The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Hibike! Euphonium: Reflection and review after three

“You know, if I can survive marching band, I can survive anything.” —Nellie McKay

Hibike! Euphonium, or Sound! Euphonium, is Kyoto Animation’s anime of this season, structured around Kitauji high school’s concert band who once participated in competitions at the national level. However, they’d declined dramatically and since then, have not made it past the qualifiers. This changes when Noboru Taki , a new music advisor is appointed, and under his instruction, the concert band begins its journey to restructure and perform as well as it once did. Kumiko Oumae joins Kitauji’s concert band with Hazuki Katou and Sapphire “Midori” Kawashima, and is once again persuaded to take up playing the euphonium. However, the journey to a recovery is not an easy one, and already, a divide has formed, with some of the concert band’s members not pulling their weight adequately. This does not go unnoticed by Noboru: despite his laid-back and calm demeanour, as well as his value on allowing the music students to grow independently, he is also very forward about what he thinks of their performance. This sort of attitude is precisely what shakes people out of their apathy and complacency; from a literary perspective, he is the preson who disrupts the status quo and will set in motion what’s to come. Coupled with the emphasis on the smaller details, such as breathing from the diaphragm and training up the embrasure, Hibike! Euphonium immediately lets the audience knows that this is going to be a series that is about music, and the sort of commitment that one must take to improve sufficiently such that they can realise their aspirations.

At the time of writing, it’s been nine years since I last picked up a clarinet or trumpet. In previous posts, I’ve alluded to being a reasonably proficient player with both instruments; I was once a part of my junior high’s concert band, and picked the clarinet as my first instrument. Why the clarinet? There’s nothing particularly deep here in my case: I chose the clarinet becuase it was the only instrument that I could initially get a sound from, and within a year, I became reasonably proficient. My grades in concert band were always quite good, and I spent countless hours a week practising, both the music in the practise books, music for school performances and competitions and playing music by ear for the sake of it. I intrinsically have no musical talent, and spent my time doing martial arts and reading in place of piano and violin lessons as my peers were wont to sign up for. Nonetheless, being a part of a concert band was, for the lack of another word, fun: I loved practising with the entire band, and although I was infamous for playing my parts too quickly when I’d started, eventually, I managed to synchronise with everyone else. Our band won several competitions, as well, and in my final year, I played trumpet for the jazz band, having taught myself how to play during the summer. Looking back, I find it to be somewhat surprising that I managed to participate in music and perform well on the virtue of just practise alone, and consequently, if someone with no musical background can do this, I anticipate that the characters in Hibike! Euphonium will naturally realise the scope and implications of their intentions to compete at the national level, and above all, understand the joys associated with succeeding, having cultivated such a strong commitment to something they genuinely wish to contribute to.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As the central character, much of the events in Hibike! Euphonium is told around Kumiko Oumae, a pragmatic, yet indecisive first year. Kumiko is to Hibike! Emphonium‘s what Yui Hirasawa was to K-On!, although Kumiko is presented being quite similar to Girls und Panzer‘s Miho Nishizumi; both girls are seeking a fresh start in high school and their actions suggest a reason for desiring to distance themselves from something they once did.

  • Sapphire Kawashima has a timid disposition and is embarassed by her given name, preferring to be called Midori instead. She is a contrabass player and comes from a wealthy background. From the typographical perspective, I’ll refer to her as Midori because that’s far easier to type.

  • Hazuki Katou is one of Kumiko’s friends: easy-going and spirited, she winds up playing the tuba despite an initial interest in playing the trumpet because she inadvertently purchased a mouthpiece for a tuba.

  • Kumiko and her newfound friends react in shock when Asuka Tanaka, a third-year euphonium player, welcomes them to watch their concert band perform.

  • Shuuichi Tsukamoto and Kumiko are childhood friends who’d since become more distant towards one another after he made an unflattering remark about her in their final year of junior high. Despite this, they still converse with one another in more casual manners, and quite possibly, one of the things I’m going to be looking out for will be whether or not the two can reconcile; no love story is necessary, but to see two formerly close friends rediscover their friendship through music would be a nice (if somewhat cliched) addition to this anime. Shuuichi later informs Kumiko of a schism that led half of the more dedicated students to drop the concert band club the year before they arrived.

  • Kumiko and her older sister, Mamiko, don’t share a particularly cordial relationship. The use of camera angles and spaces to emphasise this distance contributes to this feeling, but their dialogues also serves a minor role, and consequently, both suggest that there might be something that merits further exploration in future episodes.

  • Why is it that the protagonists always sit near the windows of their classrooms? The practical answer is that it simplifies the animation process: by placing a character near the window, other students need not be drawn and animated. Some have speculated that this has some sort of literary significance, but this is done purely for ease of animation: anything the characters subsequently do (such as looking longingly out the window) is a bonus attributed to their spot in the classroom.

  • It will have been almost ten years since I picked up a trumpet for the first time, and for my first week of self-study, I practised on the mouthpiece alone until I could play a few rudimentary tunes by vibrating my lips at different frequencies. I personally think it’s a nontrival feat that I was able to, over the space of two months, attain a sufficient level of skill to keep up with other members of the jazz band, who had two more years of trumpet skills compared to myself.

  • Insofar, Midori, Kumiko and Hazuki do not appear to fit in with the K-On! archetypes, which defies initial predictions that Hibike! Euphonium is a moe anime that will play out like K-On!. The comparisons between the two are inapplicable, since the atmospherics and setups are inherently different, and while I disagree with anyone who would argue that there are similarities, the fact that such a comparison exists suggests that K-On! is still relevant, even five years after the TV series ended.

  • As the brass section’s leader, Asuka plays the euphonium and is the vice president of the concert band club. She’s very forwards and mischievous, unnerving some of the first years with her mannerisms, and oftentimes finds herself being reigned in by Haruka Ogasawara, the concert band’s president.

  • The euphonium is a baritone brass instrument that is used predominantly in concert bands, rather than orchestras, and play a large role in marches. The amount of detail Kyoto Animation breathes into the valves and other structures on the euphonium, and other brass instruments, is nothing short of impressive. It is quite possible that the technology, techniques or tools required to construct a satisfactory-looking instrument to Kyoto Animation might not have existed earlier, hence the preference for instruments with a simpler design.

  • As Hazuki discovers, the trumpet requires a certain skill to use: with the highest register amongst the brass instruments, it’s widely used in concert bands to provide the melody.

  • Noboru’s physical appearance is not unlike that of Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Batman Begins‘ Dr. Crane, although thankfully, rather than trying to spread a fear toxin throughout Kansai, Noboru’s only objective is to cultivate a sense of independence and drive to perform well, and harsh his words may be, this is probably precisely what Kitauji’s band needs to pull itself back up.

  • Kumiko expresses a degree of stress about her situation with Reina; whereas she was content to have achieved a ‘dud’ gold (where a band wins a gold but does not advance to the next level) back in junior high, the latter was dissatisfied. Consequently, Kumiko finds it difficult to talk to her, with the aim of expressing that in spite of what’s happened, losing is not the end of the world.

  • Aoi Satou is two years Kumiko’s senior and plays the tenor saxophone: she remarks to Kumiko that the latter ought to make the most of her three years of high school, since this time will pass by in the blink of an eye.

  • Kyoto Animation’s craft has always been impressive, but the artwork and level of detail in Hibike! Euphonium appears to be even more impressive than their previous works. I’ve previously mentioned that this attention to the visual component is one of the reasons why their adaptation of Haruhi Suzumiya was so successful; Satelight’s interpretation of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan feels far more minimalist by comparison.

  • Aside from all of the merits that are already present in Hibike! Euphonium, I add to the list sort of humour that can only stem from concert band-related topics, such as over-exerting oneself during breathing training. From the looks of things, Hibike! Euphonium will be able to maintain a good balance between the story component, and the humour component to really bring out a story that viewers can relate to.

  • There’s no point in doing something if one isn’t giving it with their fullest effort. This forms the foundations for why I do things the way that I do; if we journey further back in time, to when I was in primary school, my earliest years were characterised by instructors citing that I lacked focus, and couldn’t pay attention to classes. At some point, I realised that it would be more meaningful if I tried to do a good job, regardless of whether or not I liked the topic or assignment.

  • Thus, we fast forward back to the present, and looking back, I’d think that for the amount of trouble I caused my primary school instructors, I turned out alright. Coming up next will be a talk on my initial impressions for Wolfenstein: The New Order, followed by Terror in Resonance and RWBY. The latter two are by request from readers, and I do occasionally take up anime if requested.

  • I waited until the very end to feature an image of Reina Kousaka, one of Kumiko’s classmates who was also at her junior high’s concert band and an excellent trumpet player. Distraught that Kumiko was not particularly worried about losing, their relationship has been rocky. This scene reminds me of Rio playing the trumpet for Kanata in Sora no Woto, and looking forwards, I imagine that Hibike! Euphonium will also follow the reconciliation that Kumiko and Reina must undertake before Kitauji’s concert band club can truly succeed.

Hibike! Euphonium stands to become a solid anime for the same reason that Girls und Panzer was enjoyable: both anime feature a formerly top-tier club that had fallen by the wayside. In Girls und Panzer, twelve episodes was all it took to tell an immensely thrilling and meaningful story, and though it might’ve been troubled by some production issues, the series was by all means exceptional. However, with Kyoto Animation at the helm, and the fact that I can relate to the story immediately, I foresee that Hibike! Euphonium will probably be one of Kyoto Animation’s better anime. The story is already highly engaging and relatable, but Kyoto Animation appears to have stepped up their craft further. The sound is fantastic, and though I’ve not picked up a clarinet or played in a concert band in over nine years, Kyoto Animation is able to portray both the excellent and inexperienced bands: in Kitauji’s performances, I can hear individual clarinets squeaking. Different sections going off-tempo and off-tune can also be discerned, illustrating the sound quality that’s gone into production. The visuals have also taken off: the amount of detail that is present in the individual instruments (and in particular, lighting effedcts) is absolutely amazing, and the landscapes themselves are detailed enough to challenge even Makoto Shinkai’s. Three episodes in, I cannot find any substantial faults with Hibike! Euphonium, and would easily recommend this anime- a fantastic voyage doubtlessly awaits, and I look forwards to seeing what happens with Kitauji’s concert band as they improve and spend more time with one another.

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