I’ve noted it before, but Kono Oto Tomare is definitely the king of backstories. If you’re a major character here, you get one – and you don’t even have to be all that major, truthfully. That could be seen as a positive or negative, but for the most part I think it’s the former with this show for one big reason. Simply put, things move. Komo Oto Tomare can sustain a big cast with detailed histories because the mangaka Amyuu never lets the moss grow under her feet – she’s always pushing both plot and characters forward. If this series spun its wheels as much as some nameless other similar one, it would be a different matter – but it doesn’t.
Of course the backstory in question this week is a pretty big one – Akira, who’s been the X-factor this season with her bowling-ball entrance onto the scene. It could actually be said to be as much the backstory of her brother, Keichi (Kenn), because before Satowa came into her life he was the figure who shaped her attitude towards the world. In a very real sense Satowa replaced Keichi in fact, in that they both played effectively the same role in her psyche. And the similarities don’t end there.
Akira’s story is pretty straightforward thematically by Kono Oto standards, but it’s a fertile field for a well-written story about performing arts to sow. “Genius” is a buzzword in music, a burden both to those on whom it’s affixed and those who chase their ghosts. Akira grew up watching her brother excel on the koto, and be called a genius by those in the family and out. Keichi was always supportive of her, but despite that his example proved a heavy load for Akira to bear. When tragedy struck the family, he decided to walk away from the koto (and college) for reasons that are not made absolutely clear here, leaving the burden of carrying the tradition on Akira’s shoulders.
Given that, it’s not entirely surprising that Akira feels resentment towards Satowa. While it isn’t the case, it’s very easy for those whose performance skills are more proletarian to think that geniuses have it come easily to them. Intellectually Akira knows Keichi worked his ass off, but emotionally she still resented how “easy” it was for him to be brilliant. From the first time she saw Satowa play Akira saw the same genius in her, and when Satowa threw away her performance on something sure to get her disqualified, it was a slap in the face to her as someone who only managed to perform as well as she did through two solid years of soul-crushing practice and preparation.
As we return to the present, this tug of war between the two young women is still ongoing – though to be honest it’s as much an internal one between Akira and herself as anything. Again, what Akira knows intellectually – that Satowa’s performance wasn’t a childish prank but a cry of pain – is overshadowed her her emotional reaction. What’s more, Akira comes to realize that all the malice and deception she’s projecting onto Satowa is misplaced – this “enemy” of hers is just a child, and it’s unbecoming for a young adult to view her in that way.
Child or no, it took a lot of guts for Satowa to admit her true reason for transforming “Yaegoromo” the way she did – one of the hardest things for anyone to do is be vulnerable. With that out there Akira’s raison d’être for this charade seems pretty much blown out of the water – though her coldly accurate reads on the Tokise performers shows how useful she could be as an instructor if she chose to play things straight. Their future is still ahead of them and Satowa may not be the only genius in their number – and for someone who sees themselves as “ordinary” that’s a tough thing to see every day. But for those members of the club who are in the same boat, someone with her perspective could be even more of a help…