Kumiko Oumae arrives at Kitauji High School in Kyoto determined to make a better start than she did in junior high. Back then, her music club came agonisingly close to making the Nationals in Japan. Now, she joins the music club in her new school and makes friends with Hazuki Katou (plays the tuba) and Midori Kawashima (plays the contrabass) and again falls into playing her euphonium brass instrument. At the same time, she has to deal with the legacy of her old classmate Reina Kousaka who also attends Kitauji. She unintentionally insulted Reina when they lost in the junior high finals and now can’t figure out how to approach Reina over it. For her part, Reina isn’t concerned with that. She wants to do well, to excel and to be special in her talents. In that, Sound Euphonium! has its most distinct conversation.
The show does have its lighthearted moments and Kumiko’s jittery reactions are funny the heart of the show, the qualifications for the nationals are where the drama is to be found. Again and again, the cast, including the music teacher Noboru Taki (who is a mixture of indifferent kindness and rigorous taskmaster), remind the students that this is a precious time and will never come again. So the story of how the previous classes simply gave up on the competition and forced the rest of the club to quit serves as the benchmark as to why the nationals are a point to aim for, not an end goal. But when Reina begins to outshine the resident third-year trumpet player Kaori, her fan in the club, Yuko can’t stand it. She publicly shames both Reina and Mr Taki by suggesting that Reina only got solo trumpet duty because she knew Mr Taki before school started. The fallout is immediate and the show spends a considerable amount of time trying to repair the damage. As for the music, it not only is part of the story but frequently is used to bridge emotional moments, convey sentiment and more. It’s alive as much as the characters feel. I never was much for brass marching band stuff but it’s not really overpowering and never out of place in the show.
All in all, the show’s implementation is better once it gets really going and while I think it could have done without some of the quieter moments in favour of some of the exciting drama between the characters (especially the interplay between Kumiko and Reina), I won’t hold this weakness against it. As for animation, Kyoto Animation continues to be at the top of their game, adding to their roster of great work, and getting the most out of the lively, still and emotional moments of the show. Yes, even the over the top moments, too. The voice cast is a healthy mixture of eternal pep (Kumiko’s immediate friends, club VP Asuka) and the quieter ones (Yuko, Aoi, Kaori, Natsuki) but all have moments of deep and light reflection.
Sound Euphonium! Season 1 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and is now available to free members as well as Premium ones.