Mar 24

Movie March – Sound! Euphonium

Hi Bike, you phone Ian

Welcome back to Movie March! All month long, we’ll be looking at and reviewing animated films from both the east and the west. For our final eastern pick, we’re jumping all the way forward to 2016, to look at Kyoto Animation’s movie version of the first season of Sound (or Hibike) Euphonium.

The original season aired back in 2015, but this movie version was made to streamline the experience and provide a quicker entry point for viewers ahead of the second season in Fall 2016 (which if you remember, passed my first episode test). So did it do a good job? Or is it better to watch the first season in its entirety? Let’s have a listen…

For those unfamiliar with the series, it revolves around Kitauji High School’s wind ensemble and their journey to nationals. No, don’t worry, it’s nothing like K-On. Where that was light, fluffy and more about an individual’s journey, this is wider in scope. There’s still a lead character, a girl called Kumiko who plays euphonium, who often provides the perspective for scenes, but her journey isn’t the main driving force of the series. It’s more about an ensemble in disarray pulling itself together and actually reaching for the stars.

And that still comes across well in the film format. Some of the plots shine even brighter with less distractions, such as the running theme of music being a confession of love for Reina, another lead character, and her battle with third-year and club veteran Kaori for the role of solo trumpet player in the big performance. Most of the “big” scenes from the show come through unscathed, and help to provide more regular highs over the course of the film.

The flipside of this though is a lot of the build-up to truly establish the importance of those scenes vanishes by the wayside. Reina and Kumiko are established as having an awkward friendship right off the bat from their middle school days, but a lot of the scenes where Kumiko is trying to move past that and rekindle their bonds are axed as the movie jumps straight to a starlit scene where the two open up to each other again.

That’s kinda a recurring theme. Resolutions with no establishment, or the middle of subplots with no beginning or end. Several times the film will call back to an earlier scene… except that scene got cut, so the viewer is left momentarily bewildered. Stories such as Kumiko motivating second-year euphonium player Natsuki are all but gone, albeit with one scene or two left that suddenly loses all meaning.

The biggest casualty of that is Asuka, the club’s vice-president and another euphonium player. Charismatic and passionate, in the television show she provides a lot of motivation and energy to scenes. In the film, she may as well be a background character, and the whole thing suffers as a result.

In short then, you’re getting a bare bones version of the show. The major points, but not a whole lot else. And in a series that has a wide cast of characters, that really doesn’t help. Which is fine enough if you’re using this as a refresher or preparation for the second season, but if you’re unsure on it all, this isn’t going to sell you on the franchise like, say, the Gurren Lagann or Evangelion films might.

But to bring some positivity to this, Sound Euphonium does see KyoAni at their peak in terms of production values. Visually, there’s more nuance in character expressions than arguably any other anime ever made. There is the odd shot where they go overboard, but for the main it’s a subtle, refined look that can do more with silence than actual words.

And the sound direction is even better. Obviously there’s an assortment of classical music pieces that sound great coming from an ensemble, but you can really tell in rehearsals when certain sections are faltering and the steady improvement of each player. I don’t profess myself to be an audio savant, far from it, but man can this show make you think in a more musical way and open your ears.

So having seen both the series and the film, which would I recommend? Well, unless for some reason you’re absolutely stripped for time, I’d have to say the series. There’s a lot more subtext that takes it from an alright experience to a good one, and you won’t be confused thanks to omitted content.

And while the film does add a couple of scenes, both feel like misfires. One makes a performance drag, the other introduces a second season character… but is ten seconds long, so what’s the point. I mean, you could be done with a third of the show before the credits rolled on this.

Don’t get me wrong, Sound Euphonium is a show worth watching. But that’s with an emphasis on show, not movie.

Seven down! And that’s it for the eastern portion of Movie March! Come back on Monday for the last western, and then on Friday it’s time to bring back something else that hasn’t been on this site for a few years. Stay tuned!