Before watching Kono Oto Tomare!, I knew nothing about Japanese traditional music, let alone that there were clubs competitions for it. On the surface Kono Oto Tomare! seems like the basic music tournament anime, but the characters and music are what set it apart from the rest.
Kono Oto Tomare! Sounds of Life is about newly appointed Koto club president, Takezo Kurata, having to rebuild the club from the ground up after all of its members graduated the previous year. While trying to recruit new members, Chika Kudo, thought to be a delinquent, submits an application to join. He is soon followed by Koto prodigy Satowa Hozuki, who wishes to join the club for personal reasons that she is withholding from the others. As more and more members join the club, the Koto Club’s goal becomes closer within reach. That goal being to play at the Koto Nationals competition.
The writing of the show hits all the common slice-of-life tournament traits. The club is awful at first, but with work, dedication, and support from each other, they progress more and more as each competition passes.
Where the show truly shines is in the character writing, particularly Kudo, Kurata, Hozuki, and Hiro Kurusu who initially joins the club to destroy it but then realizes being a part of the club would be more fun. Each one has a personal reason for wanting to join the Koto Club, allowing them to all feel like unique fleshed out characters. However the other three members of the club, Saneyasu Adachi, Kouta Mizuhura, and Michitaka Sakai, do not get the same treatment and feel a bit 1-dimensional for most of the first season. This starts to change when they go to the training camp.
Members of rival schools also get their fair share of screen time, allowing their rivalry with the Tokise High School Koto Club to feel real. While Kazusa Otori of the Himesaka Girls’ Academy Koto Club can be annoying at first due to her particular dismissal of Kudo, her growth in her rivalry with him changes her for the better. Similarly, Mio Kanzaki’s particular fascination with the way the Tokise Koto Club plays, particularly Kudo, contrasts with Otori’s view perfectly.
Seeing as this is an anime about making music, it stands to reason that the music would be great, right? Not only is the Koto music great, it is a perfect reflection of the characters. Hozuki’s playing sounds carefully crafted over years of practice, but with some heavy emotions hiding beneath. Kudo’s feels overly expressive and overpowering at times. Kouta and Saneyasu’s are timid at first, but slowly become more precise and unique as time passes. All of their playing styles come together in the competitions to combine into one singular voice. This particular shines when they play Tenkyuu at the regional competition. Composer Kei Haneoka did a truly fantastic job with the music for this show. The Koto is a truly unique instrument and I cannot thank this show enough for introducing me to it.
The English voice acting in Kono Oto Tomare’s English dub is great for the most part. Animated dialogue replacement (ADR) director Tia Ballard, who you may recognize as the voice of Happy from Fairy Tail and Zero Two from Darling in the Franxx, and script writer Kristen McGuire, who has also worked on The Helpful Fox Senko-San and Love Live! Sunshine!!, both did an absolutely fantastic job. Of the many great voice actors within the cast, the true standouts were Daman Mills as Kudo, Amber Lee Conners as Hozuki, and Brandon Potter as Mr. Takinami.
Kono Oto Tomare! may not seem like anything overly special on the surface, but it went beyond the typical slice-of-life tournament tropes. The combination of music, character writing, and smooth art style allowed Kono Oto Tomare! to slowly become one of my favorite anime of 2019.