Spring Anime 2015 Review: Should You Watch 'Sound Euphonium'?

Sound! Euphonium's Kumiko Oumae and Reina Kousaka.
Sound! Euphonium's Kumiko Oumae and Reina Kousaka. (c) Kyoto Animation VIA: Tumblr, Newtype Magazine

Spring anime season 2015 is almost over. We’ve covered stand-outs like Ore Monogatari and The Heroic Legend of Arslan; we’ve covered the unexpectedly charming Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches; we’ve even given Food Wars an extended chance to make a good impression, and we’ve dropped Plastic Memories for wasting its own high-concept premise.

But one anime we haven’t covered yet is Hibike! Euphonium, aka Sound Euphonium, a popular offering from Kyoto Animation. KyoAni produced one of my favorite anime in recent memory, the slice-of-life comedy anime Free! and its follow-up Free! Eternal Summer. KyoAni’s known for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On, Lucky Star and Clannad. So how does Sound Euphonium stack up to that library?

Sound Euphonium has a sloooooow start, and Kumiko Oumae is a detached protagonist who has trouble connecting to other people and even to herself. I had to start Sound Euphonium three times before I could make it through the first few episodes. If the protagonist doesn’t care about their mundane life, it’s hard for me to care either, at least not without a mitigating Evangelion attack or looming apocalypse to lend the story interest.

While Sound Euphonium’s animation style and attention to detail is beautiful, with luminous eyes, fluid movement, and lovingly detailed backgrounds, there are two things I don’t care for: the permanent spots of shiny red blush on literally every single girl’s cheeks, and the way tears look like globules rather than water (reminds me of Gundam Wing's Trowa Barton, crying floating tears in outer space). The girls' art style is pretty but very moé, which gave me pause at first -- I mean, it is Kyoto Animation.

Ultimately, however, Sound Euphonium is a visually pleasing anime that hones in tightly on the slice of life it captures, crafting its small premise with care and building on it with love. Sound Euphonium is entirely worth a watch.

We see Kumiko grow from a disconnected girl to someone engaged in her relationships with others and her own passions.

At first Kumiko is just going through the motions of her life. She should be excited about starting high school, but she isn’t. She should be excited to make new friends, but she isn’t. She’s playing in the concert band almost against her will, playing the euphonium she has started to almost disdain, but none of her feelings are strong enough to stand on their own without being qualified with an “almost” -- except for her feelings for Reina.

In the back of Kumiko’s mind is the haunting memory of her beautiful classmate Reina Kousaka, bursting into tears of frustration and outrage when the school’s club band turned in an awful performance at a competition only to receive “fake gold,” an award that’s basically just a meaningless participation trophy. While everyone applauded and seemed happy with this lackluster showing, only Reina cared that they were objectively, well and truly bad. Reina is Kumiko’s lifeline to caring more about everything, including her art and herself.

Kumiko’s relationship with Reina Kousaka is absolutely riveting.

Reina is a trumpet-playing prodigy who’s as passionate about good music as Kumiko is indifferent. Slowly, through her interest in the exceptional girl’s dedication to her trumpet-playing, Kumiko is able to find her passion too. Kumiko and Reina’s relationship teases romance with the glory of its intensity, as the two girls say things like “This is a confession of love” to one another. If only it would really happen; more’s the pity that it doesn’t. Their growing friendship and their mutual intensity really electrifies the show.

This anime is about girls and their feelings.

Sound Euphonium isn’t about guys, and it doesn’t care that it’s not about guys. Sometimes you’ll get media that’s ostensibly “about girls,” but really it’s for guys: the girls are coy and sexy and ultimately flat, and all their interactions are framed to appeal to male viewers, and they’re always pretty window dressing to the inevitably bland protagonist whose bright hair subs in for a real personality.

But in Sound Euphonium, you never get gross upskirt shots, panties a-flashing. The most important relationship is between two girls, Reina and Kumiko, and it’s a profound connection founded on unabashed passion and talent and the desire to be exceptional. It’s not shallow, it’s not exploited for crass sexy fanservice, and it’s grounded in the diligent, constant work Kumiko and Reina both do to improve their skills. We see their relationship grow in a very real way.

It’s not just the Reina and Kumiko story, either. Kumiko’s friendships with two of her classmates receive attention as well. We even see the upperclass girls supporting one another, doing their best to scrape the club together after the legendary drama of the previous year. Kumiko has a male childhood friend who might be into her, and one of her friends is kind of into him, but nothing really happens with any of it and that’s all fine. The club advisor is a man, and the show manages to show that he is competent and caring without overshadowing any of the girls.

In short: should you watch Sound Euphonium?

Yes. Persevere through the first few episodes and you will find yourself watching one of the more relatable anime this season. Sound Euphonium is available on Crunchyroll and is simulcast every Tuesday at 1 PM.

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