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Sound! Euphonium: Umaku Naritai

Umaku Naritai

There are heavy spoilers in this post. Read at your own risk.

Umaku naritai.

“Umaku naritai” is a Japanese phrase. In the English subtitles of “Sound! Euphonium“, it’s translated as “I want to improve”. The word “umaku” actually means something more akin to “success”, and “naritai” means “I want to become” (“Naru” means “to become”, and “tai” is a suffix that means “want”). So, “I want to become successful”.

This phrase is used on several occasions, but most notably in Series 1, Episode 12. The main character, Kumiko, has been trying to learn a small part on the Euphonium for quite a while, and hasn’t been succeeding. She practices so hard she gets dehydrated and gets a nosebleed, and she still can’t quite get it out. Finally, it is ten days before the performance, and the teacher, Taki-sensei, tells her to stop playing. “Tanaka-san, play this by yourself”.

Kumiko is crushed. In her eyes, all that hard work is for nothing. In one of the best animated scenes of the genre, she is walking home, then starts running, repeating to herself “umaku naritai… umaku naritai… UMAKU NARITAI”, and then screams it off of a bridge. “UMAKU NARITAI!”. Then one of her bandmates sees her and they have a short competition where they try to decide who wants to improve more, until she collapses in sobs. “I’m so frustrated. I’m so frustrated I could die.”

Eventually it works out for her (she still got to play it for the Kansai competition), but that scene hit hard for me, and it’s one of the scenes, in my view that takes a good anime and turns it into a great anime.

I Want to be Special

There is another character, Reina Kousaka. She’s a quiet, somewhat reserved girl, who is driven to succeed and doesn’t respect people who aren’t as driven to succeed as she is. Kumiko ends up in an unlikely friendship (a very deep one, kind of like a girl bromance) with her.

In episode 8, another of the defining scenes of the anime, Kumiko and Reina are sitting on the top of a mountain where there’s a shrine, and Reina confides to her that she wants to be special. She thinks that if she becomes good at the trumpet, she can become special. Kumiko takes a great deal of inspiration from her in this regard, and Reina is one of her primary motivators to improve. She wants to be special, too.

Eufo ga Suki Da Mo

A third scene that struck me is later in series 2, when she confronts her older sister. Her older sister, who has many regrets about giving up the trombone in favor of going to college for a more “respectable life”, is challenging Kumiko on why she wants to play the Euphonium. She’s prepared to argue on a technical level, but Kumiko shuts her down. “I like the Euphonium”, she says. Nonplussed, her sister says “Huh. Good for you.” and walks out. That’s all the argument she needed, and her sister had no response. After all, what response is there?


And the last scene that struck me hard is late in series 2. Episode 10, if I remember correctly. Kumiko has just, the night before, had a confrontation with her sister, where they made up, in a way. Her sister tells her “don’t do things you’ll regret later”. And then, the very next day, she confronts Asuka about rejoining the band, and a very similar thing happens. She tries to convince Asuka, and fails, until she finally just lays it all out on the table. “You want your father to see you play, don’t you? Don’t make choices you know you’ll regret!”


These are a few scenes from Sound! Euphonium that struck me very hard. There were a few others, but these struck me the hardest. Because they impacted me on a very deep and personal level.

Because I am Reina, and I am Kumiko. Except I’m not a first-year high school student. I’m a nearly fifty year old failure.

Reina is my “spirit animal”, in a sense. (And I’m aware that term offends some. I don’t care. Comment below if you want to tell me how bad a person I am.) Because I identify with her drive to be “special”. For as long as I can remember, I’ve shared that drive. And I’ve always known I’ve had it in me to be “special”. I’m very smart. Anything I can actually see to completion, I tend to be very good at. I have many different skills, and I’m at least competent at all of them. I’m not great at any of them, but I’m at least competent.


But I’ve always known, deep inside, I have more than that. I can be special. I can be great. I want to be special. I want to be great. I want to be successful. Umaku naritai. But for all my life, this has eluded me. I’m not special, I’m not great, I’m the American equivalent of a salaryman doing a 9 to 5 job that I’m very competent at but hate (I don’t really hate what I do, but I hate all the corporate bullshit that comes with it), and everything I’ve ever tried to break out of that mold has failed.

And I identify so much with Kumiko’s breakdown on that bridge. I want to improve. I want to get better. I want to succeed. I want to be as great as I know I can be. But I’m not. I’m still who I am. I’m still a nearly 50 year old computer engineer with no real hopes for advancement, for breaking out, and I’m slowly watching my life slip away in front of me, never achieving anything that I know I’m capable of.

Hope From Failure

But it’s not all bad. Because Sound! Euphonium helped me to realize this. And it gave me a phrase to repeat whenever I feel like things are hopeless.

Umaku Naritai.

I want to improve.

Recently, I’ve been working on a few projects, and some of them are taking me way out of my comfort zone. Several of them involve music. I can be alright at piano performance if I put my mind to it and concentrate, but I’ve never been any good at the more creative aspects. But sometimes it’s not about coming out fully formed. Sometimes you have to improve on a day by day basis. I sit down at the piano almost every day and play. Sometimes it’s not even focused practice, it’s just playing. And I find I’m slowly improving.

And every day I do some Japanese study. I don’t always go indepth and do real study, but I try to do something. And I find I’m slowly improving.

And with the other projects I’m doing as well. Sometimes it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward one or two steps, and then maybe you even go a step back. But you’re never going to put forth effort and get nothing out of it.

And I’ll be lying if I said Sound! Euphonium isn’t a major inspiration for these efforts.

Umaku naritai.

That’s all I can do. Improve. Try to get better. And then see where the chips fall once I do.

Because, at the end of the day, Sound! Euphonium has taught me something else.

I like music.

I like to play piano.

I like to compose.

I like to do most of the stuff I spend time doing.

And as frustrating as all these things can be when I see how much I’ve failed at it, at the end of the day, I still like to play piano, I still like Japanese, and I still like to compose.

This is why I, personally, love Sound! Euphonium. It’s not because it’s a great anime, though it is. It’s not because it’s well animated and voice acted with an amazing plot, though it is. It’s because it taught me something. And no time is wasted when what you’ve spent it on teaches you something.

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