Sound! Euphonium
Episode 4

by Nick Creamer,

Unfortunately, this week's Sound! Euphonium couldn't keep up the show's three week run of being a perfectly composed vignette - instead, it was merely a series of scenes in a very good show. Less tightly paced and narratively focused than the first few, this one could be easily divided into two broad halves - the training section, where Taki-sensei took center stage, and Kumiko's New Day, where Kumiko showed new strength in finally moving towards what she wanted. Uniting the two was one central, inescapable thread - the fact that you can run, but you have to face your problems someday.

Taki faced his problems first thing this episode, taking matters into his own hands and personally directing the band's week of do-over practice. Seeing the band's hopeless state, Taki started with the fundamentals, establishing breathing and stamina exercises for everyone while making sure each section also worked on their specific weaknesses. Taki's harsh in his criticism, but never needlessly cruel - he's simply doing what has to be done for each section to reach the collective goal they all set for themselves.

Asuka's comment on Hazuki getting stuck on every step, “just like a good beginner,” seems like an appropriate metaphor for this whole section. The band ostensibly wants to succeed, and if you're trying to actually play music right, you can't just handwave what you're not good at. Taki's patient, repeated “do you understand what I'm saying?” isn't intended to mock his students - he genuinely wants to make sure his criticisms are understood, and that his students achieve competency in each area, before he moves on to the next task. While many teachers can only afford to give a general overview and focus on the students who are eager to meet halfway and actually learn, it is perhaps Taki's very inexperience with this position that allows him to be harsh, fair, and ultimately patient with every one of his students.

There were a number of great small moments with the cast throughout this section, which really helped maintain the “ensemble storytelling” feel of the production, and the music was an excellent harmonica-driven number that kept energy high, but the pacing here felt a little disjointed. This was perhaps unavoidable, since we were moving outside of Kumiko's narrow, emotionally focused perspective, but either way, not all of the cuts here felt as graceful as the prior episodes. In contrast, the second half reined the perspective right back in, as an offhand semi-argument between Kousaka and Kumiko's friend Tsukamoto prompted a shift in Kumiko.

This shift didn't come through her own doing, as so often is the case with Kumiko (even in the first half, we received a perfect offhand remark on how Kumiko's initial movement into band was prompted by following her sister). Instead, it came when Kousaka asked to meet with Kumiko alone. In a scene marked by some surprising but very welcome silly faces from our heroine, Kumiko's long-held fear of being scolded or looked down on by Kousaka imploded as Kousaka made an impromptu apology. After blankly reciprocating this apology, the levees finally broke for Kumiko, and she admitted that not only was she sorry for any perceived offenses, but that she was actually inspired by Kousaka, an embarrassing disclosure that prompted her to make an adorably stone-faced escape from the conversation. But in the wake of that long-awaited confession, Kumiko suddenly found it just a bit less difficult to actually pursue what she wanted, and started by nudging the last bass member Nakagawa to actually play with the rest of them.

The episode ended as it had to, with the band coming together for a well-earned song that made great use of the many small character moments to create a true ensemble performance both in narrative terms and in practice. That was followed by the reveal that Taki-sensei already had their rigorous practice schedule ready, handed out to the tune of the episode's best line (“if we gather the time you all waste being young, this much practice shouldn't be that difficult”). Overall, this felt more like an episode than an event in comparison to the last several, and I'm not sure I'm a fan of the significantly faster pacing, but it was still a solid episode full of beautiful backgrounds, naturalistic storytelling, and strong character moments. Sound! Euphonium is doing fine.

Rating: B+

Sound! Euphonium is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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