Does anything one does in high school matter? At the time, it seems all dreadfully important, and some people see it as a pivotal time in their life. But how much of what one actually does in high school has meaning, has relevance, outside of the immediate impact: was it fun to be in the play? To win the debate? To play in the school band? And is that enough, that it was just a fun experience, or does it have to mean more?
The Sound! Euphonium series is about that nexus from childhood to adulthood, and how much of a person is really formed through the high school experience, and how much of what was already there is brought out. It's also about a bunch of Japanese high schoolers trying to get their music club's orchestra ready to compete in the National competitions. The series follows a group of first year students, focusing primarily on euphonium player Kumiko Oumae, as they navigate the world of getting through high school while playing in an intensely competitive club band.
This film, with the mouthful title of Sound! Euphonium: The Movie - Our Promise: A Brand New Day, takes place directly after the second anime series, where the club has come back from the National tournament having won bronze. The first years move up a grade, the third years have left school, and now the orchestra, which had become so tight and played so beautifully with each other, essentially has to be remade from whatever material the freshmen can provide.
Since the club made nationals last year, and the competition was televised, they have a lot of new recruits excited for the chance to join the award winning team, which means new personality clashes and extra headaches for the upperclassmen. Kumiko is named the head of the bass department, and she's got a quartet of new players each with their own personal peccadilloes: the tall, aloof Mirei, her fellow tuba-player the good-natured Satsuki, sullen contra-bass playing Motomo, and a new euphonium player: Kanade. At first, Kanade seems like a confidante for Kumiko, and maybe someone she can mentor, but she's a bit of an odd duck: at once polite and superior, it's hard to tell if she's being friendly, or plotting behind Kumiko's back.
The story of A Brand New Day takes place over the entire school year, starting just before the beginning of the new term and tracing the ups and downs of the school club as they fight to achieve their goal: winning gold at that year's national competition. This is about the same amount of story that is covered in the first two seasons of the anime television series, which begins with Kumiko entering high school and ends after the nationals. That was 26 episodes of material, more than 10 hours of running time, and it would seem that a feature film at barely 100 minutes would be either overstuffed or too underdeveloped to really give its story justice.
With A Brand New Day, though, that is not the case. Sound! Euphonium's episodes belong to the "slice of life" style of storytelling. Big plot points might involve a girl deciding to focus on her exams instead of keeping up with the band, or Kumiko not being able to quite nail a part of one of her solos, despite arriving early and staying late every day to practice. It's the small, important things that make up daily life. One of the early conflicts in A Brand New Day is over a girl not liking her nickname. Another involves Kanade worries that, if she plays better than an upperclassmen, the rest of the class will dislike her. Kumiko has a boyfriend in the club, but they hardly see each other out of class and she doesn't know if they're really in a relationship anymore, or if she wants to be.
These are not action-packed, grand life-changing conflicts that determine the fate of the world. But they are the sort of things that determine how well a class might go, how much one wants (or dreads) to go to school in the morning. And while in high school that might be everything. A several of the conflicts are similar to things that happened in the series since, year to year, the everyday business of a music club isn't going to change. But Kumiko gets to experience them from the other side: as the veteran who can give advice instead of the scared freshman who has no idea what she's doing.
A Brand New Day is a feature-length animated film, but in terms of animation and design, it is nearly indistinguishable from the television series. The Japanese actors are the same, and it was directed by Tatsuya Ishihara, who also directed the TV series. The style is comfortable, decidedly, maybe deliberately unflamboyant. The story moves through the year without drawing too much attention to itself. There are no graphics telling us the dates, just different visual cues for the seasons. A Brand New Day comes most to life visually when the various characters are playing their instruments: the animation becomes much more detailed. I don't have the expertise to know if the fingering of the instruments necessarily actually follows the music, but it looks like it to a layman.
While there are some emotional scenes (most of which involve one girl crying and running away while someone else chases after her to have a teary-eyed conversation), A Brand New Day is a quiet anime, and it quietly builds up its snippets of practice and auditions and minor conflicts into a climactic final performance of an entire piece. All the work of months leads up to a few minutes of some 50+ young people playing music together, still asking the question: was it worth it?
Sound! Euphonium: The Movie - Our Promise: A Brand New Day is definitely worth it, though I say this as a fan of the television anime. It's difficult to tell if it would even be coherent to someone unfamiliar with what has gone before: unlike Liz and the Blue Bird, another story in the Sound! Euphonium world but focusing on characters that barely appear in this story is told with a radically different animation style, A Brand New Day is a direct sequel, and one that does not take time to reintroduce characters or conflict. As a fan of the series, I enjoyed this return to its world with its leisurely pace and small, intensely felt, conflicts.
Sound! Euphonium: The Movie - Our Promise: A Brand New Day has been released on Blu-ray, DVD and on digital download by Shout! Factory. The released includes both the original Japanese language track and an English dub track. Included on the Blu-ray are a few interview with the English cast: with Christian La Monte (16 mins), Xanthe Huynh (8 mins), and Laura Post (12 mins).