I'm getting flashbacks to my time in high school orchestra. Sound! Euphonium shows the normal life of a group of high school girls in their high school concert band and their evolution from a casual, play-for-fun gathering to a serious unified musical unit.
The story follows Kumiko, a euphonium player who, upon entering high school, is roped into joining the school's less-than-mediocre concert band by her new classmates, Hazuki and Sapphire. There, she encounters a former junior high bandmate, Reina, a girl she once unintentionally insulted when their band lost in a contest. Together, under the supervision of the band teacher, Noboru Taki, the high school band undergoes a radical change while Kumiko attempts to mend the rift between her and Reina.
Sound! Euphonium is an anime by Kyoto Animation. Hearing the concept of four girls in high school doing music, one might assume that the anime is trying to emulate the studio's previous mega-hit, K-On. While from the description, this may seem the case, it could not be farther from the truth. Where K-On was more carefree cute girls doing cute things, Sound! Euphonium wields a much more somber atmosphere.
From the onset, the protagonist Kumiko is both an extremely complex and extremely normal character. She is a passive pushover who finds comfort in letting others make decisions for her, and would rather go with the flow without emotional investment. It's this aspect of her personality that caused her to ignorantly and unintentionally insult Reina, and while she initially doesn't fully understand what she did wrong, she feels massive guilt over the event.
Throughout the series Kumiko gradually evolves and grows from your average everyday nobody into someone with both identity and purpose — a process that is both entertaining and moving to see.
A major theme throughout the series is making decisions and taking responsibility for your choices. This is something that, as an adult who has experienced his share of how the world works, I found almost cathartic. Seeing a group of kids who seem intent on coasting through life forced to make a choice and then growing to understand the weight and meaning of that choice was extremely enjoyable.
One of the highlights of the series centres around a showdown where the students must choose between a character they like but is less skilled and a character they dislike but is extremely talented. It's an important life lesson that teaches that you don't have to like someone to respect them, and the anime plays it out very well — although, it could be argued, almost too ideally.
If I were to describe Sound! Euphonium in a single phrase, I would say it's "spectacularly normal." This normality is both its strength and its weakness. It's essentially a coming of age story where children, somewhat begrudgingly, learn to become adults. The message is strong and the execution is refined, which really resonates, but the setting is mundane and nothing is really fantastic. It's a slice of life that is almost too real — both remarkably unremarkable and unremarkably remarkable.
As an adult, I really enjoyed Sound! Euphonium in the way that it managed to encapsulate the transition from carefree, irresponsible child to adulthood with responsibility and drive. That said, if you're looking for more explosions and robots, or even some wacky slapstick in your anime, you'll probably find this series somewhat lacking. It kind of makes me wonder how I would have viewed the series if I had seen it as a teenager or younger...
Sound! Euphonium aired on Tokyo MX and other channels in Japan. It can be viewed in with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.