Much as I've been loving Those Snow White Notes, I'll admit I was getting worried that it was becoming reliant on formula, building each episode around a new shamisen performance and letting its story ride on those exquisite sequences rather than putting in the legwork for a full story. Thankfully this week proves the show can break formula without losing steam, both by eschewing a central performance and delivering a brand new opening!
Yep, somehow 6 episodes in we've been given a new OP in both song and visuals, seemingly to mark this new part of Setsu's musical journey. While I will miss “Blizzard” and its wonderful mix of modern rock with shamisen spark, “Ginsekai” is still a banger courtesy of BURNOUT SYNDROMES, and a fittingly more upbeat affair for this new arc, so I can't be too sad. The title itself emphasizes its nature as a follow-up – translating literally to “silver world”, it's a term for an unblemished snowscape. The icy storm we first found Setsu in has calmed, but its presence remains in the serene and alien world of snow it's left awaiting him. This means he can start moving forward in earnest, alongside those who found him amongst the tumult.
Thus, we get to dig into those cast members at last, as the Shamisen Club takes a trip to the seaside city of Tsugaru for a combination training camp and history lesson. Most of the club are acquitting themselves well enough with their training, but Shuri seems to be lagging behind. I really love the short moment we get inside her head when she messes up – I've had the exact kind of panic spiral when my brain short-circuited during a school concert, and there's nothing quite as mortifying, even if her slip up is during practice. However it's Setsu's (lack of) reaction to it that spurs the first real confrontation of the club. Setsu's been polite and helpful enough as the club's de facto coach, but he's so stuck in his own head that he comes off as pretty dismissive of the others' struggles, prompting Yaguchi to nearly start a fight.
Up until now Yaguchi has been mostly a hanger-on. He joined to be around Shuri, and while he seems to be enjoying learning the shamisen, it's here we get our first look into his motivations outside of crushing on a girl who's not into him. The backstory itself is pretty standard – a promising athlete derailed by injury and feeling collared by his parents' expectations, who ends up devoting himself to a new passion to find fulfillment. But that fairly simple story is still more depth than he had before, and allows for a different perspective on Setsu. Everyone else trying to prod our protagonist into the spotlight is mostly in it for themselves, either to outshine him or to reinforce their legacy, but Yaguchi just can't stand seeing somebody with the means and talent to excel ignore their own potential when he's had his ripped away. And in a remarkable show of maturity, both boys give genuine apologies over the scuffle and become closer friends. Usually you have to at least have a fist fight to do that in shonen anime.
The more interesting lesson, however, comes when their host takes the club on a tour of Tsugaru, and offers some insight towards the origin of the Tsugaru-style shamisen. It's a fascinating story, a school of art borne from a guild of blind artisans in order to make a living eventually grew into a centuries-old legacy that is both inextricably linked to its origins and yet totally unrecognizable from them. Part of what makes this work for me is that I just love digging into art history like this, seeing how the myriad cultural forces shaped and were in turn shaped by the people who lived within them, but it also gives some important context to our young musicians' journeys. The art they're learning is one with humble beginnings, but every one of their predecessors is somebody who, in big or small ways, helped bring it to them in the present. While their own story is just beginning, it will inevitably lead to the next, and that's something to be cherished.
It's that sentiment, along with some wise words from Matsugoro before his death, that helps Setsu and Shuri take their respective next steps. Music, like any art, is a connection between creator and audience; that communication is paramount to anything else, and what makes it universal. No matter one's skill level, knowledge base, or cultural familiarity, we all have the capacity to be swept up into a piece of art. That knowledge allows Setsu to let down his guard, and ponder the idea of playing for and with others, while assuring Shuri that she indeed has what it takes to keep following her passion. It's a simple concept, but one that hits hard regardless.
“Homeland” represents a new chapter for both show and cast, and makes for as confident a new beginning as any. This episode also proves that the series can articulate its ideas outside of isolated scenes to craft a strong, thematically poignant story all on its own, and so long as Those Snow White Notes can carry its fire for music, I'm more than happy to follow it.
Those Snow White Notes is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.