On my second try and after 7 episodes I finally started to enjoy this work. I made it through season one and am starting season two.
The first time around I got bored and dropped it after 4 episodes. All I saw was CGDCT in a slice of life. And the trope of underdog high school band wants to conquer the world. Occasional dribs and drabs of shoujo-ai attempted to keep one interested.
But everybody loves it. MAL gives season one an 8.01 which is pretty damn good. And the second season did spin off the side story of Liz and the Blue Bird, which is a beautiful movie of subtlety and honesty. And a fantasy on three different levels at that. So I tackled it again and soldiered on. And you know what?
It was still not exciting. Nothing caught my interest. I need more than cute girls being friends and playing instruments. I’m sure that if you are a cute girl and you’re in a band, it is a very interesting environment. I’m neither one.
Finally episode 8 broke the pattern. Finally some character development. A possible yuri theme emerged as opposed to something instantly dismissable as the dreaded “Class S.” Following that, we finally have some drama in the band. Real conflicts to overcome. A mystery floating around about what happened to the band in the previous year. The last 5 episodes had me hooked and instead of I’ll watch the next one when I feel like it, I binged them.
There will be minor spoliers ahead!
But first, a diversion…
Let me compare this to my own high school band experience.
I started out band life as a trombone player in 5th grade in the Gladwin, MI school system. I wasn’t very good but I got by. Everyone had to buy their own instruments. A salesman visited each home and suggested the best instrument for each person based on physical size and how their lips were formed. He’d been told by the director how many of each instrument was needed and that played into what he offered each student.
We’d do three concerts a year. From day one, it was a marching band even though we didn’t actually march until 9th grade. Not a single string to be seen. Band was a daily class, one hour a day. You got graded but it didn’t count towards GPA. It filled a fine arts mandate by the state.
We’d pile into the bus, 4 days a week, for a short trip to the high school where the band room was. There were no sectionals nor any student leaders. Our instruments went home with us every night.
I struggled along until 9th grade when I moved to sousaphone. A few months after that two more guys joined me. Sousaphone, bass drum, tympani, and other large or specialized instruments belonged to the school. They knew there wasn’t a chance in hell anyone in our community could afford to put out the $$$$ for that sort of thing.
Fall was football season and mostly we marched and made formations. (At least the music was the least demanding of the year.) I hated field practice. We didn’t have a fiberglass sousaphone and every day left my shoulder in pain.
I stuck with sousaphone only because the parts were easier. While pressing three valves with coordination occasionally presented a problem, the bass part was usually simple when compared to any other instrument.
I probably had the worst eye-hand coordination of anyone I knew. One of the curses of Asperger’s. I also missed out on a whole lot of music theory that might have been really useful.
Winter and spring we shifted to concert band. There was a Christmas concert and competitions in the spring and then graduation. Concert music was sometimes a bit more difficult but I could usually get by. I took a shot at playing baritone and fell flat on my face. There was also a small “pep band” that performed for basketball games that I was in. (If it weren’t because it could support football and basketball, I doubt if we would have had a band.)
The band would compete as a whole and would get a rating from one to four. One got you a blue ribbon and you got to move on to the state finals. We always managed a two for a lesser ribbon. Then there was solo and ensemble competition. I went one time and did a sousaphone/piano duet and got a two.
Tuba with 4 rotary valves, left. Fiberglass sousaphone, right.
In tenth grade we moved from a small rural school to a larger town, Midland, with really good schools. They had fiberglass sousaphones for marching and 4-valve tubas for concerts. There was an entirely separate orchestra with strings I couldn’t get in to. I tried doing just band but even there the level of performance was much too high for me to achieve. I quit at the end of the year. I felt like a complete failure.
I have a good voice. I moved on to chorale and was very happy. This eventually led to performing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas over the summer break. Still never picked up on musical theory and I’m terrible at sight-reading.
Just in case you didn’t hear about it, Midland is currently underwater, as is the plot where I once lived. Ten thousand people evacuated. Edenville Dam broke because of 8 inches of rain. South of that was Sanford Lake Dam which couldn’t handle the sudden flood and failed. South of that is the small city of Midland, world HQ to Dow Chemical Corporation. What joins them all together is the Tittabawassee River, aka The Big Tit. It’s currently 33 feet over flood-stage.
Both my high school and my college took some serious damage. The Center for the Arts where I performed, the library where I hung out, the magnificent Dow Gardens, the recently added minor league stadium, downtown, they’re all a mess. Fortunately it took long enough for all this to happen everyone had plenty of time to evacuate.
Our story is set in the Kitauji High School Music Club which is located in Uji, Kyoto.
Kumiko is our protagonist. I guess you’d just call her ordinary and unassuming. She presents a bland and unassertive front to everyone. Her instrument was euphonium in middle school. She’s good at it, having been at it for several years but upon entering high school she feels the need for a change. In her last year of middle school she was quite happy her school won a gold medal even if it didn’t let them advance to nationals.
Sadly, the writers decided to curse her with the trope of worrying about her breast size.
Kumiko isn’t completely inoffensive. Sometimes she blurts out what is really on her mind instead of a platitude. Other times she will be thinking something uncomplimentary and unknowingly speaking her thoughts aloud. She may not realize it herself but there is
more to her than just her facade and that is why Reina likes her.
Reina is from the same middle school as Kumiko. While Kumiko was happy with what they got Reina was devastated, wanting desperately to go to Nationals. This difference in point of view was expressed awkwardly and led Kumiko to be afraid to restart their relationship in high school. She plays the trumpet and is extremely good, one of the best in any school even though she’s a first-year. She is driven to be SPECIAL, in bold letters and caps. Not just one of those people who think they are special but really aren’t.
Reina and Kumiko’s relationship verges on being yuri… but not quite. Reina is in love with the band advisor. In a future movie, Kumiko will end up dating Shuuichi who we’ll discuss later. They stay safely shoujo-ai but episode 8 almost slips into the yuri-zone.
Sapphire (who prefers to be called Midori) and Hazuki play contrabass and tuba respectively. Their main roles are to play sidekick and support for Kumiko. Hazuki does get a little bit of character development starting about the middle of the season. Another trope pops up here with these two smaller girls getting the largest instruments.
Asuka Tanaka, Shuuichi Tsukamoto, Noboru Taki.
Asuka is the section leader of the bass section. She is bold and brash, tall and buxom and beautiful. She coaxed and cajoled Kumiko into staying with euphonium to keep her in the bass section. She is band vice president but always insists she has no authority to do anything and passes the buck to the president, Haruka Ogasawara. Haruka, in turn, feels insecure and inadequate standing in Asuka’s shadow.
There are so few male students in this show that Shuuichi almost feels like a token. He plays the trombone. Hazuki has an interest in him but he has none in her. Instead, he has a thing for Kumiko. Kumiko is not interested in him at all this early on.
Noboru Taki is the band advisor. He has a very important role in this anime. At the beginning, he asks the class if they want to compete seriously or to just play music and have a good experience. They vote to compete. When he first hears them play he sends them back to doing sectionals, telling them to contact him when they are ready for ensemble work.
This does not go well as many students don’t take the idea of competing seriously. Eventually everyone settles down to make a concerted effort. This doesn’t prevent there from being other roadblocks along the way.
Taki also has the role of being Reina’s unrequited love interest. It doesn’t occur to her that she ought not to be fixating on a teacher, probably 40% older than she is. Nor does it occur to Kumiko to suggest this.
I am concluding that any yuri between Kumiko and Reina is really more of a shoujo-ai thing. I can see the complaints that it is yuri baiting. Still, it is a very sweet and close relationship and feels genuine. We’ll have to move on to the second season where Mizore and Nozomi will start to play important roles. It’s that relationship that inspired Liz and the Blue Bird which had very strong yuri vibes about it.
The band In this anime was a club run by students with an advisor who stepped in to give direction when they were ready. Strikes me as being a loose way to do things. But as they were a club and not a class and given Japan’s stiff hierarchical structure even between students, it could work.
Auditions in this story determined whether you got to be in the competition band that was limited to 55 students. They played a major role in the second half of the first season. The losers were shunted to the side in a secondary group and good luck next year. The most notable showdown was between Reina and the trumpet section lead, Kaori Nakaseko, over who got to play the solo in the upcoming competition.
I may have missed something but there must have been some history behind the band being 90% female. If I have to read a manga/novel to find out, that’s a flaw in the series. BTW, this story has generated off innumerable novels, a number of special episodes, and a movie about Kumiko’s second year (“Oath’s Finale” or “Chikai no Finale“) in addition to L&tBB. Yet another anime project is in the works to cover Kumiko’s third year.
Ah well. On to season 2!