In showing and developing various narratives, Sound! Euphonium invites character comparison. The most obvious example is of Reina Kousaka and Kumiko Oumae. Both struggle with verbal communication – Reina preferring to express herself through music and Kumiko seemingly possessing large amounts of anxiety – which is what makes their developing friendship work. As evidenced in the series’ fifth episode, Reina begins to open up to Kumiko, and while Kumiko still stumbles over her own words, she has managed to overcome her fear of starting a conversation.
While Kumiko is the primary character, Sound! Euphonium relies on dialogue with others, along with her actions, to speak for her. In spite of the audience’s access to her thoughts, Kumiko is one who has trouble identifying what she truly wants, and her inner monologues reflect this, rarely offering her actual emotions.
“There isn’t really a reason I chose Kitauji. I just wanted a new start, going to a high school where I didn’t know many people, afresh, from scratch. That’s all.”
– Kumiko Oumae, Sound! Euphonium, episode 5
This makes her more enigmatic at first than many other anime leads, whose incessant thoughts we are privy to. It’s up to the visual direction and Kumiko’s reaction to others and her surroundings that does the proverbial heavy lifting. When Kumiko does reveal her thoughts, as quoted above, she often does so as an afterthought, or verbal affirmation of her prior actions within the series. Sound! Euphonium shows Kumiko struggling to make friends with Reina, while also struggling with her own position and value within the band. She goes from saying that she will not join, to joining but refusing to play the euphonium, to playing the euphonium but still undecided as to how seriously she wants to involve herself in concert band, to being wholeheartedly involved.
In personality, Asuka Tanaka could hardly be more different than Kumiko. She is loud, brash, and commands attention. First introduced to Kumiko and her friends as they tentatively watch the concert band practice, Asuka immediately plays a prank on them, presumably to welcome them into the fold. When speaking of her instrument, she comes up with a thesis rather than a minute-long overview. Her movements are accompanied by loud hand gestures and dramatic pauses, regardless of whether she is in her role of drum major or not. Where Kumiko drifts from place to place, Asuka owns the ground she walks on.
“Everyone really wanted Asuka to be the president, but Asuka doesn’t like doing that kind of thing. She was reluctant about being vice-president too. I guess you don’t necessarily like the things you’re good at.”
– Natsuki Nakagawa, Sound! Euphonium, episode 5
Senior euphonium player, Natsuki Nakagawa, reveals that Asuka refused to become the concert band president, leaving those duties to the far more timid Haruka Ogasawara. Natsuki herself is somewhat of an enigma to Kumiko, lounging alone in their sectional practice until Kumiko asks her to join. As another wayward personality, Natsuki is somewhat similar to Kumiko. Had Kumiko decided not to wholeheartedly participate and make the most of her her new start, it’s likely that she would have become a similar entity to Natsuki, who seemingly allows the current climate to make decisions for her.
The added context from Natsuki paints Asuka is an entirely new light. In eschewing the duties of club president, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Asuka wanted a new start for herself as well. Due to her personality and innate talent, she is a natural leader; however, as Natsuki succinctly states, being good at something and enjoying something are sometimes two completely different things.
“I’m your faithful servant, President.”
– Asuka Tanaka to Haruka Ogasawara, Sound! Euphonium, episode 3
In hindsight, this scene from episode 3 toes the line between genuine support and sarcasm. While Asuka indubitably supports Haruka as a president, and additionally is very passionate about the band, the fact that she turned down the position now adds weight to her dramatized bow. Haruka has to live with the fact that, in the eyes of many, she is at most a second choice to Asuka, while Asuka must watch as Haruka struggles to bring the band together.
“Everyone is subtly hiding their feelings, and gathering in the safest direction.”
– Aoi Saitou, Sound! Euphonium, episode 2
Sometimes, it’s as Aoi states in the series’ second episode, a scattering of people holding their feelings close to stay safe. In doing so, they may inadvertently hurt others, especially if an undercurrent of emotion is still palpable. That being said, Sound! Euphonium offers the solution of coming together as a unit, even if it’s only for one performance.