One of the most valuable things an artist can learn is that there’s no accounting for taste. You can practice, apply yourself, sharpen your skills to a razor’s edge, and put your whole heart into something, but none of it guarantees anyone else will think it’s as good as you feel it is. That can sound discouraging, but I like to think of it as freeing – art, and in the case of this series, music, can’t be turned into a perfect formula no matter how much some people try it. What may sound great to most people may be boring or uninteresting to someone else. Conversely, there’s such a wide range of tastes in the world that even if your sensibilities are ridiculously niche, you too can find fans to discuss the new EP from that Estonian post-rock group you’ve had on repeat for weeks with.
Of course, that’s a hard lesson to learn in a world where damn near every creative endeavor is either monetized for the artist’s survival, turned into a public competition show, or usually both. Such is the struggle of most of the cast this week. After Setsu and co. put on a banger of a performance – featuring some playful twists courtesy of Rai and Kaito – our heroes finally get properly introduced to their rivals. Arakawa is all piss and vinegar, declaring himself Setsu’s rival with barely a greeting, while Kaji is just thrilled to be here like the puppy dog he is. But it’s Mai’s (rather belated) declaration of war that gets the biggest reaction from our stoic protagonist, when he compliments her playing in the most accidentally suggestive way possible. And honestly, I’m with Yui on this one – gimme that rivals to lovers ship, Those Snow White Notes. Though Setsu may not entirely agree on the “rivals” half just yet – even as everyone else is stressing out about the upcoming judges’ decision, Setsu’s left wondering what the point of deciding winners or losers even is.
It’s an interesting question. While music competitions are a long-established tradition, their results are always as arbitrary as whoever is making the decision, and anyone familiar with Eurovision knows those decisions can be absolutely nonsensical to most people. Such is the case here, where I understand why the judges ended up giving first place to Kaji’s team and their perfectly synchronized performance, but I sure as hell don’t agree with it. Out of all the performances shown theirs may have been technically efficient, but it was also the least interesting or memorable. But then again, that’s always going to be an issue with trying to rank art – sometimes a technically flawed performance winds up being more impactful because of its shortcomings and eccentricities – and it’s something the cast is left to struggle with in the final scenes of this episode.
Mai probably takes it the worst, her elation at beating Setsu’s group immediately plummeting at her loss to, in her words, amateurs. This could be a moment that would make her feel unlikable, but honestly I wouldn’t expect anything less with the competitive fire she’s displayed so far. She came into this with the clear aim to be number one, and the disappointment of it all is only made worse from Setsu’s lack of reaction to his loss, along with his team getting the bonus award at the end. Though it’s not as if that consolation prize gives the rest of the team much comfort. Shuri and Yui especially feel stung by it, not because they were sure they could win, but because their performance was the first they ever felt proud to put on. It’s a sharp, relatable frustration that anchors this whole tournament, and keeps the story grounded in these kids’ artistic pursuits rather than just a hunger for victory.
So that’s where we’re left now. Except for Setsu, everyone’s lost, frustrated, and have no way to remedy it besides putting their nose back to the grindstone. It’s a sobering episode all in all, and it leaves me wondering how the individual competition will resolve moving forward. Those Snow White Notes isn’t exactly a sports anime, and knowing our hero it’s entirely possible for him to lose, but with how grounded in emotions this story has been so far, I’m confident that whatever conclusion we get will be the right one.
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