One of Sound! Euphonium‘s more remarkable traits is that, within its captivating world, not everyone is equally talented. Where other series use those left behind – by their lack of skill, practice, or motivation – for dramatic effect, rarely returning to them once they’ve served their purpose on the main character’s decisions, Sound! Euphonium celebrates them.
Natsuki Nakagawa is the series’ most obvious example. Initially introduced as a listless senior with little interest in participating, Natsuki provided a key emotional hurdle for Kumiko Oumae to clear. Once motivated, Natsuki’s true personality is revealed, and it’s far more complex than what most would expect from a tertiary character.
Having only played the euphonium for a year, Natsuki knows that, come audition time, she doesn’t stand a chance against the likes of Kumiko. Due to her prior experiences – and first impression of Natsuki – Kumiko is terrified of Natsuki until the latter reassures her that she had expected to not make the cut.
This isn’t to say that Natsuki is particularly enthused about this, but more that she accepts it and moves on with her life. There are still times when her face falls when she recognizes the talent of those around her. However, because she grows to care so much about music and the band itself, Natsuki eschews simply watching the band move on without her, and actively participates behind the scenes. This includes anything from facilitating conflict resolution between bandmates to making initialed charms for the members that passed the audition.
It’s easy to say that Natsuki’s development represents the band’s overall growth from a quarreling group replete with de-motivated members to the Nationals-bound product of Episode 13, but Natsuki also feels like an actual person. Her initial lack of motivation is as understandable as her willingness to support those who left her behind
Two members of Sound! Euphonium‘s cast choose to leave the pressure of concert band behind to focus on their studies. The first, Kumiko’s sister Mamiko, pressures Kumiko to do the same, citing the fact that Kumiko isn’t going to study music in the future. Still, Mamiko Oumae shows signs of regretting her decision, or at the very least longing for the other side upon seeing how much Kumiko applies herself. When Kumiko tells her sister that she loves playing the euphonium, and that’s reason enough for her effort, Mamiko is clearly a bit rattled as she leaves the room with a patronizing, “Good for you.”
It’s unclear how much Mamiko looks back on her own decision, and she does seem to have an honest inability to relate to her younger sister’s overwhelming passion. Sound! Euphonium leaves the interpretation of her character up to the viewer as Mamiko walks the line between jealousy and genuine misunderstanding.
Walking a similar path is Kumiko’s childhood friend, Aoi Saitou. Aoi quits band when they begin to seriously aim for Nationals to focus on her studies. When Kumiko asks her if she regrets it, Aoi responds that she didn’t have a reason to continue. Regardless of any previous effort she had put in to learning tenor saxophone, Aoi realized that her own motivation was lacking and chose to apply her efforts towards studying for entrance exams. While the series revolves around Kumiko rediscovering her love for the euphonium, it also doesn’t denigrate Aoi’s decision to leave. Different people will enjoy, and want to apply themselves, to different things. Aoi’s willing departure from the concert band exemplifies this.
Sound! Euphonium also explores different levels of talent within the post-audition roster, reiterating the constant battle between hard work and innate talent. While senior Kaori Nakaseko has both loved playing trumpet and worked incredibly hard to improve. In previous years, Kaori patiently waited her turn, losing solo parts to her upperclassmen because seniority took precedence over skill. This changes in her senior year when Noboru Taki takes over the concert band and Kaori has to compete for the part.
She loses out to Reina Kousaka, a first-year. While the series frames Reina’s victory as the correct choice for the band as a whole, the viewer still feels for Kaori – an immensely talented girl in her own right who will now never have her chance in the spotlight during her high school career. As Reina plays her solo in their Regionals performance, focus shifts from Reina to Kaori, highlighting a trace of sadness in Kaori’s face. Still, she presents a resigned smile immediately afterwards, knowing that Reina was the best choice.
There are countless others in Sound! Euphonium who work tirelessly, yet fail to make the cut for whatever reason. One of Kumiko’s closest friends, Hazuki Katou, is hit doubly hard. She doesn’t make it into the Regionals group because she just took up tuba recently, and she is also romantically rejected over the course of the series. Sound! Euphonium presents a world that isn’t fair – where success for some means that others will be left behind. In other words, a world that is heartbreakingly real and overwhelmingly relatable.