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Sound! Euphonium 3
Episodes 1-2

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Sound! Euphonium 3 (TV 3) ?
Community score: 4.6

How would you rate episode 2 of
Sound! Euphonium 3 (TV 3) ?
Community score: 4.5

Few studios excel at finding an idealized, nostalgic lens for high school like Kyoto Animation, and few series encompass looking through it on the same level as Sound! Euphonium. The anime's approach isn't one of complete, unadulterated idealization—anyone who's seen it knows that as far as after-school music club series go, Sound! Euphonium is far away from the likes of K-on! But the way the show realizes the universe of high school, and the raw, impactful importance that you felt when you were in the thick of it at that age, that's what makes Euphonium feel like such an event.

Much ink has already been spilled on the artfulness of KyoAni's approach to crafting this anime, carrying on nearly a decade later into this third season. Sound! Euphonium continues to be a gorgeous series, in ways both obvious and understated. The characters move with personality and weight—I could watch Kumiko and Reina playfully bumping into each other in the premiere episode all day. But it's the environments those characters occupy that I believe puts Euphonium over. The attentive details on things like the instruments and club signs fill out the halls of Kitauji to make it feel lived-in, and the anime's dedication to corralling the immense number of students in the band complements that. Many series strive to embody the idea that "everyone has a story" in regards to large background casts, but Sound! Euphonium pulls it off with its collection of criss-crossing cliques. It's enhanced thanks to the leadership positions the main characters now find themselves in, overseeing all this as an aspect of their arcs.

That main story is thus the primary thing to assess as this third season gets underway two episodes in. The focus on Kumiko now concerns the president position she's been thrust into. The Kumiko of previous seasons maintained some standoffish personality traits, primarily attending to her skills, her place in the bass section thereof, and her relationship with Reina. Now having been furnished with authority and responsibility, Kumiko's new place works effectively with the earnest desire to win she's cultivated over the past two years. There's a reason her song choice is aligned with Reina and Shuuichi as the unique challenge of "Hitotose no Uta." That's also potentially the reason Taki had them contribute to that choice, wagering that setting their own eyes on the summit would make the band members that much more driven to surmount it. It's the next frontier for the band overall and Kumiko particularly, even if, as Reina speculates, the position might ultimately become too much for her.

The other potential pratfall in President Kumiko's term is the most recent addition to the band. Maya Kuroe is a fellow euphonium player who oozes low-confrontation sweetness. That's exactly why I don't trust her. Cloying cuteness masking measures of duplicity is practically its cliche for Sound! Euphonium at this point, and anyone whom Kanade immediately clocks and starts speaking to in layers of intrigue can't be up to any good. I mean come on, Kuroe claims her nickname is "Mama," that's at least a bit of a red flag. For real, the key point is that Kuroe reiterates the series' oft-visited concerns of upstart, talented new arrivals ousting established band members, and the group discontent that results. Given that Kuroe is specifically a euphonium player, it's not hard to imagine a scenario in which Kumiko finds herself presiding over a band she no longer has a place to play in. It's pure implications at this stage, which says something about how Sound! Euphonium has set its precedents over the past two seasons and change. It's absorbing to watch intertwine and unfold in the moment, though whether all these people propelling these interactions come off like actual people might be a point of consternation.

The performances of its players produce an odd contrast with the lived-in ruggedness of Euphonium's setting and tone. The characters speak in carefully rehearsed representations of rapport. Artifice has been an aspect of this anime's characterization since audiences figured out what was going on with Asuka's personality. But here, at this level, it results in the askew feeling of the plot itself being held at arm's length by the viewers. Obviously something is up with Kuroe and her objectives—Kumiko and other band members even comment on it. But the presentation of the anime at this point is so cloying about propping up her suspiciously smiling facade that it only seems to be there to facilitate awareness of her time-ticking drama-bomb. The approach appears even with the more familiar main characters. Reina and Shuuichi's verbal sparring over the treatment of Kumiko in the second episode can come off more like they're talking around each other than to each other. That's arguably the intentional dynamic, but it still rings oddly if you prefer your drama to be rooted in more raw, messy interactions.

This tone is an element that does work with considered deployment—Kanade's cloying conversations with Kumiko underscore her duplicitous, shit-stirring nature that Kumiko must manage. When confronted by Suzume, Kumiko runs through a whole host of stock de-escalation methods, highlighting the inexperience she still has in this leadership role she's trying so hard in. And of course, this tenor of interaction sings any time we see Kumiko and Reina together with their co-conspirator chemistry. The over-composed nature of their dialogue doesn't feel any more "natural" than any other conversation in this series, yet I believe these two have the underlying understanding with each other to carry on like this anyway. There's a reason their scene on the bench is allowed the blunt visual metaphor of the clouds parting and sunlight streaming through as they reach clarity in their song decision. Not that KyoAni doesn't animate it with aplomb, regardless.

I feel like Sound! Euphonium is one of those series where you figured out if it worked for you by the end of the first season. Even as someone who jibes with its specific brand of hyper-dramatized high school club competition bullshit, I recognize elements that don't quite land or even frustrate in moments. That's not even entirely down to the arguably misrepresentative aspects of the relationship writing, which I imagine I will wind up having to talk about at some point this season. Look I've already commented on how effective I think Kumiko and Reina's chemistry still is and I even mentioned Shuuichi, that should be enough to fire up the discourse engines, right? Fight amongst yourselves. I'm personally still inclined to love the series—it's too confident in its composition at this point for me to dismiss its brand of dynamic drama.


Sound! Euphonium 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Chris was in drama rather than band in high school, but he presumes the dynamics were similar. You can catch what he's conducting over on Twitter, or push your way into the orchestra pit that is his blog.

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