Saturday, March 11, 2023


 Let's make this a March of musical madness as we cover manga all about music, even if that means including mediocre reverse harem manga about music school students.

LA CORDA D'ORO (Kin'iro no Koroda), by Yuki Kure, based on the visual novel by Ruby Party.  First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2006.


Kahoko is just one of many students in the general education section of the illustrious Seishou Academy.  Seishou is famous for its musical program, one that hosts a special competition every few years where only the best of the best can win a place in said music school.  Kahoko never presumed this would be relevant to her until she encounters a fairy named Lili.  Lili gifts her with a magic violin and enters Kahoko has never played a note in her life, so now she must overcome the jeers and taunts of her fellow classmates if she wants to continue.


There are few words that fill me with more dread than "inspired by the popular video game."  Sometimes this means I'm dealing with an adaptation of a console game, but more often than not that means I'm dealing with a visual novel adaptation - in this case, an adaptation of an otome game made by one of the pioneering studios of the genre, from a time period when those games were taking off with Japanese audiences.  You'd think that this particular type of game would translate to manga better than most by the sheer amount of text and story, but the formulaic nature of these games tends to drag them down.  There's always a milquetoast girl as the lead surrounded by a small group (seldom more than six) of boys, each of whom can be slotted into a particular character or personalty type often seen in anime.

Does La Corda d'Oro buck that trend?  Hell no!  It may be slightly more high-concept than most, but this manga sticks firm and true to that otome story formula, for better or worse.

Kahoko is indeed a bland and generic sort of shojo heroine, distinguished only by her ability to see Lili (who looks like a reject from those straight-to-video Tinkerbell movies).  Lili is the most high-concept part of the story.  They are a sort of guardian spirit for the school, and like Mr. B. Natural they are also the spirit of music.  The ability to see them is also the qualifier for the contest, and faster than you can say "fairy godmother" Kahoko has a magic violin that gives her instant musical skills and an invitation to the ball the competition.

Thankfully there are at least a few rules in place regarding that magic violin.  There's a vaguely worded rule about how she can only play for her own enjoyment so she can't simply show off at the drop of a hat.  She also still has to learn the music, as while the violin assists with her playing it doesn't automatically teach her any given piece.  That at least allows for some notion of fairness when it comes to this contest.  Of course, the point here isn't really about the contest, it's all the competitors who all just so happen to be attractive anime boys.

Each one hews firmly to their given character type.  You've got the resident bad boy, the sensitive one, the outgoing class clown, the one who looks and acts like he's 10 despite being well into his teens.  There's even the requisite Childhood Best Friend (tm).  He and the class clown (who is a trumpet player) were easily the nicest and (personally speaking) most appealing of the group, so of course they have absolutely no prayer.  These sorts of adaptations always pick the default route, which in grand shojo tradition will always be the bitchy bad boy with loads of issues that only a pure-hearted maiden can fix.  The cliches don't stop there, though!  There's also your requisite catty mean girls who view our heroine as competition to their favorite boy, there to bully the heroine as the plot demands.

I shouldn't be surprised at how shallow and rote this manga is.  After all, it was not made to be a stand-alone manga - it was first and foremost a promotional tool for the original visual novel.  Still, I wish the original creators had done more than simply follow the reverse harem formula and slap some music terminology and fairies over it.


Kure had her work cut out for her.  After all, the game-makers had already come up with most of the character designs.  All she had to do was give the heroine a face and basically call it a day.  Her take on the characters is competent and professional, if a bit lacking in detail.  If anything, I feel like Kure's talents are being kind of wasted here.  Her paneling is unusually good for this sort of adaption, with a lot of interesting angle and smart use of visual space.  She's not great at backgrounds - at best she suggests them with screentones, and at worst she leaves them distractingly blank - but that's something she likely got better at with time.  It's a bit of a shame that she seems to have mostly made a career out of making manga for this franchise - I'd like to see what she could do with a story and characters that were all her own.


There's a surprising amount of extras present here, considering how bare-bones most Shojo Beat releases tend to be.  There are some character sketches, some transcripts from some related audio dramas, and even some translation notes for some of the more technical musical terminology.  


La Corda d'Oro has nothing to offer story-wise that you couldn't get from countless other reverse harems, but the mangaka's artistic talent gives this story a certain je ne sais quoi that is probably more than it deserves.  Still, it's that effort that manages to push it just beyond a red light, but only just beyond it.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is complete in Japan with 17 volumes available.  All 17 were released; the physical volumes are out of print, but all 17 volumes are available digitally.

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