Sound! Euphonium is a slice of life show about the Kitauji High School band who are striving to make Nationals after some heavy drama last year left the band stripped of most of its talented players and motivation.
This is the band that protagonist Kumiko Oumae and her classmate Kousaka Reina step into after her Junior High band gets ‘false gold’ during their last year – meaning they got gold, but weren’t considered good enough to proceed to the Nationals. Kumiko came to Kitauji seeking to get a fresh start, to escape the uneasy feeling she had following the end of her last school year. But why did Kousaka, so eager to make it to Nationals, come to a school with such a notoriously weak band?
Sound! Euphonium’s cast is relatively strong, but awkwardly large. You’re expected to know most of the band by the time the 13-ish episode season is over, and it is just unrealistic. We’re not talking ‘band’ like a guitarist, drummer, singer, and bass player. We’re talking full orchestral band unit, and you’re expected to recognize and know at least ~20 of them by appearance, name, and voice. And if you don’t… certain scenes will make no sense whatsoever until you go back and refresh your memory of who you’re dealing with.
But once you get to know the characters, most of them are quite interesting. Kousaka, in particular, I enjoyed watching. The dichotomy between her desperate desire to be special, to stand out… and her repressed urge to be kind. Also, her relationship with Kumiko is strange, to say the least. I won’t introduce the entire cast, we’d be here all day… but I wanted to briefly mention a few other characters: 2 good, and one not so good.
Asuka Tanaka, Kumiko’s section leader in the band, is hilarious. That isn’t to say she’s comic relief though, it is just that her take on matters inevitably leads to a lightening of the mood. Even when she’s being deadly serious, you can’t help but be amused at her mindset. The other character I appreciated was Hazuki Katou – Kumiko’s first friend at her new school. She is not given the best cards in this story, but her attitude is awesome. While the ‘hiding your tears with a smile’ is not exactly a new thing, the particular spin her character takes on it is nice to see.
The final character I want to make a point of is Kumiko herself. Our protagonist is awkward, wishy-washy, and kind of dull. Well, until the last few episodes of the series, and the shift in personality is both jarring and, like Kumiko herself, a little awkward. It really felt like there were a few episodes missing in the middle there – character development episodes to push her character forwards.
The story itself is pretty simple, but that’s expected of a character-driven slice of life show. It’s more focused on relationships and character interactions… and once you get to know the characters (I know, a daunting task) the interactions are solid. You get a lot of growth in most of the peripheral characters, which is really good to see but also makes Kumiko’s almost static personality and sudden shift even more out-of-place.
One thing I really enjoyed in this was the music and not for the same reason as I enjoyed Your Lie in April’s stellar music. These are not expertly performed renditions… the music in this show sounds a bit amateurish, which fits a band growing into its own. The best examples are the trumpet players in the band… you can clearly hear the difference between them, with Kousaka’s lifelong training and practice clearly putting her above the others. None of the music is anywhere near unpleasant, but they do a very good job of conveying the sense of these kids still having a long way to go. Which is to the series’ credit, as so often kids are portrayed as being far better than is feasible.
The final part I wanted to call attention to is the show’s ending. Here I have good news, and bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. As the episodes lead up to the ending… there’s a sense that something’s coming. There is buildup for a plot point and it just leads precisely nowhere. The issue gets resolved off-camera without fanfare. The good news is that the ending itself is nice and moderate. There is no ‘we’re magically perfect and the best in the world suddenly’ but the ending is still satisfying and feels complete.
Sound! Euphonium is a satisfying and enjoyable slice of life anime… the main character’s a bit of a dunce, and some of the plotlines seem to resolve themselves off-camera, but the solid cast and interesting take on music help to build it into something relatively special. This isn’t this year’s HaNaYaMaTa by any stretch, but it’s certainly a good watch.