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La Corda d’Oro ~ Primo Passo ~ Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

10 min read

A series about magic, love, music and the way all three can cast a spell of enchantment over the heart.

What They Say:
At the Seiso Academy, there are two kinds of students: those enrolled in the world-famous music curriculum and those enrolled in the far less demanding general studies program. Kahoko Hino falls into the latter category; a completely average student who isn’t even interested in music. All that changes, however, when Hino is given a magic violin by Lili, a fairy who lives inside the academy!
Hino’s now an outstanding new prodigy. The problem is that, although only Hino knows it, she doesn’t play the same way as all of the other students. But is it really just the magic violin that makes the difference? Or are Hino’s growing respect and feelings for others in her class changing things too? One way or another, she’ll have to face the music!

The Review:
The only audio track present on the release is a 2.0 Japanese one. The track isn’t one that generally uses much directionality as the dialogue is largely split evenly between the two front speakers though it is done well with dialogue being clear and no distortions being present. Where the track really succeeds though is when it conveys the musical elements that makes up so much of the series as the instrument’s sounds come across well and non-muddled.

Originally airing in Japan starting in late 2006 La corda d’oro is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen and makes a good use of colors with some rich colors and lush blacks. That sadly is close to all the positives for the release as the rest of the technical aspects are rather depressing given their level of distraction. The first thing noticed is that there is a lot of noise present and it gets pretty ugly for split seconds during scene changes but that also simple motions can cause it to just become a blurry mess around solid lines.

Compared to that the rest of the issues-dot crawl, ghosting, some annoying fluctuations in the corners during a sunset scene and a minor spot of interlacing-seem like a walk in the park on a nice spring day with the flowers starting to bloom. Given the time and care used to animate some of the motions used for playing instruments it is really regrettable this presentation isn’t cleaner than it is.

The release contains four discs in a Stackpak case where all the discs stack on a center spindle type holder. The cover for the release brings a classy look as the tops and bottoms of the cover are a black color while the center is a white that changes to gold as it meets the black boarder with a music bar present behind that. Front and center of the cover contains an image of Kahoko dressed in her student uniform and playing her violin with Lili next to her at about head height. The spine features the same black borders and gold center as an image of Kahoko in a light purple dress with matching hair band is present in the lower part and the title written in gold above her. The back continues the color scheme from the front and uses some stills from the series at the top and an image of all five of the main guys from the series dressed sharply underneath the copy. The DVDs themselves use a black label with gold writing and each feature a mix of the characters present in the series on them with disc one featuring three characters and the other three discs having two each.

The main menus are basic affairs that use a softer palate color theme with a little pattering present in spots. They also have a series of left aligned, nestled boxes with a shot of Lili at the left while the episodes are shown to the right of him. The current selected option is indicated by a variety of different musical notes being present next to the current option which change color when selected. The special feature menus use the same note-cursor theme but use images of some of the characters from the series. Menus are responsive and quick to change selections as well as implementing changes.

The extras present on this release are clean opening and closings.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
La corda d’oro is now a multi media franchise with its manga adaption to go along with the anime which complements its roots that date back to its role playing game origin. The story begins one day with second year high school student Hino Kahoko as she arrives late to school and happens to find herself standing next to a statue of a fairy that stands prominently in the courtyard at the front of the school.

As she braces herself against the statue and catches her breath she hears a voice and when she looks up she sees the small creature the statue was made to resemble in front of her. Unsurprisingly, she freaks out more than a little though the creature is ecstatic that someone can see him though and he causes some bells on campus to ring which set events of a competition in motion.

At the school she attends there are two paths for its students to take as they can either take a general studies path or a music specific one. When the bells ring it signals that a special music competition will take place and this year five music students are chosen to participate along with one general study student-Kahoko-having been chosen to join them. Thing is Kahoko has never held any instrument before except for perhaps a recorder in grade school and she has no idea why she was selected or what she is to do about it.

Completely over her head she encounters the fairy again and discovers that he is a Fata- a music fairy- named Lili. Lili explains to Kahoko that she has an innate affinity for music and is on the same wavelength as Lili and which is why she can see him. Lili then presents her with a magic violin which has the ability to resonate with her heart and which will allow her to play it even though she has never held a violin before. Kahoko tries to decline but Lili pushes it on her and then vanishes.

Before she can recognize what is going on she stumbles upon another participant being bullied and winds up in a position where will be forced to use the violin even though she doesn’t want to in a few days. As she is trying to figure out what she will do she comes across a fellow competitor as he plays Ave Maria and she falls in love with the violin at that moment. With this melody in her heart she goes to the roof of the school and finds she is able to play the song. When Lili appears he explains to her that the debt he has to the school’s founder is the reason that he is doing this and she agrees with some trepidation to go forward, though it certainly won’t be easy.

As she moves down the path in front of her Kahoko will learn that the world of music can be glorious but it is not an easy path and it has as many- or maybe even more- opportunities to create heartbreak as it does to be rewarding for the performer. As she navigates this world there are a number of people who will be against her and she will learn more about her fellow contest participants as well as some of the scars they carry due to events in their past in relation to the musical arena. Along the way as she touches them she will also have to come to terms with herself as she has to learn how to balance the role that music will now play in her life as she tries to rise to meet what others expect from her without losing herself in those expectations.

Perhaps Kahoko’s greatest challenge though will come when she tries to deal with the small voice in her head that starts getting louder as it says that she is cheating by using magic when her fellow competitors have been working so hard on their own talent and effort. When her magic goes away what effect will this have on Kahoko and those whose life she touched? Is she finished or will her introduction to this world of music be enough to cause her to do everything in her power to try to continue embracing the love she has found in music as well as the deep caring she has developed for her friends?

While it is clear from the way the story is presented that it is based off a dating game the material largely manages to overcome what can be a limitation in storytelling. With (eventually) five potential suitors to be chosen from in the game the anime series has to walk an interesting line of deciding if it is going to follow a single story path with a specific guy or if it is going to try to go with a balanced approach so that everyone of the guys gets an equal chance. The writers decided to go with the second approach and for the most part it works as it gives a rather rounded view of the men, though this aspect does mean it is less deep than fans of any given character likely would want to see.

With the story lacking a specific male character to follow it piles even more onto the shoulders Kahoko as she will now need to be able to walk between all these characters acting as a bridge without coming off as some completely shallow or clueless girl herself. To an extent she mostly manages to pull it off though at times her obliviousness to the feelings of the men around her seems to be a bit on the high side. What is interesting is the amount of time spent getting into her head as it could be easy to have her exist as more a generic character acting as a stand in for the viewer (or player originally) ad be more of a blank slate. Instead some real depth is given to her as after coming to terms with seeing fairies she then has to figure out just how she is going to interact in this almost magical world of music she finds herself in. At the same time she has to cope with the knowledge that she isn’t there by the same means as everyone else and the weight of her secret shows on her as the story progresses.

When watching I found myself really enjoying her character as it seemed the writers really wanted to deal with the struggles a girl might go through as she tries to cope with holding secrets while at the same time wanting to fully enjoy this new life that music has given her while balancing with the one she is more familiar with. That aspect along the way she at times gets lost and confused as to what her path should be is something I really loved about her character as it made her feel more real and it also added a touch of tragedy that she was in a position where she couldn’t talk to anyone as who would believe her, or if they did, they might condemn her as a fraud.

This careful balance of a girl who is thoughtful of just what she is doing for the most part yet in way, way over her head had me really rooting for her and made a situation that is fantastical seem rather realistic. Objectively I can see the show and its warts which its general game based route approach helps foster but the earnestness of the main character causes me to overlook some of the more generic moments of the show and focus on what the show does so spectacularly well when it comes to its heroine.

In Summary:
La corda d’oro presents a likeable girl (though more than a little oblivious to reading the people around her) and then drops her into a rather fanciful situation . Her reactions often resonate given her skepticism of seeing fairies, her growing feelings that she is lying to those close to her when she discovers how much she wants to continue with her new found love of music. Added to this she also trying to juggle her life as she tries to balance all the expectations people put on her as well as those she places on herself and the obligations she has to those around her. While the lack of a singular love interest does create a bit of a stumbling block it is more than made up for in Kahoko’s earnest feelings for those around her and her dazzling love for the violin and the wonders she can experience because of it.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B +
Video Grade: C-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: C

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 4th, 2011
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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