Breaking Down the Visions in Mashiro no Oto

By “visions”, I mean two things – mental images and dreams.

Mashiro no Oto does what all good series about obscure topics do – it sucks you in, begging you to google the things it’s going on about. However, that effect has to be created by a strong framework.

In Piano no Mori, this is created by the recurring theme of the piano abandoned by Sousuke Ajino (the music teacher) in the forest. Notably, Kai gets the most focus with this. Although it’s impossible to “hear” manga and people “seeing” the mental image a musician creates can be subjective, if the creator sets a defined landscape, you can both see what they’re “seeing” and get an insight into what these kinds of people think.

Likewise, the emptiness Setsu feels after the passing of his grandfather in Mashiro no Oto is represented by snow and an empty void, sometimes combined to create an endless snowstorm. “Overcoming this snowstorm” seems to be one of the series’s main goals, aside from “spreading love for the shamisen” in all its forms (including paying close attention to the motions of how the instrument is played, such as focussing on the player’s posture, fingerwork and how they use the pick).

Sidebar: Although playing the shamisen seems to be more like playing a guitar than a piano, I keep drawing on my experience as a pianist when thinking about this series. That’s because things like “posture” and “fingerwork” generally aren’t important to those who don’t play an instrument, so attention to that kind of detail either suggests the author has done a lot of relevant research or has actual experience with an instrument. (Yes, even for the piano – which, hypothetically, you can play while slouched – you’re suggested to play with an upright back.)   

Some series, such as Given and Anonymous Noise, opt to soak in the atmosphere of the performance instead, but for a work like Mashiro no Oto, where the audience may not quite understand the significance of the atmosphere due to focussing on an antiquated artform, using the visual metaphor works better.

Sidebar 2: Note this “soaking up the atmosphere” approach only really seems to work with musical manga which focus on modern musical instruments, as noted by the examples. Also note I’ve only read the manga of Anonymous Noise and Piano no Mori but seen the anime + read the manga of Given, which may mean the approach is different in the anime for the ones I haven’t seen.

Speaking of works based around antiquated artforms, Mashiro no Oto also resembles Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu a lot in that it’s a very personal journey about chasing life-long creativity, simultaneously following many stories and yet only one – the protagonist’s. However, they deviate rather heavily after that point, since normally works centred around creative pursuits like Mashiro no Oto inspire people to follow their dreams, no matter what the consequences or alternatively using some kind of compromise to both follow one’s dreams and yet live a proper life, without the judgement of others. Mashiro no Oto, however, starts with inspiring Yuna to stop pursuing these dreams and, in the process, shake off her boyfriend Taketo, who is coercing her out of money at that point in the story. He’s similarly chasing his dreams to what could be a dead end, but he’s upstaged by Setsu – in short, he’s basically a reflection of what Setsu could end up as. However, since this is Setsu’s story, Setsu will inevitably not end up like Taketo.

Let’s cap it there. What sorts of creative mental landscapes have you seen in musical manga, like the forest for Piano no Mori and the snowstorm in Mashiro no Oto?

4 thoughts on “Breaking Down the Visions in Mashiro no Oto

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  1. OK. This is the second time I’ve seen this show mentioned and I have to say that the discussions around it are really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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