Those Snow White Notes
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Those Snow White Notes ?
There are a lot of different ways to end an anime season. For a lot of shows adapting still-ongoing manga, the preferred method is to aim for a particular moment of relative resolution as an end point, even if it doesn't actually conclude the primary story. That can be disappointing for anime-only viewers, but generally it's a good way to offer a sort of cohesion to an anime so it can still feel “complete” in some sense. Those Snow White Notes doesn't do that. It instead chooses to take the tiny bits of emotional catharsis this arc has given us, rip them from our arms, then stare the viewer directly in the eye as it feeds them to a pit of ravenous lions. The result is something that's crueler than just about any season-ending cliffhanger in recent memory, and I'm still not entirely sure how to feel about it.
It's certainly affecting, if nothing else. After watching Setsu struggle, double-back, then claw his way to gain a few spare inches of progress in his artistic journey, it's appropriately infuriating to see all that yanked away and stomped on by every adult in his life. Kamiki Seiryuu at least seems to be trying for actually helpful advice: if Setsu really does intend to enter more competitions and pit his sound against other musicians, he's going to have to learn to play in a manner consistent enough to communicate with his audience. Losing this competition may sting, but it's still potentially a means of motivation, and in the right light can show Setsu what he needs to do in order to grow as an artist. Even some of Seiryuu's harsher comments sound like hard-learned truths from his end – even if Setsu's goal isn't to stand on top of the world of shamisen, he'll never have the kind of dedicated, rapt audience his grandfather fostered if he doesn't grow and put himself out there. So hey, props to Seiryuu for at least offering some useful advice, even if Setsu's not quite in the place to hear it right now.
No points for guessing who put him in that state to begin with, though. The emotionally stunted bags of manure that constitute his parents are either disappointed or actively spiteful over his performance, and each terrible in their own ways. It's tempting to see Ryuugen as the relatively less awful of the two this episode, but only because he's seemingly so detached from his own son that all he has to say to him is an I-told-you-so about Souichi's skill. But the guy also made a point of showing up in his son's life for the first time in years just to say that, so it's more like a different flavor of abuse than anything else. Umeko goes for the classic angle of public humiliation that she knows Setsu can't retaliate against, and tops it off with disguising her insults as an apology. Just a real class act for both of the adults in this situation.
What perhaps makes this all the more painful is that, for all that the drama is heightened to Those Snow White Notes's typical emotional tension, it's remarkably believable. These are two parents who see their son not as his own person, but as an extension of their own legacies, and that's sadly a very familiar story in the worlds of art and entertainment. And the kicker is that, where this finale leaves off, there's no clear sign for how Setsu can get out of this vicious cycle. His friends are supportive and obviously care about him, but nobody in his life is equipped to give him either the guidance or autonomy he truly needs to break free from all this. Wakana tries his best, as he has clearly been for years, but there's only so much he can do for his more talented younger brother. The only genuinely good role model in Setsu's life was gone before the first episode, and for as much progress Setsu has worked for, it may not be enough to get him out of this spiral so long as he's so torn up inside and out.
That's not exactly a happy ending to leave off on, and I find myself unsure how to feel about it. This would be a lot easier to stomach with an announcement of a second season, but that sadly hasn't materialized as of the time of writing. There's the manga, but frankly after how powerful and memorable the anime's musical performances have been, moving to a silent medium for this story just doesn't feel like something I want to do, and I imagine plenty of other new fans would feel likewise. Being able to hear the music in a story built around it can be a pretty critical aspect, y'know?
On the other hand, I also don't think every story necessarily needs a cathartic or traditionally satisfying ending. Hell, some of my favorite music is absolutely miserable if you just read the lyrics, and some of my all-time most loved albums matter to me because they capture such a palpable and relatable kind of negative emotion. Would this episode or the overall story of Those Snow White Notes necessarily be better if it had a neat and tidy conclusion here? Would Setsu's story be any more sympathetic if he got a happy ending? Would the emotional connection the series has built up across this season be somehow more meaningful if this episode ended with a happy speech from Setsu's friends that helped him move on?
The answers to those questions are going to vary a lot depending on who you are, and it's likely to make this adaptation contentious for at least the time being. But however my feelings settle on this closing track, the 11 that preceded it are no less powerful and engaging for having come before it. This series is, in many ways, an example of how excellent execution can bypass a lot of shaky foundations. Whatever its faults in terms of traditional narrative or plot construction, Those Snow White Notes managed to resonate powerfully with me for a very long time, and has enough standout moments to make it worth recommending to just about anyone who loves art or music.
Those Snow White Notes is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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