I just watched the film in theaters and it was great! All Sound! Euphonium fans should watch it, as it is indeed a continuation of the series.
Like all movies, material is condensed, and there’s quite literally nothing we can do about it except show our support for the makers in hopes of getting more content. The film starts by giving a 10 minute review of what happened in the first 2 seasons, and then kicks off. One should definitely watch “Liz and the Blue Bird” before watching this, because there are quite a few connections to that movie (don’t wanna spoil anything).
I agree, this could have easily been a season in and of itself, but it was crammed into a movie. There was a little bit too much drama for just a movie, and although we know the series has drama, they overdid it a bit for the duration of the film.
I really enjoyed the piece they played, and I love how they take the time to animate the entire duration of the song and the characters playing! The piece was not as moving as the “Crescent Moon Dance”, but maybe because we don’t have a big back story behind this new piece like we did in the first 2 seasons. Also, seeing familiar faces come back on screen was a very pleasant surprise. If I say anything else I might spoil it, so I’ll stop, HOWEVER, there is an after-credits scene that some people might enjoy a lot.
To start off, for anyone who have watched the previous installments of Hibike! Euphonium, both season 1 and 2, you'll find that this new sequel doesn't deviate much, if at all, from the seasons in terms or storytelling or theme. It's pretty much a speedrun of Hibike! Euphonium condensed into 1 movie with new characters added in. There is nothing added in the movie that truly breaks from the mold already established by both previous seasons. The movie is centered around certain 1st years who enter the high school and join band. Each of them have their own unique problems relating to band drama and personal conflicts with one another. With the last graduating class gone, there is a large hole in the club in terms of both numbers and talent, and tensions are high once again as old scars are brought up and new people bring their own baggage to the stage.
I'll talk about the positives first.
The music, as expected, is fantastic. The soundtrack is amazing and really sets in the mood for you to relax and enjoy. I had no problems with it really. The music played by the band is also incredible and it really does the series justice. If you haven't watched the spin off movie Liz and the Blue Bird, I highly do suggest you watch it beforehand to get a better grasp on the music piece played by the band. It made the orchestra scene so much better and emotionally powerful. This is just a suggestion for fans of the series who are invested in the musical aspect.
The art is fantastic as always. It's the same classic style you see from season 1 and 2. Nothing much changed and nothing much really needed to change. The quality was still good and while the animation itself was nothing much to brag about, the art and cinematography more than make up for that. There was nothing as well animated as the Kumiko running scene or the Reina smile scene in season 1 but the movie still held up high in regards to looking great.
The thing about Hibike! is that it is a character driven show, and as much as people give the music the highest praise, the characters are the best part of it. I really appreciated the fact that they did build up the characters we were familiar with, such as Natsuki and Kumiko. You see them still grow and adapt to their new roles in the club, especially as they are a year older now and they must shoulder the responsibilities that their former mentors held. The movie didn't totally just remove their role in the band in favor of the new students. However this becomes a double edged sword. I talk about the negatives regarding the characters below but the positives are still there in the mix. The character drama is all generally realistic in its portrayal of not only band culture but of competition. The series themes resonate with the movie still regarding both the philosophy of talent and winning. Because for some, winning is the only thing that matters, while for others, it's the effort in achieving either success or failure that is what is most important. You can achieve nothing but that is better than doing nothing. Hibike! prides itself on centering themes around this type of philosophy and they do a great job. It's why Hibike! is so good. If anything else, I consider the overarching theme in the movie to be the best positive I can write about.
I'll be moving on to the negatives now.
The movie was fairly rushed and you rarely have time to settle down with certain scenes and their implications before moving onto another problem. One of the reasons for this was that they heavily condensed the novel from which the movie was adapted from, cutting almost half of the substance. And while of course the anime movie should be judged independently from any other source, it does explain why the plot seems to be as if some scenes are being skipped. So when you are watching the movie don't worry if you do get slightly confused, some context is missing. And while this issue is not obvious all the time it does seem noticeable in a few important scenes relating to the new characters. You see them lash out spontaneously and their reasoning while perhaps justified have no real set up, making it as if we were supposed to have watch another prequel about the new 1st years before this movie to really understand them. We don't know enough about them to emphasize with them on anything but a shallow level. The pacing wouldn't have been that much of an issue but certain things seem to snowball together for a bit of confusion towards the end of the movie. KyoAni was essentially juggling screen time between the popularity of the old characters for fans and the introduction of the new ones.
The drama of the series is also a part where this rushed storytelling suffers from. The movie switches between the personal problems of Kumiko and the problems of the 1st years. And so what you get is kind of this underdeveloped conclusion to both in certain ways. While of course you can give the benefit of the doubt as there will be a sequel season 3, the movie seems to dilute the new characters a little too much. We rarely get to see them outside of their drama, acting as students circumnavigating band life in its entirety. It's more that we see them as walking talking plot points to address in order to move the story forward. You don't really know who they are as a person and I think that for a series like Hibike! there should have been a little more due diligence in fleshing out the new characters for the audience to relate to. The new characters all suffer from a lack of believable development save for one of them. The story tries its hardest to make up for that by giving them all emotional conclusions to their personal arcs but it feels somewhat hollow.
The movie may offer nothing truly "new" to the table for those already familiar with Hibike! but it does give us a small glimpse of the greatness that was season 1 and why the series is so popular.