Hibike! Euphonium (Sound! Euphonium)

Hibike! Euphonium (Sound! Euphonium) is a glorious series that, and is great fun to watch. Yet, if I ever heard of it before a few weeks ago, it never registered until I saw the listings for Sound! Euphonium: The Movie, which hit select theaters on July 11 subbed. If you missed that, don’t worry: dubbed day is July 15. This review can be a prompt to play catch-up; as you’ll read below, that is very doable if you plan to hit the big screen showing as a well-versed fan.

Firstly, what is a euphonium? That comes up shortly. After Kumiko Oumae’s middle school concert band failed to advance to Nationals in her final year, she’s ready for a fresh start, choosing to attend Kitauji High School, which has the sailor uniforms she likes, also also which few of her old classmates opted for. What’s more, Kitauji’s concert band is awful. Kumiko doesn’t get her break with the past, however: Reina Kousaka, a passionate, talented trumpet player who was devastated by their old band’s competition loss, is also starting at Kitauji. Also, new friendships forged over a cute capsule toy (how anime), with contrabassist Sapphire Kawashima (who prefers ”Midori” to her standout name) and intrigued non-musician Hazuki Katou, leads Kumiko back into band before long. Throughout, the newbies’ presence provides an opportunity to introduce the euphonium, a brass instrument like a smaller tuba, and other less familiar instruments like Midori’s contrabass. Where exposition is skipped, comment on the relationships of instruments used in a given piece informs the viewer of their place in music.

From here, it initially looks like the series might become a K-On!! for acoustic music; when petite Midori has the spotlight she resembles Yui Hirasawa, complete with a cloneish little sister. Then new band director Taki Noboru enters the picture. Already renowned in the world of musical ensembles, he first lets the group vote on its goal for the year—a large majority backs “Compete in Nationals”—and holds them to it. Following a year when many talented 1st years quit when older students would not take band seriously, this means a major change, entailing immense amounts of practice, both in ensemble and among instrument groups, auditions to determine who can play in competitions rather than reliance on seniority, and a few laps around the school just to be sure. With the added stress and failure to meet Taki-sensei’s expectations, even the prospects of marching in the Sunrise Festival like they do every year are looking dim. Before long, Nodame Cantabile is the music anime Hibike! Euphonium most takes after.

The stage thus set proves great for showing drama. Hibike! Euphonium has a rarified atmosphere where personal dilemmas often become crises. Kitauji High School, and the concert band in particular, is incredibly girl-heavy, the ratio being about 7:1. In another series this would mean a sweet harem for the guys, but sans the mysterious force driving women to otherwise average guys, they remain average guys. Kumiko’s childhood friend Shuuichi Tsukamoto is nice enough, but falls victim of bad chemistry most of the times he expresses more than friendly interest. More often, it is easy to forget Kitauji isn’t a girl’s school, and it has some of the elegance, and hidden venom, of girl’s school anime. Many of the band girls develop special bonds, and the visuals can be very yuri, especially with Kumiko and Reina as they become closer. Yet this is not a steamy series; even vocal professions of love are taken as meaning friendship. For her part, Reina’s closeness to Kumiko is never seen to conflict with her closely-held feelings for a guy, namely...

Based on a novel series, the first season includes 13 episodes plus an OVA, followed by a second season of 13 more. If that’s a lot to marathon, there are two condensation movies, Sound! Euphonium: The Movie - Welcome to the Kitauji High School Concert Band, and Sound! Euphonium: Todoketai Melody respectively, so you can simply watch those to suitably catch up; the first in particular sacrifices some more moe moments while including the less light-hearted ones. Each season has 7 short, silly specials for anyone overwhelmed by the sometimes high emotions. There is also a side-story movie, Liz and the Blue Bird, that follows two supporting characters, shy oboist Mizore Yoroizuka and her friend Nozomi Kasaki; their remarkable relationship features early in season 2, and continues in the movie. An artistic, solemn treatment of friendship with a touch of yuri, it is really beautiful but oddly quiet and still for a motion picture about band members; Sound! Euphonium The Movie - Our Promise: A Brand New Day, now playing in theaters, is very different, continuing the story of the concert band into Kumiko’s second year and covering a lot of ground in a short time. Naturally, the anime incarnations have the advantage of moving music, performed by the Freshmen Wind Ensemble of the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music and a marvel to hear (okay, maybe it was unrealistic portraying their level of talent in freshmen at an ordinary high school). Combined with the familiar but impressive imagery of school grounds, river bank, and rural camp, it is a stunning experience.