Tastes vary, I know – but honestly, I think you people are kidding yourselves…
At long last, we have an anime about girls in the performing arts that’s honest, free of tropes and pandering, and infectious in its love of the art (which it gets just right). It’s called “Aki no Kanade”, and I posted on it last night.
I saw someone describe the premiere of Hibike! Euphonium as “a cross between K-On! and Tamako Market” and I admit, I threw up in my mouth a little. After watching it, the truth is I don’t think it’s on that level of Kyoto Animation postage rate. But I don’t think it’s anything different than the template that KyoAni has largely limited themselves to over the past half-decade, with the singular exception of Hyouka (and to a modest degree the first season of Chuunibyou).
I think we can take it as a given that a Kyoto Animation premiere is going to have fluid animation and lovely backgrounds, and of course H! E does – not exceptional in any way by the studio’s standards, but they’re not a disappointment. But while I have seen some opinion that this series is a break from KyoAni’s recent orthodoxy, I see little in the first episode to convince me. Honestly, what I mostly saw were 22 minutes of cute girls talking and acting like only cute girls in KyoAni shows do (seriously – do folks get that no one, least of all real people, talks or acts that way?). It’s not K-On! – it doesn’t come right out and slap your intelligence across the face with a glove, and it does have some competently portrayed actual music. And it’s not so offensively proud of its own cuteness as Tamako (though thanks to Dera, that premiere at least was more entertaining). But it does nothing to stretch KyoAni’s self-imposed creative boundaries.
I go into every series by this studio wanting very badly to like it. I remember Hyouka, and the way no other studio has made a TV anime so transcendently beautiful about adolescence. I remember Kanon, and Full Metal Panic. But Kyoto Animation is all about the bubble. These days they homogenize everything to fit their narrow style. They use the same talent over and over. And the characters always look and act a certain way. The males, when they bother to have them at all (this time they didn’t even bother to fake it when calling the roll in homeroom) are a dimension short of being two-dimensional, forget three – they’d need a window to be window-dressing.
It’s all an elaborate fantasy, packaged to meet the expectations of a reliably loyal audience. This is a big problem with anime generally these days – the cart has leapfrogged the horse, and most series are all about checking boxes one at a time rather than telling a story. And no one is more guilty of it – or better at it – than KyoAni, though the fact that sales for their last few series have slipped some may be evidence that even they may have to change at least a little. But it’s not happening yet – not if Hibike! Euphonium is anything to go on.
I do think this show has selling points. It’s pleasant to look at, and I think band geeks will love it because it seems to care at least a little about the musical side of the story (and those are people that haven’t had many shows cater to them, at least not well, so good for them). It should please the core KyoAni audience, assuming they haven’t grown bored of the formula (and again, there’s evidence at least a part of it has). But it’s not the show that marks Kyoto Animation waking up from their creative coma, not based on the premiere anyway. It’s still very safe, very familiar, and very mailed in – and sadly, those are the hallmarks of today’s Kyoto Animation.