Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 13 (Fin)

WE’RE SO SCREWED

As expected, the final Hibike! Euphonium 2 of the season is an epilogue; it even has ‘epilogue’ in the episode title. The third years are given a proper sendoff with lovely musical performances accompanied by montages of both this season and the last.

Yoko and Natsuki take up the mantle of new president and vice president, and the former can hear the loss of the third years.

Really nice lighting effects in this scene
Really nice lighting effects in this scene

So can Taki-sensei, who acknowledges that every year school bands essentially take a big step back due to the outgoing talent. That experience must be replaced with the remaining members plus the rawer talent of incoming first years.

The same band that made it to the Nationals no longer exists. The one that intends to make it back will be an entirely new one: new leadership, new composition, new style.

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Since Kumiko and Reina are first-years, they have not one but two more years to achieve their goal of National Gold. And they seem as optimistic and determined as ever to get there, despite their bronze finish this year and the loss of so much talent.

Their problems going forward are the same problems all school bands face, and secondary problems — such as Yoko and Natsuki clashing — are sure to crop up.

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The key (no pun intended), I suppose, is to avoid really big dustups such as the ones that took place before Kumiko and Reina arrived at Kitauji; the kind of conflicts that actually hindered the band’s performance, and the wounds of which have now all but faded.

And so we get a nice, long, heartfelt goodbye as all the seniors play for their juniors, then vice versa. There’s a commencement ceremony, where the goodbye hugs and wishes continue. And throughout this epilogue, Kumiko is sad and upset, all because Asuka is leaving.

Ah, so THAT'S where the show's title comes from. HUH!
Ah, so THAT’S where the show’s title comes from. HUH!

She runs all over the school grounds, increasingly desperate to find her. As usual, Asuka is trying to avoid “these kind of things”, but Kumiko won’t let her escape her, or her true feelings. Kumiko thinks she might have hated Asuka at first – but now all she feels is love. Romantic love? Perhaps it hews close to that, just as you could read her feelings towards Reina on top of that mountain last season.

But whatever specific kind of love it is, she’s got it, when she didn’t have it before. Asuka is someone she let into her life and personality, while continuing to hold back from Shuu (poor Shuu). Asuka is someone leaving, whom she doesn’t want to go. She has eyes for no third-year but Asuka.

And now she’s the chief euph, and her bandmates even remark how she sounds like Asuka. Like Mamiko, Asuka has helped shape and progress Kumiko’s musical development and identity. I’m unsure if there will be a Euph 3, but there’s plenty of great material to continue with.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 12

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Shuu Sighting! Shuu Sighting! Kumiko and Shuu can’t sleep the night before the Nationals, and end up having drinks together by the vending machine. As always, they talk about mundane things. Shuu gives Kumiko a belated birthday present: a cute hairpin. Scene.

It’s these two in a nutshell. Here, in the middle of the night, the two are able to at least have a moment. It’s not a bit dramatic moment or anything, just a cordial acknowledgement of their history together, without any kind of indication either one of them know what to do from there. Sometimes I think the show revels in always teasing these two.

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Oh yeah, the Nationals! Kitauji fails to win Gold. They fail to win Silver, too. They end up with Bronze. Bronze, after all that! I guess they aimed too high, huh? Ah well, like the band, I had carried unreasonably high expectations, and while it stings to seem them essentially crash and burn, they didn’t do badly for a group so young, and the second and first years aren’t out of opportunities. Just getting to the Nationals was a goal they successfully achieved, and that’s nothing to sniff at.

When Taki-sensei is awarded on stage, the band doesn’t have a cheer arranged. Enter Reina, who yells out “I LOVE YOU!”, which Taki and everyone else hears, but not necessarily as a confession. Later, when Taki thanks Reina and expresses his worry no one in the band liked him, she piles on the praise, then makes it clear she “really does like him” – to which Taki is flattered, and walks away without a formal response. Hang in there, Reina!

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In better news, Asuka’s father, and judge in the competition, heard her, and through Taki-sensei, compliments her play as “beautiful” and is glad she kept at it. Frankly, I’m not sure why he couldn’t tell his daughter in person, but it seems to be enough for Asuka, who has to embrace Kumiko before completely breaking down with happiness.

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And finally, after a lot of looking around and chasing, Kumiko tracks down Mamiko, who did attend after all, to tell her she loves the Euph and loves concert band because of her, and she loves her. Mamiko yells back that she loves her too, and that’s the ep.

It was a bit odd not to hear any music, but it was always going to be hard to replicate the atmosphere of previous performances without seeming repetitive. Similarly, the Nationals didn’t feel any more “special” than the Regionals this time or last. It ends up being kind of a bronze episode (if a 9 is Silver and a 10 is Gold).

It felt more like an episode full of loose ends being tied up. That made for some enjoyable moments, but they felt isolated and disjointed. Still, the feels were felt on numerous occasions; oddly enough no more so than when Mizore fist-bumped Kumiko and looked so pleased about it.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 11

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All we needed was the slightest look from Reina to know, with relative confidence what was amiss and why: Thanks to Hashimoto, Reina learns that Kumiko knew about Taki’s wife before she did, and she’s angry Kumiko never told her.

Whether Kumiko was busy with Asuka and the other girls, and was going to eventually tell Reina, we’ll never know. But we do know that Kumiko hesitated as long as she did because she didn’t want to hurt Reina.

During Reina’s suitably elaborate procedure for confronting Kumiko – by going to the summit of the mountain that seems to accentuate Reina’s beauty – Reina yells at the top of her lungs, asks Kumiko why, and gets the answer she already knew.

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Reina turns out not to be that mad at Kumiko after all, but at herself: at the weakness she exhibits upon hearing this news; the fact she didn’t know. Her armor has cracked just as the Nationals approach, and while she can say she’s going to “forget about it” until they’re over, it’s likely she’s not 100% sure she can follow through.

Kumiko, for her part, tells her she’s still rooting for her, making sure Reina hears that Taki isn’t married anymore, even if it’s hard both to say and hear. She’s almost making up for not telling her to begin with.

It’s another wonderful scene between the two friends, and a very welcome one after Reina’s presence had dwindled in recent eps. Both the animation and the voice performances soar.

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In a quick flashback, we see a young Reina first lay eyes on Taki and fall for him right then and there. She quickly finds how hard it is to follow through, having an elaborate, warm daydream in which Taki compliments her playing and gives her a piece just for her to play.

She’s ripped from her reverie by the real Taki-sensei calling her playing “weak.” She needs to get it together. But how?

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Reina finds a way. While delivering the practice room key back to Taki at the end of the day with Kumiko, Reina asks him about his wife. Not about where she went to school or who she knew, but what she was like.

Taki opens up to her, and confirms what Reina had suspected, but wasn’t ready to face until now, when her playing is being effected by the doubt. There is not doubt; Taki still loves his wife, and he very likely became their director for his wife’s sake. He wants to go to the Nationals and win Gold for her sake.

And so, we see both Reina and Taki at their most vulnerable and emotional this week. I guess Christmas came early!

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Having gotten all the answers and confirmations she needed for the time being, Reina returns to normal, and starts playing the way she and everyone else have come to expect. Niiyama gives her the location of Taki’s wife’s grave, where takes Kumiko and prays.

That flashback was the beginning of Reina wishing time would move faster for her, so she could catch up to Taki. But now she has another goal to set her sights on, something that she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish if she was his age: She’s going to help Taki win Gold.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 10

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It’s no coincidence Mamiko spends most of a scene scrubbing a pot she burned trying to make dinner. Mamiko wants to make up, not just with her parents, but with her sister as well. She’s scrubbing all the grease and grime that had amassed so that a new pot of soup can be made – a fresh start, without forgetting about what was said or what choices she made in the past.

As Kumiko volunteers to cook in her stead as she scrubs (she’s clearly the better cook of the two), Mamiko lays it all out candidly: how she thought going along with whatever her parents wanted was the adult thing to do, even though she wasn’t an adult at the time; how she resented Kumiko for being able to have fun with band; how she now regrets the choices she made, but is now ready to live her own life, hoping to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

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Kumiko always assumed her folks let her do as she pleased because they’d given up on her, because she had no promise. Mamiko doesn’t believe that; she just felt, as many older kids do, that her parents were taking a different approach with the younger kid; it’s what parents do. And before going to her room for a nap, Mamiko tells Kumiko to live her life too: be a kid when she’s a kid and an adult when she’s an adult; don’t be left with any regrets; learn from your suddenly awesome big sis.

While other friend-reconciling or concert-heavy episodes packed emotional and at times visceral punches, this may be my favorite episode of Euph2, because it’s the most personal one for Kumiko. She reacts to Mamiko’s news of leaving home with a stoic face, but on the train the next day, she suddenly bursts into tears. She is sad her sister is going, even if it’s what her sister wants…and probably needs.

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The episode brilliantly presents Mamiko as a parallel to Asuka, a connection I never really though about, but which makes perfect sense. I love how it’s Kumiko’s sister who provides a timely assist in terms of giving her a usable angle to go after an exceedingly stubborn Asuka.

Asuka is doing almost exactly what Mamiko did at her age, and while Kumiko didn’t do anything about that at the time – indeed, she didn’t even know what was going on, except that her sister was drifting away – she’ll be damned if she’s going to stand by and let Asuka go through with it unchallenged.

Challenge her Kumiko does, and Asuka, at least initially, is ready. She peppers Kumiko’s assertions with doubts like an expert debater. She keeps the focus on Kumiko’s argument rather than her problem, and even gets personal with Kumiko in a not-very-nice way, regarding her typical method of dealing with people.

She questions how someone like Kumiko, who herself tries to avoid hurting or getting hurt; who is “wishy washy” and keeps a safe distance; can expect people to tell her what they really feel, not just about Asuka coming back, but about anything.

 

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Kumiko is disheartened and temporarily stopped in her tracks, but the power of Mamiko’s words ring in her head and mix with Asuka’s euphonium, and Kumiko gets her second wind. Her voice rises in intensisty, tears stream from her cheeks as she confronts the heart of the matter.

She knows Asuka wants her father to hear her at the Nationals, and so does Kumiko herself. And she reminds Asuka that neither of them are adults yet, just high schoolers; and pretending to know everything and think “sucking it up and dealing” is the best course just isn’t right.

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Kumiko delivers an argument even Asuka didn’t quite expect, and moreso, delivers it with an honest passion Asuka can’t help but admire. Kumiko hurt her here, and let herself get hurt in return. The little blush on Asuka’s face is proof that that matters.

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Of course, Kumiko didn’t know if it would work when Asuka is suddenly called away. So when Asuka shows up the next day for band practice, Kumiko is gobsmacked. Many other band members tear up at her return.

And why? Well, Asuka proved she actually is special, at least when it comes to academics, scoring high enough in mock exams to have ammunition against her mom’s assertion she can’t succeed if she stays in band. Asuka takes her place beside Kumiko, and they prepare to practice.

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Asuka isn’t the only one Kumiko is surprised to see: Reina is also there. With everything that’s been going on with Mamiko and Asuka, Kumiko admits she’s kinda let Reina fall by the wayside.

By the look of Reina, I’d guess she’s either pissed off at the lack of Kumiko’s attention (doubtful) or has put the pieces together regarding Taki-sensei and his late wife, knows Kumiko knows, and is angry she didn’t tell her.

It’s almost as if the show intentionally made Reina and Kumiko such wonderful BFFs to this point so that when they hit a bump in the road, which seems to be the case here, it would have that much more impact. Of course, I’m just theorizing at some point. Gotta hear the next piece.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 09

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Kumiko isn’t able to wallow in helplessness over solving her family’s problems for long: her band-mates have a new project for her! Why are Natsuki, Nozomi, Mizore and Kaori all going to her? Why else: Kumiko has proven to have a knack for stealthily helping people with their issues. She can act as coy as she likes: the results of her work are clear for all to see, and this week she’s celebrated for it whether she likes it or not.

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“You’ve always done well.” “There’s something about you.” “You see through people.” “You act like you don’t notice things, but you do…and when it matters most, you always have the right words.” All meant as praise, all of it well-earned. There’s no pretending she isn’t something she is. Kumiko facilitates. She connects. She breaks through to the heart of matters, often forcefully if need be. And she inspires the likes of Reina to want to just as forcefully “peel off” her mask.

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Reina has a lot of choice moments this week, not only when she’s so lovingly and earnestly describing Kumiko, to getting adorably flustered when Taki-sensei rises and shines before her eyes. But she also sees the photo on Taki’s desk, of him with another woman. As talkative as Reina was with Kumiko before seeing that photo, the silence on the train ride home afterwards is deafening.

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Kumiko can’t help Reina on this right now, she’s faced with her toughest challenge yet: Tanaka Asuka. Fortunately for her, Asuka wants to talk, perhaps because she too has witnessed what Kumiko can do. The close-ups of Asuka when Kaori ties her shoe then walks off are downright scary, while the tension in the early parts of Kumiko’s visit to her home is palpable.

But when it comes down to it, Kumiko isn’t there to be tutored, and Asuka isn’t there to tutor her. Instead, Asuka finally opens up to Kumiko, telling her how Masakazu Shindo “was” her father before he and her mom divorced when she was two. She tells her how her determination to make the nationals was borne out of a “selfish” desire to get her father to hear her play. How she hates her mother, but can’t do anything about it.

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It’s here where we see Kumiko, who had entered this mission utterly lacking any semblance of confidence or certainty, goes into, well, shall we say “Euphonium Mode”? She sees through Asuka’s misdirection. She notices her feints and her subtle leadings. And she even has the right words to say at the right time…not because she knows what to say in this situation, but because it’s what she truly believes.

We know from her inner monologue, she wants to hear Asuka play. And so Asuka plays us out, during the end credits. And Kumiko demonstrates another ability we know she’s getting pretty good at: bringing out genuine smiles. The fight to get Asuka back is far from over, but it’s off to a promising start.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 08

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That ominous cold close of Mamiko leaving the Oumae household was a taste of what was to come this week, with Kumiko getting so caught up in family unrest it literally makes her sick. That being said, she isn’t all that involved in said unrest, merely a witness, and not a happy one at that. Her sister Mamiko, who inspired her to get into music, now wants to become…a beautician.

Her Dad warns Mamiko that if she quits college, she’ll be cast out and cut off. Mamiko blames her folks for making her quit trombone (which, to Kumiko’s shock, she never wanted to quit), but Pops only accepts partial responsibility; to him, the blame rests on Mamiko for not being more forceful about what she wanted to do.

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Back at school, Asuka returns to practice, but just as quickly stops coming again after inviting Kumiko to her place to help study for exams, which would be a first. Kumiko quickly becomes quite ill, making the band two euphs down, while Taki informs the band that if Asuka can’t show up for practice, Natsuki will take her place at the Nationals. It’s kind of unsettling how quickly Asuka disappears from this episode halfway in.

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Kumiko is sent home by her friends, and after an odd encounter with the third-year Aoi, she ends up in bed, waking up to find Reina quietly sitting by her bed, waiting to spring into action and take care of her. Reina has taken a bit of back seat to others of late (though she hasn’t become as obscure as Shuuichi), so it’s nice to see her here, and to see how far these two have come in their friendship.

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Reina even gets to witness Kumiko getting fed up at her sister when she barges in to turn off a euph CD. Kumiko doesn’t hold her tongue, and lets Mamiko have it regarding her earlier assertion she never wanted to give trombone up. Mamiko retreats, telling her little sister she’ll “never understand how she feels.” Yikes.

But that’s not where things are left. Mamiko runs into Shuuichi in the lobby on her way out (Shuuichi, whose mother heard Mamiko was quitting college). Shuu’s voice proves crucial in getting Mamiko to introspect, and that night, Mamiko comes back in Kumiko’s room – not to complain or fight, but to ask for a recording of her Kumiko’s music.

There’s been a rift between these two sisters for a long time, not helped by their frustratingly implacable father who only seems to know how to sow and escalate rancor in the household. Maybe they can reconnect through music?

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 07

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As BSG’s President Roslin said, “Alright…Next Crisis!” Kumiko may be dealing with a widening rift between her and her sister, but that takes a backseat to a more pressing issue that affects the entire band. It’s also the reason we’ve gotten so many close-ups of Asuka’s sadface: her mom is making her resign.

Taki-sensei refuses, but after her mom slaps her (an incident Kumiko happens to witness), the mother and daughter go home, and Asuka returns to school bright and cheery like nothing happened, she just plain stops showing up to band practice.

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The sudden loss of Asuka, and all the swirling rumors about it, instantly, negatively affects the band’s performance in practice on the eve of a very public performance at a big train station. Taki is not pleased with this, and basically peaces out and leaves President Haruka to deal with it (which is the right move to make, rather than continue trying to focus a clearly rattled band).

Haruka steps up to the plate (well, the lectern), and performs admirably, telling the band, essentially, that all this time they’ve built up Asuka as someone “special” and irreplaceable; but that’s not really the case. And now it’s up to them to support her for once, by bearing down and putting on a show they, and she, can be proud of, in hopes she comes back. That’s all they can do.

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The day of the station gig, sure enough, Asuka is there with a bright smile, ready to see what the band can do in her absence. Haruka wrests control of a massive, unwieldy baritone sax and belts out a badass solo. Taki suggested the solo to “shake things up”, and it worked: the performance boosts the president’s and band’s confidence as the Nationals draw nearer.

Asuka’s future with the band is still unclear, but the band will survive. As for Mamiko, there’s something very foreboding about the episode ending with her putting on her shoes and walking out the door of her family’s home.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 06

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Still basking in the glow of the band’s great victory and progression to the October Nationals, the girls relax a little at Kita High’s cultural festival. Kumiko, Hazuki and Midori try their hand at a maid cafe (so passe), and on her break Kumiko and Reina hang out a bit; all the while with Kumiko wondering whether to tell Reina what she knows about Taki-sensei.

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The festival also marks a rare appearance by Shuuichi, whom I sometimes forget exists. He’s kind of a weird but novel male romantic interest in that regard: he’s almost never on Kumiko’s mind, and she makes the same exact annoyed noise whenever she spots him, yet she still relies on him to help her get through the haunted house. Shuuichi has something to say to Kumiko, but the poor bastard is blocked by Reina dressed as a pretty scary ghost.

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Throughout the festival, Kumiko seems almost restless, and sure enough the “nonchalance” ends when a typhoon arrives, and she and the others get back into their routines, preparing for the run-up to some serious Nationals prep. But when Kumiko gets home, the colorful fun of her school’s festival is replaced by desaturated colors, a lack of eye contact, and an older sister who looks to her like a hypocrite now that she’s threatening to quit college.

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Kumiko, so quick to do what she can to help her friends (without getting too directly involved, mind you) is far less comfortable with her own personal problems, whether it’s whatever the hell is going on with Shuuichi (ahem, nothin’) or her family strife, her go-to move is to separate herself from the situation.

That leads to her ending up in Taki’s awesome Citroen Ami 8, as he offers her a ride home when her umbrella breaks. All of a sudden, Kumiko is up close and personal with a problem not her own: the Reina and Taki situation. And everything she sees and hears in this scene indicates Taki doesn’t seem ready to love anyone else anytime soon; after all, he still buys Italian Whites and wears his ring on the anniversary of his wife’s death. A

s lovely and mature as Reina is, I just don’t see it, and while I’m glad this didn’t descend in to a farce of Reina (or Shuuichi) spotting Kumiko being dropped off by Taki, it’s looking like Reina is setting herself up for heartbreak, whether or not Kumiko tells her anything.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 05

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One thing that makes Euph such a joy to watch is that it isn’t only the musical performances that are beautifully animated with the utmost attention to detail, it’s everything.

Hazuki doesn’t just grab hold of the handle on the train, you see the specific angle of her Chuck Taylors as she’s doing so, then looks out the window at the sights going by. Something mundane, like riding a train, is elevated to something special.

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So too is Kumiko when she starts to get scared about the oncoming Kansai Competition, even though we learn neither she nor the others had any reason to fear. They put everything into preparing for a twelve-minute piece, and it pays off big.

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Asuka, mostly keeping to herself unless someone like Kumiko or Nozomi approached her, stands up before the president to say some words that need to be said, about how she isn’t going to be satisfied having simply made it to where they are; she wants to win and move on to the nationals. Now they’re one step closer.

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If mundane things are wonderfully rendered in Euph, then the musical performances are simply that much more impressive. Every little clink of the instruments before the music starts, the teast of Taki-sensei raising his hands, then cutting to the sound of cicadas outside, only to bring us back into the performance.

The bold, brash, and challenging-sounding piece they play draws us in; the band plays as well as they ever have. Everyone knows their role and they execute with near perfection. Kumiko plays to the level Taki expected; Reina, playing for her and not Taki, knocks it out of the park with the trumpet. And Mizore’s oboe solo is full of grace and emotion, now that she’s no longer lamenting Nozomi.

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There’s a bit of suspense after the credits when the schools and their scores are announced, but I never for one second believed Kitauji would get anything less than Gold and to advance onward. I mean, they simply brought it with that performance.

Like Kazuki backstage, I couldn’t help but pray no big mistakes were made, and none were. As a result, the Nationals are now in view on the horizon, and it’s great to see the release of tension once they know it is. Kitauji is for real, but it only gets tougher from here.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 04

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In the end, Kumiko couldn’t do it. Or at least she couldn’t do it in time: confront Yoroizuka Mizore about Nozomi. Time is something no one in the concert band has: the competition is in ten days and they’ll be playing after Myoujou Technical.

It’s apropos that moments after nailing her piece in practice, Nozomi appears to praise her, than to ask if Mizore is around, since she heard her oboe. An oboe, by the way, that Nozomi remembers as being far more “fun” than it is now.

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There’s a reason for that, and it’s revealed this week, in IMO the best episode of the Fall 2016 Season so far (keep in mind I’m not watching Yuri!! On Ice). The tension when Kumiko realizes Nozomi is headed to Mizore, and Mizore’s painful reaction and quick retreat, are all beautifully done, as is Yuuko dropping all pretense and begging Kumiko to find Mizore quickly.

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Kumiko is the one who finds Mizore first, and though she didn’t get to her in time to save her from a painful encounter, she more than mitigates that by forming the conduit through which misunderstandings can be cleared up and fences mended, which was Kumiko’s hope in getting involved all along.

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Mizore, as we know, is bad with people. It’s hard for people to approach her and harder for her to approach them. So when Nozomi did approach her, in middle school, and they became fast friends, it was a revelation.

So much so, that when Nozomi quit the band without telling her, Mizore worried that it was because she was being left out. Nozomi was her only friend; Nozomi had many; and she feared more than anything that she was mistaken about their friendship.

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When Nozomi quit, Mizore shifted to Yuuko, but anyone could hear in her oboe play that she was still playing only for Nozomi; that Nozomi quit and could no longer play with her. When Yuuko arrives, worried sick, Mizore is so worked up about Nozomi that Yuuko has to remind her she has her too.

To that, Mizore reveals something more: that Yuuko was friends with her only out of pity; another misunderstanding. She was also mistaken in thinking her guilt over Nozomi and the others quitting was more important than being happy about winning the Kyoto Competition.

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Tanezaki Atsumi and Yamaoka Yuri do superb, powerful work here, bringing vitality and raw emotion to Mizore and Yuuko, respectively; there are moments when Tanezaki channels Hanazawa Kana. When Nozomi enters the classroom to find out what’s amiss, Touyama Nao adds her voice to this choir of awesomeness.

The most important misunderstanding is revealed by having the two friends finally face each other and clear the air: Nozomi didn’t tell Mizore she was quitting because she didn’t want her to quit too. She admired how diligent Mizore practiced.

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This was a case of someone who has trouble making friends and someone who has trouble not making friends ending up in each others’ blind spots. So it’s a good thing Yuuko and Kumiko are there to help bring them both into the light.

It’s also a case of my patience being rewarded, and I always reward shows that do that. Just when I needed some kind of catharsis over the building character tensions Kumiko was juggling, we get exactly that, and it’s as compelling and dramatically satisfying as anything on HBO. That’s the power of KyoAni at its best.

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Those fantastic scenes between Kumiko, Yuuko, Mizore, and Nozomi were bookended by Kumiko encounters with her older sister (who wordlessly storms past her and out of the house after an argument with their father), and her sister from another mother, Reina. The earlier scene very succinctly illustrates how wading deeper into her bandmates’ problems has taken her further away from her family’s. To be continued.

Her scene with Reina, on the other hand, is almost a reward for Kumiko (and us!) For a second I thought she’d bring up the fact that Taki-sensei is a widower. Instead, she asks Reina if there’s anyone in particular she plays for. Reina is, as Kumiko so perfectly puts it, “so Reina” in her reply that she mostly plays for herself.

But I’d wager a part of her plays for Kumiko too, as part of Kumiko plays for her. After all, come the next competition, everyone in the concert band will live and die on each others’ performances, not just their own.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 03

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This week both Kumiko and Reina have to have potentially uncomfortable (and in Reina’s case, catastrophic) conversations with people who are by nature hard to approach: Asuka and Taki-sensei, respectively. Reina is open with Kumiko about what she must do, and tacitly seeks support; Kumiko doesn’t tell Reina what she’s up to regarding Asuka and Nozomi.

Also, Reina’s is a simply matter of love. Kumiko feels she has to take an active role in the repair the frayed ends of the band before they get worse. She may have been sparing Reina extra stress, but perhaps she’s also keeping things quiet because she’s still not sure she can succeed.

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After a day of grueling, repetitive practice with short breaks for bathing and eating, Kumiko is already at a physical disadvantage in her long-awaited chat with Asuka (who has far more stamina). But Kumiko remains focused, as she must, to keep their talk on track.

Asuka wants to steer Kumiko away at every turn, but once she sees how committed Kumiko is, she isn’t shy about explaining why she can’t support Nozomi joining the band. In short, because their only oboist, Yoroizuka, wouldn’t be able to play.

It’s plain old logic: you already have some flutes, but only one oboe. So Asuka does what needs to be done for that oboist to be able to perform optimally—and even when Hashimoto says she plays like a robot, she’s still very good.

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Asuka warned Kumiko that possessing this knowledge would only make her miserable: how is she going to keep her promise by telling Nozomi…that? It wouldn’t just be a blow to her as a musician, but also completely upend her perspective on her relationship with Yoroizuka.

Sure enough, Kumiko isn’t in the best of moods, but Reina shows up with sparklers, and suddenly Kumiko has a worthy diversion: taking Reina by her perfectly constructed cheeks and giving her a wordless look after Reina hesitates asking Taki if he’s dating Niiyama.

Proving she’s simply a magnet for personal information and probably has a bright future in talk therapy, after Reina strides off, Hashimoto sits beside Kumiko and lets slip that Taki is a widower; his wife died five years ago and he’s been a “husk” ever since. But he’s happy Taki took the job at Kitauji, and even happier when he asked him to join him.

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When I heard Reina say Taki and Niiyama aren’t dating, I knew she’d sleep soundly that night. Sure enough, she’s blissfully dozing away, but Kumiko is restless, unsure of whether to tell her about Taki’s wife.

Her night wandering leads to her eavesdropping on Yuko and Natsuki, with the later confused about why Nozomi can’t join the band and the former unwilling to let too much slip, partly because she doesn’t want a big mess on her hands.

Yuko saw Kumiko try to hide, and treats her to a juice and a chat of their own. Yuko, like Asuka and now Kumiko, knows the truth about Yoroizuka and Nozomi, but doesn’t want Natsuki involved. Kumiko steers the talk to what Yuko herself thinks of competitions. She doesn’t like them, but if she has to be in one, she wants Gold.

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Kumiko returns to her futon and a now half-awake Reina (nice job with both seiyus modifying their voices to sound tired, discreet, and like they’re lying on their sides, which they are). Reina’s first thought of where Kumiko was is Tsukimoto, who has a hilariously tiny role so far this season, commensurate to the amount of shits Kumiko cares about him.

After honestly asserting that her childhood friend has “nothing to do with it”, Kumiko changes the subject, asking Reina the same thing she asked Yuko, and getting a predictably different and very Reina response: most people complaining about competitions is sour grapes, and all one can really do is to “get good.”

Besides, she likes playing in front of people, and competitions offer her that chance. For the record, she likes ’em. Then she nods back off, no longer troubled about Taki.

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The episode ends quietly and beautifully, not with another frank discussion on how someone feels about competitions, but with a sleep-deprived Kumiko striking out into the dawn with trusty euph in hand, and coming upon a “strange, warm, lonely piece” being played by Asuka in the middle of a grassy field.

Honestly, it sounded Ghibli-esque to me, like something Pazu might play on his trumpet for his doves. It’s a lovely scene, and a reminder to Kumiko that Asuka carries in her a “myriad of emotions” she releases in her music. While that might make her the opposite of Yoroizuka, well…they still need an oboe, and she’s it.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 02

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Oooo, it’s a pool episode! Except Hibike! Euphonium doesn’t really do straight up pool episodes. Yes, Kumiko and Sapphire are dazzled by Reina’s new swimsuit, but fanservice isn’t the sole point of the episode. Indeed, we get the same nuanced interactions between characters, regardless of garb.

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This is because Kumiko, seeing all the strife around her, can’t help but want to do something. She’s also not afraid to stand up for herself this week, when Nozomi asks why she and not Natsuki is in the competition group. She’s in because she’s better.

To her surprise, she doesn’t make an enemy of Nozomi right then and there. On the contrary, the two have a nice long chat that results in Kumiko promising to talk to Asuka. She even forgets she’s supposed to be having fun with Reina and the others.

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The pool segment is only half the episode. From there we get right to the practice camp, where Taki-sensei introduces another teaching assistant for the woodwinds, the very talented—and very stunning—Niiyama Satomi. The two seem to flirt a little, which just wrecks poort Reina. We’ve never seen her so out of it!

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Kumiko knows less about romance than Reina, so she decides not to touch that lest she cause more harm than good. Instead, she ends up in more one-on-one talks, first with Natsuki, who thanks her on Nozomi’s behalf and states her undying admiration for her, and Mizore, who expresses how much she hates competition, and how it causes her pain.

Kumiko, for her part, answers as forthrightly as she did regarding Nozomi’s question about why Natsuki wasn’t ahead of her. Their music is judged the way it is…because that’s just the way it is. She’s fine with it. You may not know exactly what a judge likes on any given day in any given competition…but neither does anyone else. You simply have to play as well as you can, and live with things outside your control.

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In perhaps my favorite scene of an episode full of nice conversations, Kumiko returns to her futon next to Reina, who is still awake and still worrying about Taki and Satomi. This time Kumiko has an answer, which is that they have no way of knowing how Taki feels unless he’s asked.

That brightens Reina’s mood somewhat, and the two simply join hands and stare at each other for a while. IMO there is no friendship deeper or more well-realized than these two this Fall. The voice actors and animators weave their usual magic here, nailing every little gesture and subtle change of tone.

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When Kumiko tells Reina she seems more grown up “inside and outside”, it also self-motivates her to try to emulate Reina, by following through on her promise to Nozomi to confront Asuka and get some answers. It’s not going to be easy, or likely pleasant—Asuka’s a damn hard nut to crack, and loves to cut conversations short with curt responses—but I look forward to seeing if Kumiko can achieve her goal.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 01

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Ah, no more messing around. Here comes a properly good Autumn hump day show that immerses you in its gloriously naturalistic and precise world. Granted, I was pre-immersed last year, but it takes no time at all in this sprawling-yet-measured 47-minute season premiere to fall back under the spell of Sound!

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Oumae Kumiko and Kousaka Reina have never been closer, literally or figuratively. Perhaps it’s a factor of Reina being satisfying with their level of success: they placed first in Kyoto and are representatives at the Kansai competition, the next step to the Nationals she dreams of winning someday. Right there with her, kind of in her wake, is Kumiko, who is more open and affectionate to Reina than anyone else, even, no especially her mom and big sister.

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Kumiko and Reina are relatively steady variables in this opener: all of the conflict comes from the uneasy atmosphere being created by still-open wounds among the upperclassmen.

Specifically, one former member who quit in the great second-year purge wants back in, but Asuka won’t budge. The first years are kept out of the loop, and it hurts their focus. As usual, KyoAni is impeccable at not just telling but showing the subtle but increasingly assertive effect of the senpai drama.

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Kumiko is a great protagonist because she’s so good at being in the middle of things while not dominating those events with her personality. She’s a deceptively very “normal” girl hiding multitudes beneath her exterior, brough to life with a skilled performance by Kurosawa Tomoyo (in a total 180 from her character of Sylphy in Amaburi). I love how drastically Kumiko’s tone changes when she’s talking to her fam, as if it’s a huge imposition to do so, which makes perfect sense since she’s a teenager.

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But most gratifying in a sea of senpai uncertainty and a looming life-altering competition is to see the collective rock that is Kumiko and Reina. They’re far past their troubles of past years, and both value one another’s company and conversation above all others.

They are proof that previous bad blood can not only be corrected, but flourish into a beautiful friendship. As the assistant instructor (a pro in the music industry) says to the band: be more imposing. Make more of an impact. Don’t be reticent, because it all comes through in their music.

Everyone has to be more open with one another to succeed and become the best band they can be, as well as the best people. Unpleasant things like resentments and grudges and infamous incidents can’t be allowed to fester. And most importantly, life shouldn’t be a constant struggle. You gotta stop and ogle the fireworks in rapt awe once in a while.

This was a baller premiere that reminded me why KyoAni is so good with such regularity. It doesn’t just nail the fundamentals, but sweats the details to the extent there are gestures and tones you won’t see anywhere else, to say nothing of the complexity of the emotions in play. A very solid and confident start.

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