When I was in sixth grade, my parents made me join the school band. I picked the trumpet and shuffled between a few different instruments throughout junior high before settling on the euphonium. I hated it, but thanks to my parents’ persistence I kept with it through high school and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
The euphonium is strange, looking like a small version of a tuba but with a much more vibrant sound. It’s not very well-known to the public and I certainly had no idea what it was at the time, so when I discovered the anime Hibike! Euphonium, it resonated with me in a way that is beyond what the normal constraints of that media tends to allow. It felt almost personal, like it was meant for me to see. So, thanks to general interest and dozens of recommendations, I gave it a shot; it exceeded all expectations.
Hibike! Euphonium follows the story of Kumiko Oumae as she enters high school. After an embarrassing experience in a band performance the previous year, she opted for a “fresh start” and joined the out-of-the-way Kitauji High School. She quickly made two friends in Sapphire “Midori” Kawashima and Hazuki Katou. Midori was a contrabass player and prompted joining the concert band to the other two. It wasn’t supposed to be a part of Kumiko’s fresh start, but she went along anyway. Hazuki had never played an instrument, but joined as well.
Of course, Kumiko’s past wasn’t so easy to escape. Upon reaching the band room, she met childhood friend and trombone player Shuuichi Tsukamoto as well as trumpet player Reina Kousaka, who was the focal point around her embarrassing junior high moment. Putting that aside, euphonium player, bass section leader and band vice president Asuka Tanaka managed to rope Kumiko back into playing euphonium against her earnest protest. Asuka also convinced Hazuki to pick up tuba on the way. Kumiko then met with the rest of the bass section, featuring euphonium player Natsuki Nakagawa and tuba players Takuya Gotou and Riko Nagase.
If this sounds like a lot of characters, you would be right, but this list just scratches the surface of who you meet in the Hibike! Euphonium story. Saxophone section leader and band president Haruka Ogasawara, trumpet section leader Kaori Nakaseko, trumpet player Yuuko Yoshikawa, flautist Nozomi Kasaki and oboe player Mizore Yoroizuka all have crucial tales to tell and help this show shine where it shines best: in the characters.
Band classes are usually quite large, with lots of people filling dozens of roles within any given band. When you first enter the band room with Kumiko, it’s overwhelming. All these faces and names are thrown at you and you think there’s no way they all stick, but in time you learn more and more until it’s second nature. It seems impossible to successfully feature such a large number of people in just 24 episodes, let alone give them personality, but Kyoto Animation makes it work. The show wouldn’t be the same without any of the mentioned characters, while still not feeling like too much to take in.
From there, the story takes an obvious turn. Under the first-year tutelage of Noboru Taki, the band aims for Nationals, the biggest band competition in Japan. The setup to get there is simple: choose a piece and practice your ass off. It’s a very standard storyline and KyoAni plays it to perfection.
Throughout the two seasons and some subsequent movies, you’re presented with the various different emotions and motivations of the band members. They might disagree which forms tension between the members. There might be resentments between different people, not once does it feel unbelievable. It’s a very natural relationship progression, akin to something young adults today might very well be able to relate to. Every conflict has a resolution, but your average person understands that some relationships are never the same again. KyoAni understands as well, leaving viewers in anticipation that comes from not knowing the outcome.
Throw a little classic KyoAni animation and sound design and the anime is a masterpiece. Band fans can really appreciate what went into the details of the show (Kumiko uses the spit valve!) but that doesn’t mean other people can’t enjoy it. It’s a story about overcoming adversity, with the usual coming-of-age elements that people expect from high-school media. However, KyoAni is top of the line when it comes to drawing out the emotional aspects of the stories they tell, and it’s no different here. While the studio might be known for such classics as Clannad, K-On! or Haruhi Suzumiya, or other modern hits like Violet Evergarden or Koe no Katachi, respect must be given to Hibike! Euphonium. It’s a show like no other.