What Are You Watching? Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life

EDITOR’S NOTE: What Are You Watching? is a feature series that dives deep into why we love the anime we love. You told us what you were watching, and now we’ll dig into why.

By Deanna Nguyen

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandpa strummed his guitar to “Happy Birthday” when I turned 10. The same year, I joined a symphony orchestra as a violinist.

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During my teenage years, I began collecting CDs, downloading songs and listening to different music genres. In college, video game and anime soundtracks helped me write essays while introducing me to Japanese classical instruments such as the shamisen and taiko. But I’d never heard of the koto until Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life.

The power of music

When I first came across Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life, I admittedly dismissed it. I was afraid that, instead of focusing on music, it’d focus on romance and pointless drama due to miscommunication. Don’t get me wrong—I used to watch a ton of slice of life anime and genuinely enjoyed them. As I grew older, though, my patience started wearing thin with the genre. 

But after a few episodes of Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life, I was so wrong. I hadn’t felt this way about an anime that focuses on music since Your lie in April. By the last two episodes of Season 2, I couldn’t stop crying. 

Writing this comes at a time when I haven’t seen my friends since the pandemic started. I miss being around people and the community, even if it’s small. Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life struck a chord (ha, get it?) with me, not just for the character development, but for the camaraderie of the koto club. Sure, it’s messy at first, but by the end, each character is able to connect with one another through the unique sounds they produced on their kotos. It was, simply put, beautiful

One of the moments that stands out for me is when Kurusu opens up to Kurata about her initial impressions of the club members. She sees a group of people with no common ground, but each person compensates for what the others lack. Not only does this moment capitalize on Kurusu’s growth as a person who originally wanted to sabotage the club, but it also describes the koto club members’ teamwork to a T.

No one is on the same page at all times, but supporting each other more than makes up for their shortcomings as koto players and individuals. 

All together now

Playing the koto sounds so much better as an ensemble. This series does a great job of showing each school’s strengths and what makes them intimidating rivals, but it also doesn’t shy away from the flaws that come with striving for perfection. It’s about growth and understanding, whether through music or personal relationships. 

Hozuki and Kudo are characters who seem like they’re in their own league, but are actually relatable. Despite their talents, they both have a strong desire to form close bonds with their classmates through music.

Hozuki may be a koto genius, but she’s still a high school student just trying to make friends. Despite his impatience, Chika is a quick learner and wants to keep improving so he can reach Hozuki’s level. Glimpses of these characters’ true personalities and ambitions are what humble them rather than distance them from the viewer.

When the koto club members cast their differences aside, they are able to share their love for the koto because they don’t want to let each other down. 

Music has the power to heal wounds that have been inflicted by harmful words, which is why, for example, it was such a cathartic moment when Hozuki’s mother finally hears her daughter’s true sound and begins to cry. 

Supporting characters shine too

All of the characters have their own backstories, even if they’re not as fleshed out as the main trio: Chika, Takezo and Satowa.

Akira, who later appears in Season 2, undergoes major character development that is visualized by her shadow self that tries to keep her away from the light. Even Takinami, the koto club advisor, has his own story with a personality that’s difficult to deal with, but gives the club members the push that they need. And, of course, Tetsuki Takaoka, who isn’t even in the club, but supports his friends who are! A true unsung hero.

What makes Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life such a pleasant watch is the characters’ emotional intelligence. They don’t get caught up in negativity, but instead encourage and bring out each others’ strengths while brewing up some friendly competition. The club members are still high school students, so the emotional maturity isn’t quite there yet, but when it comes to music and how they connect with each other through it, that’s when their emotions are at their most vulnerable. 

Hozuki describes playing the koto as a dragon traversing between Earth and Heaven, bridging two realms. The same can be said for music in general—you’re connecting with the audience by playing songs that stir their emotions. When I heard “Tenkyu,” I was moved to tears by it. The koto club members had come a long way, and seeing just how serene their expressions were during their performance made me feel so proud

I haven’t read the source material for Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life, but I’ve only heard praise for the story and art. When I was watching the show, I was enamored with the koto club members’ performances and how far they’ve come, along with Hozuki’s reconciliation with her mother.

It’s a show that has proven me wrong about music and slice of life anime. I’m hoping that if a third season happens, I’ll be surprised yet again by how the characters continue to better themselves as individuals and as koto players.