08. Shamisen in Anime

Anime is a fantastic way to get to know Japanese culture. In fact, I’m sure many of you fell in love with Japan thanks to Anime. That was partly my case and that is why this week I would like to highlight Japanese animated series where the shamisen and/or its music appear.

Naruto is one of the most popular anime series, but you may not realise how much shamisen has been recorded for its music.

The shamisen as such does not appear in the series but is included in numerous tracks on the soundtrack composed by Musashi Project. Strong and strike is one of the strongest but I want to highlight The rising fighting spirit. One of the most charismatic phrases of the song (0:48) is recorded with the three strings. The most curious thing about it is that, although it fits the song like a glove, it’s a really strange fingering to play on a shamisen.

I don’t know about you, but once I hit play I can’t stop listening to it on loop.

One of the first Japanese animated series to draw the instrument was Samurai Champloo (2004).

The anime by the director of Cowboy Bebop features a female character playing a shamisen and singing in an Edo-era Japanese tavern, specifically with a Jiuta shamisen, playing a piece called Kuzunoha no Kowakare. The artist who provides the music and voice is Yukiko Tsukioka.

I find it curious to see it drawn in an anime. Many times, and this is a clear example, they tend to exaggerate some areas of the instrument and I get the feeling that they didn’t take too much interest in getting to know its parts. We’ll forgive them because they were among the first ones to capture one in movement.

The anime that is on everyone’s lips for its exceptional art design also shows us a shamisen and does it in a very special way. In Kimetsu No Yaiba, Zenitsu Agatsuma (oh, doesn’t that surname ring a bell? 😉 ) plays the nagauta shamisen. Like a tsugaru shamisen, he does it in a crazy and frantic way, expressing his rage for everything that happened earlier in the episode.

This time I have no complaints, it’s 2022 and it looks like the cartoonists have already got their act together. My tens.

Rolling Girls is an anime I was completely unfamiliar with, but while researching the subject, I discovered that the shamisen was also featured. In the ending of episode 8 you can see one of the girls in the series playing the three-stringed shamisen in a rock song.

I have to say that lately this image is very common. The shamisen used in a rock base fits phenomenally well and gives a lot of freshness to the genre. This time I give the drawing of the three strings a pass.

In one of the first posts I published on this blog I told you about Nitaboh, an animated film that tells the story of the creator of the tsugaru style. This time I want to show you the blind teacher who teaches the main character playing the sound of the Nagauta shamisen in its purest state, although once again we find a somewhat sparse drawing of the instrument…

I’m finishing with the jewel in the crown. Mashiro no Oto, also known as Those snow white notes, is a recently released series dedicated to the world of shamisen. Specifically, it focuses on Tsugaru shamisen, as the main character is from the Aomori region, where the tsugaru style was born.

In the coming weeks I want to do a full post going into detail on everything the series has to offer. For now, all I can do is to strongly recommend you to watch it as soon as possible because I can already tell you that it is very good.

How could it be otherwise, this time, the level of detail of the drawings of the shamisen is excellent and manages to transmit very real sensations in the short shots of the three strings. I leave you with this magnificent interpretation of Tsugaru Jongara Bushi played by the protagonist of the anime.

I hope you found this week’s post interesting. If so, you can share it on your social networks or visit my instagram to comment what you thought.

As you may already know, from now on the blog will be bimonthly so, see you in a fortnight!


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