Review for Sound! Euphonium Collector's Edition
I sometimes wonder how different my life might have been if I’d chosen route A instead of route B. One day at primary school, we were introduced as a class to music, a whole bunch of instruments brought in, and we were told to pick whatever looked interesting. I was the ‘last pick’ kid in class, so I got the instrument that no one wanted, the tuba. Then the first year of secondary school in music class, we were asked if we had any experience with instruments. I didn’t think to lie. I got the tuba again. For months I lugged that thing to and from school, practicing as diligently as any tone-deaf person without a sense of rhythm could. I could just about get a tune out of the thing, but I eventually gave music up as something to experience, not create. For me, the tuba was a solitary experience, I was just never good enough, and my enthusiasm waned. I wonder how it would have been if I had actually got to play with other people, in an ensemble. Somehow I doubt it would have been as rewarding as the talent shown by the school band in Sound Euphonium. Our school band was never that good! But I might have stuck with it a while longer...
Kumiko Oumae played the euphonium in the school band in middle school, and when it came to local competitions, she was delighted when her school won gold, even if it wasn’t sufficient to get into the national competition. But for trumpet player Reina Kousaka, the frustration of a ‘dud’ gold was unbearable. Starting at Kitauji High School, Kumiko’s decided to turn over a new leaf, and has chosen not to join the band. That vow lasts as long it takes to make her first new friends, Sapphire Kawashima and Hazuki Katou. Sapphire plays contrabass, and Hazuki wants to learn an instrument, so they pay a visit to the school band, and Kumiko gets persuaded to join as well. That’s before she learns that Reina Kousaka goes to Kitauji too, and she’s joined the band aiming for big things. The band has the ambition to make it to the Nationals, but the reality is that they kind of suck, and the new advisor Taki-sensei demands their utmost efforts if he’ll support them in any kind of competition. Poor musicianship is the least of their problems.
The fourteen episodes of Sound Euphonium Season 1 are presented across 2 Blu-rays from All the Anime.
1. Welcome to High School
2. Nice to Meet You, Euphonium
3. The First Ensemble
4. Singing Solfège
5. Festival Time
6. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Tuba
7. Crybaby Saxophone
8. Festival Triangle
9. Please, Audition
10. Straight Trumpet
11. Welcome Back, Audition
12. My Euphonium
13. Final Episode – Goodbye Competition
14. Special Episode – Dash, Monaka
Sound Euphonium gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. It’s a KyoAni show, and it’s the pinnacle of their achievement in television animation. It’s a show that looks absolutely gorgeous, delightful character designs and a world design that borders on the photo-real, with effects and style used to give the show a cinematic sensibility. The animation is smooth, detailed and driven by character. Of course a lot of time and attention has gone into making the musicianship, the playing of the various instruments look authentic. The downside is the transfer, which while it brings the animation across with clarity, suffers more than you might expect from digital banding. It varies through the discs, but some episodes, such as episode 7 on disc 1 and episode 13 on disc 2 are really bad for it.
Your sole audio option on this release is the DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo Japanese track, which is just fine, bringing across the majesty and grandeur of the orchestra delightfully well. The dialogue is clear, and the music is enervating. The discs do default to the French subtitle options; a slight annoyance. The problems with this release are with the subtitles though, and they are plentiful.
The first is the font, a small, white font with a very thin black border, which is so terribly easy to lose against busy backgrounds. I had to skip back on more than one occasion to squint and read them again. Also, this is one of those titles that cannot do sign and subtitles simultaneously, and it will usually opt for translating dialogue over onscreen text (with the exception of the end of episode 3, where we get the ‘To Be Continued’ translated instead of Kumiko’s final line - it’s the same line in each episode so it isn’t much of a hassle). More of a hassle comes from some of the early episodes where the band members have meetings. There is a whole lot of Japanese on-screen text at this point, delivering character names and roles in the band, and none of this is translated for English audiences.
The discs present their content with animated menus.
When I saw “Bonus Episodes” listed in the extras, I briefly got excited, but playing them revealed that they are not episodes, rather short animations, brief interludes of comedy. You get 4 on disc 1, running to 11:03 in total. You also get the 2 main textless credit sequences, although episodes 8 and 13 don’t get textless endings.
Disc 2 has three more Bonus Episodes, running to a total of 8:04. You also get two TV CMs and three Trailers for the show, none of them subtitled.
I haven’t seen the physical extras or packaging with this Collector’s Edition to comment.
This might just be the finest anime series that Kyoto Animation has produced, and given that we’re talking about the studio behind The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On!, Nichijou and more, that’s saying something. Sound Euphonium takes the after-school club setting of K-On!, but gives it meaning and weight. There is something at stake for the Kitauji High School band, as they work their way towards national competition. Those stakes means personal pressure, and so to balance the light comic antics that a show like this thrives on, there’s no little personal drama as well. When you have 60 odd students plus a teacher, even if they are all pulling in the same direction, personalities are destined to clash, and it’s the character drama that makes watching Sound Euphonium so fantastic.
You also get a sense of history with the story that feeds through the entire run. On a personal level with the main characters, we get that prologue with Reina and Kumiko in middle school, Reina’s frustration at not qualifying despite a gold contrasting with Kumiko’s noncommittal celebration. Reina’s frustration obviously struck a chord with Kumiko after the fact, which is why she decided to go to Kitauji (not a school renowned for musical excellence) with the intention of avoiding the music club. However, the first friends that she makes, Sapphire and Hazuki both want to join, and she winds up signing up as a result. She also learns that Reina is at the same school, and a member of the club, although the reason why doesn’t become clear until we meet the new advisor to the club, Taki-sensei, someone who Reina knows, and is a fan of. Taki clearly loves music, and he would love to take the band all the way in national competition, but he makes sure it’s the music club’s choice to do so, and that they are aware of the effort that they’ll have to put in to rise above the mediocrity with which they are introduced.
We also learn that the music club has an awkward history, that the previous year there was a faction of second years that were gung-ho about competing, but many of the first-years were lackadaisical, there just to have fun after school, and a large group of the second years quit the club as a result. The consequences of that incident play through in the series, with the new intake of first years affected by the tensions that still exist in the club. So when on top of that, Taki-sensei starts changing the traditional hierarchy of the club, insisting that talent should supersede seniority, then the personality conflicts really do intensify.
This being teenagers in high school, there is a whole lot of love and adoration getting in the way as well. Reina’s a natural talent with the trumpet, and Taki-sensei wants her as the soloist, but that clashes with the tradition of seniority, and the majority of the band want third year Kaori to play the solo, feelings personified by Yuko who worships the ground her senpai walks upon. Reina really has just one supporter at this point, Kumiko. Despite, or maybe because of their cross-purposes in middle school, the two are drawn to each other, Reina because she’s so forcefully believing in her talent, and Kumiko who has by joining the Kitauji music club finally decided to give the band 100%, and is learning why Reina was so frustrated by the dud gold. Their friendship gradually blossoms into platonic love. Then there is Kumiko’s childhood friend Shuichi, who Hazuki becomes sweet on, but it becomes clear that Shuichi has a thing for Kumiko. There’s no shortage of interpersonal drama in Sound Euphonium.
This first season takes us from a half-baked music club, coming together as a unit, performing together, all the way to the prefectural competition, thirteen episodes plus a bonus of divine comedy drama, brought to life with some of the finest animation that KyoAni has ever given a TV series, and of course the music is brilliantly conveyed, from faltering practice to practiced ensemble.
Sound Euphonium is a ten out of ten series without doubt. It’s just that the discs really do let the side down. I recall when Anime Limited went to the expense of authoring Durarara!! all over again when Siren Visual’s subtitling was detrimental to the release. Now Anime Limited are actually authoring discs of that quality themselves. While you can enjoy the show, the subtitling in Sound Euphonium just isn’t good enough, and the digital banding in the video can on occasion be distracting. You know how it is. The more you love a show, the more you expect perfection from its release. When it comes to Season 2 of Sound Euphonium, Anime Limited really have some work to do to get that release to an acceptable level.