The long-awaited anime series, Sound! Euphonium 2 started broadcast in October 5, 2016. A special discussion about the anime was held by the director Tatsuya Ishihara, the music composer Akito Matsuda, and the renowned professional euphonium player Shouichiro Hokazono who has been watching the anime series since the first season. They talked about brass bands, euphonium, the anime’s depictions, and its relationship with music.
Read on for a very enlightening interview that puts some extra depth to the music anime.
P.S. Don’t forget to check our report on the Sound Euphorium live brass performance!
He is an animation director/producer from Kyoto Animation who has so far worked on numerous anime works.
He has been involved in Sound! Euphonium as a director.
Born in 1982, he has so far provided music for a variety of anime as a music composer.
He is well-known for his wide range of music-composing skills, from light pop music to heavy rock music.
‘Pursuing the best music that’s the best for the work’ is his credo.
World’s top euphonium player.
He has won the first place at the 9th Japan string and percussion instruments competition in 1992 and in the Philip Jones brass competition in the euphonium section in 1997. He also has experience performing with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, Kyushu Philharmonic Orchestra, Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, and Nagoya Symphony Orchestra. He has also performed in numerous concerts as a soloist while he was in Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s musical band.
Aside from his solo activities, he is currently active in the duo unit, Waheri (formed with the tuba player Shinpei Tsugita), Brass Hexagon and The Tuba Band.
Although there are various works featuring brass bands today, we regard Sound! Euphonium as a fully-fledged work that strongly focuses on music itself. For starters, would you please share your thoughts and ideas about this pioneering work from the perspective of the creator as well as that of the audience?
Although I had no connection with brass bands or symphony orchestras in my life and this is only limited to high school’s brass band club, I see brass bands as a very attractive theme to express. Joining clubs means that they need to make great efforts to achieve their ultimate goals while they are young.
Of course this is not only true for brass band clubs, but ever since I have joined the anime’s production, I realized that it’s actually very different from my first impression. When I recalled my days during high school, the girls in the brass band club looked very graceful to me and my image of them were like preppies elegantly playing music instruments together. This time, I had the opportunity to learn the truth by hearing various real-life stories about severe and strict brass band clubs. For me, now this anime is like a good old Supokon anime.
* Supokon anime is a sport-themed anime that depicts the characters’ persistent efforts, tenacity and great pain to achieve their goals.
From the point of view of someone who judges at music competitions and instructs students in brass band clubs, the anime is exactly Supokon, lol. All the characters in the anime devote every effort during their youth and I think such a strong emotion is one of the reasons the anime has gained a lot of attention. There is a dramatic story in the club which is quite familiar to all of us.
I have seen both the anime series and the movie and I was very impressed to see all the realistic depictions that can be seen in actual brass band club activities. I’m wondering how the director gets that knowledge as well as insight.
Hmmmm, actually I’m not so sure how (laughs). Besides doing interviews, I try to ask the people around me.
Actually, in Kyoto Animation, there are quite a lot of people who used to be in brass band clubs.
So, I put the stories I hear from them into the anime while faithfully depicting realistic feels and atmosphere.
What’s so impressive particularly is the detailed depictions like the characters’ club room.
I could feel the distinctive atmosphere from real brass band clubs through the scene that shows the empty hallway.
That was just amazing.
For example, the audience can feel the brass band club more deeply through the short scenes showing music instruments and metronomes alone. I did it on purpose to get some sympathy from the audience who used to be in brass band clubs.
Luckily, I was able to have interviews with several schools and they let me see their practice sessions, club rooms, and storage rooms for music instruments. Let alone a music room, a storage room is a special place where we can strongly feel a brass band club.
I came across a scribble by someone that says ‘I love tuba♥’ lol. For me, such a small thing is very useful and I try to reflect it in the anime as much as I can.
I see! I’m really impressed at the things you focus on. I don’t think we would see things that closely when we visit a storage room for an interview. We would just take a general view of the room.
That’s probably because I barely know about brass band clubs. Everything looked very interesting to me while they are nothing special for those who have experience in brass band clubs. Perhaps, my ignorance worked in a good way.
That goes for me too. This work means a lot to me in the sense that I seriously tackled orchestral songs for the first time.
I used to play a trombone and do simple music composition in a brass band club and I think I succeeded in mixing that experience from my brass band club with my know-how from my past music-composing jobs for anime. Thanks to that, I could write songs that go right in the middle of both anime and orchestra.
I can strongly feel it through the songs in the anime. The songs are arranged in the classic orchestral way and some of the songs are really easy to listen like pop music. You’re hitting the right nail. Other than that, I personally liked the long beautiful tones and phrases of the brass instruments played from afar.
I asked the staff members about the sound effects that will make it sound more realistic.
The audio director Tsuruoka added a sense of distance to the sounds and it ended up sounding much better.
Come to think of it, I was always hearing the brass band club practice somewhere far away after school hours.
We assume the combination between animation and music is one of the key aspects for this work. Can you tell us your thoughts about it?
I don’t really want to talk about this since I have told about it in several interviews already haha.
Actually, it is really difficult to faithfully depict music instruments in animation. It’s a lot of hard work to draw the intricate brass instruments with a lot of pipes by hand but since this work mainly features music, we can never make any compromise in it. Honestly speaking, if this was a children-focused or non music-themed anime, that would’ve been fine to deform the music instruments and we didn’t have to necessarily synchronize their finger movements with the sounds.
However, we can’t use these tricks in this anime so, we perfectly synchronize the sounds and their movements.
On top of it, you need to do it in various angles instead of a single angle right?
I always think horns and euphoniums have very complex shapes lol. It’s already so much work to draw them but you go further to factor in the characters’ finger movements as well as embouchure (use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips). It’s just so astonishing.
In terms of audio acoustic and visual expressions, I create simple BGM only using piano and guitar without any brass instruments in order to differentiate it from the brass band songs the characters play in the anime. For the BGM, I started my music composition with Tsuruoka’s instructions but instead of letting me write music based on the anime’s scripts and drawings, he gave me a list of abstract words like ‘Accumulated Emotions’ and I was told that I could freely create music following the provided list of the words.
That being said, it wouldn’t suit the drawings if I literally followed his words plus, I wanted to avoid writing typical BGM either so, I had a tough time finding a good balance. However, there was a policy for the first season that the song Crescent Moon Dance should be played kind of like a regular song that’s repeatedly played throughout the series and it made me feel somewhat easier because I could make several different arrangements/versions of that song.
Speaking of Crescent Moon Dance, I’m specifically impressed by the epic trumpet solo. But actually, the song is pretty difficult for high schoolers (laughs).
For the solo part, I needed to make it somewhat technical since that solo is played by the character at the audition but at the same time I tried to make it somewhat catchy in consideration for the audience’s views.
I think the solo part could create a pretty big impact at the climax of the competition.
Since that solo is an essential part of the story, I told Matsuda about its importance in our first meeting.
This might be only applicable to my case, but it’s much easier for me to get ideas and draw pictures if there is already music. So, thanks to Matsuda’s music, we could move forward with the audition scenes very smoothly.
Even after deep deliberation, we often experience difficulties when we try synchronizing opening theme songs with completed animations (laughs). In such circumstances, we have to make modifications in a hurry. I realized once again that I’m the type of person who gets ideas from music.
Have you worked with Matsuda several times before? Assuming that you are already acquainted with his music-composition tendencies, is that easier for you to create pictures and animation?
Yes, I have so far worked with Matsuda many times but I don’t think that experience has a strong relation with it.
But when the music producer Saito tells me that it will be Matsuda, I’m like ‘Oh that’d be just fine then.’ and I usually guess what kind of music is coming.
Although it’s usually not what I thought it would be lol, I’m can still rest assured with Matsuda’s work.
This is regarding the music instrument euphonium. I’ve heard that there are a lot of people who learned about euphonium for the first time. Euphonium is the type of instrument that we don’t usually get to see outside brass bands so, would you please share your thoughts about that fact?
After writing a melody line for euphonium this time, I realized that it’s an amazing instrument whose tone alone can create a wonderful atmosphere for an entire brass band. For example, while we consider trumpets make a real impact, euphonium can create both gentle and spiky tones by breath control.
I was quite impressed by its wide range of use.
I thought why euphonium was picked for the main character at first. Perhaps it’s rude to say this, but compared with the commonly-seen instruments such as trumpets, the euphonium is indeed not as popular. However, as I studied about the euphonium, I learned that it is an important, behind-the-scenes instrument that goes great with all the other instruments. In that sense, I think it makes good sense that Kumiko plays the euphonium. She is pretty low-profile but capable of getting along with almost all the characters. By making clear the characteristics of euphonium, I was able to see the work’s concepts much better.
Just as you mentioned, each music instrument has its characteristics. Trumpet players have their own characters and horn players have their own characters respectively. I have worked with a lot of other instruments players and it’s very common that these players have the same characteristics as the instruments they play. Seeing euphonium as an music instrument, I can’t picture any brass band without a euphonium.
Also, it can create a lot of harmonic sounds which are essential in creating harmonies. With the great combination between euphonium and saxophone, we can change the bands’ sounds in a variety of ways.
However, because of its short history, there haven’t been any great musician who have written songs with it.
For that reason, it didn’t have the chance to spread in other music genres but on the other hand, it can be taken to mean that it’s a very sophisticated instrument as well. In fact, compared with a horn and a trumpet, euphonium is an easier instrument for beginners to play.
In terms of the characters’ relationship, Kumiko’s initial motive to play the euphonium was her sister, but her sister had already stopped playing music.
Although Kumiko continued playing the euphonium even after that, she didn’t have any clear objectives. Then, she meets the enthusiastic girl Reina and as a result of this fateful encounter, Kumiko starts to face the euphonium and music seriously.
Yes exactly. Since Reina’s character is like ‘The Trumpet’ and it’s really fun to see the combination between Kumiko’s low-profile, humble character and Reina’s passionate character. Trumpet is a very eye-catching instrument whose tone range is the highest among other instruments and for that reason, it can be a high risk instrument. It’s got an opposite attribute to the euphonium. I like how these opposite girls deepen their relationship.
This work doesn’t just depict the joy in the brass band club but also depicts the characters’ growth which I think is one of the work’s highlights.
Would you please let me know the things you paid attention to in order to express their advancement and growth?
Their performance level significantly changes as the story progresses but in terms of the songs the characters play, we don’t try too hard to change them according to the story’s progression but instead, we try to aim for beautiful, space-filling music. This style won’t change in the second season as well.
Speaking of the first season, the difference between Kumiko in the first episode and Kumiko who passes out near the end of the season, that kind of difference can be easily expressed through many ways like making slight changes in their facial expressions.
However, I bet the audio director, Saito, must have had a tough time expressing the band’s gradual change and improvement in their performance.
I think it’s quite difficult for ordinary audiences to notice the gradual change and improvement in their performance.
But the changes in the characters’ ways of thinking lead to a big improvement in their performance. Every time their efforts pay off, they learn what they need to value to play music. Through such synergetic effects only anime can create, their music improves and sound better to the audiences. In fact, when I visit schools to teach brass band clubs during summer break, they are ceaselessly practicing from morning till night. While sports clubs’ practice is usually from morning till afternoon for it consumes so much physical energy, brass band club members keep on playing their instruments with metronomes on. I think it’s not so unusual for them to practice for twelve hours.
I sometimes hear that some people suddenly learn to be able to do new things they were having trouble with for a long time.
And they are like ‘How come I couldn’t do this up until now?’
Does this often happen?
There are indeed moments they realize that there are some hints hidden in their senior’s performances.
Like the way their seniors practice, their performing expressions and some students try to play differently after being impressed by someone else’s outstanding performance. I think that sort of attitude is essential to get better. It’s not unusual for students to get dramatically better with just a little help from teachers so, as an educator, I always teach them with that in mind.
Speaking of the first season, it covers the first volume of the original novel.
Since it depicts the events within 3 to 4 months since Kumiko joined the club, their changes must be rather drastic.
The awfully unorganized brass band club eventually gets dramatically better and ends up showing an outstanding performance in the competition but, to make the big contrust between the early episodes and later episodes, I am pretty sure that it was such a tough job for the students from Senzoku Gakuen College of Music.
I heard that it’s really difficult for experienced people to play poorly on purpose and there is a big difference between music experts thinking ‘Poor’ and ordinary people thinking ‘Poor’. On top of it, they had to be careful not to sound like they are playing poorly on purpose.
I feel really bad about me causing trouble for the students from Senzoku Gakuen College of Music.
The competition in Kyoto is the anime’s climax. I assume that these twelve minutes were the most tense time ever for the actual students too.
That’s right. They take off on a dead run for that twelve minutes. The scene was the first episode’s climax and I found myself to have sweaty palms.
Is that the result of interviewing with currently-active brass band club members?
Actually, it’s my own imagination instead of interviewing with students.
Speaking of a dead run for example, sprinters practice for hundreds of hours just to run a 100 meters.
Students from brass band clubs also spend a lot of time on their practice just for 12 minutes.
The same is true for anime production. We draw tens of pictures for just a moment. When I learned that it’s similar to anime production, I got a sense of affinity lol.
In that scene too, we had to draw little by little while checking the moving images. I was touched by the great effort from the production team.
By putting every bit of passion and effort into a limited amount of time, I think that time can be eternal.
That’s a great thing to make every effort just for 12 minutes!
Just as you said, there are critical moments we have to achieve things in one try which we have done like hundreds of time.
I was also nervous myself when they were playing the self-written song, Crescent Moon Dance lol.
Although I think it was just a stage light expression, the space there felt celestial.
That’s just an effect and we did it since it looks better with it.
I often hear from students who has experience performing in music competitions that once they start their performance, they feel like they are in different godly realms. I could feel that sort of sensation through those scenes.
Yes, that kind of thing happens. These shining stages are just as sacred as baseball and soccer fields.
It’s indeed sacred but it’s also cruel. Everyone tries their best with the hope of success but they still fail in a critical moment and some collapse and cry.
It’s a very common sight in a competition venue.
The same goes for everything. Over time, as we build up our skills, it gets harder for us to stop our strong desire to aim higher.
And once we decide to aim higher we inevitably encounter many hardships. Of course it’s got some cruel sides, but there is a huge importance as we live our lives.
The long-awaited second season will begin in October. The members from Kitauji will aim higher for the Kansai competition. Would that be the center of the story?
Of couse that part will be a big flow of the story. However, compared to the first season, the second season will focus more on the characters’ personal problems and interior aspects. On top of it, there will be two more important characters appearing who will later give the story further breadth.
In terms of music, it will involve something deeper than the first season. For example, there will be a new teacher who flatly says to the band members ‘Although all of you have enough skills to compete with other schools, you completely lack expressive power.’
The themes for the second season will be the characters’ growth in personalities and their quest to find what kind of music they want to express.
There are two criteria in a music competition, skill & expression and these two criteria have 50 points each.
In fact, expression and skill are closely bound together. If we lack skills, we can’t express what’s in our head. On the other hand, we can’t play nice music without expressive power. If we aim for perfection, it’s inevitable that we pursue both of them for the rest of our lives.
That’s one of the deep aspects of music.
Speaking of which, there will be a mysterious new character with a oboe and her performance dramatically varies depending on her mood.
She also has her own problems and her coach tells her that her performance is boring. Her efforts to overcome these difficulties will be one of the second season’s pillars. If I see music from that angle, music can be kind of philosophical and quite deep.
That’s right. It’s not necessarily a case of ‘Humanity’ = ‘Music’, but I think that especially when you’re young, the growth of a musical performer is linked to their personal growth.
In terms of the anime, we have to work hard to improve our current skill, we need to get to grips with it step by step.
With that in mind, my work has gotten even more difficult as I have to think of the lines the characters are saying and make the music match well to it. More so than the 1st season, I really have to pour my own image into the composition. In fact, I received the theme ‘Deep music’ from Saito, the audi producer and Tsuruoka, the sound director… more tranquil background music, expressed by the string compositions etc being fewer than before
So, what do you have to say to the anime fans as we approach the start of the second season?
As we talked about before, there is more close-up on the private lives of the characters so I’d like you to pay attention to that. The first season was a story about a terrible brass band with no ambition club who meet a new teacher and start to aim for much higher things. Through that some of the tiny split seems in the fabric of the characters lives started to become apparent. In the second season, we really want to express that and want you to look forward to how characters such as Kumiko and Reina can overcome these conflicts and grow as people.
As Director Ishihara says, [the characters in this work develop just as we do] and I think that point is really wonderful. Of course, we went through a lot of pains to express that through the music, but it really it something worth doing. For the people who will watch this anime, I will be grateful of you can enjoy watching and listening to it.
Just like the people who will be watching this anime, I am also a fan of Sound! Euphonium myself. As I fan I am of course excited, but as a musician I am also very thankful that the title contains the word ‘Euphonium’. Thanks to the popularity of the novels and the anime, regular people have come to know and remember the name of this modest instrument (laughs)
Before there were so many people who were pronouncing it as ‘EuphoniOOm’ instead of ‘EuphoniUm’ and when I have recently been coming to watch workshops, most of the students have been properly remembering the instrument name.
And so, when I asks the students ‘Do you know of this anime?’, they reply with ‘I know it’ and ‘I’m watching it!’. Right now, there is a lot of attention on wind instruments, but I hope that with Sound! Euphonium as a centre, more and more people can come to enjoy it!
――Thank you very much for your time today
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