Title: Hibike! Euphonium aka Sound! Euphonium
Company: Kyoto Animation
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 8 Apr 2015 – 1 Jul 2015
Synopsis: The Kitauji High brass band is in a sorry state when freshman Oumae Kumiko joins up. Uncoordinated, unmotivated, and with a third of its members having bailed, it will take nothing short of a miracle for them to get their act together. But this isn’t just any year for Kitauji. Taking charge as advisor is Taki Noboru, who won’t let the band’s ambition for the national competition go untested. Under him, practices are intense and the pressure is high. But for Kumiko, the greatest source of her unrest comes in the form of trumpet virtuoso Kousaka Reina, whom she is both terrified and allured by.
Music: Masterful and sometimes horrible. The story is embedded in every piece and every practice.
Animation: Gorgeous, makes use of every motion.
Cast: Shallow characterization is saved by strong dynamics.
Sense of accomplishment: Every moment of this series is earned.
If an anime is to win me over all the way, the best thing it can do is transport me to a world I could never have imagined. Hibike! Euphonium does not take anybody to a strange new world. By anime standards, its school setting is as prosaic as it gets. The success of a high school band is so low on the list of subjects I find novel or interesting that the list would have to circle the earth a couple of time before it came up. And yet Kyoto Animation has done something more impressive than transport one me to a new world. It took a familiar one and gave me something I didn’t even know I wanted.
Given the show’s subject matter, to say that the heart of Hibike! Euphonium lies in its music is such an obvious statement that it’s hardly worth mentioning. But nobody who has seen the series could leave it unstated. This is a series about the painstaking process of getting a piece just right. Practice, trial and error, and rehearsal are so prevalent throughout the show that it is not so hard to tire of hearing the same bars of music over and over again. But it’s a shared fatigue with the cast as well as a shared sense of accomplishment when a piece comes together. Thus repetition is never unwarranted, nor is it boring as each performance is unique, reflecting the skills, weaknesses, and mood of the musician playing. Variation in performance quality is in that Goldilocks zone of being distinct enough for anyone to catch, but subtle enough as to not call attention to itself. Adding to the credibility of the experience is the fact that all of the recordings in the show are themselves performed by students, who themselves are learning an entirely new piece in the form of the Euphonium’s signature piece, “Crescent Moon Dance.”
Whether clever or shallow, to some extent every character’s role in Euphonium can be summed up in their instrument. The fact that Kumiko is a bass player is rather apt as she is less the central agent of the story and (pun very much intended) the base on top of which the actual drama ensues. With only one episode centered around her development, the majority of her arc is informed by how she reacts to the drama around her. Her closest friends friends share in her peripheral position, albeit with less to do. Hazuki is general comic relief while Sapphire is a character comprised of exactly two jokes. That the two of then play an octave lower than her is also appropriate, background to the background. This relation between musician and instrument plays out in more effective ways among the rest of the cast. How the character of Asuka, for example takes such pride in a second fiddle instrument like the euphonium is wholly in line with both her eccentric personality as well as her apathy towards the limelight. For Reina, on the other hand, a leading instrument such as the trumpet is a self admitted expression of her need, not only to stand out, but to excel beyond all others as well. For somebody like Yuuko, that same trumpet represents her vociferousness, namely her need to be heard even when her opinions are none too appreciated.
Spectacular artwork is already Kyoto Animation’s forte. So naturally its quality can be left at that, right? Wrong. Every frame is richly detailed with emotion portrayed through both overt and subtle motions. So far par for the course. What elevates the animation from excellent to spectacular is, like much of this show, embedded in the performances. If a C note is played, then a C note is what’s animated. Already this goes beyond the aping of playing that most series settle on showing. From there Euphonium goes a step further, not merely accurately portraying act of playing music visually, but the experience as well. For nobody is music an effortless endeavor, and for each character the struggle is visible, whether the drama is the first step forward just to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” or the pursuit perfection at all costs. Every motion, ever tear or sweat drop, every note, every aspiration is on the screen. To say that moments becomes tangible is giving it too little credit. The agony and the ecstasy are shared with the audience, which makes the feeling of accomplishment in the end all the more real.
Hibike! Euphonium hits such a high mark, it is almost impossible to believe. Unquestionably and unconditionally, I recommend this series to everyone. Band geek, slice of life fan, cute girls doing cute things aficionado, romance addict, action junky, horror lover, it doesn’t matter. This is an anime that demands to be watched, and quite possibly deserving of an ovation at its end.
The Rating: 9
Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx