Sound! Euphonium

Kumiko Oumae is a talented euphonium player who enjoyed participating in her middle school’s concert band; but after a falling out with her one-time friend, trumpet virtuoso Reina Kousaka, Kumiko is no longer sure if she wants to be part of a school band in future. However, when she graduates to Kitauji High School, her friends Hazuki and Sapphire (known as Midori) persuade her to give band another try. But on her first day, Kumiko gets a shock: Reina is also a student at Kitauji High, and has likewise joined the school’s concert band. The reason why quickly becomes apparent: the band’s new conductor is Noboru Taki, whose reputation has drawn Reina to Kitauji despite offers from schools with far more successful bands. Under Noboru’s guidance, the band members decide to try and reach the National High School Concert Band competition, and begin the long process of practice and competing in qualifying tournaments. But tensions threaten to derail the band’s efforts, especially when Noboru makes it clear that members will have to audition to earn their place in the competition squad. Will senior members of the band be given preference over more talented juniors, as has happened in the past? What was the nature of the dispute that split the band the previous year and caused some members to quit? Should the band members who left be re-admitted? Can Kumiko and Reina overcome their past differences? And what is the strange chemistry between Kumiko and her fellow euphonist, band vice-president Asuka Tanaka…?

Based on a series of novels by Ayano Takeda and produced by beloved anime studio Kyoto Animation, “Sound! Euphonium” appeared on Japanese television across two series in 2015 and 2016. Animated with Kyoto’s trademark “soft lens” aesthetic and mangaesque character designs, “Sound! Euphonium” could easily have drifted into a tedious teenage melodrama with its somewhat involved story of competing egos, conflicting agendas, and the quest to compete at the National Band Tournament. The fact that it avoids doing so is due in large part to the deft writing which fleshes out the myriad characters so that they are both believable and empathetic. And while following exactly who is who can be a little confusing, given some of the characters are frustratingly similar in appearance, nonetheless, this ensemble approach makes for rich and detailed story-telling. Some critics have accused “Sound! Euphonium” of queer-baiting; however, this seems unwarranted in the wider context of the story, with its exploration of the awakening identities of adolescence, and the sometimes painful realisation that the dividing line between friendship and romance can be confusingly thin. The bittersweet denouement also lifts the story above the typical “underdogs-take-on-the-world” stereotype we’ve come to expect from tales of this sort. A rich story told through beautiful animation and compelling narrative, “Sound! Euphonium” was followed by a feature length adaption “Liz and the Blue Bird” in 2018, which recounts the story of two of the television series’ minor characters; and by a second feature “Sound! Euphonium: The Movie” in 2019.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.