First Impressions – Hibike! Euphonium

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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.

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  1. p

    "But it's not the show that marks Kyoto Animation waking up from their creative coma, not based on the premiere anyway."

    Kyoukai no Kanata was their chance. But Kyoani being Kyoani completely blew thier chance.

  2. s

    i agree that kyokai no kanata was their chance; man you dont know how much it hurt to see that potential get blown to hell. to clarify i thought Knk was alright and not a complete failure as some depict it because when you truly dissect that series, there are some positives…but its those positive that make the negatives so much more aggravating and ultimately why i have the opinion i do. I stayed positive with KnK even when i saw it's flaws in hopes that it would correct them just to ultimately get bitched smacked in the face.

    Now as for Hibike; it definitely has potential. It's a novel adaptation like Hyouka, which i thought was very good; a lil polish here and there would have made that series great or even phenomenal but it was still very good (I remember enzo being ambivalent about Hyouka at first before falling for it; heck i remember trying to convince him in the comments that Hyouka had the superior visuals in comparison guilty crown). I like the female lead for coming off so natural and kyoani's wonderful cinematography and animation directing craps on the competition this season barring one or two shows. Plus it seems like this series intends on delving into some nice character drama so my interest is slightly piqued. I really want to see where this series goes. One of only major gripes with this premiere is the female lead's two new friends. I think having the show focus on just kumiko and reina along with the supporting cast would have been a much better decision, but these characters exist so we must deal with them. Who knows, they might not be as bad as they seem.

  3. J

    I was so spoiled cause I started on KyoAni with Hyouka… which was amazing.
    Then I started watching KnK, and I was rooting for it to be just as good, trying to champion it, and I was really hoping it would be… interesting… but it just totally fell flat :C

  4. B

    I try to go into every new Kyoto Animation show with low expectations with the hope that I'll be pleasantly surprised, (Hyouka), but this was just mind numbingly boring.

  5. D

    I think the art in this show differentiates itself just a bit from other KyoAni shows. Just enough to be noticeable and actually please my eyes. It's kind of the only reason I watched KanColle despite the nightmare that was. I expect the same here, but at the same time I'm telling myself "a-fuck a-no" because honestly it probably won't be on par with the promotional art anyway.

  6. G

    It might be because I went in with a positive attitude but I found this episode to be pretty good and I'm looking forward to this show.

    Kumiko felt like a pretty likable and relatable character, the music side of things looked like it was handled pretty well and of course the animation and visuals were gorgeous.

  7. N

    If we're in the buisness of enumerating past KyoAni achievements that defy the current established formula, I'd place Nichijou right up there with Hyouga.

  8. D

    Now I just feel like a fool for forgetting Nichijou.

  9. P

    >>It should please the core KyoAni audience, assuming they haven't grown bored of the formula

    It did! I personally loved the attention to the MC's changes of expression to convey emotion. Recent series tend to be too blatant in how they convey these things, so the attention brought to these little details immediately grabbed my attention. I don't really have much time to watch a lot of series these days, but this one is definitely on my radar.

  10. J

    "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)."

    Well, you're right in my case at least. I'm in my tenth year of being a proud band geek (a year in elementary, then three in middle school, four in high school, and now coming to an end of my second in college). I find KyoAni's recent output to be unambitious at best and I know in my head that this one is no different, but that logic can't overtake the nostalgia I felt when I heard the band's little welcoming performance.

    It sounded like every band in that stage of rehearsal where they can get through the song without falling apart, but they certainly don't sound good yet. Those little squeaks! The way they're off by just enough to make you cringe! I think everyone who has spent hours sitting in rehearsals to put songs together can relate. To me it was an amazing moment where I just stopped and thought that no matter what happens with the show, at least in brief moments, it perfectly captures little snapshots of band reality.

    I know there have been series about playing classical music in general (Nodame Cantabile and the recent Your Lie in April come to mind), but band in particular holds a very special place in my heart. I didn't think I was ever going to see an anime about a high school concert band, but here it is. And regardless of where the plot and characters go (or don't go, given how meandering KyoAni can be) I think I'll be content to tune in for glimpses of shiny instruments (honestly way too nice-looking for high school students, especially the more expensive instruments that in reality would be school-owned and probably not in the greatest condition, especially given the state of their program) and snitches of band music.

    I feel kind of shallow admitting that, but hey, I'm guess I shouldn't complain about being pandered to for once. I just hope it doesn't drop its caring about the musical side of things, because honestly to me it feels like it cares very, very much about it at this point, and that's far and away the best part. If it tries to focus on things that aren't related to band stuff I'll be kind of disappointed.

  11. I don't think you should feel shallow or guilty in the least. When so many series get something you love wrong, it's fine to be gung-ho over one that might just get it close to right.

    For me, that's not nearly enough because it's not a particular passion of mine. And the rest of the series is same old, same old KyoAni so far.

  12. D

    I have straight up stopped watching KyoAni shows. I still check the blog posts, just to see if something has finally changed but apparently it's another miss.

    It did make me wonder, though, why they essentially recreated their own established franchise just to make a carbon copy of it? Would another mindless season of K-on not suffice? It almost seemed like they wanted to do something different but backed out of that idea in the end.

    An awful shame, because I do enjoy shows that really care about music and every new season I hold my breath expecting something in the vein of Beck or Sakamichi no Apollon. Shigatsu was the only thing that comes to mind in recent memory but that turned into a trainwreck pretty damn quick. But hey, there's always next season.

  13. To be fair, as I said in the post I don't think this another K-On. And it may just surprise me, who knows. But if you really want to check out a show like the one you describe I'd watch Aki no Kanade.

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