As I begin writing this intro, I’m realizing that most of my reviews have been on either comedies or slice-of-life types of shows. Maybe my next review should be on a more action-oriented show to help present the fact that I don’t just watch programs with excessive amounts of moe. It’s a shame that this review will only thicken my list of slice-of-life anime reviews…but in a good way.
**Review: **Hibike! Euphonium, or as some prefer to call it, Sound! Euphonium, is essentially a high school band geek’s wet dream in the form of an anime. Considering what other shows Kyoto Animation has created regarding high school and music performance (I’m staring at you, K-On!), I was pretty apprehensive about starting this series. I didn’t want it to plummet into the metaphorical mud pit of shows that were advertised to be about music and then ended up being about the daily explorations of moe blobs with some musical elements peppered on the side. Thank the Lord, this show was far from that and my faith in musical anime produced by Kyoto Ani has been almost fully replenished. Before I go chucking more praise at this show, I should probably map out what this series is about. Hibike! Euphonium is about our lead heroine, Kumiko Oumae, and her transitioning from middle school to high school. In middle school, she played the euphonium for her band along with another important character, Reina Kousaka. Via some catastrophe that occurred during their final middle school performance that ended in them not proceeding on to nationals, Kumiko stopped playing the euphonium. However, through several sources of persuasion and support, she picks the euphonium back up in high school. And so, Kumiko, Reina, along with Kumiko’s newly acquired high school friends, Sapphire Kawashima, Hazuki Katou, and Asuka Tanaka, attempt to make nationals with their new high school band (note this high school is not known for having a good band). Generally speaking, this is a stereotypical plot line for this sort of anime. New school, new friends, try to make nationals, got it. So at first glance, this show may actually look relatively boring on paper. I admittedly thought the same thing. But in the grand scheme of things, I was pleasantly surprised that this show was not boring at all. Sure, there was some boring moments when nothing really happened and the characters are pretty one-dimensional by most people’s standards. Hell, they even manage to awkwardly shove in some romantic elements and innuendos that go literally nowhere. But with all these aspects considered, the show was never boring to me and even managed to be damn enjoyable.I feel like all of the smaller gripes I just rambled off just come with the territory of watching something with a slice-of-life label on it. What H!E excels in is the fact that it stays mostly focused on the music and the students in the band and how music affects them. While other shows like to narrate the everyday normalcy of the characters’ lives with some musical sequences shoehorned into the plot, H!E opts to narrow in on band politics, character motivations, and just how important being a member of the high school band is to some of the students. This is the real meat of the show and what really drives the plot along its considerably narrow set of tracks. The show had a truck-load of chances to derail itself from being a solid, music-oriented anime, but it chose not to fall for any of the tricks that are normally conducive of sub-par, moe shows. This has to be commended seeing that other shows (K-On!) did stumble and fall into this trap. Just being able to witness band politics such as who gets what part, who deserves which part, who gets solos, being a band that has fun vs. being a good band, and what other members think of each other is a spectacle in its own right. To see band politics accurately represented in anime form just makes me want to squeal like a gitty child. I’m actually positive that I did succeed in doing that at one point. And to anybody who does not believe that band politics are a real concept, take it from me, an ex-band geek, that it is real and shit like this does happen.
**Characters: **The characters in this show are where I get a tad flustered in trying to review them. While a decent amount of the characters get motivations to tag along with their reasoning for joining the band and some come with back stories, most of them can be placed on the spectrum of cut-and-paste archetypes. Kumiko is the iconic, jack-of-all-trades main character, Asuka is the dopey mentor, Sapphire is the moe blob (who happens to play the only string instrument), Hazuki is the noobie, and Reina is the bitchy one with the “I’m better than everyone” mentality. I wish I could make this easy on myself and say that this is a large check against the show, but that’d only be partially true. Although these characters do find themselves trapped in archetypical roles, it doesn’t make them unlikable…quite the contrary to be honest. Because of the setting that they were placed in, I found that a lot of these characters were relatable in some form or fashion. There IS that one new kid who just picked up an instrument. There IS that fun-loving mentor who enjoys the feeling of helping other progress. And there IS definitely that one kid you hate because they are super fucking good and they like to flaunt it to everyone. Lastly, not all characters are utterly void of development. The show does tend to struggle when it comes to that department, but it doesn’t fail 100% at it. You can see subtle changes in some characters by the end and it’s usually in a positive form. Even better is Kumiko sees a fair amount of change. By the end, there is a noticeable shift in her personality from her original hesitancy in staying in band and meeting new people to genuinely wanting to improve herself both as a player and a person.
**Sound/Animation: **This is where I can start flinging praise around like a frickin’ food fight. Hibike! Euphonium was done by Kyoto Animation. For those out of the loop, Kyoto Animation is basically the king of moe and slice-of-life shows and holds a particularly lofty animation standard.Like with everything else, this show looks bloody brilliant. The art is nice and colorful and has some more original character designs (specifically Kumiko and Sapphire). The backgrounds are finely detailed and character movement is fluid. However, I have to give a shout out to their animation for when the characters actually play their instruments. Like other works with music performances encased in them ([K-On!](http://myanimelist.net/anime/5680/K-On!) and [Haruhi Suzumiya](http://myanimelist.net/anime/849/Suzumiya_Haruhi_no_Yuuutsu)), the animation for instrument movement was obviously done with a great deal of knowledge and tact. Not only is the movement of characters’ fingers, hands, and instrument parts ridiculously fluid, but there was meticulous attention paid to minuscule details such as slight facial changes when playing and the sweat on the characters’ bodies. Moreover, for people with musical experience (and those who care to pay attention), fingerings on instruments and baton work done by the conductor were in time, went along with the music being played, and were technically correct. In terms of music, I would have been massively disappointed if it were lacking, seeing that it is a show about music. Luckily, it delivered well. The music was crisp, the tracks that were played by the band within the show were pretty, and the accompanying soundtrack was great with some seriously above-average orchestral pieces.
**Overall: **Being an ex-euphonium player myself, I was going to watch this show through Hell or high water. Though I was ecstatic to hear that Kyoto Ani was animating a series about a high school band, I was obviously skeptical (probably like most people) when initially catching wind of this series being made. Boy, am I thrilled that I didn’t give in to my encroaching inner doubt. This series really is quite enjoyable. The characters, while one-dimensional and bland at times, are lovable and will probably win over your full support by the ending portion of the series. The story isn’t entirely original, but it is a refreshing take on the musical moe/slice-of-life genre that has been trampled into the dirt by shows with a lack of focus and lackluster characters in recent years. But the categories where this series transcends the pile of uninspired moefests is in its superior animation and ability to keep its plot focused and precise unlike other shows that like veering onto a plethora of unrelated tangents. Recognizing that every viewer has their own personal tastes, I can safely say that this series is not for everybody. For people who hate any type of moe or slice-of-life shows, this obviously isn’t for you. Even though it’s a more niche section of the genre and has some fresh elements about it, it is still moe and still slice-of-life and will not please any viewers who have a blistering distaste for anything with such attributes, no matter how much the viewer loves band and the musical arts as a whole. Additionally, if you are coming into this anime thinking that there is a more substantial complexity to the plot or some greater, alternate meaning to be procured from within this ocean of moe, you will leave disappointed and empty-handed. This show’s plot is about as streamlined and straight forward as it gets. But to anyone seeking a fun and refreshing series with some lovable characters and stellar animation, this is a fantastic series to delve into. I personally enjoyed this series way more than I believed I would and most people will too if they go into it without thinking too hard. Furthermore, if you are not completely turned away by the thought of slice-of-life shows and are interested in music or are/were a member of a high school band (and have fond memories of it), I suggest you give this gem a test run.
Overall, this series gets a funky-fresh 8.0/10.
Shout out to all the band geeks!