Posts Tagged ‘ Sound Euphonium ’

Sound Euphonium! Welcome to the Rikka High School Marching Band! Mid-Point Review

Cover Art for Part I (left) and Part II (right)

Sound Euphonium! Side-Story:
Welcome to the Rikka High School Marching Band!
By: Takeda Ayano

響け!ユーフォニアム シリーズ
立華高校マーチングバンドへようこそ
武田綾乃

(*note: This “review” is not exactly spoiler-free, but I masked some major spoilers, which you can read by highlighting the text.)

Rikka follows Suzuki Azusa as she navigates through her first year as a member of Rikka High School’s nationally acclaimed marching band. Despite rising quickly through the ranks of the trombone section, Azusa is not satisfied playing second fiddle to anyone, and will not rest until she has usurped her section’s ace, third-year Sezaki Mirai. However, being part of a band with such high expectations does not come without its challenges, and Azusa must not only hone her skills as a trombonist among the best, she must maintain balance in a web of interpersonal relationships stressed from all sides.

In relation to the broader Sound Euphonium! series, Rikka is concurrent with respect to the first three books (or four, if you include the first short story collection), which cover Omae Kumiko’s first year at Kitauji High. If you are familiar with the books, anime (see season 1, episode 5) or movies, you may remember Azusa as Kumiko’s friend from middle school—but, to be clear, Azusa was friends with everyone, and the main reason Kumiko sticks in Azusa’s mind at all is that (apart from Kumiko being such a lovable derp) Azusa feels guilty about letting Kumiko’s status deteriorate within their middle school band after Kumiko took the spot of an upperclassman. Apart from that, Kumiko is mentioned only in passing, as if to remind us that yes, this story does take place within the same universe as Kumiko’s struggles.

The stylistic format and general outline of Rikka is identical to that of the other Sound Euphonium! novels—it follows a progression of episodic scenes, in a close third person perspective—but this book is a very different beast, and it owes that difference primarily to the fact that Azusa is a very different protagonist, and Rikka is a very different school. Although Azusa is not exactly the polar opposite of Kumiko, she functions like an anti-Kumiko. Kumiko is not the sole narrator in the mainline series—we get glimpses into the minds of Mizore and Nozomi in the second year books, and in the short story collections, even minor characters like Niiyama Satomi (the woodwind instructor) get a chance to narrate—but what sets Azusa apart is that she’s not meant to be relatable (at least at first). You may think this sounds like a recipe for disaster—but it works for a variety of reasons: First, the characters surrounding Azusa are much more relatable, and serve to keep your bearings. Second, as exceptional as Azusa is, the environment she is in is just as exceptional. A more neutral, relatable Azusa would feel unnatural in the same environment. Third, and most important of all, Azusa functions like an inverted Kumiko, and this inversion allows a different perspective even as Rikka rehashes many of the themes already explored in the mainline series. To put it simply: Kumiko develops as a character by running around and trying to put out fires. In Rikka, Azusa harbors the biggest fire of them all, but remains oblivious to it, resulting in a grand dose of dramatic irony. In Rikka, other characters develop by trying to put out this fire. Essentially, everything is flipped on its head.

This inverted formula introduces and requires a sort of dissonance between the reader and the narrator. Like Kumiko, Azusa is very perceptive and laser-focuses on certain aspects of other characters, but unlike Kumiko, Azusa makes too many assumptions, and is very blind with respect to herself. However, given the very subjective narrative style, it takes some poking and prodding to clue us into a more objective view.

One way this is accomplished is through a sudden shift in view, usually introduced by another character without any change in narration. Takeda uses this technique to great effect with Nozomi in “Daytime Christmas Lights” (from the Year 2 short story collection), where Nozomi projects unto the unlit lights, seeing ugliness and suffering, only to have that view challenged by Natsuki, who sees underappreciated beauty. A similar scene happens in Rikka where Azusa’s thoughts of how unsettling a scene is all but interrupted by another character seeking affirmation of its beauty. Not all of these introduced dissonances are so stark—some are long takes of misunderstanding, where Azusa spends most of her time talking past someone, without grasping their side of the conversation—but what matters is that we come to understand that Azusa sees things differently compared to most people around her.

After we are made keenly aware, through these dissonances, of where Azusa’s perception is warped, we can piece together a more objective view and work backwards from that view to examine Azusa herself, in a way that Kumiko might, to see if we can solve her problems. Once we take that stance, in effect, we are siding with the other characters in the story who instinctively know something must be done about Azusa. This is how we end up with the Kumiko formula turned on its head.

Another way Rikka differs from the other Sound Euphonium! books is in the environment of its setting. Rikka’s marching band has a different starting point and a different set of priorities compared to Kitauji’s concert band. For example, SunFes, the first major performance for Kitauji and climax of the second chapter in the first book, is little more than a footnote in Rikka. Rikka only sets aside two weeks of intense practice for the first leg of the National Concert Band Competition, whereas Kitauji turns its attention to the competition immediately after SunFes. At Rikka, the instructors mostly leave the students to self-govern, only stepping in for intensive practice sessions and deciding auditions for the concert band competition. Students are responsible for the choreography of their marches, and decide who will participate in the marching competition. As for the Agata Festival, featured prominently in the main series? Azusa laughs it off. Nobody has time for that at Rikka.

As the start of a new arc, Rikka has to spend a lot of space introducing characters, and there are many. The marching band has 103 members, thirteen of them trombone players. There are nineteen names listed under major characters at the front of the book. I’m going to focus on only a few here.

Sasaki Azusa, the protagonist of this story, is inhuman in her propensity for work and incredibly conceited. Her pride is served by her spectacular musical ability, a product of hard work more than talent, but she feels threatened by the notion of prodigies—anyone who is as good or better than her despite having spent less time learning their instrument. Although a true extrovert who thrives on interpersonal interactions, Azusa wears a mask at all times and prefers substance-less talk she can easily parry over meaningful discussions fraught with chances for her to slip up. She views the number of friends you have as a measure of status, but also a liability, because it can be difficult to maintain a neutral relationship with every single one of them. Her pride leads her to see discord within her web of friends as a failing of her own social skills, and rarely gets close to anyone because of her defensive stance. But here’s the catch: Azusa also has an intense, overwhelming desire to be needed. Azusa’s bandmate Amica fulfils this role for Azusa, and somewhat ironically, Azusa becomes dangerously dependent on Amica’s dependence on her. Apart from this, Azusa lives alone with her mostly absent mother, and although she has a good relationship with her, the absence fuels a jealousy of others and shoehorns Azusa into her fierce independence. Furthermore, a past relationship with a girl at her middle school, yet to be made clear, unnerves her so much that a chance reunion nearly sends her into shock.

Nase Amica is a complex little marshmallow. Out of all 103 members of Rikka’s Marching Band, she is the only one (this year) to start learning an instrument after joining the band. She immediately latches on to Azusa, who is more than happy to take her under her wing. Their relationship appears lopsided, but, as mentioned before, the dependence is mutual. Azusa is fiercely protective of Amica and genuinely does seem to care about her more than she does any other human being (apart from herself). The problem is, however, that Azusa infantilizes Amica to the point of being downright insulting, and feels threatened by any sign of Amica gaining independence. Amica’s feelings toward Azusa are a bit more pure.

You see…

Amica was ostracized from the rest of her classmates at a relatively early age and found herself burdened with social anxiety as she struggled to break out of the corner she had been boxed into. She explicitly notes that she’s terrified of boys, but honestly, she’s probably just as terrified of other girls. What prompted Amica to change was her family’s move to Kyoto, where she had a chance at a fresh start. She decided that her best shot at a fulfilling school life was to mimic the behavior of the popular girls at her previous school—and part of this mimicry entailed joining the school band. Little did Amica know how big of a hurdle that would be. From Amica’s perspective, if Azusa was not there to help her, she would not have lasted a week. Her plan would have fallen apart and she would not have had the courage to try again. However, in part because the band is so demanding, Amica did not really get a chance to make friends outside of band, and to make matters worse, she faces hostility from other first years in her section. Therefore, Amica’s dependence on Azusa becomes so great that when Azusa has to turn her attention to Shiho to deal with a problem, Amica falls into what looks like an irrational panic, pleading for Azusa to not abandon her.

After that incident, Amica becomes more aware of both of her dependence on Azusa and how her over-dependence may negatively affect her, so she starts looking for other ways to support herself within the band, for both of their sakes. Eventually, when Azusa starts to go a little off the rails, Amica confesses that she’s in the process of reworking her personality, starting from mimicry but rediscovering herself in the process. She reiterates how important Azusa is to her, and how she wants to build some independence from her for both of their sakes, but to Azusa, each step towards independence feels like a betrayal. This comes to the head at the end of Part 1, with Amica taking a confident step forward, but Azusa only feels like she’s being stabbed in the back.

There are three other characters of note, whom will likely be more important in Part 2: Sezaki Mirai, Takagi Shiori and Hiiragi Serina.

Sezaki Mirai is the ace of Rikka’s trombone section, and Azusa’s goal to beat. Like Amica, Mirai only started playing the trombone after she joined Rikka’s band. Regardless of their age difference, the fact Azusa remains behind Mirai despite having had more time with her instrument bothers her. Apart from Mirai’s playing ability, she is also a competent leader: She notices early on that Azusa may have a problem and moves quickly to resolve discord among the first years (due to Togawa Shiho’s frustration with Amica and her own struggle to improve).

Takagi Shiori is Mirai’s former mentor, the second most proficient third-year trombonist, and second-in-command of the section. She has a inferiority complex with respect to Mirai due to how quickly Mirai surpassed her, and has a lot of difficulty connecting with Azusa, despite her best efforts —particularly after Azusa bests her in auditions for the concert band competition. Shiori is also tasked (among others) with developing choreography for marches, which takes up a lot of her time.

Hiiragi Serina is a girl from Azusa’s middle school, who apparently shook Azusa to her core by seeing right through her. Serina was never the part of any band, and is currently a student at Kitauji. You may recognize her name if you read “The Friend of a Friend is a Stranger” from the Year 2 short story collection. Like Kumiko, Serina chose Kitauji to distance herself from the people who went to her middle school. So far, we know very little about her, but no single person has bothered Azusa more. Additionally, as Serina is featured on the next cover (and can often be found among Azusa and Amica in fan art), I expect her role to become much more important in Part 2.

Finally, to address the last remaining, all-important question (for shippers anyway): how gay is everyone? Well, compared to our always-horny bi-hero Kumiko, Azusa’s gaze is fairly subdued. She herself claims to be uninterested in love, because she does not understand it. However, she does show a mild interest in a fellow male first-year’s appearance, and her eyes often move to her own set of beauty points when interacting with some of the girls—particularly Mirai. The main difference is, whereas Kumiko has a healthy obsession with thighs, Azusa often focuses on girls’ fingertips and nails—and in Mirai’s case how her ears peek out from under her hair. We do get some attention to calves, but mostly on their function—i.e. how muscular they are.

Amica on the other hand, is a different story. Despite what we learn later about her motivations, Amica is very close to Azusa and very comfortable with that closeness. She physically touches Azusa often, in a way she does with no one else. She reacts when her Azusa (on rare occasion) touches her back. She brings up the topic of love to Azusa while they are alone. Amica is clearly bothered by Serina and Azusa’s relationship and tries to ask about it. According to Amica’s parents (who are supportive), Azusa is all she ever talks about. Most importantly, Amica pays close attention to Azusa and tries to factor what’s best for her in her decisions. The Sound Euphonium! series doesn’t like to throw around concrete labels, but I’m not sure you’re going to find more evidence than what I’ve listed above. AmicaxAzusa forever.

As for the other characters, Shiori definitely gives off gay vibes. You could easily slap a “gay idiot” label on Saijou Kanon (one of the twins), and Mirai’s cool, somewhat-masculine demeanor seems to attract more than just Azusa. Mirai scoffs at the band’s straight members fawning over Taki (Kitauji’s “hot” instructor), and we get some sweaty hugs from her as well, but it’s hard to be definitive about most of the other characters. Shiho and Taiichi (the other two first-year trombone players) are both as straight as a board though.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to Part 2. The inversion of the regular formula keep things interesting, and it is easy to fall in love with Amica. Azusa’s pride can get aggravating at times, but there’s a good amount of comic relief to offset that, and she is most certainly an interesting character. I think, so far, I’d recommend at least reading the Year 2 books before starting Rikka, if only because you can better appreciate the differences after following Kumiko’s development, but Rikka does not depend on hardly any knowledge from the rest of the series, so it is possible to dive right in.

If you would like to take a look at my real-time impressions about the book, search my Twitter (@ZephyrRz) for the tag: “#eupho rikka”. Year 2 and Year 3 are tagged “#eupho y2” and “#eupho y3” respectively, and if you dig deep enough (to around 2015), you can find comments about the Year 1 books under just: “#eupho”.

A good unofficial character diagram of the Rikka characters (including many I have not mentioned) may be found [here] (in Japanese).

*Final Note: Rikka’s Marching Band is based on the real life Kyoto Tachibana SHS Marching Band (京都橘高校吹奏楽部) so, if you’re having trouble visualizing the kind of movements that earn them the nickname “The Blue Devils” in the books, looking up a few videos of the real band online should solve that.

Eupho Christmas Special // Daytime Christmas Lights

I originally planned to release a translation of this short story on Christmas Eve last year but it never happened. Better late than never though, right?

This short story is taken from the last book in the Year 2 arc of Sound Euphonium (a short story collection – [AZ-JP]), and is written from Nozomi’s perspective. She is running errands on Christmas Eve and runs into Natsuki. This story takes place after the main sequence of Year 2 events and is therefore after the events of Liz and the Bluebird and the most recent movie (but does not spoil its ending).

I wanted to translate this story because it offers a rare glimpse from Nozomi’s perspective (who often hides what she thinks) and also illustrates what I love about Natsuki.

Enjoy.

(This may be taken down by the end of the year so read it while you can!)

真昼のイルミネーション // Daytime Christmas Lights

The usual Christmas songs were playing, out onto streets lively and gay, when Nozomi walked into the bakery to pick up the cake her family had ordered: a white-frosted strawberry shortcake, dressed up neatly in a decorative box. Strawberries were a fruit her mother liked, the firmness of the shortcake fit her father’s tastes, and the not-so-sweet frosting was Nozomi’s favorite kind, so as long as she could remember, her family ordered the same cake every year from the same shop. It was, at this point, an integral component of the Kasaki family’s Christmas dinner, along with curry, rice and chicken.

It was only just past noon, but Kyoto’s 4th Avenue was overflowing with people. In no hurry on her way back to the station, Nozomi glanced at the packs of students, all dressed up for the holidays, shuffling this way and that. Nozomi liked the merry atmosphere of Christmas: the tall trees with their bright decorations, the staff with their Santa hats, the skip everyone seemed to have in their step—all of it served to lift some weight off her chest.

“Oh, hey—Nozomi!”

When Nozomi heard her name, she stopped and turned around. It was Natsuki. She was dressed casually, in a light grey coat and purple scarf with subdued hues, and was waving.

“Hey! Never would have thought I’d run into you here! What are you up to? Out shopping?”

“Well if buying a movie ticket counts as shopping, I guess so.”

“You went to see a movie? By yourself?”

“Yeah, by myself. So what are you here for?”

“I came to pick up a cake for the fam, for tonight—you know, it being Christmas Eve and all.”

“Tonight? You don’t celebrate on Christmas day? That’s the normal thing to do, isn’t it?”

“You open gifts from Santa on Christmas day, but everything else happens on the twenty-fourth, right?”

“That’s not the way my family does it at least. We don’t break out the Christmas cake until tomorrow.”

“Well, ‘to each their own,’ I guess. Everyone has their own way of doing things.”

“When you put it like that,” Natsuki said with a nod, “I guess there’s no real right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas.” As far as Nozomi could tell, she did not have strong feelings either way.

Natsuki glanced at her watch. “Do you have time to grab a bite to eat?”

“Yeah, I have time… Did you have something in mind?”

“Not really, but I’m sure we’ll find a good place if we just wander around a bit.”

Without waiting, Natsuki headed across the street and Nozomi followed, looking around and taking in the decorated sights.

The topiary in front of a nearby department store was cut into neat cubes and wound with electrical cords for all the Christmas lights. It was ugly. To Nozomi, the windings of unlit lights looked as if they were choking the life out of the greenery.

“Doesn’t it make you feel a bit strange, seeing the lights during the day?” Natsuki asked suddenly.

Nozomi froze. Was I being that obvious? Or am I just that easy to read? She glanced at Natsuki, but Natsuki was focused on the topiary Nozomi was just looking at.

“At night, they’re all bright and shiny and all, but during the day, all you can see is a tangle of cords. It’s like seeing the person on the inside of a mascot character costume.”

“You’ve seen inside one of those mascot character costumes before?” Nozomi quipped.

“Oh, you know what I mean! It’s a metaphor,” Natsuki laughed.

Nozomi gripped the handle of the bag holding the box with the cake in it tightly. “I really do like the lights though, when everything’s all lit up…”

“But doesn’t it upset you? You know, how the kind of people who wouldn’t even notice the lights during the day just turn around and are always like, ‘Wow! It’s so beautiful!’ the moment they’re turned on? Like, ‘What gives you the right, when you can’t even tell the worth of someone unless they’re burning bright?’ You don’t feel that way too?”

“Am I missing something? Because I think you’re reading way too much into this.”

“I can’t help what I feel okay? …and I really feel that way. You know, I…think the kind of person who can realize someone’s worth without having to see them shine, and can be like: ‘You don’t have to shine to be worth something. I see your worth, and I see you,’ those people—I just think they’re really amazing. Like, Yuuko’s really good at that, seeing people for who they are.”

“Natsuki…you really like Yuuko, don’t you?”

“What makes you say that?”

Anyone who heard what you just said would have the same reaction.”

If you asked either of them directly, both Natsuki and Yuuko would claim to hate the other’s guts. “She and I can never—and will never—get along,” they would say, but despite that, both of them clearly had a deep respect for the other. Nozomi, as well as many others, often wished they would put aside their differences, be a little more honest with themselves and just get along, but she recognized, even if she did not fully understand, that the way they always fought was more proof than counter-proof of the love they shared.

Nozomi subconsciously smiled when she thought about Yuuko fulfilling her role as the band’s club president. She was a model president, from the moment she took on the role to the moment she passed on the torch. She was kind, a little scary, and most of all, determined, in a straightforward way. It would feel weird for Nozomi to say she admired Yuuko; they were much too close for that. To admit she was jealous did not fit either; Nozomi was too soft to hold on to that sort of animosity.

It really is so much easier to speak ill of others than confront your own problems, Nozomi thought, reflecting on where her thoughts almost took her. When things don’t turn out the way we want them to, everyone wants a villain to have take the blame. That way, we can file away the outcome as unfortunate but settled. After all, the future is too long to bear to consider the faults that lay at our own feet; no one wants to admit they could have been better—but if there is one thing I never want to become, it’s someone who refuses to look at the ugliness inside her. No matter how hard that is.

“Oh, look, it’s that café Kanade’s been going on about. Let’s go here!” said Natsuki, as she stopped and looked inside one of the glass-paned storefronts.

The warm-looking interior, dotted with the glow of several wood-burning stoves, looked very appealing to Nozomi, who had begun to shiver from the cold wind blowing outside.

“Do they have dessert?” Nozomi asked.

“I’m sure they do… Look, see? It says they have galletes.”

“Oh, that sounds good… Now I’m hungry.”

Natsuki opened the door, and Nozomi followed behind her. As they walked into the café, they were first met by a pleasant gust of warm air. The table they were shown to had two sofas for seats, with decorative cushions that more-or-less cried for attention.

As they Natsuki and Nozomi wiped their hands with the steamy wet hand towels supplied at the table, they looked over the menu. The names of each dish were overly long, but each was paired with a picture, and Nozomi felt her stomach shift expectantly.

“I think I’ll have this one—the one with the walnuts and vanilla ice-cream.”

“That’s what you’re looking at? I’m really drawn to this one with the bacon and eggs, but I don’t know…”

“If that’s what you want, you should get it,” said Nozomi, offering a nudge.

“You know what? I think I think I will,” replied Natsuki, dropping the menu and waving for the wait staff.

The both ordered one item each. If Nozomi had her way, she would have liked to order some tea as well, but her allowance was running a little tight, so she passed on it.

“I’m glad I ran into you today,” said Nozomi, as they waited. “It’s great to be on winter break, but everyone’s so busy with entrance exams I can’t bring myself to ask anyone if they want to hang out.”

“Well you can always ask me. I’m always up for hanging out.”

“Really?”

“You bet. Now that we’re done with the band, honestly I’m bored to tears,” said Natsuki, with heavy yawn as if for emphasis. She did not bother covering her mouth. “I know it’s not like me to say stuff like this, but it feel like I’ve got this big hole in my heart, you know? When you’ve spent every day practicing as much as we have, hearing ‘You’re free!’ is more of a nuisance than a blessing.”

“Not to mention the fact that we’re both done with our entrance exams.”

“Yeah, that too. Definitely. I mean I have no idea what to do with this much time. I guess once we enter university our time will get gobbled up by part-time jobs and circle activities and whatever, so this is only temporary, but still…”

“Don’t forget to add studying to the mix.”

“Right, studying. I can’t even imagine what that’ll be like—studying at university. Honestly I’m still not convinced going to college is really the right thing for me. I’m only going because that’s how everything ended up. If it wasn’t for everyone else going, I doubt I would.”

Natsuki, who had slumped over to rest her chin in her palms after her yawn, slumped further, onto the table like a pudding collapsing without its container. By the time Natsuki’s chin hit the table, Nozomi could see the whorl on the back of her head without leaning forward.

“I think it’s rarer for someone to go to college with a set goal in mind. Isn’t the whole point of going to figure out what it is you want to do?”

“You really think four years is long enough to find that out?”

“I’m sure it’s long enough for some people, and for the others, they gain the insight that four years of college isn’t enough to find what they’re looking for.”

“That’s quite a spin you’re attempting.”

“But I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Well, I guess…” Natsuki yawned again, this time so hard tears welled up in her eyes. “What do you plan to do at university? Are you going to keep playing the flute?”

“That’s the plan—but there isn’t any concert band at our university, so I think I’ll end up joining an orchestral group.”

“I’m glad to hear that. The flute really suits you.”

Nozomi laughed. “What does that even mean?”

“Seriously.”

Natsuki looked as serious as she sounded, staring up from the table, so Nozomi pulled back the gut reaction she had to laugh it off. But Nozomi did not want to look fazed, so after hugging one of her legs with the other under the table, she moved to change the subject.

“What about you?”

“Me? I dunno, maybe I’ll join a band.”

“You mean like, a rock band sort of band?”

“Yeah, I think it would be fun.”

“You’re not going to continue playing the euphonium?”

“No plans as of yet. I’m kind of burnt out on it.”

“Ah… I hear you.”

Nozomi could not count the many times she had heard the phrase. Burnout was an all-too-common refrain, throughout both middle school and high school. It’s a lot of work, being part of a concert band club. You put your soul into it, sparing no effort to squeeze whatever you can out of yourself, and all for one single performance. As Nozomi reflected on the past few years, she found a lot of pain and suffering—but what lay beyond it all, at the culmination of her efforts, was an unbelievable experience—it was so fun. There’s just something about performing in front of other people. Preparing for it is like refining the tip of a beautiful blade, working improvement on improvement, reaching for perfection. Practice is boring, and has none of the flair of a performance, but the final result, that moment on stage when it feels like the heavens open up and your soul tingles from the excitement and joy, is more than worth it. To Nozomi, that moment was everything; she loved it more than she could bear—but she could still understand how chasing after it for so long could wear someone down.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t think it’s possible for me to have an experience like what I’ve had at Kitauji ever again, so I can’t really justify the effort anymore.” Natsuki, usually brimming with confidence and a do-or-die attitude, looked down at the table and spoke slowly, as if considering every word. “It felt so incredible, performing at the Kansai competition. I thought to myself, ‘This has got to be my peak in life.’ I’m dead serious.”

“It may be your peak for now, but only until you hit your next one. You’ve got no need to worry.”

“If you say so…” replied Natsuki with a smile masked over a sigh. The way she smiled was beautiful, but it was a beauty tinged with loneliness.

Nozomi began folding her hand towel into an awkward looking boat, but before she was done, the wait staff brought their orders, so she quickly shoved it out of sight.

“Well, don’t mind if I do~” said Natsuki, popping a piece of bacon from her gallete into her mouth.

Nozomi took her knife and fork and split hers straight down the middle, spilling the pastry’s caramel sauce onto the plate.

“This is really good,” said Natsuki, after taking a proper bite. “The only problem with stuff like this though, is that there’s never enough to fill you up.”

“But isn’t that a good thing? You get all these flavors, but you still have room for more.”

“I didn’t think of it that way… You’re a genius.”

With that silly of a response, it was hard for Nozomi to take Natsuki seriously, so she answered with an exaggerated shrug. Natsuki meanwhile busied herself with folding a part of her pastry over with her fork to keep the egg yolk from spilling out.

“About what you were saying earlier…” said Nozomi, grabbing Natsuki’s attention back from her plate, “it’s true we may never have an experience like what we had at Kitauji again, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have something different. Playing an instrument doesn’t have to be such a serious endeavor.”

Natsuki did not interject, but continued chewing on her food.

“You might think you’ve had enough now, and not play at all in college, but you might feel an itch to play after you graduate. Maybe that feeling won’t come until you’re old and have grandkids. It’s never too late to start again. Competitions offer us really clear goals to strive for, so it’s easy to get obsessed with them, but there’s nothing wrong with just playing because you want to. At least that’s what I think.”

“Were there people like that in the ensemble group you joined outside of school?”

“Yeah, tons! Some people who only picked their instruments back up after starting their careers, and there a few people in our group older than my grandmother—people who just want to play.”

“That’s really cool, taking the initiative like that to be true to yourself. Maybe I’m just overthinking things.”

Natsuki used the leftover pieces of her gallete to scoop up the rest of the sauce on her plate and gobbled up the last few bites of her order. Nozomi, meanwhile, had more than half of hers left on her plate.

After wiping her mouth with a napkin, Natsuki, with a satisfied look on her face, leaned back into her seat. As Nozomi watched her long bangs brush against her cheek, she thought about how much longer Natsuki’s hair was since the time they first met. It looked even longer than usual because it was not tied up that day, perhaps because of how cold it was.

I wonder what kind of face she would make at me if I told her I liked it shorter.

Nozomi’s clumsily made towel ship began to collapse, sinking in the puddle of condensation pooled around her glass.

“I mentioned I went to see a movie, right?” said Natsuki, breaking the silence.

“That you did. What did you go see?”

“The one everyone’s talking about nowadays, you know, the one based on the suspense novel. I went to see it because a band I like did the main theme song.”

“Was it any good?”

“It was. The movie incorporated aspects of the novel pretty well and overall, had a decent script and cast.”

“Great.”

“Well, yeah. I guess so.”

As much as Natsuki seemed to be praising the movie on a surface level, that clearly wasn’t all there was to the story. Nozomi bit down on a walnut with her back teeth and decided to press her on it.

“Was there something that bothered you about it?”

“I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that, but…when I heard the main theme song play during the movie, it was just so catchy, like a pop song. It just felt so different from any of the music the band used to play… I guess this is what happens to everyone when their music starts selling, but I didn’t want to accept that it would happen to this band.”

“So what you’re saying is, now that this band you like has made it big, you feel left behind. A lot of early fans feel that way, don’t they? At least that’s what I hear.”

“I’m not denying that’s part of it, but there’s much more to it than that. Remember how I was talking about the Christmas lights? That’s closer to what’s bothering me.”

“What do Christmas lights have to do with anything?”

Natsuki did a rare thing and took her time to think about how to answer, furrowing her brow.

She must really have strong feelings about this band… Nozomi could only guess what kind of music they played, but most of what Natsuki listened to had lyrics that were a bit too intense for her tastes.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’ve always felt this band was fine just the way it was. Even if they weren’t shining, so to speak, there wasn’t any need for them to. When I was looking at those unlit Christmas lights, I thought, you know, ‘This is beautiful.’ But it’s not like those lights aren’t going to come on; they will, and they’re all the more beautiful for it, so people from all around will come to look at them. But what happens then? Someone will say, ‘We’ve got to make them brighter, so more people will come!’”

“Well, I suppose so.”

“It’s not a problem so long as they understand what was great about the lights in the first place. The kind of people who say, ‘If we do this and this, it’ll really bring out the best in them,’ they’re not the problem. Even if there’s a big change in direction, I can understand when it’s done in service to the original. I can respect that. But the more people gather, eventually you’ll have people who don’t have any idea what they’re talking about speak up. ‘There’s still not enough light. We need to add these other, different lights,’ they’ll say, or, ‘I know the instructions say we can’t have these run all night, but I’m sure it’ll be fine!’ Then what happens? When the circuits overload and the lights all break, it’s always those idiots who are scratching their heads, saying, ‘I wonder why that happened?’ Gee, I wonder why.”

“You’re kind of scaring me here. This is just a metaphor, right? Are you really that upset?”

“I’m not upset, I’m just…worried. I don’t want this thing I love destroyed by someone who doesn’t know the value of it.”

Natsuki became quiet before she continued. “But that’s not the worst of it. What I’m really worried about is becoming one of those insensitive idiots, an adult who doesn’t even realize they’re trampling all over someone else’s love. I can’t see myself as a college student, let alone a working adult, so as I sat there watching that movie and listening to the main theme song, I felt this wave of anxiety swallow me up. You know how they say a lot of people panic right before they’re about to get married? I guess this is just the college version of that.”

Natsuki tried to laugh it all off with a joke at the end, but she wasn’t doing a very good job. Her smile was strained.

Nozomi picked up the last piece of her gallete with her fork and popped it into her mouth. The last bit of the melted ice cream was so sweet it made her teeth hurt.

“I’m anxious too—about college and about starting a new way of life. It’s equal parts excitement and worry.”

“So you’re saying it’s normal to feel this way?”

“Yeah. I’m sure everyone has to deal with a little anxiety. But it’s going to be alright. Even if you end up thinking you’ve made the wrong choice, all you have to do is turn back and start over.”

“Is that you speaking from experience?”

“I…guess you could say that.” Nozomi said, reaching for her glass and downing it in a single gulp. The cold of it gave her a brain-freeze and she visibly flinched.

Natsuki broke out laughing, and when Nozomi saw that this time her smile was genuine, she smiled back.

“Natsuki, you’re not going to turn into one of those adults you hate.”

“Where’s your proof?”

“Okay, so I don’t have any proof, but…” …that’s how I hope things will turn out. As Nozomi admitted, she had little to back up her claim, but, even a baseless confidence is worth something if it can help lift someone up, she thought, and decided to assert herself a little more.

“…I know how good of a person you are, Natsuki, so I’m sure everything will turn out fine.”

Nozomi had spent so long running around in her thoughts that by the time she blurt out the rest of her sentence, it was not quite what she had in mind. Now I sound like an irresponsibly positive idiot.

“What?” Natsuki said, as she responded with a “What am I going to do with you?” sort of laugh.

See? Nozomi thought at first, but in the lightheartedness of Natsuki’s voice she felt a non-verbal thank you.

disjoint

The following passages are excerpts from: Sound! Euphonium: The Kitauji High School Concert Band’s Turbulent Second Movement (響け!ユーフォニアム:北宇治高校吹奏楽部、波乱の第二楽章)

These excerpts contain content covered by the Liz and the Bluebird (which is an adaptation of parts of this novel), and so can be said to contain spoilers for it. You have been warned.

The excerpts chosen for this post are two prologues, printed at the beginning of each half of the novel, which describe Mizore and Nozomi’s starting points as they face each other in their final year in the band.

Please watch Liz and the Bluebird and read the Sound! Euphonium novels if you can.

Prologue (Mizore):

Her black hair swayed back and forth as she walked, her upper arms, perhaps because of the lighting, tinged a soft red under her short sleeves. From behind, Mizore followed more closely with her eyes than her feet, watching the tips of hair hanging from her high ponytail bounce up and down. Her hair was much longer than it was in their middle school days. When she reached the stairs, she hopped up two steps at a time, her toned legs peeking out from under her dark blue skirt.

“Nozomi, wait.”

Mizore’s voice was like a whispered breath, a sigh she let slip, barely vibrating her vocal cords. This early in the morning, the school building was filled not with students but with silence. Mizore took a deep breath. The air felt dusty. Above her, Nozomi’s clamorous footsteps easily drowned out Mizore’s soft whisper of a voice. Why should I expect a voice like mine to reach her?

“Mizore? You still down there?”

Nozomi’s voice echoed across the narrow hallway and down the stairs. She must have gotten to the music room first. Mizore could no longer hear her footsteps. Mizore gripped the handrail and toMizore ok each step one at a time. As she felt the cracks in the old wooden handrail, Mizore peered upward between the flights of stairs to the floor above, but there was no sign of Nozomi — at least not from where Mizore was standing. With no more reason to keep her head up, Mizore’s gaze naturally swung downward. She had just replaced her inside shoes for her third year of high school, and they were still bright white, without a smudge. They look like a first year’s shoes, Mizore thought.

“Hurry up! Hurry up!”

As soon as Mizore made it to the top of the stairs, Nozomi called to her, waving her hand back and forth vigorously. The light coming in through the windows lit Nozomi’s outline with a soft glow, and the large white ribbon at her chest swayed back and forth with her body.

She waited for me.

To hide the smile that started to spread across her face, Mizore pulled her lips back tightly into a horizontal line. Nozomi broke into a bright and carefree smile.

“I’m so looking forward to practice, I must have walked faster than I usually do. I just really want to play!” said Nozomi, pointing to the lock on the door to the music room.

As soon as Mizore understood what Nozomi meant by her motioning, she froze up. She only waited because she had no choice. I should know better, she thought, ashamed of her giddy excitement just moments before.

“Unlock the door. Let’s get some early practice in together.”

“Yeah,” Mizore muttered quietly after a pause.

Mizore took out the key she brought with her from the staff room, a neatly written label dangled from it with the words, “Music Room”. Unlocking the music room every morning was Mizore’s job. It was an unwritten rule of the concert band — since when? Mizore wondered. Nozomi stood beside her with eyes full of anticipation. Mizore slid the key into the keyhole and shifted her gaze towards Nozomi.

“Nozomi, um…”

“Hmm?”

“Nozomi, do you…”

Mizore and Nozomi’s eyes met. Suddenly, Mizore felt as if she were suffocating. She pulled at her uniform, tightly at her chest, before silently shaking her head.

“Never mind. It’s nothing,” she said.

The door clicked as Mizore unlocked it. Nozomi hummed an audible response, but said nothing. She was smiling, but Mizore couldn’t help but think her smile was contrived.

“I am so ready to practice this morning!”

“You really like practicing, don’t you?” Mizore said, a moment later.

“What are you talking about? You’re more into it than I am,” Nozomi replied.

Nozomi threw open the door to the music room. The room was arranged for the whole band could practice together. There were far fewer chairs than last year. Without the slightest hesitation, flute case dangling in one hand, Nozomi waltzed straight over to a seat at the end of the first row and sat down. During a live performance, that seat would be the closest to the audience. It was a seat reserved for only the best of players to sit. Nozomi flipped through the pages of her music binder.

—Liz and the Bluebird.

Through the clear vinyl of the sheet protector, Mizore read the title of the page Nozomi had turned to, the title of this year’s choice piece for the national competition. The piece was based on a fairy tale and composed for a concert band. Mizore swept her hands under her thighs to smooth out the pleats of her skirt as she sat down.

“This piece is kind of like us, don’t you think?” said Nozomi, holding up her binder in one hand and grinning a toothy smile.

What is that supposed to mean? Mizore thought. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? While those questions swirled around in Mizore’s head, she said nothing.

“I guess,” Mizore said finally, her response far more cold and indifferent than she had intended. But Nozomi showed no sign of taking her her answer in a negative way.

“Yep. I thought you’d feel the same,” Nozomi nodded with a smile, before turning to look at the room’s dark green blackboard.

Mizore followed with her eyes to the countdown written in a corner of the blackboard, marking the days until the competition. The white rounded numbers sentenced, without room for any doubt, a certain end to the dream-like days she had left.

“I can’t wait to perform this piece! I wish the competition would come sooner.”

Mizore gave a slight nod in response, willfully ignoring the voice in her heart exclaiming what she truly felt. If only that day would never come.

 

Prologue (Nozomi):

Nozomi looked at herself in the mirror. She ran her fingers through her hair, pulling together loose strands into a bundle she held with her left hand. With her free hand, she took the red hair band she had held in her mouth and fixed it tightly around the bundle to make a ponytail. When she let go, her usual self looked back at her. Staring coldly at her reflection, Nozomi pulled the edges of her mouth into a smile, her white, freshly brushed teeth peeking through her lips. It looks like you’re having fun, she thought. It was a clear and fine morning.

“Good Morning!”

“Morning,” replied Mizore, after a pause.

It was the first day of summer vacation. While Nozomi marched onward to the music room in high spirits, Mizore wore her usual expressionless face. Nozomi traced the outline of that face, glancing over her pale skin, pale lips and emotionless eyes. Mizore’s eyes reminded Nozomi of the depths at the bottom of the sea. Whenever those eyes, brimming with stillness, were directed towards her, Nozomi felt her heart shudder. It was an unpleasant feeling, as if someone was rubbing a toothbrush raw against her bare instincts, and it ran from her chest all along the rest of her body, until she could not help but break into a self-deprecating smile. By then, Mizore would have already looked away.

“Are you going to take any practice exams over the break?” asked Nozomi.

“Only one,” Mizore replied.

“Really? So you didn’t sign up to take any others? Taking at least three is almost an unwritten rule at a school like ours, but I guess that doesn’t really matter. Natsuki and Yuuko will be taking theirs over the break too.”

“I didn’t know.”

Mizore turned the key in the lock and it answered with a resounding click. Nozomi took hold of the door handle and, like always, was the first to enter the music room. Nozomi went straight over to a seat at the end of the first row — her seat. When she set her bag down she felt a wave or relief wash over her. Here she had a place where she belonged.

Nozomi took her flute out of the case she carried with her, and glanced at Mizore. Mizore had laid her instrument case across her lap and was flipping through her music binder. The clear vinyl of her sheet music protectors stuck to her fingertips as she turned the pages.

“You’ve got another solo part this year, huh,” said Nozomi.

Nozomi scanned the measures of the competition choice piece, “Liz and the Bluebird,” with her eyes. In the third movement, there was a duet consisting of flute and oboe solo parts. As the melodies of each instrument crossed one another, they expressed the thoughts and feelings of the titular characters. The oboe part brimmed with an expression of clear determination, taken so far as to be painful, and this expression was complemented by the whisperings of the flute, following in its wake. The first time Nozomi played this piece she was certain no one else but her could play it. The only one in this school who can support Mizore’s solo is me, she thought.

“Nozomi…” Mizore paused, collecting her words. “Do you like this solo?”

“Absolutely. I love it.”

Why wouldn’t I? It’s a flute solo! cried a voice inside Nozomi she would not dare let out. Someone like you, who plays a solo every year, could never understand how I feel.

“I mean, I think it’s really great we get to play a solo together,” Nozomi continued.

Nozomi held a page between her pointer and middle finger and waved it about with no particular aim in mind. Light from the window reflected off the page’s clear protective sleeve and created a bright white spot, which flittered across the page, sometimes obscuring parts of the music. It was irritating, so Nozomi stood up, walked to the window and yanked on the curtain. A shadow swept across the room and dropped the lit room into semi-darkness.

“Me too,” Mizore said after a long pause. She was looking down and her eyelids quivered.

Nozomi returned to her seat, leaned into the back of her chair and made a bright smile.

“You know how we’re kind of like Liz and the bluebird in the fairy tale? When I first heard the duet of the flute and oboe, I was sure we were the ones most suited to play the part.”

Last year, Mizore didn’t quit the band. Even though I left, she stayed behind. Nozomi really wasn’t sure how Mizore felt about her. But since she always comes to practice with me in the morning, Nozomi thought, she probably doesn’t hate me, at least.

If I were the bluebird, Nozomi thought, I would visit Liz again. Even if it were impossible for us to go back to the way things were before, there should be nothing wrong with coming back to visit every once in a while. There is no reason a tragedy must end forever tragically. At least that’s what I believe.

In response to Nozomi’s smile, Mizore’s eyes moved ever so slightly. Something, like the hint of a smile, crossed her face before she turned back to her music binder, flipping the pages, one after another. Nozomi then took up her flute and blew across its mouthpiece, obliterating the dry sound of flipped pages with a high pitched shrill that could have been mistaken for a scream.

girls, dance, staircase // Liz to Aoi Tori End Roll Theme

transcribed by ear
(transcription fixed 2018/12/08)

I just finished reading the book the movie リズと青い鳥/Liz und ein blauer Vogel/Liz and the Bluebird is based on, so this was inevitable.

girls, dance, staircase
歌:小野豊
作編曲:牛尾憲輔
歌詞:山田尚子

ことり響いた靴の音をそっと閉じ込めた
柔らかい光ふわり やがて踊りだす少女

kotori hibiita kutsu no oto wo sotto tojikometa
yawarakai hikari fuwari yagate odoridasu shoujo

faint footsteps sound quietly contained
in soft light hovering, their dance begins

君の声響かせて どうか包ませて
爪先でくるり舞う 刻まれる記憶

kimi no koe hibikasete douka tsutsumasete
tsumasaki de kururi mau kizamareru kioku

let your voice ring, let it envelope me
on tip-toes turning, memories crystallize

今私の身体に その鼓動を映して
このまま この場所で 愛の音を鳴らしていよう

ima watashi no karada ni sono kodou wo utsushite
kono mama kono basho de ai no ne wo narashiteiyou

let your heartbeat be conveyed to mine now
so that here, we may let sound our notes of love