Anime is no stranger to characters crying. Whether it’s Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star or the entire cast of Alien Nine, tears are fairly ubiquitous. Over the past 10 years, however, there’s been one studio that’s stood at the top of the salt mine, and that’s Kyoto Animation. When they animate characters bawling, the tears are so physical, so three-dimensional that they practically become characters unto themselves.
Kyoani’s new show, Sound! Euphonium is no exception to this trend. Particularly in the penultimate Episode 12, the main character Oumae Kumiko has a scene where she just cries her eyes out. However, while on a technical level this is what we’ve come to expect, within the contest of the narrative itself the tears in Euphonium they take on a new meaning compared to their old works.
What makes Kumiko’s tears different and indeed special within the greater works of Kyoto Animation is what they represent. In prior shows, tears generally came from some kind of deep trauma or suffering, as if the characters were so overwhelmed by their particular circumstances or the horrible truths of their existences that crying often meant a kind of cathartic, primal action. Reason gives way to sheer passion, so to speak, and the result is a very Key game-esque scenario, not surprising given how many Key games they’ve adapted.
However, in Sound! Euphonium, Kumiko’s tears are specifically tied to her reason and logic. They’re not caused by her simply being overwhelmed by emotion, but are also tied to the fact that she knows exactly what’s causing them. At that point believing that, despite all of the time and effort she poured into improving, that she would be denied the opportunity to play as part of the ensemble in one of the most important points for a Euphonium in their competitive recital, Kumiko’s tears are frustration towards inadequacy. In doing so, those same Kyoani blobs of liquid gushing out the character’s eyes transform from this generally moe trait to actually conveying the sheer weight of failure, or at least the self-perception of failure.
In a way, in older series from Kyoto Animation, the tears were about being not in control of one’s own life. In Sound! Euphonium, there’s still that sense of lack of control, but it’s paired with a character’s earnest attempt to master her own destiny, and to fall short in the process. Sorrow through action, rather than inaction, is what defines that moment in a series that already places more active motivation in its characters than many other similar series.