How has there been so little talk about this anime? Produced by Kyoto Animation and directed by Tatsuya Ishihara of Chunibyo, Haruhi and Clannad fame, Sound! Euphonium is a Spring 2015 anime two episodes in. Read on to find out what makes Sound! one of this season’s OCD simulcast-time refreshers and must watches!
My deceptive plot synopsis:
Oumae Kumiko has transferred to Kitauji High School wanting a new life, in particular trying to escape memories of last year’s almost victorious middle school band competition. But although she resists the bugle of brass, ghosts from her past and new friends conspire to have her in the school band playing euphonium again!
In the anime, like Miyazaki’s works, nostalgia is king, paying detailed reverence to the everyday details of being in a Japanese school and in a band. Girls roll up their skirts to make them shorter, everyone helps out to clear a classroom for band practice, and Kumiko shows a friend how to properly blow into a mouthpiece. In short: Validated by the viewers, the appreciation of the past and it’s little details gives the anime’s world a sense of authenticity and accentuating realism.
Speaking of appreciation, the show features a main cast that mostly plays obscure instruments like the euphonium, tuba, and contrabass. The emphasis Sound! is putting on these instruments and their players is incredibly gratifying, so far shaping up to be an open love letter to anyone who plays or has played that unappreciated, amazing instrument.
Moving along, the visuals are absolutely gorgeous but without the flashy fireworks display, as instead the show excels in vibrant colors and clean lines depicting the palettes and beauty of everyday moments in Japan. The attention to detail in the characters, instruments, and backgrounds is all spectacular, with every wrinkle of fabric, shining valve, and hallway colored, shaded, and highlighted to hand drawn perfection, with careful CG effects blending perfectly into the mix. The use of the lighting and highlights in particular gives everyday objects and instruments a brand new luster, with charming eye and cheek highlights adding a certain indescribable depth to almost every shot.
And who knew brass could be so sexy? EDIT: Brass has, is, and will forever be sexy.
The band performances are a visual symphony, a dynamic camera and details such as puffing cheeks and the shine of instruments almost making you feel like you’re dramatically watching a real band play. That being said, initially the music itself didn’t manage to catch my attention, but by the second episode beautiful musical accompaniment to evocative moments has me convinced that the show going forward will have some spectacular musical displays.
Instead of exaggerated features like big hair and large busts, the characters are more reminiscent of real Japanese teenagers, but exquisite attention to linework, shading, colors, and highlights make them stand out. The restraint shown in the understated designs is matched by the mannerisms of characters themselves, and this fact coupled with careful attention to body language and facial features gives characters and especially our protagonist the simple lifelike characterization of teenagers living in Japan.
With sky-high production values taking care of the aesthetic entertainment, the show can afford to keep a human-centric focus, with every moment among the sakura trees or in the music room telling a story about a band trying to reach an ultimate goal, and a girl who wants to find it, but doesn’t have much of an idea where to look.
Our protagonist Kumiko wants a new life, but doesn’t seem to want to do much to accomplish it, a little bit like a much less emo Shinji Ikari. She’s noncommittal, and a little bit of a jerk. She chose the euphonium in middle school only because no one else wanted to play it, and she only has new friends in band because they put in the effort to get to know her, despite her weak instinctual attempts to ward them off (“Don’t you walk home with someone else?”). And now with the goal Go to Nationals scrawled on the board, how will she avoid getting wrapped up in band competitions again? Kumiko doesn’t have an elaborate character backstory or an overly complicated character, but subtle characterization and in many ways a more realistic character make her a breath of fresh air for the genre, and I love her for it.
Motivation seems to be shaping up to be the driving theme of Sound! Euphonium. It takes the sports anime formula of a team wanting to win the ultimate competition, but so far instead of an “in it to win it” mentality has been subtly subverting the trope with flippant band members, Aoi, a girl who may be realizing life is too short for competition, and Kumiko’s foil Kousaka, a competitive girl trumpeter who wants to win, and of course, our fair-weather protagonist. It’s a simple but fascinating premise which will hopefully examine every character’s case to flesh out some good questions and answers, such as what motivates the unmotivated, or how shared passions, despite different interests, can bring people together to achieve a common goal.
In closing, everything above cements my belief that the show gains immense watchability value with it’s breathtaking production values, but more importantly moderating often overused aspects of anime, allowing it to focus solely on a simple but profoundly character driven premise about seeking motivation and a purpose. Thus far I’m finding Sound! Euphonium incredibly refreshing, as the break from anime I never knew I needed so badly.
Sound! Euphonium is streaming on Crunchyroll. The link implies you watch now.