Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hibike! Euphonium (Sound! Euphonium) Review

What They Say:
It's finally time for Kumiko Oumae to enter high-school and begin the next chapter of her life. Being a member of concert band all throughout the lower-grades, one of her first orders of business is scouting out the band at her new school to see how they compare to what she has grown up with. After actually hearing them, however, Kumiko is...surprised to say the least. The concert band of Kitauji High School is terrible, especially compared to the borderline-national's band Oumae was in earlier. Students in the band have gotten lazy and fallen into a slump in which none of them particularly care about the band's future. But all of that changes when they meet their new teacher, professional composer Noboru Taki.

The Review:
Content: (Please note that the content portion of the review may contain spoilers)
Kyoto Animation is back again to tailor to a new clique -- concert band. This time around, they have decided to shelf the swim-club fans of Free, the writers (And detectives?) of Hyouka, and the people that hang out at amusement parks way too much of Amagi Brilliant Park. Industry and KyoAni veteran, Tatsuya Ishihara, is back once again to direct this teen music drama. This show stays relatively inside the "Safe zone" for Ishihara and doesn't really bring out anything he hasn't already done before. (But that is to be expected when you have directed almost everything a studio has produced in the last fifteen years). I basically watch Kyoto Animation productions out of obligation at this point. They become such a phenomenon so quickly and become virtually impossible to go a season without. But just because I watch them out of obligation doesn't mean I don't enjoy them -- in fact, most of the time they come out within my top 5 for the season. So when Sound! Euphonium was announced, I chalked it down and waited to see what the industry-giants had for us this time.

Sound! Euphonium gives us a glimpse into the lives of a few high-school band members, but focuses mainly on Kumiko Oumae, a first-year euphonium player -- an instrument so bizarre that auto-correct doesn't even recognize it. When Oumae joins the band at Kitauji High, she has no idea what she is getting into. That's all made clear relatively quickly though, when Noboru Taki steps in as the band's new instructor. Briefly after his introduction, he gives the band an ultimatum of some sort. They can either continue playing for fun, which is what they've been doing for years, or they could aim to improve themselves and try-out for the national competition. And after a vote which was not nearly as close as I expected it to be, the band decided it was time to step up to a challenge for the first time. Kumiko, being relatively indifferent toward which direction the band would go in, starts to question her decision on joining the band in the first place after she sees Reina Kousaka, one of the girls she was in band with just a year prior.

So now, in addition to the band practicing every day, we have the pre-existing kinship between Oumae and Kousaka that needs time to flourish and repair. And I say repair because the two had an altercation at the end of last year in which Oumae essentially consoled Kousaka and said it was okay that they didn't achieve a gold rating (Which would advance them to Nationals). Kousaka, being the fiery, motivated character she is, backlashed at Kumiko, telling her that Nationals basically meant everything to her. The two then go on to form one of the more interesting relationships of the season as they tend to their emotional wounds and learn more and more about one another, growing closer every episode.

My issue, as far as characters and relationships go, was that there wasn't ever enough time to care about the relationships apart from Kumiko and Reina. I don't know if that can be accredited to the fact that theirs simply out-shined the others, or if the others were just not good to begin with. We start to see these subplots that appear important for an episode or two, but then just wind up vanishing in less than an hour in total. For example, there is this whole thing with Hazuki (A new-friend of Kumiko's and novice tuba player) confessing her feelings to Kumiko's childhood friend Shuuichi (Who never really becomes important at all) that just seems out of place. It feels more like filler than actual plot or character development. Even the moments where the band was practicing were more emotionally-fueled than those occasions of unimportant romance or slightly-confused friendships. I'm not going to sit here and nitpick each one, but I will tell you that the only one that deserves your time would be the whole Oumae X Kousaka thing. Oh, and Midori X Contrabass -- but that's another story.

Sound! Euphonium is an example of how pacing can really diminish a series as a whole. For the first six episodes, I honestly did not care about anything in this show. There were all of these elements that seemed great when looked at individually, but none of them seemed to fit together. In a way though, this could be linked to the series in general. None of the band members seemed to mesh with one another at first. They needed time to grow closer and improve before becoming this high-school super-band. Even though this was probably not done intentionally, it's still an interesting theory and makes those unimportant and boring parts of the show feel more like much needed exposition. I just wish the whole thing could have been as good as the final arc -- which was probably the strongest of the season. And that's saying a lot considering it was up against shows like the newest seasons of Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works and My Teenage Romantic Comedy SNAFU.

Before the wrap-up, there is one more important thing to note, that being pre-conceived hype for a series before it actually airs. For anything KyoAni makes, there is going to be mass-hysteria. The studio has become synonymous with works of art and very rarely lets anyone down. Notice how I didn't say "Never" lets anyone down. Sound! Euphonium is an example of how that is possible. Not everyone was happy with it, that's the honest truth. The season starts off incredibly slow and incredibly uninteresting. It was devoid of everything that makes KyoAni shows great until halfway through its course. It teaches us to not over-hype a series -- because something may appear great on the outside, but when you actually delve into it, there is a chance it might not be the final product that was expected. That mass-hype can really ruin a show for you if you aren't careful.

In Summary:
Sound! Euphonium is a light-hearted an enjoyable show once it gets past the first few episodes. The overall sound and production quality are stellar, but that is to be expected considering the studio that created it. The relationships apart from Kumiko and Reina are not necessary, but can still be enjoyed by the right crowd. The ending arc is one of the best of the year (So far) and even got me a little teary-eyed at points. Those last few episodes really create a memorable experience. It's the ride to those episodes that can really spoil the fun. If you were in concert band in high school, there is no doubt in my mind that you will absolutely adore this show. If you weren't though, there really isn't a strong reason for you to watch it.

Content Grade: C

Streamed By: Crunchyroll

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