A very solid start for a series that makes excellence feel effortless and natural.
Key Animation: Yoshinori Urata, Ryouhei Muta, Hiroshi Karata, Tatsuya Sato, Kayo Hikiyama, Kunihiro Hane, Shinpei Sawa, Kanae Okura, Minoru Ota, Taira Yamaguchi, Tomoko Yoshimura, Maiko Hado, Chinatsu Morimoto, Shiho Morisaki, Maruko Tatsunari, Hidehiro Asama, Seiya Kumano, Kota Sato, Ryousuke Shirakawa, Naoya Nakayama, Keita Nagahara, Ami Kuriki, Sae Sawada, Ryo Miyaki, Aoi Okuno, Miho Kitaji, Yurika Ono, Chiharu Kuroda, Saeko Fujita, Sayaka Watanabe, Mariko Takahashi
Haruka Fujita, Kohei Okamura, Shouko Ikeda
Euphonium simply did some stretching exercises, and that was enough to feel like a triumphant return. Viewers remember the series for its climactic moments – the performances, Kumiko’s outburst caused by her ardent desire to improve, the intimate scene at Mt. Daikichi – but the show is defined by its everyday routine. Euphonium’s world is as alive as ever. In one episode we have already seen in dyed in more colors, lighting and weather than most anime ever bother to feature; no two sunsets are alike, not just as an attempt to have a more diverse palette but also as a way to represent brief passage of time. Interior scenes fare similarly well, since their school still feels as organic as a cartoon building could possibly be; the rooms seem very convincingly lived in, and the excellent layouts create the illusion of threedimensional space – still not quite on Hyouka’s level in this regard, but very impressive nonetheless. TV anime tends to be set in worlds that feel like they turn off when the camera isn’t looking, but Euphonium silently tells you about the events you didn’t see. If we step outside once again it’s easy to notice more lovingly crafted settings; depicting a festival doesn’t entail simply having a different backdrop, they’ll go as far as making the sound echo realistically and depict even the smallest moments through elaborate layouts that make it feel like a bustling event.
And of course, it’s not just the setting that the show breathes life into, the characters who inhabit it feel just as alive – well, more alive, but that’s a given I suppose. Kumiko’s portrayal has always been fascinating, since the storyboarders and animators keep on nailing her demeanor even without particularly rich motion. As stoic as she can be, she often has a hard time dealing with awkward social situations; even when she isn’t under the spotlight you can see her body language spelling out approaching with caution, and her clumsy attempts to pacify tense moments are transparent as well. Kumiko is a thoroughly expressive character, as a person who had issues keeping her thoughts from leaking should be. And perfectly articulating the protagonist might seem like a given, but this attention to detail applies to background members as well; after a trombone player asks whether they really are getting a summer break, one girl immediately glances at him. It’s never been explicitly stated within the show, but simply from their short interactions in the first season viewers deduced that those two were a couple – later confirmed in an official booklet – so she’s likely staring at her boyfriend expecting to go on a summer date with him. Again, a living setting that exists beyond the camera.
There are more elements that can be isolated as notoriously great; Tomoyo Kurosawa’s increasingly naturalistic performance as Kumiko – instigated by the show’s sound director – and her magical chemistry with Reina are here to stay, so I’m looking forward to talking about them a lot. So far the latter seems like what might push this season over the first one – there’s an amazing sense of intimacy when they’re together, and even when casually teasing their friend it’s obvious how comfortable they feel around each other. Even the small callbacks feel earned, and having an entire season of them hanging out closely sounds fantastic. Bring it on!
Tatsuya Ishihara’s storyboard for the episode is more than functional, with none of his recurring self-indulgences and some striking shots – particularly moments like this, contrasting a Kumiko free from her past traumas with a Mizore still trapped in them. Some of the least graceful direction happens in his first half of the episode, as multiple short flashbacks remind the viewers of the situation in the club; a bit unfortunate, but the complex net of relationships justifies this introduction. The first season featured the restoration of an ensemble that had been torn apart by internal strifes between students who wanted to try their best and those who wanted to play music for fun. Their new instructor became a unifying figure, but even that was a harsh process that ended up with some members quitting the band and others finding their motivation to improve in the desire to shut up their brutal new advisor. The staff have described the club as the student’s small society, which is an appropriate way to frame it. There are many small factions within it, and no decision affecting everyone is seen as thoroughly positive or negative. Having arrived at some sort of equilibrium by the end of the first season, the situation is about to get unstable as members who quit during the club’s civil war want to come back to the now successful club.
It’s after having established this premise that the episode truly shines though, and also – not coincidentally – the moment where the directors switch. It hasn’t been officially confirmed, but the contrast is so stark that I’m sure this is the exact moment Haruka Fujita takes the reins as episode director. Fujita joined KyoAni – and the industry in general – in 2011, as she went out to draw key animation for Nichijou and do clean-up work on the K-ON! Movie. She must have shown lots of ambition, because 3 years later she was already getting promoted to episode director; first coached by the likes of Naoko Yamada and Taiichi Ogawa on episode 5 of Chuunibyou Ren, and later solo on episode 11 of the same series. The studio can only afford to keep a dozen directors around because the limited output is part of the company’s culture, so earning your opportunities is already impressive; you will often see KyoAni praise because of their practices contrasting with the disaster that is the industry as a whole, which is entirely deserved, but it’s a particularly competitive place when it comes to high level work. Some excellent directors like Noriko Takao and Kazuya Sakamoto opted to leave to harsher environments simply to increase the chances to handle series of their own – and both of them achieved it!
But let’s go back to Fujita. While she started to turn heads around Amagi Brilliant Park #8, it wasn’t until she was put in charge of material with incredible potential that fans truly started noticing her. Episode 8 of the original Euphonium series was the pivotal moment of the entire story, as the directors themselves have mentioned, and trusting a relative newbie with it was a risky bet that paid off incredibly well. After that she’s kept on developing her style to the point of standing out even within lesser projects like Phantom World, and fans have started to notice her personal quirks already. While Naoko Yamada is still the series director overseeing everything, it seems like Fujita has been put in charge of the hands-on work she was too busy to do with Koe no Katachi; direction on the first episode and handling the ending sequence are two roles that Yamada originally had in Euphonium, so it’s safe to assume she’s her replacement of sorts. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she can do with a storyboard of her own, since even working with Ishihara’s material you could feel her touch!
As a final note on the episode’s production – as far as I can tell this might be the Kyoto Animation episode with the most key animators (34), quite the contrast with the first season where all it took was ~7 per episode. Understandable as it was a double length intro, and production often escalates exponentially, but still a noteworthy event; not a worrying one, since regular episodes in normal projects often require as much if not more key animators when you factor in 2nd KA – not really a separate credit in the studio – but it does show that they had their hands full with this special and finishing Koe no Katachi. I would expect the first 3-4 episodes to have relatively busy staff lists, then go back to the studio’s usual clean credits until the final rush. Production trivia aside though, they did a more than acceptable job. The character art was slightly rougher than usual, but it did have way more animation highlights than the first season’s intro; the performances are still delightful no matter how short they are, and their attention to detail when it comes to small character moments is still obscene; carefully animating not one but two instances of ice-cream falling, detailed to a degree that makes me feel like an animator sacrificed their dessert for the sake of art. This show’s energy conservation mode still puts its peers to shame.
Key Animation: Nobuaki Maruki, Nami Iwasaki, Sana Suzuki, Ryouhei Muta, Maiko Hado, Seiya Kumano, Mariko Takahashi, Rie Sezaki
I might have lied a bit when I said that was the final note, but since this was the beginning of our coverage of Haruka Fujita’s career I feel like we’re due to briefly talking about this ending sequence. The fact that she directed it is notorious in and of itself – it’s been 9 years since Kazuya Sakamoto’s Dango Daikazoku, the previous instance of a KyoAni OP/ED being handled by someone who hasn’t been credited as series director before. The only other instance of it was Tomoe Aratani – now at Nintendo – on Munto, so as you can tell this isn’t a common practice at all. The pastel colors, feminine imagery and general music video feel betray her Yamada influences, but it still feels like her very own take even when calling back to the first ending. A really nice ending sequence, further cementing the idea that she represent the most exciting future – and maybe present already – at the studio!
I was initially unsure about whether the series would work for weekly coverage, since it had to live up to Mob Psycho and soon Flip Flappers, but as it turns out I had to stop myself from talking about the masterful way it’s been put together for even longer. Look forward to this kind of rambling for the next 12 weeks!
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