I’ve never had a very strong relationship with Kyoto Animation. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched and liked a few of their classic shows, but I feel like I still have so much territory to cover. In fact, there’s so many anime in their oeuvre that I have yet to see that I’m honestly shocked I decided to pick up this show. And yet something about it drew me in. Maybe it was the instruments, or maybe it was the character designs, but something about this screamed potential. Luckily I was completely right, since Sound Euphonium is a great high-school melodrama filled with relatable characters and gorgeously detailed animation.
Now pinpointing exactly what makes Sound Euphonium tick is rather difficult. On the surface and in summary, you could very easily write the show off as a K-On 2.0. However, like most KyoAni shows, it’s the small differences that make it stand out from the rest of their catalogue. Right from the beginning of episode one, little details pop up that firmly ground the show in a more realistic tone. Sure everything in Sound! Euphonium may be incredibly pretty and vibrant, but the earthly colors of the character’s surroundings creates a sense of a more grounded reality. This is all extenuated by the little details in the writing, like how instead of girls having short skirts and that being accepted as a normal thing, their homeroom tells them to roll them down so that they meet the dress code. And instead of there being some overblown comedic antics upon meeting the main character’s soon to be new friends, everything is much more reserved. It’s still comedic and Kyoto Animation’s typical brand of rose colored high school life, but it’s overall much more restrained.
This realism extends to the main conflicts of the show, which you’d think would be overblown and stereotypical. After all, one of the main driving points for the plot is the struggle for the Kitauji concert band to make it to Nationals, a plot point so ubiquitous to most modern band geek movies that it’s pretty much expected. Instead of everyone having natural talent though, it portrays Kitauji’s rise to the top in a extremely relatable way. Having briefly been in a jazz band during my freshman year and knowing a few friends in marching band, I can safely say that Sound Euphonium’s depiction of being a high school band student is almost entirely spot on. For one thing, getting to Nationals is not easy at all, leading to some understandable commitment issues from the members who joined because they only were passively interested in learning an instrument, and the practices shown are appropriately long and tedious.
So throughout the course of these after school montages in the series, you get to hear main character Kimiko, Asuna, and the many other members of the concert band go into detail about the logistics of practicing for festivals and competitions. Such as the transportation of instruments, and the many members that make up the band’s internal staff like the president, accountant, librarian, etc. In general though, this is probably one of my favorite parts about the series, since it makes every step taken by the Kitauji concert band toward becoming better musicians feel like a home run. Watching Taki-sensei push the band to their limits is really enjoyable, and hearing them finally play perfectly as an ensemble is extremely satisfying.
Which leads me to Sound Euphonium’s best feature, aka Kumiko’s main conflict. Like Your Lie in April and Barakamon of seasons past, Kimiko’s struggle throughout the series is one of artistic identity and inspiration; because despite Kimiko being very talented at playing the Euphonium, she doesn’t really know if she likes being in concert band. Sure she’s been playing it since was little, but it was her sister that got her into it, and sure she knows when her concert band sounds good or doesn’t, but she doesn’t know if she cares about it at all. It also doesn’t help that she’s surrounded by so many people who have such different and unique relationships with their instruments. From Aoi’s lack of passion, to Midori saying that she would stake her life on her Contrabass, everyone around here seems to have a bond with their musicianship that she just doesn’t understand. Even those with similar positions in their craft have minor differences that make them feel unique. For example both Asuka and Reina love playing in band, but while Asuka’s more interested in supporting the band to the top, Reina is dedicated to her instrument in a way where her own failure is not an option.
In fact, Reina’s relationship with Kimiko forms some of the show’s strongest material. At the beginning of episode one, we see Kimiko’s apathy and Reina’s passion butt heads during their last middle school competition. You see, despite earning a gold medal that year, they’re group still couldn’t go on to regionals. This causes Reina bursts into tears, and Kimiko in confusion asks if she actually believed they’d move on to regionals, to which Reina responds with a resounding yes. This perfectly showcases Kimiko’s character arc, since she clearly seemed to think there wasn’t anything at stake in their final competition. She realizes that she has just drifted through everything, trying her hardest and working for the team, but not really doing it for anything or anyone in particular. Currently, Kimiko still doesn’t have much of a clear motivation, but slowly as she begins to understand her friend’s passion more and more, the more she begins to understand herself.
However, despite this conflict being extremely interesting and relatable to me, I can definitely understand why some would be bored by it. Luckily for those people, this show’s presentation is so top notch that it elevates the material so that even the small mundanities of high school life are an amazing sight to see. Yep, surprise surprise, this show is absolutely, drop dead gorgeous. Like pretty much every KyoAni production the character designs are easy on the eyes, the fluidity and consistency is off the charts, and in the case of Sound Euphonium the cinematography and backgrounds are absolutely stellar. Every moment is heightened in a sense of nostalgia, making every single shot feel like a beautiful painting of the past. What’s even better about this whole package is that the character animation here is great at conveying subtle emotions and feelings to the audience, making some scenes absolutely breathtaking.
Basically what I’m trying to say here is that Sound Euphonium is really good. It’s not my favorite show this season, and it isn’t groundbreaking by any means; but it’s quaint, pretty, and probably Kyoto Animation’s most grounded work in years. Sure it still has a few moeisms here and there, and the comedy can sometimes feel straight out of one of their more traditional shows, but for the most part I’d say Sound Euphonium is the studio at their most refined and realistic. The conflict is relatable and subtly conveyed, and everything is written with a gracefulness you don’t find in most modern day high school melodramas. So yeah, I highly recommend this show and I can’t wait to see what twist and turns lie in the second half.