OGIUE MANIAX

Anime & Manga Blog | 50% Anime Analysis, 50% Ogi

Sound! Euphonium and Friendship Across Differing Skill Levels

soundeuphoniumed1

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.

 

Save

Sound! Euphonium, Tesagure! Bukatsumono, and Intimate Conversations

soundeuphonium-kumikoreina

Ever since the end of Sound! Euphonium Season 1, I’ve found the conversations between protagonist euphonium player Kumiko and trumpeter Reina remarkable in their intimacy. While the acting is overall solid as each member of the Kitauji High School music club brings personality and history, there’s something noticeably different when it comes to those two.

Often when voice actors in anime are playing their roles, there is a sense of performance. This is not a bad thing, at least not inherently. They are, for all intents and purposes, actors on a stage bringing their characters to life. When Taki-sensei speaks with this slightly hoarse yet alluring voice, for example, one gets the sense of a teacher who’s dedicated, clever, and expects the best of his students, but seems to carry an internal emotional pain at all times. When Kumiko and Reina are talking to other characters, one senses the way in which Kumiko is constantly trying to find herself while Reina’s dedication and drive are ever-present. Together, howver, it’s as if their outer-facing selves begin to crumble, and we’re witness to the hush tones of a more naturalistic conversation between close friends (or something more).

I do not know how Sound! Euphonium accomplishes this. Perhaps they do something different in terms of the recording environment or the voice direction. What I can say is that this style of dialogue reminds me of a certain type of Japanese animation: the off-the-cuff humor shows that began with gdgd Fairies and include series such as Straight Title Robot Anime and Tesagure! Bukatsumono.

tesagure-cantsee

Made “on the cheap” using the 3D modeling and animation program “Miku Miku Dance,” these shows tend to feature offbeat comedy culminating in a special “improv” section. For example, in Tesagure! Bukatsumono (currently the best show of its kind in my opinion), the show is about a club where characters try to imagine what other school clubs would be like. In the middle of every episode, there is always a scene where the girls are supposed to come up with never-before-seen version of familiar clubs (like a baseball club where everyone has to dress fashionably), an in these moments the audio noticeably changes. To start, here’s a lot more mumbling. And where anime normally has characters speak and even interrupt each other so perfectly that you can’t call it anything but “staged” (because of course it is), these improv scenes have characters talking over each other like it’s a radio show. The fact that the actors often end up breaking character because of the success (or failure) of their own jokes makes it feel that much more like a private conversation that we the viewer are happening to eavesdrop on.

That’s more or less the feeling I get when I listen to Kumiko and Reina talk to each other. Whenever they’re together, it’s as if the rest of their world vanishes, and we’re privy to a space where only they reside. In it, even their outer selves fall away, and what we’re left is with is openness and comfort.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

Save

Save

Save

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 11.01.04 PM

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.

freeguys

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.

kyoanigirls-comparison-small

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.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

%d bloggers like this: