This is a perfectly fine slice-of-life light novel that for better or worse will be compared to the anime, and fall short to it in some important areas.
Title: Sound! Euphonium (Hibike! Euphonium – Kitauji Koko Suisogakubu E Yokoso)
Genre: Slice of life
Publisher: Takarajimasha, Inc (JP), Yen Press (US)
Creator: Ayano Takeda
Translator: Paul Starr
Original Release Date: June 20th, 2017
A review copy was provided by Yen Press.
In this inspiration for Kyoto Animation’s beloved show, Kumiko is a high school freshman at Kitauji High School who’s chosen to go to a school with few of her former middle school classmates so that she can “reinvent” herself. But Kumiko isn’t quite sure what reinventing herself means here, she’s not even sure if she wants to join a new club or continue with the concert band like she did in middle school (although she’s certainly turned off by Kitauji’s horrid performance). Thanks to new friends and new teachers however, Kumiko and the rest of the concert band are in for their most demanding year ever.
Usually when I review a light novel I’ll mention which episodes of the anime it correlates to. Sound! Euphonium, however, is unusual in the fact that this slim book made up the basis for all 13 episodes of the first season of the anime. Reading this book it’s really hard to see how the anime created 13 episodes out of it but I don’t want that to be the focus of the discussion here. I will say however that I was rather struck at how different my interpretation of the main character, Kumiko the euphonium player, was between the anime and this volume.
In the anime Kumiko seems like a snarky teenaged girl who isn’t quite bored and isn’t quite philosophical but who seems to think a little more deeply than you would expect from a 15 year old. I truly saw the young woman she would become; Kumiko too often would let a blunt truth come out of her mouth but it was something her friends, especially trumpet player Reina, valued her for. It was easy to see how Kumiko would learn to become more careful with the wording all while continuing to observe the world raptly and she was a easy to sympathize with main character.
In this volume however Kumiko feels a little more shallow and typical. Her musings are less present and she seems even more pulled along by her friends than in the anime. In short, Kumiko (in this volume at least) feels even less sure of her place in the world and this quite honestly makes her less relatable.
In both versions of the story Kumiko is not the most talented member in the club (or even her brass section), the most dedicated, or even the most experienced member. But in the anime this didn’t conflict with her status as the main character as Kumiko’s past experience in concert band and her status as a freshman member of Kitauji’s band let her stand on both sides of the band’s many underlying tensions, seniority vs talent and drive to win vs urge to enjoy their time. But in this volume this makes her feel even more adrift since she never takes a major role in the conflicts nor do they seem to affect her as much.
Sound! Euphonium is a series so it would make sense to say “well this is only the beginning of the characters’ growth, there’s more coming!” Except that author Ayano Takeda has said that it was after seeing the finished anime that she began to write sequels.. When Kyoto Animation optioned this series it was a one-shot, there was no further promise of growth. So what seemed like foreshadowing with some of the side characters, like Kumiko’s section leader Asuka, was more like coincidence. And so I feel, rather bizarrely, that not only the adaptation surpassed the original but it also inspired the original to create more!
Taken solely on it’s own, this is a perfectly fine slice-of-life light novel about a girl living in contemporary Japan without the slightest trace of fantasy, a rarity in the American light novel market these days! But I cannot help but compare it to the brilliance of the anime and how it used its additional time to flesh out side characters even further. I’m more interested than ever now to read the other volumes in this series (and, if Yen Press would kindly license it, the spin-off about the Rikka High School marching band) to see how Takeda continued to take this work.