You know, even though I really liked the first few episodes of Sound! Euphonium, I still wasn’t in love with the show. I thought it was really good, but like a lot of other KyoAni shows there was a slight disconnect from my enjoyment and my opinions. However, that is definitely not the case with this second half. From the moment I finished episode 8, I couldn’t stop myself from watching the rest of the show. Now this is probably just me, but I’m not that good at marathoning anime. After two-four episodes I usually want to stop watching and move onto something else. This is especially true with shows I’m writing posts about, since I have to take screenshots and write notes about it while I’m watching. And yet, I almost burned through these remaining six episodes in one afternoon. And when a show hooks me that well, I know it’s something special.
And those reasons are mostly ones that I’ve already talked about in the previous post. The interesting character writing, the beautiful animation, and the down to earth tone. So instead of repeating myself on that front, let’s try to talk about the most interesting aspect of this latter half: Reina and Kumiko’s relationship. Now, while the first half was very focused on the Kumiko’s development, this second half seems more focused on fleshing out Reina and having her affect and complete Kumiko’s arc. You see, Reina is basically the polar opposite of Kumiko. While Kumiko doesn’t really know how to feel about her talent with the euphonium, Reina is very dedicated to improving her musical abilities. In episode 8 she declares her desire to become someone special, someone who’s trumpet playing will be remembered forever. And when she’s confronted with selfish complaints about her getting the solo part for their band’s upcoming performance, she asserts her belief in her skill.
Her interactions with Kumiko throughout the second half really help make Kumiko understand not only herself, but the other members of her band. After that beautiful night at the Agata Festival with Reina, Kumiko’s playing becomes more lively, and through her understanding of Reina’s motivation, she begins to notice everyone else’s desire to go to Nationals. She sees Natsuki’s determination to get make it through the auditions and she understands Yuko’s desire to see Kaori get the trumpet solo. This makes her realize that she should also try her hardest, because her lack of commitment won’t help the other passionate band members.
This all culminates in episode 12, where she’s forced to learn a new section for their performance piece. As the summer heat gets to her, she struggles to improve and before she knows it Taki-sensei excludes her from this section, leaving only Asuka to play it. After all of her practice, Kumiko breaks down and finally realizes that she wants to improve. She wants to be someone special like Reina, and she now understands what it feels like to fail when you stake your life on your instrument. It’s a powerful episode, and shows just how far Kumiko has come from the beginning of the show.
Still, while I have been showering this show with a ton of praise, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. To address the big elephant in the room, yes, there is definitely a lot of yuri bait in these episodes. Anitwitter and Tumblr certainly got angry about this, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s a little insulting to have a potentially great lesbian relationship be turned in male otaku bait. However, I feel like the reaction is a bit overblown. Even though I do agree that this kind of stuff is annoying and should be stopped, Reina and Kumiko’s intimacy does a lot to help enhance Kumiko’s character arc. Yes, it goes overboard sometimes, like when Reina literally gets inches away from Kumiko’s face and Kumiko declares that this is a declaration of love. But even at their worst, these scenes help elevate the themes of the show. Reina is helping Kumiko understand who she is, and the declaration of love is meant to be related to Kumiko’s passion for the euphonium, rather than her love for Reina. It would be nice if this stuff was more respectful toward the LGBTQ community, but let’s all face it, this is an anime we’re talking about. Sometimes you can get a show like Yuri Kuma Arashi, but most of the time you just end up with Sakura Trick.
In general though, I feel like this is related to the only real gripe I have about Sound! Euphonium, aka the melodrama. Yeah, I know that this show is a high school anime, and I know that there is bound to be a few cheesy character monologues and overwrought scenes here and there; but I really wish some of these scenes were toned down to be more graceful and quiet in execution. For example, in episode 9 Midori is depressed after Hazuki gets rejected by Shuichi at the Agata Festival, and so Hazuki tries to cheer her up and show Midori that she’s over it. Now while I personally wish this plot point had been dropped at episode 8, I understand why this scene is here. I can very much imagine Midori being upset and blaming herself about Hazuki’s rejection, considering she was the one who pushed Hazuki into asking Shuichi to the festival. But did Hazuki really have to give a speech about it? Sure it doesn’t last very long, but I feel like this moment would work a lot better if Hazuki just handed Midori the present that was meant to cheer her up, smile, and show how she’s recovered via small actions, rather than through a semi-inspirational speech.
That being said, I understand why the melodrama is there, and I actually admire it in many respects. One could easily right off the melodrama here as a simple ploy to make things more intense, but in Sound! Euphonium it’s very much tied to one of the series’ core goals. You see, above all else Sound! Euphonium is meant to be nostalgic. It’s meant to be a picture frame that captures those brief but beautiful moments in your youth were you find yourself changing before your very eyes, or achieving something you never expected to get. Playing an instrument with a good friend on a warm afternoon looking down at the lights of a yearly festival, the blinding spotlight and intense fear of a concert performance, or the feeling of awe as you discover something you didn’t know. Sometimes the memory of a moment is stronger than how it actually played out. Sound! Euphonium wants to capture the emotions and beauty of those little seemingly insignificant moments, and make them romantic, wonderful, and untouchable. And in that sense, I guess I can’t complain about the sometimes out of place monologues and moments of adolescent rage. They’re the kind of moments the show wants to create.
Sound! Euphonium is a great show. It’s brand of melodramatic high school antics and obsession of band geekery may not be for everyone, but I personally found it to be a blast to watch. Whether it be for the good character writing, or just reliving those moments where you find out what you love, I always found it to be an intriguing and entertaining watch. I still wouldn’t call this show one of my favorites, but it utterly astounded me from beginning to end. Now let’s just hope Kyoto Animation makes a second season.