The clumsily titled Sound! Euphonium – The Movie – Our Promise: A Brand New Day picks up where we left off at the end of the second season, with Kumiko and her friends starting their second year of high school. If you’ve seen Liz and the Blue Bird, that side story runs concurrent with much of this film. The main characters in this one were background characters in Liz, and vice versa. We therefore culminate in the same performance at the same competition, but get there by a different route, and it’s fascinating to hear that again but with the emotional focus elsewhere.
It’s a stunning climax to the film, and a fabulous piece of music, with the players’ performance beautifully animated, but before we get to that we have the band’s journey through the year, to get to that point in their lives. Now, there’s a big problem with this, in my opinion. Kumiko’s first year was shown over the course of two television seasons. Her second year is packed into one movie, and it just doesn’t fit. There’s far too much story here.
You might think a packed story is a good thing, but what happens is that all the new first years have to be introduced, and they of course come with their various issues that have to be addressed, and challenges they must face. At the same time, the story of Kumiko and her friends has to be moved on by a whole year. Ultimately, the film fails to do justice to any of that, because it’s trying to do so much. Kumiko has a romantic storyline, which is dispensed with in as straightforward a manner as possible, when she decides she doesn’t want to be distracted from her work. I much preferred the hints of yuri romance between Kumiko and Reina in the first season, so this aspect really didn’t interest me much and seemed somewhat prosaic.
If you aren’t completely familiar with the pre-existing characters in Sound: Euphonium, you’re really going to struggle here, but luckily the focus is generally on the new first years. There are basically four important ones. Kanade is the new euphonium player, who is actually the best of the new bunch as there is a lot of depth to her character. Satsuki Suzuki is short, lively and otherwise an uninteresting stereotype of the bubbly, friendly one, but her namesake Mirei Suzuki is much more interesting. Cursed with being incredibly tall (the animators have fun with that – at one point her head is out of shot and then the camera has to pan up!) she feels like she doesn’t fit in, in more ways than one. Worst of the new bunch is Motomu Tsukinaga, who won’t let anyone use his surname for reasons that escaped me, and is just a rude grump most of the time. I got the impression that his story should have been an important one (and probably is in the books), but the film simply doesn’t have the luxury of exploring all these characters properly, so he just provides some moments of tension which the film doesn’t really need, as there’s plenty of other stuff going on.
To a certain extent we’re retreading old ground, with some of the new kids inevitably proving to be more talented than their elders. The clever bit is that this is tackled in a completely different way. Instead of the older kids being resentful, they shrug it off as the way things go. They have clearly learnt from past experiences. So the ones who really have an issue with some of the younger ones being more talented are actually the younger ones themselves, and one of them even tries to do badly at an audition so her senpai will get selected instead of her. It’s a fascinating insight into the importance of that age-based hierarchy in the Japanese school system.
Despite nearly two hours run time, this does feel like the storyline is rushed, but the nature of the story is a journey through a year in the life of a group of students, and that’s hard to do in a couple of hours, in comparison with the 27 episodes over which Kumiko and her friends’ first year was told. But I can’t complain too much because this was made by Kyoto Animation, who once again take a relatively humdrum topic and turn it into something stunningly beautiful. The animation is just mesmerising. And we do still have the third season of the anime to look forward to, which will focus on Kumiko’s third year. It has been understandably delayed due to the arson attack on Kyoto Animation’s main studio in 2019, but work continues on various animation projects in their second building. Covid of course delayed the work of Kyoto Animation once more, but fans of their work are ready and waiting to support the future projects of this great studio. The Sound! Euphonium franchise has been one of the highlights of their recent work, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next with it. For now, let’s just be grateful that we have gorgeous animations like this film to enjoy. RP