Sound! Euphonium is a series directed by Tatsuya Ishihara (Clannad and Nichijou director) and created by Kyoto Animation. Commonly in KyoAni works, there is an emphasis on body language. These visual cues lets viewers understand characters, and when expertly done, they create a layer beneath spoken dialogue. This is called subtext.While this is present in Euphonium, the show also goes an extra step: it layers music to express what characters struggle to say.
This added layer lets the staff play with our expectations. By now, KyoAni viewers are used to body language. However, their familiarity with music might vary. This gives the staff a chance to do something special--to make a unique experience for a show steeped in music.
When characters hide their emotions or are self-aware of their body language, or when characters are so “out of tune” with their own feelings that even their bodies seems disconnected, viewers get mixed signals. To “clear the noise,” music is used to tell the truth about how someone feels. Even if they tell others they can move on, even if they lie to themselves it’s just a phase, music is truly their passion. Music is vital to Sound! Euphonium. With it, the depths of emotion can emerge.
Through this brief article, we will state the ways Sound! Euphonium uses music to create subtext, display emotion, and deepen the experience. By reading this, we hope your understanding and the appreciation of the show grows.
The Medium Through Which Emotions Sing
Music is a catalyst through which emotions can blossom. This idea is fairly common, and certainly Sound! Euphonium uses that idea. As characters become more attuned with music, their skill with their instruments develops, which in turn lets them bond with friends. An interesting concept that the show plays around with: when your emotions are out of tune so is your music. The idea is that emotions and music are so closely tied, they cannot be separated.
To further this concept, the shows emphasizes a key aspect of a band--its togetherness.The band is a unit. If one member falls apart, it influences the entire group’s performance. Sometimes this is direct: one member playing out of tune means they will be judged less favorably in competitions. Other times, this is less obvious. It’s an internal problem.
Much of the show’s problem revolves around this idea: togetherness. It applies not just to the band, but to their personal relations, and because music is so intertwined with the show and its characters, personal relations directly influence the music. Music is so interconnected with emotion that characters struggle to play when their personal lives are troubled.
Thematic Carry Over
Music can carry a message. Even without words, meaning can be conveyed through multiple means. In Euphonium, music carries with it a thematic quality. As the viewers transition into season 2, the story focuses on a minor character. Mizore is a blank face. Her emotions are indecipherable and although her music is clean, it lacks a distinct personality, a distinct emotion.
Mizore’s relationship with music is stunted. It’s unmoving just like her own life. To convey this, the KyoAni staff did several creative things. To emphasize her lack of expression, shots of her face would hide her full expression. A close up of an eye, or a reflection of her face on a window--anything that would convey her disconnect. To get viewers into Mizore’s thoughts, the staff used “props.” In one particular scene, she is playing a music game on her phone. Her concentration breaks when she hears a song from the past, one that she tries to forget. Her failure in the game, reminds her of the past, and she asks the passerby to turn the song off.
That song is Polovtsian Dances, a famous song composed for the opera Prince Igor. Historically, the song was never completed, its composer died early in 1887. Since then, other composers have picked it up--and it’s that idea that so fundamentally important. The idea of picking up the pieces and moving on. The very song that Mizore wishes to forget, carries a message that would save her. Using its old themes, the show intermixes with a new element, a lonesome “oboe,” and invites it into the band.
Resolution and Clarifying Intentions
Drama is part of the show, and where drama goes, the characters follow. After the characters find their motivations to compete for Nationals, the conductor starts hosting auditions. Through these auditions, band members will be given corresponding parts of music, solos, or no part at all. When the auditions are done, some characters make it and some don’t. The show focuses on something else. Kaori Nakaseko, a third year and trumpet section leader, loses to a first year. Kousaka Reina, the talented first year, instead will being doing the trumpet solo.
This creates a division between the band. Some have doubts the auditions were fair. In an attempt to clarify doubts, another audition is held where both trumpet players compete, leaving an obvious result for the listeners. However, the problem is still the same. While doubts are clarified, emotions are not. Kaori was desperate to get the solo part, her self-confidence, her journey to find herself was intermixed with her music. To fix this, the show created a majestic finale: the band competition. When the trumpet solo plays, the camera first focuses on Kousaka, but her face is hidden.
As the solo continues, the camera slowly includes other members, and then slowly includes Kaori into the shot. In the background of Kousaka’s solo, we see Kaori’s face from the side, unsure of her emotions. The camera zooms into Kousaka’s fingers as she skillfully plays a nostalgic, warm, and gentle melody.
The camera then gives us a clear look at Kaori’s face. This shot creates a mirror, an introspective look into Kaori’s head. Just as we saw Kaori from the side, so does Kaori see her “rival.” When the camera shifts to Kousaka’s fingers, there’s an implication. Kaori, too, is focusing on Kousaka’s fingers.
Now seeing her face from the front, we can see her emotions are transparent. She closes her eyes listening...smiling. She has resolved her feelings with her past through this nostalgic, warm, and gentle melody. She can leave without regrets.
Kyoto Animation has a talent for details. Through careful use of music and shots of body language, KyoAni has created a nuanced story about the power of sound and its emotional ties. Hopefully, through this article, the complexities of the show and the passion of music can be shared from a fellow fan to you.