After doing some good thinking about it, I think I know why the first season of Sound! Euphonium had such a powerful drive in it for me. I’ve pinpointed what exactly it was that drove me to always watch at least two episodes at a time in every sitting. There are not a lot of shows that I’ve watched lately that have made me say “Oh my gosh I need another episode Right Now!” and Sound! Euphonium is one of them.
Or at least it was for the first season. The primary theme of it is a lot more focused on personal growth, improvement, and absolute passion for what you do, almost to the point where you could classify the first season as a Shonen. Like a Shonen, it does also have some “friendship will see us through” elements that border strongly on the homoerotic (but with girls), but friendship doesn’t beat any villains here. What makes Sound! Euphonium an honorary Shonen (and one of the best in my mind) is that theme of wanting/needing to improve.
In watching Euphonium’s first season I saw my first year in High School, my first year in College, my first year serving a religious mission and my first year getting into streaming, bartending, and competitive gaming. There is something about being in your first year at a new school with new possibilities, potential for growth, and a newfound passion that is fantastically exhilarating. Exhilarating and real. There were so many things that changed in my first year of High School. I was now “of dating age,” got my driver’s license, and had just discovered social dancing. I had a goal: I was going to be the swankiest, classiest young gentleman and the best dancer at every school dance, church dance, you name it. In hindsight of course, I would punch my High School self in his pointy jaw for being so dang full of himself, but there is something about him that I still envy: his persistent drive.
My land, that kid was tirelessly obsessed. I researched the snot out of all kinds of different dances and their histories, learned all the movers and shakers of the Swing era and the Swing Revival, learned all their songs, the whole nine yards. I could tell you how Louis Prima, while technically the writer of the song “Sing, Sing, Sing!” didn’t make it the slam dunk anthem of that era himself, but rather it was Benny Goodman who did by mashing it up with Chu Berry’s song “Christopher Columbus.” It wasn’t enough for me to merely be better than others, I needed to know everything about it as well.
Fast forward to my first year in College where I learned that for my High School years, I had merely been the biggest fish in a very small pond. I attended the college known for having the best competitive DanceSport (Ballroom dance) team in the nation and was determined to join them. Actual professional coaches were at my fingertips, and there were many I could choose from. Regular practice areas and other students with my same drive for improvement and perfection surrounded me so I had actual ways to measure improvement. I spent close to four hours a day dancing, be it in classes or practices, and then another one to two hours watching YouTube videos of current professional competitions to learn new moves and techniques. I idolized the greats, Ricardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko, followed the politics of who coached what teams, and which judges taught where and whose drama followed them. Dance was not just a hobby, interest, or pastime; it consumed me.
The same thing happened on my mission. I learned and memorized countless verses that applied to all kinds of scenarios to help others see how it could help them. I couldn’t stand feeling unprepared or like I could have done more. I learned the historical context of the culture at the times of each author of various books and chapters to better understand and explain symbolism and allegory. I got acquainted with the general themes of each Apostle’s teachings, and even became quite adept at recognizing various religious artists’ unique styles. I could look at a painting and tell you if it was Walter Rane, Simon Dewey, Arnold Friberg, or Minerva Teichert, even if I hadn’t seen that particular painting by them before.
A small part of that obsessive drive followed me into my first years playing Starcraft II, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch. I knew the current pro team rosters, where the players had been before, their playstyles, strengths, weaknesses. I watched their vods and training videos, analyzed North American meta vs meta in China and you better believe I played specific training maps to hone my micro to nail that 9-pool strategy just right.
So, when I saw Kumiko and Reina in this first season strive to be the best they could be, and fight tooth and nail to get their band to nationals, it was very real to me. To see Reina’s frustration that other students weren’t as committed, or to see that special connection you get with a teacher or coach when you care So Very Much about what they’re teaching you all get so beautifully portrayed made this very personal for me. That was me. Those were my friends. That was my life, a piece that had left that I was able to feel again in beautiful 24-minute chunks.
None were more poignant than in this scene after Kumiko was asked not to play a certain part in the competition because she wasn’t good enough. Please watch this gorgeous scene.
But constantly giving your all and having that fire of passion for too long burns you up. Living in this passion was ultimately financially unsustainable and mentally unhealthy for me (hey so that’s where my perfectionist complex that led to major depressive disorder came from!). But these were also the times that I felt the most alive. Having a clear purpose, putting in so much effort and love into it and being able to see the improvement and see the results is one of the greatest highs I have ever achieved in life. And you could absolutely tell that the creators had that same passion and love for their craft in Sound! Euphonium. To me, that is the pinnacle of art: to connect with others in a very personal way that makes them feel something or think about something in a new way.
Thankfully, Euphonium doesn’t take on other dreaded Shonen tropes (getting stretched out to over 100 episodes, excessive flashbacks, cliffhangers, etc.) and focuses more on an accurate second-year experience for the second season, but it’s still fantastic and worth finishing. They just chose to not have it stay Shonen-esque which is completely fine because it really wasn’t supposed to be one in the first place. It just happened to do one of the Shonen themes better than a lot of Shonens do it themselves. Like the gorgeously animated fights in Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid that put many action anime to shame, KyoAni gives a subtle flex on more popular anime genres with Euphonium and I love them for it.