by Kim Morrissy,

Sound! Euphonium: Chikai no Finale

Hibike! Euphonium: Chikai no Finale
Kumiko is now a second-year and one of the senior players of the euphonium section. With new underclassmen joining the concert band, Kumiko will have to learn new things in order to deal with their awkward and difficult personalities. She and third-year trumpeter Tomoe Kabe have been chosen to lead the new members. Among the new recruits to Kumiko's bass section are the euphonist Kanade Hisaishi, whose appearance is deceiving, tuba player Mirei Suzuki, who cannot adapt to her new environment, tuba player Satsuki Suzuki, who wants to get along with Mirei, and double bassist Motomu Tsukinaga, who cannot talk about himself. Between the Sunrise Festival, chair placement auditions, and the competition, many new problems quickly begin to arise.

It's been a while since we last saw the world of Sound! Euphonium through Kumiko's point of view. The last time her story progressed was in the second season of the TV anime, which came out in 2016. Since then, there's been a recap film of the second season plus Naoko Yamada's Liz and the Blue Bird, which covered Nozomi and Mizore's final year of high school together. It took some adjusting to get back into the swing of Kumiko's story, and Kumiko evidently feels the same way, as most of the film is about her struggle to adapt to a new status quo.

It's hard to judge the quality of Chikai no Finale because the experience is intentionally disorienting, especially if you came straight off Liz and the Blue Bird like I did. Unlike Liz, the Sound! Euphonium TV series tells the story of many different people and their relationships, and this is especially true of Chikai no Finale, which introduces a bunch of new first-year characters with their own issues. The film's plot is constrained by its limited runtime, so unlike the TV series, which was able to gradually introduce everyone's relationships and subplots, Chikai no Finale mashes them all together to such a degree that it's hard to keep track of everything.

Kumiko herself is overwhelmed. She pastes on a smile and tries to act like the friendly senpai, but when it's just her and her close friends like Reina and Shuichi, the mask comes off and she wonders, "Can I really handle all of this responsibility?" She misses Asuka, who despite all of her own insecurities, was always friendly with people and a pillar of support when it mattered. That sort of thing just doesn't come naturally to Kumiko, despite her role as the band's euphonium—the ultimate supporting instrument. It's not like playing the euphonium came naturally to her either, as she learned in the first season. Kumiko has to exert herself to become a better band member, and sometimes the pressure is just too great.

Kumiko's inner confusion is best exemplified by her relationship with her childhood friend Shuichi. Her relationship with him develops in surprising ways, especially for those of us inundated with anime romcom tropes. But it's also refreshingly true to life. Kumiko isn't sure whether she wants things to go back to the way they used to be or to move forward, and she spends much of the film actively avoiding the issue despite the undeniable change in the status quo established from the beginning. This film is sure to infuriate shippers of every camp, but it's also the most compelling part of the movie because there are no easy answers to her conflict.

Conversely, the subplots around the first-year students are the weakest part of the film, partly because they're underdeveloped, but also because they retread similar ground to the conflicts established in the first season of Sound! Euphonium. Like Reina back in season one, some of the new first-years are significantly more skilled at their instruments than their seniors, resulting in a disruption of the established hierarchy. This time, the seniors in question are perfectly fine with being outdone by their juniors, but the juniors themselves don't think that way. Although that is a key difference from the first season, it ends up making each conflict easy to solve—just have a heart-to-heart chat with the juniors and assure them that taking the lead is okay—and that's exactly what happens.

The other thing that strikes me as a distinct flaw of the film is that the moments of catharsis hinge primarily on callbacks to previous seasons. It's one thing for Kumiko to draw on her past experiences to deal with the present, but it's quite another for every big dramatic moment to involve an extended flashback that ends with her saying, "Yeah, that's what I learned back then." The film should have trusted its viewers to connect the dots themselves and observe the changes in the characters over time. The summer festival scenes work well because they don't explicitly flash back to the first season, only calling back to it in subtle ways. More of the film should have been like that.

Unsurprisingly, the music continues to be the highlight of the Sound! Euphonium series. The final performance was absolutely breathtaking, but I say that about every final performance. It's pretty fascinating to watch after Liz and the Blue Bird, because the latter covers the same performance in its own climax, but with very different framing and emotional context. Chikai no Finale covers more of the band's contributions as a whole, as well as a broader representation of the songs they played, making this scene a perfect distillation of the diverse appeals of the two films.

In the end, I think I would have liked Chikai no Finale better as a TV series in the vein of the first two seasons. That way, it could have juggled all the new characters more effectively. Some of them have obvious baggage that never gets addressed by the end of the film, and the conflicts that did surface were inevitably shallow and easily resolved. Kumiko's character journey and relationships are still highly compelling, and fortunately that remains the core of the story. The ending is also some powerful stuff that affirms many of the overall themes of the story. Despite some off-key notes in this film, Sound! Euphonium continues to be one of the best teen coming-of-age anime.

Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A+

+ Kumiko's growth and relationships are compelling and relatable, music continues to be fantastic
Too many characters and subplots for the scope of the film, retreads similar conflicts and character beats from the TV series

Director: Tatsuya Ishihara
Script: Jukki Hanada
Storyboard: Tatsuya Ishihara
Unit Director:
Noriyuki Kitanohara
Taichi Ogawa
Minoru Ōta
Shinpei Sawa
Yasuhiro Takemoto
Music: Akito Matsuda
Original creator: Ayano Takeda
Character Design: Shoko Ikeda
Art Director: Mutsuo Shinohara
Chief Animation Director:
Shoko Ikeda
Futoshi Nishiya
Animation Director:
Seiichi Akitake
Kazumi Ikeda
Miku Kadowaki
Nobuaki Maruki
Yuko Myouken
Kohei Okamura
Maruko Tatsunari
Yuki Tsunoda
Sound Director: Yota Tsuruoka
Director of Photography: Kazuya Takao

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Hibike! Euphonium: Chikai no Finale (movie)

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