Books: Sound! Euphonium

December 30, 2018 · 0 comments

By Andrew Osmond.

euphConcert bands were a special place. The ratio of girls to boys was usually around nine to one, but strictly speaking, it was often even more lopsided than that. So it was not uncommon for girls to end up idolizing someone of their own gender. The objects of such infatuated gazes – gazes that were much too fervid to be interpreted as simple envy – tended to either radiate pure femininity or possess a boyish stylishness. Unfortunately, the boys in concert bands were rarely seen as actual boys and so were never the object of such idolization. Kumiko had decided that this was why boys in the band never seemed to have girlfriends, despite being surrounded by girls.

This blog has already run an article on the TV anime version of Sound! Euphonium, which is now available as a sumptuous Collectors Blu-ray from Anime Limited. By any standards, the anime has been well received. Anime UK News gave it 10/10, most ANN voters rated it “Very good”, “Excellent” or “Masterpiece”; and – ahem! – my own Neo review described the show as “amazingly good, exceptional in its production, writing and characters.”

Here, though, we’re looking at an interesting complement to the anime; the original Japanese novel, written by Ayano Takeda and available in translation from Yen Press. As a translated interview on the Sakuga Blog website makes clear, Takeda’s book wasn’t created as part of a media mix strategy. Takeda wrote it as a stand-alone story that just happened to attract Kyoto Animation, partly because it was set in the same city, Uji near Kyoto, where the studio is based.

51Ol1WiD04L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Following the first Euphonium TV anime, Takeda wrote sequel books that she herself suggests were influenced by the anime. You can compare the comments made to this blog by Shouji Gatou, author of Full Metal Panic. However, Takeda’s book – subtitled Welcome to the Kitauji High School Concert Band – was written as a wholly independent creation.

The book’s story covers the same ground as Sound! Euphonium’s first TV season. A struggling high school band strives to achieve greatness under the direction of a deceptively mild-looking teacher. Nearly all the same characters are in both versions, though the anime adds a few. For example, schoolgirl Kumiko’s big sister is only mentioned indirectly in the book, but has quite a few scenes in the series.

Kumiko herself is the chief viewpoint character in both versions, but more in the book. Even though it’s written in the third person, everything is seen and judged through Kumiko’s eyes. The anime sometimes opens out to show scenes with other characters; for example, the “extra” fourteenth episode (made for video) centres on Kumiko’s friend Hazuki.

In general, the book is similar to the anime – very similar, if you judge it against most Hollywood book-to-screen adaptations. However, it’s clear that the KyoAni studio felt free to adjust and arrange the story exactly as it wanted. The credited scriptwriter was the prolific Jukki Hanada, who also wrote large chunks of K-ON! Hanada’s other credits include Love Live!, Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions, Steins;Gate and its sequels, and the delightful girls-in-the-Arctic adventure A Place Further Than The Universe. It’s plausible that other story input was provided by series director Naoko Yamada (A Silent Voice) and “overall” director Tatsuya Isihara (Haruhi Suzumiya).

One notable difference between the book and the anime concerns the handling of two of the story’s enigmatic characters. They’re Taki, the male music teacher, and Asuka, the overbearing girl senior who’s sometimes hilarious – the anime plays up her comic schtick – but also disconcertingly distant. In the book, they both have more obvious edges. Taki is just as soft-spoken as his anime counterpart, but his chiding is more crushing – “Aren’t you embarrassed to be performing this badly?” he asks at one point. Asuka becomes positively frightening in some scenes, at least seen through Kumiko’s eyes. In the anime version, Asuka is framed more from the viewpoints of her contemporaries, who are familiar with her.

The anime doesn’t “soften” Taki and Asuka so much as it leaves them more open to the audience to judge, as if we’re in the music class with them ourselves. One particularly charged confrontation in the book, involving Asuka, the band president Haruka, and Kumiko’s childhood friend Aoi, is actually taken down a couple of emotional notches in the anime. Instead it feeds into later low-key scenes in the same TV episode that aren’t in the book.

The anime invents its own emotional peaks, including a memorable scene with a running Kumiko in part 12. Perhaps more than any other, this scene defines the anime as KyoAni’s reinterpretation of Takeda’s material, not a slavish retelling. Other anime-only additions include the cute Midori’s efforts to snag a toy from a dispenser: the farcical episode where Kumiko is forced to dress up as a tuba; and the specially-written music (“Crescent Moon Dance”) that the band must perform, by composer Akito Matsuda (not the fictional Namie Horikawa).

In Takeda’s words, “A performance’s style and emotion could vary wildly depending on the conductor’s choices. Those choices became synonymous with the conductor and defined the reputation of the ensemble.” Or in this case, the anime studio. My reading of the book is biased by seeing the anime first, but I did think the book felt turgid around the middle in a way the anime didn’t. Perhaps that’s because the “edgier” print characterizations and arguments feel too on the nose to engage.

The book does improve greatly in later chapters, though. Its last pages are substantially more exciting and vivid than the somewhat underwhelming last TV episode. The later chapters also highlight same-sex attractions between the girls, as the opening quotation makes clear. For anyone wondering, there’s no direct reference to lesbianism, but the sensuality of some of the prose goes past cute girl friendships. Just imagine the hooha if a Western male YA author wrote a school story with a sentence like “Kumiko noticed Reina’s pale thighs emerging from under the navy-blue fabric.

Heaven knows what the last-century poet Philip Larkin would have made of it! But for the record, Takeda began Sound! Euphonium in university, not long after her own schooldays. All the indications seem to be that her book is aimed primarily at girls – though the anime doubtless drew a male readership to the book as well.

Andrew Osmond is the the author of 100 Animated Feature Films.

Sound! Euphonium, the book, is available from Yen Press.

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