After swearing off music due to an incident at the middle school regional concert band competition, euphonist Kumiko Oumae enters high school hoping for a fresh start. As fate would have it, she ends up being surrounded by people with an interest in the high school brass band. Kumiko finds the motivation she needs to make music once more with the help of her bandmates, some of whom are new like novice tubist Hazuki Katou; veteran contrabassist Sapphire Kawashima; and band vice president and fellow euphonist Asuka Tanaka. Others are old friends, like Kumiko's childhood friend and hornist-turned-trombonist Shuuichi Tsukamoto, and trumpeter and bandmate from middle school, Reina Kousaka.
However, in the band itself, chaos reigns supreme. Despite their intention to qualify for the national band competition, as they currently are, just competing in the local festival will be a challenge—unless the new band advisor Noboru Taki does something about it.
From the studio that animated Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu, Kyoto Animation's Hibike! Euphonium is a fresh and musical take on the slice-of-life staple that is the high school student's struggle to deal with their past, find romance, and realize their dreams and aspirations.
This is it, their grand return. While the past number of shows they’ve animated may not have quite hit the mark in terms of greatness, KyoAni has captured the magic of what made me fall in love with the studio in the first place with their newest work, Sound! Euphonium. What many brushed off as just a K-On! 2.0, Sound! Euphonium is one of the best anime that I have seen in a long time.
Sound! Euphonium follows the Kitauji High School Concert Band, a group that sounds fairly mediocre, and follows their journey as they grow both as musicians and as people in their
efforts to truly accomplish what they before just claimed as a pipe dream: make the nationals of the Kansai Band Competition. The story itself is fairly simplistic, but the real meat of it is focusing in on the journey that is walked to achieve their goals. The band must constantly overcome the internal conflicts that it faces as a result of being a collection of individuals, but watching them overcome these conflicts and grow as individuals as well as a group is what I believe to be a rewarding experience.
But of course, none of that matters if we don’t care about the individuals that make up the group in the first place. However, that’s one of what I believe to be the two things that really shine in this show that pushes it to be amazing. These characters feel real. They’re not one-dimensional drawings that the creators expect us to care about just because they’re there. They feel alive. Each character has depth to them in a way that makes it so that I can’t really describe them in just a few words. In particular, I think that Kumiko is probably one of the best main characters that KyoAni has put out there, putting her up there or above the heights of some of their best like Oreki or Kyon. She feels like a person that I could relate with, rather than some exaggerated caricature. She’s a little distant, but still a little lively. She’s a little self-conscious, but still a little confident. She’s not skewed so far in any one direction that makes her seem like, well, an anime character. The supporting cast all bring some depth to the table as well, with some standouts being Reina, Natsuki, Asuka, Taki-sensei, Haruka, and Kaori. And they’re not just there; they grow as well. From being distant to becoming a little more open, from being apathetic to lighting their passion, they all change, some a little, others more noticeably, and this really makes Sound! Euphonium stand out from the rest.
The other part of what I believe makes Sound! Euphonium stand out is the attention to detail. That goes for in the artwork, the sound, the direction, and all the little parts of the show, coming together to make this a beautiful work of art. KyoAni is known for having great animation, but this is probably the best they’ve put out. Every motion feels fluid and draws me in; the scenery and lighting are beautifully drawn and lit up or dimmed; and the background music or the lack thereof only serves that enhance the atmosphere. And then the camera work. The camera work really stands out in a way that enhances every scene, from focusing onto a specific point, or lightly moving around a whole scene. Two scenes in particular, in Episode 8 and Episode 12, just really stand above the rest in how these aspects are used and come together, and to me are some of the most outstanding scenes I’ve seen throughout the entirety of anime. All these little things come together to paint a work of art that really shines, and it is a beauty to behold.
And not just in those areas either; as a musician myself, I really appreciated the attention focused into the musical side of things. When the band first played, you didn’t have to just rely on the words of the characters to know they were bad. If you listened, you could tell they were bad. All the instruments were made with a polish and shine that made them look like real instruments, and when they were being played, they even used correct fingerings. As this is something that is usually overlooked in the majority of anime, the amount of detail that KyoAni put into the musical aspect is amazing. They also captured the essence of a high school band beautifully. While there of course were some differences as it was a club rather than a class, the amount of work that was put in, the internal drama that the band members faced, the conflicting attitudes of how hard the students want to work, and then the tension that precedes a performance and the excitement or disappointment that comes afterwards was captured in a way that really exemplified the high school band experience.
There are few loose ends that aren’t really tied up, mostly in the romantic department, just due to the nature of it being an adaption of a different work, but I don’t believe that to be any fault of the show itself, and they are easily overlooked when compared to everything else that is done great.
Many people believe KyoAni has fallen from grace, and whether or not that is true can be debated, but shows like Sound! Euphonium prove that KyoAni is still capable of creating works of art, and illustrate why some people have come to see this studio as one of the most capable out there. I only look forward to see what the studio has in store after bringing us a masterpiece like Sound! Euphonium.
Tl;dr: Great characters and attention to detail come together to provide a masterful work of art.
This will be a very long review (I dare to call it an essay!), and while it may not exactly contain spoilers, I have included 'hints' which one may wish to look out for in watching this anime.
Personally, out of all the other studios, I find myself following and noticing trends in Kyoani's releases the most. After all, while the moe wave was not (exactly) started by them, K-On contributed hugely to it, and from there, I found myself observing how Kyoani seems to have very acute marketing tendencies - they would just somehow hit the demographics right, appealing to various clusters of viewers while
still producing what are basically decent anime.
I was not expecting very much from Hibike! Euphonium at all. After all, its resemblances to K-On are pretty eerie, and not being a great fan of how K-On turned out, I was not anticipating much out of this either. Still, I decided that I would give it a try - such is my inclination towards music.
It was only after I finished watching the whole series that I discovered something that pretty much explained why I felt Hibike was so successful. Just like one of Kyoani's previous works, Hyouka, Hibike is an adaptation of a novel. In my opinion, the novel as a medium presents a view quite distinct from that of the manga and the light novel. Mangas and Light novels are by no means simple or immature, in case you misunderstand, but the target audience and marketing intention behind those two mediums as opposed to the novel is quite different. I would argue that the novel is in general less geared towards entertainment than it is towards art. As such, the novel as a medium gives the studio a better base to build their anime upon - for its style and language offers a different perspective and vision to those reading it as opposed to other forms of media.
In this respect, the first important feature of Hibike that sets it apart from many other anime is its focus on the music itself. I played in a Jazz Band during my high school years, so I do have some experience in the field, albeit in a different context. Either way, I found that some of the scenes portrayed in the music room were indeed real - although dramatized. Furthermore, as a musical anime, Hibike actually shows the band playing music, with both individuals and the collective struggling to 'find their sound.' Even more impressive is the level of detail in the performances; I think that for a skilled player to play badly on purpose is difficult. Yet when the band plays badly, it is obvious enough to tell who went wrong. The pieces themselves were indeed impressive - every time that trumpet solo played, I would feel myself tingle, going, "My goodness that is indeed a beautiful solo." That the studio would even go so far as to get the fingerings and etc correct for each instrument is impressive.
One indisputable thing about Kyoani is their art. They have always been famous for taking actual scenes in real life and casting them into the anime mould - and with such detail and precision! I could even recognize some Kyoto scenes from the images in the anime itself! The studio has taken realism in anime to another level in this sense. Yet I couldn't help but feel that this was the best I'd seen from Kyoani just yet.
The story itself is nothing very complicated. In fact, it is precisely because it is not complicated that it relays what it should be about: music, and the things that stem from people trying to get that music together. As such, certain plot developments were not entirely unexpected (meaning that some others were, of course :P). In speaking about Slice of Life anime though, I find it crucial to speak about characters in relation to the plot - for it is the characters and their reactions that drive the plot forward. Yes, the characters have the typical cute Kyoani design, but none of them are moeblobs, or 'useless,' in the broad sense of the word.
The protagonist of the story, Kumiko, is arguably nothing very special. I didn't expect very much from her. I perceive her as sometimes being more of the sort that 'just wants things to go by smoothly,' even if she does not give such a strong vibe of that sentiment. This begins to change once she starts coming into contact with all the different personalities of the band. This is Hibike's greatest strength: for with such a diverse cast of characters, I find that they have fleshed out a large number of them very well, such that the events and drama between each one actually has effects on the others. What is more amazing is that each one of them is actually very unique in their own right; just like how we humans are in real life. We all react to situations differently, and Hibike's characters are no different. For example, I find that contrasting the attitudes of 'Ribbon girl' with Asuka-senpai would be one combination where the viewer can see two highly contrasting attitudes to a situation. For me to list out all the combinations and characters would be impossible, for that is precisely how much development and thought has gone into many of them.
Life is a magical thing, and Hibike has shown that to be true. For only certain moments can be deemed magical in order for them to stand out and make a deep impressions upon us. While most of our lives may come across as mundane, there are times we reflect upon in great wonder, having been enchanted by the atmosphere of the moment. There are such moments in Hibike, the most prominent of these being the development of the relationship between Kumiko and the mysterious Reina. Amongst all the characters in Hibike, Reina is the one I find most enchanting, for she is so distanced from everything else. Yet when she finally gets close to Kumiko, even i was left mesmerised by her entire being - such was the beauty of that scene and moment that I replayed it many times - for it was then that the novel's art reveals itself through in the monologues of Kumiko's mind and later the exchange between the two. For there is a depth and grace surrounding Reina that is an indescribable inspiration - and that portrayal is undoubtedly the product of Kyoani's vision. Yet in the episodes thereafter, that magic did not last - exactly like what life is, for nothing that's good can last; we can only hope to continue developing it slowly and cherishing what we were honoured to have.
Hibike is however, by no means a show drowned in unreachable sentiments. There's definitely plenty, but it has many other elements in it as well that constitute the various aspects of school life. One example would be the hints and touches of vague romance within it, for I find that any anime not focused on romance yet display it are some of the sweetest that there can be - and trust me, there are plenty here. It leaves one guessing - but love comes in many forms, and it is our decision as to how we wish to perceive it. For romance to be a feature in an anime focusing on high school life is nothing surprising - but it is merely a part, even if it could be a big one. I would challenge all potential viewers to not dig too deep onto the romance portion of this anime, even if it is so tempting and inviting.
Such are slice of life animes. They aim at portraying the world to us viewers in a certain manner and form that is familiar to us, yet they are filled with more drama and sentiment than our lives would typically be - because that's how we are entertained. I believe that Kyoani has attained a certain peak with this anime that have not seen in a while. In all the studio's attention to detail is the creation of an anime that while simple - is art in itself. For it has been executed so well that I felt myself vicariously going through much of what the characters did. Again I cannot help but make it clear that this is nothing like K-On; here, I felt that Kyoani decided to get serious. They were fully intent on creating something great, something worthy of the lives that we live and aspire to live, even if we may not be successful in doing so. In the process, it has shown that there are no means more suitable than through the expression of music - as each note rings in this anime, be it from an individual character, or when bonds are made between groups, I find it hard to feel otherwise, for even it made me want 'to be something special.'
Full kudos to Kyoani on what I think is their best anime so far in a while, for it is the culmination of the ideals I feel they had been looking to achieve. Through adapting a novel with an excellent foundation, Kyoani's Hibike surpassed all my expectations, and while it is not a true masterpiece, I don't know how else to rate this series.
Kyoto Animation has relationship with the viewer that I find to often be a complicated waltz between fame and infamy. Being so renowned, the line between these two traits is very thin, and often it is easier for the studio to be criticized rather than applauded; it is a much more popular option to join in on a cynical crowd mentality rather than to accept an achievement for what it is--and I believe Hibike! Euphonium is one of Kyoto Animation's achievements, a wonderful comeback from material that pushes the studio over to the infamous side of the line.
Because of the cynicism that often surrounds the
products of KyoAni season to season, I went into the first few episodes of the show skeptical, critical, and determined not to enjoy myself. Episode one, then on to the next, soon episode five, then episode ten, and soon I realized that my determination had failed me.
Hibike! Euphonium is beautiful, and while my more pessimistic side imagined this to only be true on a surface level, the depths of the series' beauty went much deeper, with a great amount of pride present and accounted for in terms of character, story and further appeal.
The plot, at it's base, is very simple, and not at all an original tale, but the way it is told finds a certain realism that always pleases me when I see it.
Hibike! Euphonium encompasses the story of struggle, and of goals to set and achieved through willpower and belief in oneself, but it also happens to contain the drama that I find much more native to the high school atmosphere that is introduced within this and so many other school stories.
The fact of the matter is that high school girls are, in reality, emotional, catty, dramatic, and hold grudges over petty things. The fact of the matter is that school clubs do not always get along like family, the fact is that some members are more prominent than others and rarely rely on tropes to set them apart from the crowd.
Hibike! Euphonium understands this, and shows this, displaying a sort of quiet drama blown to the proportions that find their homes in both real life and in fiction, and it is perfect. The show knows when to take the situation seriously, and when to have side characters show off what makes them cute. The two aspects are never confused, which is supremely satisfying.
Of course, the show does experience some blips, in that I felt the romantic side-plot jams itself into places it may not necessarily fit. There are awkward attempts to build relationships between the main character, Kumiko, and her potential love interest, as well as awkward attempts regarding that same love interest and Kumiko's friend. These bits of the show were lopsided, but hardly something to do anything with other than ignore.
If anything, I believe some of the awkwardness comes from side characters such as the love interest, Shuuichi, and others like Midori (Kumiko's friend) taking away from the round dynamics of Kumiko and her primary relationship with Kousaka Reina. Kumiko and Kousaka have such a strong, utterly, utterly strong dynamic that it's very hard to match with anything else. As a positive, I applaud the relationship built between the two, and I feel it almost unmissable if one hopes to see anime in it's highest moments of beauty, but as a negative, it gives the rest of the show competition to rise to such a level.
On the topic, I appreciate such competition.
My original thought when I began Hibike! Euphonium was that KyoAni would try to squeak by on art alone, leaving the other aspects of the show--story, sound, pride in the overall work--out to dry. I appreciate that this was not the case, and that KyoAni made in effort to turn the piece into the beautiful final product of art and story combined that I now rate so highly.
For those of you with a similar mindset such as my own, for those of you skeptical that Hibike! Euphonium hides behind pretty colors and fanciful design, I implore you to give the show a try. I implore you to be patient with Kumiko as a disinterested, pessimistic protagonist, as one who isn't striving to be spunky or original.
Hibike! Euphonium may not be original. It may be the recycled plot of many past anime in the music genre, but as a new addition to that genre, it is definitely not a show to pass up.
I’d like to think of music as a form of art. It’s a vocal expression by taking the form of instrumental emotion. And by talent, we see the beauty of it. What does that mean for a show like Hibike Euphonium? A lot. To me, this series is a musical adventure. If you’re interested in a series about following dreams, building strong friendships, and exploring youth with an unforgettable experience, then you’re in the right place.
What is Hibike! Euphonium? (Sound! Euphonium) It’s an anime adaptation of a Japanese novel written by Ayano Takeda. Taking place in Kyoto, the series has its focus on a
group known as the Kitauji High School Music Club. Directed by Tatsuya Ishihara with storyboard written by Jukki Hanada, this series is an explosive youth of the coming ages.
The series is pretty straightforward to be quite honest. It brings a rather strange nostalgia-like feeling when just thinking about the premise. Remember those halcyon days when you first sung a song or played an instrument? That’s what kind of feels like when watching this series. To start off, we have a young girl named Kumiko Oumae coming from Kita Middle School. Now fresh with a new start at her high school, what better way than to make a first impression? Well, the catch is that Kumiko is reluctant in joining the school’s brass band club. Despite having some talent in playing the euphonium, the series makes it clear that she had some sort of negative experience in the past with another member of the club. That would be Reina Kosaka. However, fate has it that she join the club anyway and the instrument she ends up with is none other than the euphonium.
With its direction of the first few episodes, one must be wondering what sort of relationship Kumiko used to have with Kousaka. Before that though, we also meet her other friends including her classmates Kazuki and Sapphire. A series like this will leave a first impression that music is not just the main focus. No, it’s about also establishing a forte and build relationships to survive their spots. This is because the club’s advisor, Taki-sensei has a goal in mind. He wants the club to go on and compete in the Nationals. Small group and big dreams. The series brings up a lot of questions for the first half. Many of them aims at the main characters’ potentials and what their dreams are. Not to mention, we also don’t know much about most of their past. This is why it take some patience to get through the show. Admittingly, there are some pacing issues and parts that are omitted from the novel. However, the series does its job to capture the vocal expression of the characters. Some of them are confident to make the game while others have doubts. For Kumiko, I’d say that she’s somewhere in between. In regards with the other characters, it’s quite diverse. Characters like Hazuki and Asuka are surely confident in themselves while Sapphire has a more timid nature. Then, there’s Reina, a character I’d describe as a lone wolf, the ice queen, and in general someone that is not easy to make friends with. She’s not unfriendly though but just someone who is very dedicated in pursuing her goals. Her past shows that she has some emotional problems with Kumiko and thus is a reason why the two have somewhat of a mixed relationship in the present storyline. Or is it?
A good part of this series also makes time to craft their moments together. Every episode shows a bit of their chemistry whether it’s direct or indirect. Some of the moments may be short but are meaningful, especially for Kumiko. One of the later episodes really take this forward to another level in both friendship and perhaps a bit even subtle yuri by their body language. And that’s another thing I find interesting about the series. Music on the surface is an expression but the characters themselves too show genuine human emotions with body language. Every concrete detail has some sort of meaning to reflect the actions of our characters. Even when it’s hard to notice, it depicts part of their personality. This is important as relationships in the series are forged by their experiences. Each episode shows us more about the main characters. Each episode wants us to learn even more. Each episode gets to show us why they are there. And by the end of the day, it can win the audience with all these ideas mixed in its story.
Of course, competition is also there. Rivalries are established especially for something as big as the Nationals. If you’ve ever been involved in some sort of contest, your goal is to win right? Unfortunately, the series puts less emphasis on actual rivalries but more on the characters’ development themselves. I wouldn’t say this is a drawback though especially since it gives on insight on characters’ behaviors. Characters who quit or doubt themselves brings a saddening emotion into the show. Likewise, there are also others who truly wishes to inspire and bring a light of hope. Regardless, Hibike Euphonium also likes to play a lot with its character cast and their roles. A main course of this series involves their development with one another as well as their individual progress. Even romance is part of the series although much of it is subtle and thus not a central element. To enjoy a series like this, it’s important to realize why the characters are there and what they do in the story. It can even be supplemented by the charming comedy especially with the clever usage of its dialogues. Indeed, this series can feel snarky at times but accomplishes with humor in a sort of cheeky delight.
How do I describe the feeling of the artwork? Imagine a color blind person seeing color for the very first time. That’s pretty much a gist of it. Kyoto Animation not only takes the character designs to a whole new level but also with its stellar visual quality. Beauty is expressed by the colorful backgrounds and rich resources. There’s also a great amount of focus on character expressions. Like I mentioned before, this series expresses music with ensemble through human emotions. In essence, the artwork adapts that to precision and understands how to portray them each episode. This is also enhanced by the noticeable body gestures where characters can at times express their actions without dialogues. There’s probably a lot more words to describe the overall tone of the artwork but this series knows what the audience wants and lives up to the hype of what the studio stands for.
When it comes to soundtrack and music, the series is well aware of what it needs to do. Music after all, is a centerpiece of this series. Without it, it would be like a grey little world without color. But with its colorful music, the series enlighten itself to its highest degree thanks to its instrumental music. There’s all types of sound you’ll hear from this show ranging from those played from the tuba, contrabass, trumpet, and of course euphonium. Now, I’m not a big expert on music but the show achieves its purpose to deliver what the audience needs to hear. The OP and ED theme songs are also decorative with an uninformative style on par with its musical merit. In addition, the show does a decent job to weed out the strongest and weakest links through music talents. Finally, voice mannerisms are tolerable especially for our main cast. Each of them shows a different personality that is quite diverse and matching thanks to their voice. From Sapphire’s timid voice tone to Reina’s cool yet confident style, it’s something that’s hard to miss.
Hibike Euphonium takes the idea of music and brings in a story with charm, emotion, inspiration, and youthful appeal. In a musical genre where there’s emotions, you’d have to believe what the characters are doing. Thanks to its execution, the show accomplishes that in a variety of ways. From the experiences and relationships that our characters forges, its shows that Hibike Euphonium is more than just about producing music. This series is a lot easier to understand though once you appreciate what it’s trying to do. It’s a combination of feeling easy, familiar, and also a bit of fun. And it also shows that talents aren’t born but earned. After all, there’s no such thing as free lunch.