Sound! Euphonium and Friendship Across Differing Skill Levels

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Whenever a group of people share a common interest, it’s easy to think of them as a cohesive unit of similar minds and opinions. Then reality sets in, and it becomes clear that they’re often from different homes, have different personalities, and even perceive their hobby or passion differently. For the music-themed anime Sound! Euphonium, I find that its character portrayals go a long way in emphasizing the subtle peculiarities of the members of the music club. Friendship and other complicated relations arise from these differences and help to further emphasize the fact that music is what unifies them.

There are large gaps in talent and experience between the core group of four in Sound! Euphonium, and each of their stories are made further complex with their reasons for playing. Reina is by far the most dedicated to the art of music, but it’s not from a pure love of song, as evidenced by her crush on her teacher. Sapphire (“Midori”) is not quite as skilled as Reina but still very strong, and her fondness for instrument mascot characters makes music a lifestyle of sorts. Kumiko has a love-hate relationship with her euphonium, which is gradually revealed to come from a love-hate relationship with her older sister. Hazuki starts off as a complete newbie in all respects who learns the tuba as a social experience.

In spite of these differences, all four characters feel like equals. Their individual relationships might not be evenly developed (Reina is more connected to Kumiko than the others, for instance), but they come across as a close group of friends whose perspectives play off of each other. There’s a vast chasm in ability between Reina and Hazuki, but the paths they take when it comes to their journeys with music feel just as emotionally significant to the individual characters. Although Kumiko is clearly the main character of the story, and Midori is never shown to be in any of the same awkward situations, she still comes across as vital to the quartet.

Sound! Euphonium has a lot of strengths, and chief among them with respect to what was written above was the balance between the development of its narrative and the environment created by its character interactions. Unlike K-On! (a series to which it is often naturally compared), which had being in a band as a theme but was more dedicated to showing slice-of-life comedy hijinks, the goal of reaching Nationals centers and grounds the story in a momentum of forward progression. Having its characters at widely varying skill levels helps to give that challenge of coming together a greater importance, while the sense of equality that exists between them in spite of those gaps creates an almost palpable sense of intimacy.

 

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[Apartment 507] Myriad Colors Phantom World is Like a 90s Anime

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I’ve written a post about Myriad Colors Phantom World over at Apartment 507, and its similarities to anime of the 90s such as Slayers and Saber Marionette J. What do you think? Is Phantom World a “1990s anime in 2016 clothing?”

The Tears of Sound! Euphonium

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.

[Spoiler warning]

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.

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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.

The Versatility of the Kyoani Face

Though a fair number of anime studios can be characterized to some extent by the types of shows they put out, the only current ones I can think of that have a house “look” on a character design level are P.A. Works (SHIROBAKO, Hanasaku Iroha) and Kyoto Animation (Suzumiya Haruhi, Tamako Market). I think this is especially noticeable with the latter studio, as the “Kyoani Face” is instantly recognizable, and is even sometimes imitated, such as with Sound of the Sky.

While watching the first episode of Kyoto Animation’s newest work, Sound! Euphonium, it occurred to me how versatile the Kyoani face is to a certain extent. It’s not so much that Sound! Euphonium alone that made me realize this, but rather that it was a slow culmination of watching their shows over the years. Namely, i find that their iconic face can be fitted, or perhaps was slowly adapted over the years, to match not only a variety of body types but also a range of character designs from cutesy caricature to more realistic proportions.

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The most obvious example of this would probably be the Free! character designs, shown above, but I think you can see it in their more historical tendency to make stories about cute high school girls. All of these characters are supposed to be roughly the same age, and yet while they share that signature look in terms of their faces, their bodies are all noticeably different. I’ve even made all of the characters the same “height” in order to emphasize this.

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From left to right: Ritsu from K-On!, Hazuki from Sound! Euphonium, and Gou from Free!

Of course, not every one of their shows uses the Kyoani face of course (Lucky Star being the notable exception), but I think it goes to show just how important that particular facial structure is to the identity of the studio. Otherwise why would they use it again and again? At the same time, I wonder if it also shows Kyoto Animation’s willingness to experiment, at least within their particular areas of specialty, in terms of both story and visuals.

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Tamako Market, the Never-Ending 12-Episode Anime

Over the course of Tamako Market‘s run I noticed that it had a mixed reception, especially among Kyoto Animation fans. I may be mistaken as to how many people really disliked it, but I’ve seen enough to want to say something about it. As for myself, I had considered it an interesting and welcome step forward for the popular studio, and wondered what could be the source of this difference in opinion. After some conversations with friends, I think I’ve figured it out.

To put it simply, for the most part the girls of Tamako Market do not have, in their presentations, visual designs, or their personalities, the sort of near-tangible qualities that have made people in the past fall in love with Kyoani characters. The girls are comparatively less “moe,” and they certainly aren’t tragic, which leaves the show with a different sort of appeal that may seem alien to fans of Kyoto Animation’s existing body of work. The main character Tamako herself is simply a smart and capable but naive girl who loves mochi and who, to a small degree, reminds me of Madoka from Rinne no Lagrange. Dera the talking bird is as far from “cutesy girl” as one can possibly get, and seems to have been particularly unpopular. The main exception seems to be the carpentry girl Kanna (pictured above, left) whose eccentric personality, to be fair, does kind of steal the show.

(I’m fond of Shiori, the girl on the right, myself).

The best way I can describe Tamako Market‘s appeal is that it’s not so much about showing off an ensemble cast consisting of various characters with easily identifiable quirks like how K-On! is, but about showing the residents of the Usagiyama shopping district as a small community of people. While many of the side characters are never really developed, they don’t really need to be, as they add to the feeling of an oxymoronic slow-paced hustle. Seeing the small developments that occur in the residents’ lives feels not so much like “slice of life,” but like a low key-yet-silly comedy.

Someone asked me what anime out there was similar to Tamako Market. After some thought, I realized the answer: Sazae-san, a popular comedy anime about a Japanese housewife and her family, and which 1969 has continued to run on Japanese TV making it the longest-running anime ever. That’s probably the furthest answer from Haruhi possible, so I think that might say it all about how Tamako Market is different, and why I think it’s the sort of show that could’ve gone on forever.

Tamako Market is Kyoto Animation’s Next Step

In one of my earliest posts I ever wrote for Ogiue Maniax, I talked about my desire for Kyoto Animation to go beyond its own limits, to go from just adapting work to making their own original material. Though my opinion of Kyoto Animation isn’t quite as rosy as it was back in 2007, with their new original anime Tamako Market I actually feel like they’ve finally fulfilled those expectations to a fair degree.

Kyoani is known primarily for two things: really solid animation and cute girls. Together, the resulting product is a soft, delicate quality that is unmistakably Kyoto Animation (and which shows like Kokoro Connect and Sora no Woto have tried to mimic), and it affects different adaptations in different ways. For Haruhi and their Key game adaptations it lent weight and significance to characters’ movements, while in K-On! and Nichijou, two manga with sharp and abrupt humor, it caused the anime versions to slow down in terms of comic timing. In the end, it seems to all come down to the cute girls.

Tamako Market is the first Kyoto Animation show I’ve seen to really let the animators spread their wings. Tamako Market has allowed Kyoani to show personality through movement in a greater variety of character types of all shapes and sizes, from small children to geriatrics, to even a person of ambiguous gender and a silly talking bird. The show then places them in a deliberately slow-paced setting in the form of a small-town shopping area, which makes that Kyoani “slice of life” style feel appropriate. What’s more, even though there are indeed still cute girls in Tamako Market, all of the other characters are portrayed differently from them, giving the viewer not only Kyoani’s bread-and-butter but also something even more substantial.

Given the sheer amount of character variety in Tamako Market, I have to now wonder if it wasn’t just that their old shows didn’t allow them to “push their envelope,” but that having to adapt works limited them due to the contact of the original sources. Most of what Kyoto Animation has adapted has come from dating sims, light novels, which often times are all about cute girls, or manga which center around cute girls. While I think Kyoani isn’t ideal for making certain types of works, it’s clear to me from Tamako Market that their strengths, namely their ability to have characters move with almost a sense of tangible liveliness, go beyond what’s expected of them.

If Kyoto Animation Made Sacred Seven…

Fans would pay through the nose to own AUTHENTIC REPLICAS OF REAL ROCKS AND PEBBLES that the characters collect.

Don’t you want to feel a little closer to Wakana? I’m sure you do. I’ve got a couple of things in my pocket to help you out.