Airing back during Spring 2015, Hibike! Euphonium or Sound! Euphonium is another original novel adaption and Kyoto Animation’s next foray into the school life genre dealing with music as central theme since K-ON. Of course, not as bright-eyed or wholly orientated on the slice-of-life front as the aforementioned, it does manage to tackle the story of what youth entails in a fairly interesting way from past productions. The question is how much of an impact does it make?
Title: Hibike! Euphonium (Sound! Euphonium)
Studio: Kyoto Animation (Licensed by Pony Canyon USA)
Genre: Drama, Slice-of-life, Music
After swearing off music due to an incident at the middle school regional brass band competition, euphonist Kumiko Oumae enters high school hoping for a fresh start. As fate would have it, she ends up being surrounded by people with an interest in the high school brass band. Kumiko finds the motivation she needs to make music once more with the help of her bandmates, some of whom are new like novice tubist Hazuki Katou; veteran contrabassist Sapphire Kawashima; and band vice president and fellow euphonist Asuka Tanaka. Others are old friends, like Kumiko’s childhood friend and hornist-turned-trombonist Shuuichi Tsukamoto, and trumpeter and bandmate from middle school, Reina Kousaka.
However, in the band itself, chaos reigns supreme. Despite their intention to qualify for the national band competition, as they currently are, just competing in the local festival will be a challenge—unless the new band advisor Noboru Taki does something about it.
One of the things that I can say that I like about Sound Euphonium (Sound Eupho) is that it does manage to capture this idea of youth and living out those formative years without any regrets. With so many anime titles leaning toward showing the passionate and ambitious side of adolescent life in contrast with the realities of adulthood (I.E: Tari Tari), there is definitely a similar message imbued here. However, for our protagonist Kumiko Oumae entering Kitauji high school and its concert band club, it would seem like a chance to rekindle her love for music and possibly, compete in the nationals – something she was unable to do in junior high. Sadly, it’s a pipedream since the band is terrible, lacks any sort of unity, and not mention short a director. Always loving the narrative of the scrappy underdog working toward the top, I can get behind the one Sound Eupho setups due to it dealing with building up this unseasoned crew, trying to bring them together, and exploring the many issues that infiltrate their lives. Sounding no different from a regular slice-of-life/drama, I do like that it takes a deliberately slow pace in presenting this idea to the viewer and does take time focus on the cast of characters first. Yes, sometimes the dramatic elements can make the series feel weighted down and just plain awkward at times (see episode 7 and 9-11 for a few examples), but overall, the writing is very decent at creating a nice sense of tension and building up personal investment for these characters. With Jukki Hanada doing most of the screenwriting and looking at past work he had some involvement in like Love Live!, Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, and Sola, his experience doesn’t go to waste here, despite not being at his absolute best.
Being a character driven affair, I do think that the writing in terms of characterization really hits the nail on the head of showing a frank and simple depiction of high school students. Some have no interest in playing or just plain unmotivated, some can barely play competently, and all of them have their own worries to contend with. Not exactly requiring rocket science insight to design a cast of school students, I am glad that this production is sort of far removed from the rose-colored glasses most anime tend to attribute them with. As far as the core characters go, they follow the same rule of thumb, but have some nuance given to their personalities – some more than others. You have your cute moeblobs like Hazuki and Sapphire, the eccentric (yet serious) ones like 3rd year/vice-president Asuka, and cloistered personalities such as Taki and Kumiko to some degree. As far as main characters go, Kumiko definitely isn’t the most personable or all that interesting. There are a few breakthrough moments in the story where she displays the breadth of her temperament, but in the end, just seems distant and repressed for no discernible reason. If anything, she only opens up when interacting with Reina, a girl who is weird in her own right, but has some cute charm attached to her behavior. Not all complex, Renia does peg me as an interesting character, yet feel that the series doesn’t do too much with her character as far as exploring her life in detail. And yes, to acknowledge the elephant in the room, she and Kumiko have or do develop a very…unique relationship as things progress. KyoAni trying pandering to its fans or actual something in the light novels? You be the judge, but I will definitely bet on the former.
As someone who has some background in music and the show itself having it as a prominent point, I do like that there is some type of emphasis on that process. While it doesn’t go into too much depth on some the finer points, it does briefly touch upon concepts like tuning an instrument to even how to give basic care. Again, nothing granule, but I do appreciate the show going toward that end and does so in a easy to understand way. Of course, besides just providing a little musical trivia to the audience, I also like how most of the episodes do use music from lesser known composers. Most people know who J.S Bach or Antonín Dvořák (he does have piece of music in episode 3) are, but impressed that it does pull up a few obscure ones like Lugi Denza as well as make use of its own talent like Shunsuke Kikuchi (did a few tracks for Kamen Rider and Dragon Ball Z) or Hanako Oku for the insert songs. The actual soundtrack by Matsuda Akito is also very nice, holding a lot similarities to his previous works like Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions and Glasslip. However, the theme pieces would have to be my favorites, more specifically, the ending theme entitled Tutti performed by the four main characters and like its namesake implies, as a basic orchestral unit – with some liberties, of course. Gotta love the vocals and upbeat tempo.
In terms of visuals, KyoAni hasn’t changed its approached too much from its previous works. As aforementioned, the character designs are the still same cutesy moeblobs you are probably accustomed to if you watched shows like K-ON and Tamako Market, and with this being a series that doesn’t have anything too technically demanding, the animation is just about as average. Nonetheless, it is still about on par with the rest of their catalog and just as picturesque.
With things concluding on a open-ended, yet satisfactory note, Sound Eupho turns out to be a remarkably pleasant title, more so than I originally pegged it for. Having issues with how it handles some of its dramatic elements and a few minor gaffes in the writing, it still has a lot to like and as mentioned previously, touches upon the essences of adolescence. Knowing that a sequel and film are already in production, I don’t think it really needs it (or necessarily has much to examine in regards to the characters), yet looking forward to see what Kitauji contends with next.
Pros: Nice story scenario, crisp artwork, cast of characters are entertaining, excellent soundtrack.
Cons: Some moments of drama feel out of place/executed clumsily.