they’re relatives of some sorts. Those types of stories always remind me of my brother, who taught me everything that I know about playing the piano and the violin, and since I have such a sentimental attachment to the notion, I gravitate like a moth to a flame to anything remotely resonating such tropes.

As the episode begins and we learn that Setsu’s grandfather passes away, a man whom Setsu had acquired his musical passions from, I felt my spirit just melt into the episode with robust attention. Watching Setsu set off on his own self-discovery journey of sorts and hearing him (roughly) say the words, “My grandfather died and now I cannot play…” was probably the first point where I had teared up (I haven’t played an instrument since my brother died). After that, the tears appeared whenever shamisen music popped up.

One of my favourite parts of the episode was how mature in tone it was. While Setsu is a high school kid (a dropout thus far), his struggles for finding his place within a world that his grandfather had tried to convey is handled with serious undercurrents dripping in both grief and resentment, elements that have become the driving force behind Setsu’s sense of inadequacy. The people he meets along this journey thus far are also struggling in their own rights. We get to see how hard-working individuals versus those who slurp off the efforts of others fare in the big city world and their impact on Setu’s perception of said world and the “music” surrounding it, and I found all of these to be exquisitely fascinating.

Something else I appreciated was having a woman that wasn’t afraid to kick ass, literally, in order to save herself or her friends. She is beautiful and fierce, and it was an amazing change of pace from having a boy constantly saving the girl because of some other stupid ass boy. No, this time it was the girl saving a boy and the boy showing appreciation and respect for it rather than feeling emasculated. I loved it! Plus, it helps to establish a fun air of chemistry between them that would work as either platonic or romantic. That neutrality also adds a spot of comfort to the overall hefty emotional vibes that the segment was putting out.

The animation quality is very beautiful. There’s a heavy hand with bright, neon lights to exhibit the thriving and never-sleeping ambiance of a big city such as Tokyo, which contrasts against the memories that Setsu has of his grandfather that’s portrayed in classical subtle portraits of Japanese nature with softer and seemingly empty panels with sporadic use of seasonal flora. A lot of music-based anime use this visual technique, I’ve noticed, and it works well in These Snow White Notes to depict the complex feelings Setsu experiences as they grow and mature with each new encounter that he has.

Overall, These Snow White Notes is a definite win for me based off the first segment and I’m elatedly anticipating the next episode. If you are someone who enjoys music-based anime serials such as Sounds of Life (Kono oto Tomare!), Nodame Cantabile, and Kids on the Slope, then I believe you will find enjoyment in These Snow White Notes. You can catch it over on CrunchyRoll and VRV (linked below).

Native: ましろのおと
Source: Manga series by Marimo Ragawa
Demographic: Shōnen
Genre: Music, Drama, Slice-of-Life
Season: Spring 2021
Episodes: 12
Studio: Shin-Ei Animation
Director: Hiroaki Akagi
Content Warnings: Mention of death. Grief. Infidelity. Cursing. Consumption of alcohol and food. Fist-fighting. Bullying.
AniList: These Snow White Notes
Streaming: CrunchyRoll, VRV

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3 thoughts on “These Snow White Notes: The Spiritual Essence of Shamisen Artistry – Anime 1st Impressions (Spring 2021)

  1. I once had as a lover this big, burly bear of a construction foreman. One morning I woke up alone in his bed hearing this beautiful piano concerto going on. Because I learned to play piano as a child, I have a secret soft spot for piano solos. I lay there listening and enjoying for a bit, then driven by curiosity, I tiptoed to the living room where I found my big, burly bear seated at the piano making this wonderful music. It’s one of my favorite memories of him.

    It’s as if they knew you wanted this anime and wrote it just for you, isn’t it? That said, I think I’d quite enjoy it, too! (adds to ever growing TBW list…)

  2. This definitely sounds like a show that’s perfect for you. I remember seeing Andy play piano once in my life and it was… absolutely incredible. One of those experiences you can’t describe but it’s like you know you’re watching someone akin to Da Vinci or Mozart. He was one of the most gifted musicians I’ve ever heard. I’m glad you can find comfort for his loss in shows like these

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