You might not know it from the title but this is a Sound! Euphonium film. When I ordered my copy there was no shortage of whingers in the review section complaining about that and saying that you needed to have seen the series in order to understand the characters. Ignore all that nonsense because it’s simply not true. This film stands alone and requires no previous knowledge of the series that inspired it.
The main characters are a very shy, quiet girl called Mizore and her best and only friend Nozomi. They do feature in Sound! Euphonium and actually have a very significant storyline, but only for a couple of episodes. Other than that they are little more than background characters, so if you are familiar with Sound! Euphonium it’s fun to see roles reversed here, with the main characters in that series relegated to supporting roles with only a few lines. That’s a bonus though, not a necessity.
The story revolves around how Nozomi is Mizore’s only friend and she absolutely adores her and is in awe of her. The problem is that Nozomi is a popular girl with loads of friends, so while she might be Mizore’s one special friend, that only goes one way. Nozomi is often busy with other friends. However, the time they spend together is very special for both of them, particularly at the beginning of the day where they start their music practice before anyone else has arrived.
It might seem like a simple story of one friend liking the other more than is reciprocated, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Nozomi might appear to be a little cold towards Mizore at times, but there is a reason for that beyond the obvious. Running throughout the film we get a story within a story which is absolutely enchanting. Mizore and Nozomi are practising a piece of music that tells a story of a lonely girl called Liz who was visited by a beautiful blue bird that turned into a little girl and became her friend. Eventually the blue bird girl had to leave, and Liz had to make the decision to let her go and set her free to live her life and fly, doing what’s best for her friend rather than desperately trying to keep her in her life. The point of this of course is to draw a comparison between Liz and the blue bird girl’s relationship and Mizore and Nozomi’s relationship. The comparison is not straightforward though, and the moment you realise that you’ve been looking at things in the most obvious way, but entirely back to front, the film really comes to life. It’s immensely clever.
This is a quiet, slice of life film, so don’t come into this looking for massive dramas. Time is taken to build up the characters into real people, and there is a strong focus on detail. For example, Mizore always walks behind Nozomi rather than beside her, representing the deference of one and the confidence of the other, and we often get Mizore’s viewpoint on the world, observing her friend’s back with her jaunty, swinging ponytail. Sadly, that image would probably represent her abiding memory of their friendship when she reaches adulthood, but it is a good way to illustrate the differences between them.
There has been a fair bit of debate about whether this is a film about lesbian attraction or not, with plenty of reviewers interpreting it as a strong friendship that is not entirely reciprocated. That’s nonsense. Unless you are blind to subtext, it is abundantly clear that Mizore is in love with Nozomi, and her love confession goes far beyond friendship. She is obsessed with Nozomi to the point that she ignores the fact that there are other girls who are keen to make friends with her. Mizore’s loneliness is entirely self-inflicted, due to her intense love for just one girl, to the exclusion of everything else in her life. By the end of the film, she is starting to warm towards another potential friend (who is very keen on Mizore, perhaps in an ironic echo of the Mizore/Nozomi vibe), and has learnt not to define her whole life by another person. That’s important, due to a very special talent she possesses. So yes, this is definitely a film that explores the first awakenings of lesbian love, but it’s probably confusing to some viewers because it isn’t lurid about that.
I had a couple of gripes with this film, one superficial and one a little more significant. Firstly, if you’ve watched Sound! Euphonium you will probably find that the style of animation looks oddly cheap in comparison. I realise this is a creative decision but the character designs are a lot more flat and two-dimensional. Sound! Euphonium has some beautiful shading for the character designs, particularly the blushing on the cheeks that really give them a three-dimensional look, but the art style here is much simpler. This has the odd effect of making the film look cheaper than the television series, which is the reverse of what you would expect. The Liz sequences are utterly beautiful though. I just don’t see why the school scenes needed to have an adapted art style to better fit with these sequences. Surely keeping the series character designs for an even more striking contrast with Liz and the blue bird would have been better?
Secondly, this felt more like an anime series than a film, and not just because of the art style. Mizore and Nozomi’s story develops strongly but feels frustratingly incomplete by the end of the film. I suppose that’s because it fits in as a part of an ongoing series and the journey these characters are taking within the franchise has probably not been completed yet, but despite the film being very effective as a stand-alone it does feel a bit like, say, half a dozen episodes of an anime series strung together to make a movie, with the next half a dozen not yet made. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s just one of those films that feels like it ends in a semi-colon rather than a full stop.
I’m sure we all know how frustrating that can be;