I mean imagine if this show itself came back as an obligatory “miss me?” sequel. Then you’d just have Chuunibyou 2 all over again.
Granted, it’s a sequel to an anime that has proven its storytelling chops in the past, but I don’t think that really means anything since Psycho-Pass 2 and Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine exist. Still, I was surprisingly impressed with Euphonium’s return in a way that no other anime this season, or even this year really, has been able to achieve. Despite having double the normal length for its premiere episode, the story starts off right away and there’s none of the mundane slice-of-life antics that occasionally dragged the show down or anime humor that’s dragging down almost every other Fall show at the moment present. Everything is tight and focused like a good American serialized drama, and it’s all dedicated to either characterization or drama whether the music is playing or not, which is a good chunk of the reason why Sakamichi no Apollon is one of my favorite music anime ever. Of course, instead of high drama, Euphonium aims for a more Ping Pong meets Whisper of the Heart-ish feel with its characters, but even that’s a shaky comparison. At the end of the day, this show is its own thing, and if Euphonium 2 can keep this up for the rest of its run, I see no reason to not buy Ponycanyon’s overpriced blu-rays in the future.
So let’s look at the episode on its own terms. If you’ve seen the first season, you’d know that it ended with the Kitauji band winning first place in the qualifying rounds to go to the Kansai regional competition, which they’re going to have to do well at if they want to qualify for the nationals. Although they’re allowed a brief moment of celebration, Taki-sensei is quick to remind everyone that this is no time for relaxation. The competition will be even harder going forward, and thus the girls and what few guys you can spot in this large orchestra need to keep serious regarding the music if they want to stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting their club out of the rut it’s in. As such, we’ve got a solid core to build the story around at the very start this time, and it helps that the sub-stories that spawn from it don’t make light of the situation. Even the antics that would normally be dismissed as moe-pandering have a slightly melancholy feel to it that makes them somewhat engaging. Not completely of course, but Euphonium is a KyoAni anime. Not a Ghibli one.
Kumiko continues to mostly be an avatar to the far bigger and more interesting drama surrounding the club, but thanks to the final few episodes of the first season, she’s formed a solid motivation to play music and this premiere has done a fine job in building on it so far to the point that she can carry the show a little when on her own. To her, music isn’t vital to her life or anything like that, but she still wants to succeed in it for the same reason most boys want to succeed at sports and most girls want to succeed at…um…sports as well. There’s a certain level of individual pride when you join a competition and no matter what actual stakes there are, you want to win. Part of Kumiko’s character arc is the self-awareness she gains in realizing this basic fact of human nature, and deciding what playing the euph really means for her from there on out. It’s still a minor issue compared to the rest of the story in this show, but it’s engaging enough that I don’t mind following our fluffy-haired protagonist for a while longer.
As for the larger story that she’s mostly an outsider towards once again, it’s been mentioned before that there was an incident that caused most of the senior club members to quit, and while we still don’t get any real details on said incident itself (not that it seems very complicated from what we know), the consequences are still present. This time, it takes the form of a young girl named Nozomi, one of the band quitters who wants to rejoin the club now that they’re actually serious about making it to the nationals, but wants Asuka’s approval first for reasons that aren’t made clear at this point. Unfortunately, Asuka brushes off the issue in her usual playful way, and when confronted even harder, she’s not exactly accepting of someone who quit when the going went rough. And while the circumstances might have been more severe than let on, there’s no getting around the fact that orchestra or band is a very collaborative effort where even one person making a mistake can ruin the performance. Add in the fact that the characters in Euphonium aren’t exactly playing for fun, and I can’t help but agree with her decision.
I mean, quitting is a serious decision to make no matter what the circumstance is, and there are consequences you need to take into account when you decide to do it. Unless you’re an asshole, I don’t think I have to spell out that if you quit your job or end a relationship, you can’t just go back to it whether at a moment’s notice or after several years, even if a dead relative was involved. Sure, orchestra usually isn’t as serious as those, but surely most of us can agree that the episode from last season where Aoi quit the club in relation to both her cram studies along with her being unable to prevent the mass-leaving that this new girl was apparently a part of would have felt incredibly cheap if she had been accepted back by the episode’s end. If anyone could just come and leave whenever they felt like it, not only will it come off as a very unfair system, but it will affect the overall morale of the people involved. And considering the large number of people needed to make orchestra work, as well as how important morale is to most things in life let alone a competition in general, it boggles my mind how anyone can contest Asuka at the moment.
Our glasses-wearing vice president has always been a bit of a controversial character amongst the fandom, but I think she’s the most interesting one so far because of how it’s unclear regarding how much of her outer personality is just a facade and how much of it is real. And when she puts the facade down, she says stuff that no one wants to hear, but is completely true if you want things to turn out well in the long run. Not to mention, nobody’s life or (immediate) future is at stake, so trying to argue back is kind of futile. I’ve heard that the books that this second season is adapting will focus more on Asuka as a character and I’m definitely interested in seeing how that plays out given that I think she has the most growth potential. So that’s another one of Euphonium’s potential plot lines that succeeded in baiting me whilst we deal with this current “I want to rejoin” problem along with Kumiko’s “minor-by-comparison” growth. I’m sure there’ll be more down the road (i.e. something Taki/Reina-related), but the fact that this season has three serious plot lines confirmed as of now along with two of them already underway at the very start pretty much guarantees that it’ll be busy at the very least.
What keeps me into Euphonium over other cute girl shows like Girls Und Panzer as well as other well-received serious anime like Shirobako and ERASED is that despite the questionable aesthetics, it takes its subject matter very seriously. There’s no director charging into a tall building dressed like a cowboy or girls singing German whilst driving tanks into a bloodless competition with arbitrary stakes, which some people call important levity whilst I call “fucking stupid”. It’s not shy in highlighting that failures will drag the entire team down and cutting them out if they prove to be a liability. And most of all, it doesn’t keep the subject matter and the story separate, always making sure it factors into the characterization rather than just using it to get a scene right or to move the plot along a certain way. I like music fine, but I don’t want to take a break from character drama in order for the show to highlight the many rules an orchestra has to follow in order to impress the audience, nor do I want to follow a band whose struggles I can’t empathize with. But then again, Rakugo does all that as well, and I couldn’t get into that one.
Of course, the reason why I prefer Euphonium to Rakugo should be quite obvious. I mean of course I’d be more interested in music than I would Japanese comedy considering I actually grew up with the former and so did most of you guys. I never joined orchestra, as it looked like too much work and I wasn’t even of the mindset to take piano lessons seriously as a kid (and boy do I regret the mistakes of my childhood self). However, my brother did it for the majority of his middle/high school years, and whilst I never envied all the hard work he had to put into it (the benefits though made me wish I hadn’t been such a lazy bum growing up) nor was I really interested in trying it out myself, I managed to form a small attachment to the basics of what makes good music through him and thus gained the ability to relate somewhat to people trying to make it big in there like the characters in Nodame Cantabile. It’s not the only kind of musical story I’m into, but it’s the one I gravitate towards the most. Rock bands and rising rap artists and all that weren’t exactly something I was exposed to as a kid, so it’s harder for me to get into those sorts of stories. I’ll still recognize them as good if they deliver properly, but let’s make it clear that my affection for this show (and all anime for that matter) is going to be pretty subjective at the end of the day, no matter how many “objectivisims” I use to justify my viewpoint. I don’t like all “good” anime, just like how most normal people (let alone me) don’t like all good TV shows, and that’s normal, no matter how much the geek fandom on a video game forum tries to convince you otherwise.
And I don’t want people to think I’ve overcome my bias of cute girl shows or anything like that with Euphonium. That’s the kind of thinking that caused Girls Und Panzer fans to check out other military moe shows like Kancolle and Haifuri and get disappointed with them because they can’t accept that it was an exception to the rule (imagine if this show came out before K-On!). And of course, unless someone gives me a good reason, there’s no way I’m checking out Flip Flappers or whatever Milky Holmes-related thing is getting released right now unless someone can give me a very good reason to do so. I still think it’s silly that most of this orchestra is composed of girls with Taki being the only guy amongst this show’s limited selection I’m actually interested in learning about, but that’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, and if I can put up with Ping Pong being a sausage-fest, I can put up with this as long as it keeps up this tone and not shift into something like, say, Barakamon. As I’ve said before, that’s not my jam, and I won’t hesitate to drop the show if it gets to that level. It’s very unlikely sure, but I’m no stranger to disappointments, and neither should most anime fans after the last two years or so.
Anyways, that’s all I have to say about Euphonium for now. Looking forward to more in the future and hopefully I’ll be writing some more about it as well.
- I promise to finish Shirobako if they actually announce a sequel to it. Got to sit through the Uchouten Kazoku one first though.
- How many Youtube videos of Kumiko and Reina holding hands in their kimonos can you possibly upload anyways?