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.
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!