Shindo Volume 1 Review
Reviewed by: Linny
Synopsis: Kazuo Kikuna picked up piano at the age of 12 in an attempt to get closer to the girl he admires. He discovers he has a ear for music and decides to pursue it further despite the fact that his actual performance on the piano is average at best. A chance encounter with a fifth grade piano prodigy named Uta Naruse kicks off a new passion in him. All Uta wants to do is play baseball and escape the oppressive piano focused life her mother has trapped her in. While Kazuo understands Uta’s need for freedom, her piano playing has him entranced and he finds himself agreeing to tutor her in her studies in exchange for her giving him piano lessons.
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Shindo was published during the years of 1997 and 1998, and its age shows immediately in its art style. Characters and expressions are crude, often looking extremely amateurish and ghoulish. If you’re a younger manga fan, or have gotten used to the more polished look of manga these days, you might find yourself balking at most of Shindo and it’s antiquated, even ugly to some, art.
Moving on to the characters, Kazuo seems like your typical disillusioned protagonist starting off, which might make him relatable to those who struggle to feel a true passion for life or ambition. But it also makes it hard to cheer for him when you find out that his decision to pursue music in college and apply to an extremely prestigious music college may all be simply reliant on the fact that he has a crush on a girl who is doing the same. One could forgive him as being young and in the throes of youthful passion but he seems so lacklustre even in his attitude and behaviour towards the girl who sparked all of this that he makes for a very unconvincing lead. Of course, this is all likely build up for us to see the fire light up in him thanks to other protagonist, Uta but it makes for an uninspiring introduction. His character isn’t really bolstered much by his behaviour in the following chapters. He seems somewhat selfish at times, driven by his obsession and interest in Uta’s piano skills rather than a genuine interest in her and her well being. This isn’t to say he is a despicable character, just not one that inspires a lot of positive feelings in the reader. He DOES try to do the right thing ever so often which could be enough to redeem him for some readers.
Uta herself is no helpless victim either, though one could definitely understand why she despises her overbearing mother. She’s definitely been raised to be very confident in her piano skills and herself in general. She knows she’s good and she’s not afraid to yell at anyone else who fails to meet her standards, often being downright rude and crass towards fellow competitors and rubbing her superiority in their faces. She almost seems to thrive on causing conflict and creating jealousy in others towards her. Given that she’s just a fifth grader though, it’s somewhat easier to forgive her and blame it on her age and her mother’s rather eclectic approach to raising her.
Uta’s mother is a rather strong character, from her looks to her behaviour. She’s arrogant and rude (you can easily see where Uta got that attitude from) and she’s completely focused on bolstering her daughter’s piano career and talents. As the story continues, we get to understand some of her behaviour and there’s even a plot reveal that might make her sympathetic to readers though she remains hard to swallow overall thanks to her pride and her strict attitude towards her daughter. On the other hand, Kazuo’s parents seem to have no faith in his piano dreams, yet seem supportive in their own ways, bribing their neighbours so Kazuo can practice his piano without them forcing him to stop because of the noise. They’re interesting contrasts, neither parent flawless but doing their best in their own ways.
But getting to the meat of the review, I personally struggled to finish the first volume of Shindo. Putting my personal dislike of the art style aside, Shindo has drama that feels almost forced and predictable, especially to anyone who’s read or watched enough dramas and fiction works in general. An overbearing mother, a rebellious but talented child, an uninspired college aged lead..all these are cliches that may have still been fresh back when this story was published but have become overdone at this point.
But the worst part of it all is how the story becomes downright fantastical at points. Not only is Uta extremely skilled at the piano, when playing baseball, she is able to correctly predict which way the ball is going simply from the sound of the bat hitting the ball. Now regardless of whether this is realistically possible or not, it feels strange to switch between the tale of college aged guy seeking inspiration to suddenly everyone developing super hearing as soon not only is Uta employing her super ears, her coach is telling her teammates to do the same. In fact, during an official baseball match, even the opposing team has a team member who is able to correctly read and predict everyone else’s moves and throws. The series jumps from being about the magic of music to being about super baseball where apparently every team has atleast one inhumanely skilled player or support character. This made me feel like the story was trying to be too many different things at once. While the baseball super skill is still loosely related to music in that it’s based upon hearing skills, it still feels out of sorts overall and ultimately, needs the reader to be able to jump around with the tones as well.
Should you read this series? Well, the positive points are that it’s a completed series consisting of only 4 volumes with about a dozen chapters each so there’s no waiting for the next chapter. Being from the 90’s, it is a good way to get a glimpse into the past of manga and how things looked back then. If you’re a drama fiend, while Shindo may have components that have been overdone at this point in time, it still has all the classic tropes that exist because they do work to earn the reader’s sympathy or interest. And though I did just write an entire paragraph about how much I struggled with finishing the first volume, I also know that the story gets better as it proceeds and if you find yourself enjoying volume 1, it gets even better.
However, if you don’t particularly care for dramatic storylines and find yourself grimacing just from the images included in this review, Shindo might not be for you. It doesn’t do the best job of balancing its various story elements. It employs the classic trope of having somewhat rough characters so they can all be polished and redeemed by the end of the story which isn’t a crime by any means but it does make it more challenging to take to them early on. The story also takes a while to hit its groove, focusing maybe a little too much on elements that didn’t necessarily need that much exposition. If you can look past or appreciate the vintage art style, and find yourself engaged by the first volume itself, there’s a touching and dramatic story waiting for you. It’s just that getting past the first volume might be too much of a task for some.
Shindo is available digitally via Crunchyroll.com.