It’s heartbreaking to think that as recently as a month ago, if you mentioned Kyoto Animation to an anime fan, the most likely reaction was their face lighting up as they recalled the production company’s highly artistic brand of storytelling. That changed on the morning of July 18, when an arsonist attacked Kyoto Animation’s Fushimi Ward studio, setting a fire that killed 35 employees of the company and injured 33 more.
Part of what makes Kyoto Animation’s anime so treasured by fans is the company’s deeply respectful and authentic depictions of everyday passions. For example, when it came time to draw the high school brass band musicians of anime series Sound! Euphonium, Kyoto Animation’s artists didn’t just draw some random finger and mouth movements, or cut corners by panning away from the players or resorting to using still shots during musical scenes. Instead, director Tatsuya Ishihara and his staff made multiple visits to Kyoto Prefectural Higashi Uji Senior High School, near the company’s head office in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, to observe the school’s actual brass band.
“They came and measured the dimensions of the instruments’ parts, piece by piece,” recalls Kazuo Kondo, a teacher at Higashi Uji who also serves as the brass band’s advisor. “They took long, detailed videos of the musicians’ fingering work,” and the Kyoto Animation staff also tagged along when the band went to play in regional competitions. The anime’s designers even ended up modeling Sound! Euphonium’s in-anime setting, the fictional Kita Uji High School, on Higashi Uji, right down to replicating the real-world school’s band room fliers and trash cans seen in the anime.
Those research trips took place in the summer of 2014, and with Japanese high school lasting three years, the students who helped Kyoto Animation make Sound! Euphonium have all already graduated. Still, the connection between Kyoto Animation and Higashi Uji continues, as there are now members of the band who were inspired to join by watching the Sound! Euphonium anime. “I wanted to practice in the same place I saw in the anime,” says 17-year-old bassoonist Kota Sekinishi. “Through our performances, I want others to feel the same level of emotion I felt from the anime.”
The unique relationship between Kyoto Animation and the school made the news of the arson attack all the more painful for Higashi Uji’s brass band, and the student musicians channeled those emotions last weekend at the annual Kyoto All-Prefecture High School Brass Band competition, where they played the musical piece “Koyo no Sazanami.” “We put our thought for the victims of the arson attack into the music, in hope that they would reach the victims of the arson attack,” said 17-year-old band leader Yuika Ito following the event. “I think we played better than we ever have before.”
▼ Members of Kyoto Prefectural Higashi Uji Senior High School’s brass band
— 公式 ♩東宇治高校 吹奏楽部♩ (@hu_brassband) August 6, 2019
In the end, although Higashi Uji did not walk away as the overall winners of the competition, their performance earned them a gold medal judges’ award. That’s definitely something to be proud of, and proof that even after the tragedy that’s befallen Kyoto Animation, the legacy of its artists continues to shine.