Rule of Three Review: Sound! Euphonium – Episodes 2-3

Young adult high school series can often fall flat, but so far this one is hitting all the right notes.

Sound! Euphonium is quickly establishing itself as a member of this season’s (tiny) top-tier, standing right alongside Blood Blockade Battlefront and My Love Story!! as one of the best new shows of the season (both SNAFU and Baby Steps are quite good, too, but I’m not counting sequels). Not to say it’s anything like those two shows, mind you, as S!E is very much its own creature, a methodically paced, character-driven YA school story with a geeky love of musical instruments and a keen eye for the many conflicts that can come out of competitive clubs.

While I’m actually a big fan of the individuals we’ve met thus far—the new instructor Taki is that kind of scary-polite I most feared in school, protagonist Kumiko straddles the line between passion and reluctance, and goofball amateur magician Asuka makes me grin every time she opens her mouth—the real main character of S!E is the concert band itself. Full of beautifully drawn instruments, snippets of trivia, and obvious affection for the subject matter, this is as much a story about The Band as it is about any one person.

As such, part of your investment in the series (which doesn’t have a plot so much as a world and characters who exist within it) may hinge on how much you care about the subject matter, or how much S!E can get you to care about it. But even if you never played in a band, S!E so neatly captures the friendships, the awkward partnerships, and especially the frustrations of working in a competitive, cooperative club, that I suspect those experiences will ring true for more than just current or former band geeks.

Where most anime are content to depict everyone working together in harmony and putting on amazing performances, S!E takes its time to show the amount of time, effort, and often maddeningly repetitive practice sessions which you need to reach those performances. It also highlights the gulf (and tension) that often exists in high school clubs/teams between those who just wish to participate socially, “for fun,” and those who are serious about performing and competing for awards.

Beautifully animated and carefully directed, S!E’s down-to-earth tone and restrained characterizations are a welcome break from the hyper-cute, idealized lady-led series KyoAni generally produces, and is reminiscent more of Hyouka than any of their other recent shows. I’m sure it helps that they’re working with a novel as source material (a relative rarity in anime, but one that usually leads to excellent series such as The Eccentric Family or From the New World), but they’ve taken what was likely a solid foundation and built a series out of it that manages to be both lovely and practical, glowing with nostalgia and prickling with realism all at once. May it continue to develop its characters, story, and club with this level of elegance in the coming weeks as well.

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