Sound! Euphonium Anime (English) Guest Review by Christina Maria J

August 5th, 2015

Sound!EuphoniumWhoo-hoo!! Today is Guest Review Wednesday and we have a new Guest Reviewer! Welcome Christina Maria J. with a much-looked forward to review! The floor is yours, Christina Maria!

Before Sound! Euphonium aired, most people, me included, expected it to be something along the lines of a slightly more serious K-On! with different instruments. Instead it asserted its origins in the novel of the same name, to provide a mature and complex drama.

The show centers on high school freshman Kumiko, who almost besides herself finds ends up joining the band club, playing the euphonium despite her stated desire to get away from a past doing just that in middle school. She joins, only to find a club that’s both terrible and rife with old wounds being reopened by the presence of a new, ambitious advisor. Further complicating matters is the presence of old middle school bandmates, who Kumiko clearly has baggage in regards to, most notably the ambitious Reina.

A highly character-driven show, Sound! Euphonium not only juggles a large cast of characters, it actively explores a number of their lives, without ever straying from its central narrative and thematic points. This is made possible through highly efficient writing that rarely sticks to developing one plot point at a time; with almost every interaction developing multiple characters as well as the central plot. Unlike other shows, you won’t find archetypal characters doing their thing in isolation until their focus episode happens. Of the many relationships presented, the central one is that between the emotionally guarded, cynical Kumiko and the passionate, aloof loner Reina.

It is within this relationship the Yuri lies. Starting slow with Kumiko simply being heavily preoccupied with Reina, it develops to a point where the two share an intense physical and emotional intimacy that is not lost on other characters. A key aspect of their relationship is that it heavily deviates from the mold of being pure and innocent – much of their flirting is quite sexually laden – instead focusing on mutual attraction or how the other doesn’t simply conform to expectations of “proper” behavior. Both emphasize this aspect as part of their declaration of love for the other and, unusually, it is framed as a positive that helps them not only realize themselves, but learn to properly interact with society. This intense romantically and even sexually charged relationship is emphasized by how it stands in contrast to the close, platonic friendships between girls that make up most of the rest of the key relationships of the show.

On the whole, it builds up as a full romance, starting with the early stirrings of a crush and working all the way to being an established relationship. At least that’s how it comes off to me and the reading the show itself encourages. But I would be dishonest if I claimed that my interpretation wa universal. Many have found that it lacks the smoking gun of absolute proof that makes them feel like the creators truly sought to present LGBT representation.

There is much more I could talk about, I haven’t touched on the show’s themes at all, for example, nor have I touched on the band plot despite the way itform the backbone of the show. I could also have discussed the care with which music and the band experience are portrayed or the strength of the visual storytelling. Instead of going deeply into these topics, I’ll simply encourage anybody who finds anything in this review even the least bit interesting to explore it for themselves.

Ratings:

Art – 10: Pushes the boundaries of anime visuals, both technically and artistically
Story – 9: Complex and mature
Characters – 10: All complex, multidimensional and sympathetic with no anime stereotypes in sight
Yuri – Personally 9: but in light of the frustrations of others and my understanding of how my own background informs my perception, I’ll say 6 overall.
Service – 2: Generally unobtrusive, but there are some questionable character poses in a few shots

Overall – 10: A truly exceptional, nuanced drama that also provides what is, in my opinion, the best looking TV anime ever made

Available on Crunchyroll in all regions except Asia.

Erica here: Thank you Christina Maria, for a thoughtful review. I’ve been waffling over whether to give this some time, since fan art is rarely a good indication of anything other than fan delusion. ^_^ Now I’m inclined to give it a try!

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23 Responses

  1. Chris Driggers says:

    So I started watching this based on this review. I think if you were ever in band, and went to band competitions, within 5 minutes of starting the first episode you will be hooked.

    A lot of memories I hadn’t thought of in a long long time came flooding back to me. So thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Serge says:

    It’s definitely worth watching, I think. And on it’s own merits I think it’s probably one of the best shows of this past season.

    There’s some fandom controversy because of the cliched straight pairing off in the un-animated novels and whether or not KyoAni is guilty of ship teasing/queer baiting because of it, especially since their version makes those pairings seem to be very unlikely by the end of the show. But we don’t know if there’s going to be 2nd season so it may all be moot.

    • Christina says:

      That’s basically the reason for the disclaimer I wrote near the end of the review and the thing that got the overall yuri grade lowered.

      I actually find the entire discussion about whether it’s bait or not interesting from an academic perspective. It is delving right into the 20th century debate in literature circles about the role of authorial intent against the primacy of the text itself, the nature of literary analysis and so on. As well as revealing how homosexual relationships are still considered more exceptional than heterosexual ones and operating under a higher burden of proof for their existence to most people. I still believe that a pure reading of the text the show presents makes it almost impossible to do a non-yuri reading without ignoring large swaths of the show, though.

      • Serge says:

        Ah, yes, I glossed over that disclaimer in your ratings. My bad.
        I’m not up on my literacy criticism, but do adaptions even fall under authorial intent when the author isn’t involved in the new medium? My gut leans toward no, but this is not really my area of expertise. On adaptations, overall, I’m of the mind that the success of the adaption is rooted, not just in the strength of the original text but also on whether the adaptors are at the same level as the original author or better. In other words, I’m much more tolerant of deviations from the original text if they’re well done and/or improve upon the original work. Which I think KyoAni did well here.
        But, I do agree completely with you that it’d be hard to read the show as non-yuri without a lot of mental gymnastics. Which makes me curious about what went on behind the scenes during production.

        • Christina says:

          Authorial intent still applies. Just to the creators of the new work. It applies to all artists, not just literal authors, after all. Regardless, I strongly believe that an adaptation, whether loose, faithful or Excel Saga level unrelated, is its own work that should be analyzed on its own merits.

          • Seqor says:

            I’m quite in agreement with all of your replies. I like this fresh take, than the rather cynical, myopic and demandingly narrow view I see ever so often. A piece of work tends to leave some room for the audience’s interpretation, so that they could enjoy the exercise of their own perception of it in entertainment.

            And it’s personal, but I like judging a work on it’s own. I don’t see why all it’s associated products have to be dragged along with how a series is viewed, as different mediums brings along it’s own dimension of portrayal.

    • KyoAni seems to favor controversy these days. Good for them.

  3. 2 minutes 20 seconds we’re staring at her skirtline and she’s talking about her breasts. How is that no one notices this? I’m frustrated already. I don’t care that the backgrounds are prettily animated, I want to not creep on animated 14 year olds.

    • Christina says:

      I can’t speak for anybody else, but for me it’s roughly three things. One is that it isn’t a recurring feature, so while stupid and pointless it just isn’t something major. The second is that it just doesn’t seem that creepily framed in how its done regardless. The third is that I remember being an insecure 15-year old and body image issues and worries about sexual attractiveness were absolutely part of it.

      It might also be cultural, I’m Danish and I’ve found that we’re viewing teenagers as comparatively more adult than Americans tend to do. Not just about sex, but high school and middle school joining political organizations, going on school trips abroad with minimal teacher oversight, going on vacations abroad with literally no adult oversight or even hanging out in major political protests known to incur both riots and police brutality are all normal, in some cases expected, behavior here. Teens her age are also expected to make serious, binding plans for their future career and are taught Freudian literary analysis in school. We just don’t have the sense of viewing teenagers as children the way it’s commonly shown among Americans.

      This applies even more strongly to sex. I remember my sister discussing how annoying taking the pill was when she was 14 over dinner and jokes about sex happening in class without any shock. We have picture books for preschoolers explaining how human sexual reproduction works. Teenage couples dating are assumed to be having sex as a matter of course and no effort is being made to impede it, asking the boyfriend of your daughter to sleep anywhere except her bed is a major humiliation and insult to both members of the couple. We have topless women advertising breast enlargement surgery on the sides of busses, a product that’s frequently sold to teenage girls. On some level it’s almost too much, since sociological studies show that a lot of teens think everybody else has a lot more sex than them and feel inadequate for it.

      So Kumiko being concerned about her breast size is annoying since it’s pointless, goes nowhere and really doesn’t say much more than that she’s kinda insecure, but it’s also a detail that rings true to life for me instead of coming off as an invitation to leer. It’s a worry I’m intimately familiar with and that’s immediately recognizable from when I was that age, so I just can’t see it as creeping on an animated 15-year.

      As for the shot of the skirt line, I wouldn’t call a 1-second clip marked by actual movement staring, but what feels uncomfortable feels uncomfortable and I can’t tell you your feelings are wrong. I can’t see a leering gaze there, I see a brief flash of a skirt being adjusted as she wears her uniform for the first time and that’s all. For me there’d need to be a close-up, a focus on glistening sweat, suggestive lighting, folor or sound or something other than just showing the line of a skirt before it gets sexual. Just the line of a skirt or a bikini or eating a banana or whatever, is not enough for me to even register it as sexual, meaning that if I were intended to find it hot, it utterly failed. But this is an individual matter of experiences, values, tastes, unarticulated, possibly unwilling, modes of thought and more, rather than objective truth.

    • dmitrij says:

      But there is NOTHING creepy about it. It’s beautiful, intimate and poignant. I don’t know, you really shouldn’t feel any guilt over watching it. It’s co-directed by Naoko Yamada and she just loves legs and shoolgirls.

    • Jin says:

      “How is that no one notices this? I’m frustrated already.” I did notice it. I was wondering why I had dropped this, thank you for reminding me. If you decide to finish the series and write a review I will consider continuing it then. Some of the comments here were amusing if unfortunately common these days. In any event, the new ‘Vivio’ anime needs reviewing, it was not as good as ‘StrikerS’ but maybe good enough for fans. And I would hope someone will review ‘Kiniro Mosaic’ season one and two, which had a yuri side couple, regardless if it was class S or what have you, it was an entertaining, soft series much like the first ‘Tamayura’ with some yuri in almost every episode. That series is good enough to purchase and I plan to. ‘Non Non Biyori Repeat’ is airing and I plan to give ‘Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru’ a try as well. For the latter I wish a review from yourself or like minded was available.

    • dm00 says:

      “How is it that no one notices this?” Lots of people did, and commented on it when the show was airing. But… 2 minutes 40 seconds into the series, that’s pretty much behind us, I think, so it gets pretty much forgotten in the post-season retrospectives.

      The Kyo-Ani “camera” does love Reina, though. But when it lingers, it lingers on her face.

      • Good point. But it’s irresponsible to say a series is amazing, without mentioning, “at the beginning there is a buttload of thigh staring.” I expected something nice, not creepy and was extremely put off by the omission.

        • Christina says:

          I really do think this is mostly a matter of not only different standards, but different perceptions of what is sexual at all. It literally didn’t occur to me that it could be seen as leering until you said so or that anybody would find it arousing beyond a vague sense that somebody is turned on by everything. What is or isn’t sexual is heavily cultural and legs just aren’t without specific camera framing in Denmark, on the other hand saying that you love somebody is so intensely intimate that it feels vaguely uncomfortable to watch even fictive characters do here.

          On the other hand, there have been times where I have been put off by something you weren’t. I found Kill la Kill to not only be sexual, but gut wrenchingly uncomfortable in how it was so, while your review made it clear we were supposed to take something different away from the sexuality and didn’t find it uncomfortable in the same way. Which isn’t too stranger, girls here aren’t taught to take responsibility for the lust of men or to cover up as a moral imperative to not be too attractive.

          You have my apologies for not warning you, but it was literally of something existing outside my perception. I will try to think about it in the future. Just please try to consider whether people might have a different background from you shaping their perception differently before accusing people in the future. They might well have the best of intentions and even be very strict about avoiding creeping on characters themselves, it just follows different vectors and different priorities depending on the specific issues of their personal and cultural background. Or they might just not have thought about or thought they’d mentioned it, but failed to. Mistakes happen without either malice or consistent negligence or incompetence, after all.

          • Yes, differing standards apply, but so does awareness that readers differ. I have to be aware that not everyone has my standards, and so I frequently note that “You may not like this if…”. I do that so frequently, maybe it’s not obvious. Not everyone is me. I like things other people find appalling. I personally, find the normalization of sexual harassment in anime extremely problematic.

            But that’s fine. If you wish to review here again, just consider the critical concept that not everyone is you and people who have different standards my also want to know what to look out for.

  4. Chris Driggers says:

    Coming back to this. I just finished the series. I give it very high marks. I really enjoyed the way the characters were fleshed out, all culminating in a very tense competition that literally gave me flash backs. I found myself vividly remembering what it was like to be on stage and compete under the lights during band. I was the trombone section leader and while I was watching this, when I wasn’t doubled over with nerves, I was recalling scales and pieces I hadn’t thought of in 25 years. On the merits of its ability to immerse me in memories dormant for decades, I am very glad I spent the time watching this through.

    As a yuri fan, I also appreciated the deft touch applied to Kumiko and Reina’s relationship.

    Regarding the issue that has taken most of the comments, I agree with both sides, and often find myself on the more ignorant side of awareness. I frequently miss the thigh shots and other gratuitous tricks that animators use. I do find myself becoming more aware, thanks to the insight I receive from reading the comments here. In the case of this series, it appears to have been a conscious choice by the animators during the first few episodes, and then abandoned for actual character development. I was pleased to find it a non-issue beyond the episodes mentioned. There’s always a chance that I just missed it per usual, but I don’t think so here. I can say for certain that there was no jiggling, which even to my ignorance is a red flag and instant kill.

    In summary, the combination of excellent visuals, music, band nostalgia, and excellent characters with a hint of yuri, mean that this show hit all my buttons, even some I didn’t even know were there. If there is a second season, I’ll watch it for sure.

    • Thanks for weighing in on this Chris. It’s distinctly possible the service was in the early episodes to get the usual group of otaku to watch, then it morphed. I hope so, but haven’t had a chance to watch the rest.

      Between you, Maria-Christina and Serge, I’m motivated to give it a second try. And for that, I appreciate all of you!

  5. Anna says:

    Hibike!Euphonium is absolutely AWESOME. I consider it the best show of the last several years. Such gorgeous plot, art, and OF COURSE epic, unusual, sparkling pairing. I do love both Kumiko and Reina. Best couple that could be shown in such anime!
    And no, there’s no fanservice here. Maybe there are a couple of moments that some people can consider as such, but honestly, I actually noticed none of the implied ones as f.e in Sakura Trick. It’s jusr not the point of this anime.

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