Review/discussion about: Hibike! Euphonium
(As supplementary material for this review, please refer to my writing on the mood-setting for this anime, Hibike! Euphonium and Setting the Mood)
Most people might think going through school is “only” to get an education. That is well and good, and indeed the major purpose. Accruing years of knowledge makes someone more well-rounded and capable as a person, more so than not learning the “ABCs,” integrals of calculus, or the implications of the American Civil War. A smaller reason, but one that is just as important, is a bit more personable: providing motivation. Schooling houses mentors in the form of advisers, teachers looking to instill long-lasting lessons, and professors that give impossible opportunities, who all want nothing more than to make their students shoot for the stars. Hibike! Euphonium shows that motivation is not easy to come by – this is partly why education requires so much time and effort – but once it is obtained, the need and the want to reach new heights never leaves.
Euphonium (as it will be known from here on out) stars Kumiko Oumae, a girl finally entering high school. Growing up, she had always played the euphonium, and as fate would have it, the same path is followed. This time, however, the situation is slightly different.
What the anime does well throughout the entire season is maintain a leveled approach to the drama that it concocts and the themes that it focuses on. Given the setting, the goals, and the motifs of the anime, the narrative consistently raises problems that fall in-line with these facets, providing drama that is not only contextually relevant but also manageable in doses. Events like the discord manifested between the students and their instructor, the loss of band members, and the pseudo-rivalry that ensues are neither weighty nor weak in the emotions they provide. Instead, the middle ground they reach envelopes the audience, allowing for the show to be less about trying to make the viewers understand what is going on and more about having them feel the gravity of the situations depicted.
At the same time, the drama of Euphonium gives its theme of motivation a foundation with which to build off of. Motivation is nearly inherent; people act all the time but not without a push or shove coming first. It might be something physical, like an accident having the victim realize his or her mortality, or visiting a conference that inspires a goer to follow the same route. There is also the mental portion, where past transgressions cause someone to move beyond their past self or a relationship shared with another instills the wherewithal to do something more. In the anime’s case, it delves into both areas – the physical and the mental – to showcase exactly what motivation is and what it can do. There are moments like Kumiko’s nighttime trek up a mountain with Reina (physical) and Yuuko’s fervent desire to see Kaori succeed (mental) that demonstrate the power that is motivation. There are even scenarios where a mix of the two sides occurs; the final ensemble is a culmination of the various students’ aspirations, the end result of the motivation they acquired. There, the desire to win and the immense amount of practicing they took part in coalesces, with the conclusion mirroring the start. That is, it is motivation that causes one to move forward, from a band of misfits to a full-fledged band, from dud to pure gold.
Now, the anime’s tale is not impeccable. There are minor grievances in the execution of the previous band’s difficulties – the problem they faced is not as dire as the show makes it out to be – and Kumiko’s small side story involving her older sister is not utilized to the fullest extent – it is alluded to at times, but it never influences the dealings at hand. While these are minor issues, it keeps the overall narrative from attaining the perfection it sought.
The anime’s strongest aspect is undoubtedly the mood that it constantly generates. Mood in this sense is not necessarily the feelings established between the characters but the overall vibe that is created to surround the narrative and the audience. To achieve its moods of dreariness, uncertainty, love, and many others over the course of the season, Euphonium makes expert use of everything at its disposal. The lighting creates shadows while simultaneously giving characters gentleness and guidance; the camera placement is filled with flair and focus; and the coloring manages to be both apt and appropriate to create the perfect mood for any occasion. Alongside the beautiful backgrounds and the varying shot compositions, the anime is a spectacle to behold, both visually and mood-wise.
Character designs likewise find polish, from Natsuki’s cool ponytail to Sapphire’s childish looks to even Taki-sensei with his sweater, glasses, and frazzled hair. Mainstays like Kumiko with her medium-length, fluffy hair is cute whereas Reina’s jet-black hair and sparkling purple eyes paint her as the beauty that she is. Asuka’s red glasses giving her an air of superiority, Kaori’s beauty mark to make her more womanly, and Hazuki’s short hair and clip that provides her with higher prettiness are further examples of the anime’s care towards the cast’s designs.
Actual animation remains above average no matter what the show sets out to do. Small nuances like the movements of lips or the adjustment of a hair tie and the high amount of attention placed on the characters actually playing their instruments have the anime always animating from start to finish without a dip in quality.
Just below the mood-setting that Euphonium expertly crafts are the characters that traverse the anime.
Arguably the most interesting person out of the entire cast is Asuka. Known for her affable personality, leadership skills, and prowess on the euphonium, she is held in high regard by both her peers and her juniors. Yet she isextremely passive, unbearably so. The reason for her wanting to keep the “status quo” in terms of the relationships she holds is quite intriguing because of how simple it is. By her not taking sides in the conflicts that pop up around her, she effectively, in a rather unintuitive brand of thinking, remains in favor on all sides. She refrains from getting involved in even her closest friends’ hardships, not because she cannot handle such problems – it is evident through her base capabilities that she is more than able to help – but because she wishes to keep herself out of scrutiny and in obscurity. It is not so much that she is acting selfish or looking to solely further her own goals but rather she does not want to influence anyone else’s. In this manner, she indirectly aids her own motivations without coming off as a “bad guy” in anyone’s eyes, keeping her on the pedestal she is placed upon. She is a fascinating character because of her strange yet relatable approach to people, marking her as one of the best Euphonium has to offer.
Other notable characters are Kumiko and Reina. On their own, each girl is respectable, but it is the dynamic they share that is incredibly strong. Reina is someone who embodies motivation; she believes herself to be the best and therefore strives to make this known. Kumiko, at the other end of the spectrum, has no such motivations. Right from the beginning it is apparent how unsure of herself she is – despite playing the euphonium for years, she tries (and fails) to select another instrument to play. As the plot progresses, Kumiko continues to keep to herself, mostly going along with the flow instead of driving onwards. It is not until her mountain climb with Reina, the girl who completely contrasts with her mentally, that she begins to change. She starts to play harder, she cries when she loses, and she encourages her fellow band mates; the motivation she always needed was provided through her bond with Reina.
At the same time, Reina receives help, too. For her, she had been perceived as the “odd one out.” Without friends and without connections, caused by her distant behavior, she finds in Kumiko a similar kind of demotivation. In other words, Reina is not interested, not motivated, to make connections with others similar to how Kumiko was not motivated to achieve greatness. Thus, Reina finds friendship in Kumiko, and from then on, Reina’s actual self is perceived through Kumiko. She is not quite as composed as she comes off as being, she likes to have fun, and she is sincere in the feelings she holds, all of which is witnessed because Kumiko was there to (in Reina’s words) “peel away” the trumpet player and get at the person hiding inside. In this case, opposites attract, making them the perfect coupling.
Something esoteric yet very profound that many of the characters are affected by is the symbolism of the instruments they play. The cast do not have their specific instruments just to play them; rather they expound on who they are as people, becoming representative of the messages they are meant to disclose. Looking at the tuba, it is a device that requires a lot of lung capacity. Furthermore, it is described as an instrument that one simply likes for what it is and nothing more. To that end, the tuba symbolizes love – it leaves one breathless while also needing no explanation. Simultaneously, the characters who play this instrument – Hazuki, Gotou, and Riko – are each people who partake in this emotion, either with or without success.
This type of symbolism can be applied to the euphoniums, too. How does one describe this instrument? It is a tuba and trumpet mixed into one, with a size that is neither big nor small. In other words, it is rather unique, much like the people who play it. Asuka’s neutrality and Kumiko’s often impersonal honesty are traits that make them different from everyone else. Even Natsuki’s personality of reliance and coolness is not what one would “expect” of someone in an orchestra, making her place among the euphoniums not out of the ordinary.
There is even more symbolism to be had. The trumpet is an instrument known for its resounding notes. Thus, those that play it – Reina, Yuuko, and Kaori – are just as impassioned in their own, respective ways. Sapphire plays the contrabass, a massive instrument that contrasts with her small stature. But it captures her “larger than life” outlook, with her unending positivity and optimism, in beautiful fashion. Such symbolism is instrumental in making these characters, the mains and the sides, more than the sum of their parts, ultimately leading to a cast that is powerful individually, together, and anywhere in-between.
The opening theme is a great track, filled with power not only because of the orchestra that backs it but also because the vocalist does an exceptional job in terms of range and note-holding. The ending theme is not quite as powerful, but its upbeat nature and catchiness allows it to stand out from the rest of the music Euphonium has at its disposal.
As for the rest of the soundtrack, it is mostly filled with “everyday” pieces like “Oboro ge na Genzai” and “Toushin Dai no Hibi.” The single best track is “Unmei no Nagare,” with its slow piano and eventual violins that create a captivating piece filled to the brim with emotion. Many other tracks, like the art and animation, aid in establishing the mood; “Ishiki no Houga” is ambient and mysterious, giving its sections a more inspiring feel. It is a wonderful OST that does what it sets out to do and more.
Voice acting for the anime is somewhere between average and above average. A special shout-out is deserved for Tomoyo Kurosawa for giving a splendid performance as a relative newbie in the medium.
If you happen to know my preferences, then me saying that I preferred all of the “yuri” shipping that became possible between Kumiko and Reina should not be a surprise. Indeed, that is probably one of my favorite parts of the anime, which is funny because not only is it not canon but it also is not even the “point” of the show itself. I also have this one to thank for giving me yet another opportunity to improve my writing once more; my piece on how anime go about setting the right mood was only possible because of this one’s existence.
However, looking back on it all, I cannot say I really liked it. The characters are not that enthralling, the themes do not fully resonate with me, and I never found myself moved to the point of happy or sad tears. It was a very mellow ride, despite the technical success that the anime managed to achieve. A second season might shift my thinking but for now the series will stay as only slightly entertaining.
Hibike! Euphonium does quite a lot right, from the mood that it creates through its visual direction to the characterization of the people it focuses on. While it is not the most enjoyable of anime, its motivational story and the music it incorporates more than make up for any boredom encountered. At this point, it is safe to say that Kitauji High School’s piece most certainly deserves to go on.
Story: Good, leveled drama, with a nice theme of motivation throughout, but minor plot points are not as purposeful as they were designed to be
Animation: Great, mood-setting cinematography, nice art style, nice character designs, above average actual animation
Characters: Great, Asuka is very interesting, Kumiko and Reina’s dynamic provides comparisons and contrasts, and the symbolism of the instruments adds further insights
Sound: Great, great OP, great ED, very nice soundtrack, above average VA work
Enjoyment: Fine, the “yuri” shipping was fun as was my essay on the show, but nothing from the anime resonated with me
Final Score: 8/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3