Hibike! Euphonium – 13 (Fin)

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From the speed with which she turned it off, Kumiko wasn’t awakened by her alarm; she was already awake and alert, and ready to start the most important day of her life as a musician. From her stiff-upper-lip departure from her home, and the playful elbow-knocking with Reina on the train, to the execution of the logistics for the competition including roll calls, loading, instrument checks…and hair-tying—the Kitauji High School Concert band slowly but steadily marches to meet its destiny, and this time Kumiko is committed like never before.

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Fully half of this virtuoso finale is glorious, painstaking, nerve-wracking waves of build-up as the band prepares, and it’s just about perfect. Everyone gets their moments to shine and steady themselves for the monumental task before them: to advance to the Nationals. All of the hairs on my back and arms (and there are many) stood on end as the full band tuned, making a bottle of water vibrate a la Jurassic Park. Yet through the soundproof doors is something more frightening than any beast: judgement.

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Yet when the time comes to open those doors, no one shrinks or runs: Kitauji is united as one; even those not in the competition. Those who seem more nervous are comforted by others; even Shuu makes sure Kumiko, who’s never been that warm with him, is okay, and Kumiko decides she’ll at least give him a fist-bump for good luck, in one of countless subtle verbal and physical gestures that fill this marvelous half-hour.

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And doggone it, even Asuka is getting a little wobbly-eyed at the prospect of a period she wishes would never end ending. Only Kumiko is beside her to assure her nothing’s over; they’re just getting started. Kumiko is no longer simply half-assedly dreaming or thinking or hoping they’ll make it to the nationals. She truly believes they can, and she wishes that they do, out loud. It’s SHOWTIME!

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In the second half, we’re treated to the most sustained piece of music since the SunFes march, only here the stakes are much higher. And while the camera cuts from place to place and we get a brief interlude into Kumiko’s thoughts, once again Hibike! makes the right choice by simply letting the music breathe, not dolling it up with weird psychedelic visual effects.

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I hope you watched this with some good speakers and cranked those suckers up to get the full wall-of-sound effect once they got through the workaday required piece and moved on to their stunning free play, the “Crescent Moon Dance”, which had no major errors I could hear. It was a proud, confident, and powerful performance by a band with something to prove, and they proved it. No better example of this is Reina’s clutch solo, which was so loud and pure and gorgeous it moved me and Midori to tears.

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And while Taki-sensei had been a hard-ass leading up to this day, we saw him soften a bit when Kumiko came by after school to recover her phone, and that he truly wanted his band to succeed, and believed they had what it took to reach their goal. As for the band, when they finally finish their piece and rise for hearty applause, they almost seem to be in disbelief and shock that they were so good. But I wasn’t. They simply rose to the occasion and poured all of their efforts into the music.

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Unlike the first episode, where a middle school Kumiko had an “oh well, better luck next time”, “dud gold is still pretty good” attitude, she, along with everyone else, looks like their lives depend on the best result…and they get it! Not only is Kitauji awarded Gold, but they move on in the competition. And Kumiko and a tearful Reina’s hands are tightly intertwined for that moment of victory.

Even if this show doesn’t continue a second season (and there are apparently seven special episodes bundled with the Blu-ray), their piece continues, and we don’t necessarily need to see how far they’ll go. They did it, and it was fantastic to behold. Any Summer shows with similar themes are going to be very hard-pressed to match Hibike! Euphonium for pure emotional power and beauty of both sound and image. I shall miss it dearly.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 12

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Watching Reina win, then win again, has lit a match under Kumiko’s bum: she wants to be special to. But there’s a tricky euph measure she’s having trouble with, and Taki makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she’d better have the part nailed by the competition or else, she’ll drag everyone else down.

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So she practices, out in the humid heat until she’s dripping sweat and even gets a nosebleed. Reina is there with some water, along with her assessment that while Kumiko is getting better, she’s not good enough yet. She also makes it clear that she won’t easily let Kumiko catch up to her: if Kumiko becomes special, well, she’ll just become even more special.

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Reina continues her campaign to fit into the band by apologizing to Kaori and Yuki for her smugness, catching both unaware but likely forging a new bond moving forward; not necessarily of friendship, but mutual respect and cooperation, a necessity if they’ll have any hope at the Nationals.

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But despite her near-obsessive practicing of the same measure over and over again, Taki-sensei seemingly has enough and asks Asuka to play the part alone for the rest of practice, a stinging condemnation that might spell the end of the line, at least according to Kumiko, who has worked so hard yet still can’t get it right. She’s at the base of a wall she’s not sure she can scale to the top, but doesn’t want to stop trying. And she’s putting everything into band, as we don’t see her studying one bit.

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Physically and emotionally spent, she breaks into a run (more nice work from KyoAni) and shouts from a bridge both her feverish desire to improve and her anger at the level she’s presently at. Shuu just so happens to be on the other side of that bridge, and joins her in the yelling, and Kumiko realizes she’s as upset as Reina was in middle school. Now she knows that anger, frustration, and pain she felt.

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The question is, what will she do with them? As luck would have it, Taki-sensei is still at school when she returns to retrieve her phone, and he’s surprisingly warm and open to her, both about how his own life turned out, following in the footsteps of his father. He didn’t do it out of obligation, but because he liked it, just like Kumiko has grown to like her Euph (and, perhaps to a greater extent, Reina.)

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She leaves the school with a spring in her step, having been, if not smiled upon, at least winked at by the god of fortune. She also finds that Reina tried to call her a million times, and when they meet up, Reina seems far more interested in Kumiko’s alone time with Taki than Kumiko’s quest for a Euph capsule toy.

With only one episode left that I know of, I can’t see Hibike! Euphonium ending in a satisfying fashion, no matter how many stops are pulled out. Attempting to do so would require too much speeding up of the narrative. So I’ll approach the final week hopeful that last episode won’t be the end, because I’m simply not ready to close the book on Kumiko, Reina, and the rest of this beautiful, brassy, poignant show.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 11

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I’m not good. I just love it.

Those are the words Yuko remembered Kaori saying when she first told her senpai how good she was at trumpet. They’re words she tried to put out of her mind in the midst of her crusade to elevate Kaori to the soloist’s chair, but nothing she can do can change the fact that Reina is better than Kaori. Even she can’t deny it anymore.

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On the eve of the second chance she nabbed Kaori—by besmirching Taki-sensei and devaluing Reina—and Kaori’s inevitable defeat, Yuko starts to realize she’s made a mistake. As Natsuki tells her, Kaori is the one who’s going to feel the worst when she loses to Reina a second time. Asuka, always businesslike in matter of music, can’t and won’t humor Kaori.

Kumiko, just as obsessed with Reina as Yuko is with Kaori, happens to be on the right side of objectivity as well. She sees Shuu practicing hard by the water on a part Taki warned him to get right tomorrow, only increasing her desire to get better herself. But notably, she doesn’t approach him, and not just because she doesn’t want to disturb him.

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For all the trouble she’s stirred up, Yuko isn’t quite done this week, as she tries to persuade Reina to take a fall in the audition for Kaori’s sake, reciting to her all the arguments for why Kaori should get the part, and is even willing to throw herself under the bus, telling Reina she can accuse her of bullying her, and she won’t deny it.

Kaori puts up a metered front: none of Yuko’s arguments have anything to do with her, and refuses her begging. Channeling Asuka, another no-nonsense musician, Reina assures Yuko that Taki will choose the trumpeter who plays best, even though she knows Yuko knows that, and is why she’s exploring…other options.

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The day arrives, with the two would-be soloists excused from set-up duty in their rented hall to practice and get in the zone for their auditions. Tension mounts, and their respective cornerwomen pay them visits. Notably, Asuka doesn’t visit Kaori, as she probably finds this whole exercise distasteful. Haruka does wish her luck, and even asks why Kaori is so obsessed with Asuka.

Kaori’s answer is clear: she feels like Asuka can see right through her and knows what she’s thinking, so she wants nothing more than to surprise her. This second audition affords her just that chance, but having heard Reina’s playing, it’s practically certain she’ll come up a bit short.

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That brings us to Reina, sitting alone in the gorgeously lit lobby of the concert hall when Kumiko approaches her. Reina’s had time to think about all of the things Yuko said about Kaori, and all of the things that will happen to her if she destroys her. She asks Kumiko if she’ll be upset if she loses, and Kumiko tells her she would: she is better than Kaori.

When Reina counters that winning would make her a villain, Kumiko promises to be a villain with her. Reina draws so very close to Kumiko, asking if she’ll really stay with her, and Kumiko tells her she can kill her if she doesn’t, stating her resolve as a confession of love, echoing Reina’s own confession up on the mountaintop.

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Reassured with Kumiko beyond doubt, Reina assures her that she never had any intention of losing anyway. But it certainly didn’t hurt to hear the strongest words yet of affection and solidarity from her dear friend. All Kumiko did was speak from the heart, but she said exactly what Reina needed to hear to take the stage with the utmost confidence.

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The tension builds again when the two trumpeters take that stage before the rest of the band, dwarfed by the massive music hall that still isn’t as big as the venue for the competition. Taki sets the rules: Kaori will play, then Reina, and the students will vote with applause.

Kaori really seems to rise to the occasion and plays beautifully, but when it’s Reina’s turn, the difference between them is considerable, even for these relatively untrained ears. Reina is crisper, louder, and seems far more in command of the instrument. Her solo fills the entire hall and resonates. It should be plain to any of the band members assembled that she’s the better soloist. It’s stirring stuff to boot; not even having to rely on weird trippy visuals like Violin Girl.

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Yet when it comes time to applaud, only Yuko and Haruka clap for Kaori, while only Kumiko and Hazuki clap for Reina: a tie. Taki, ostensibly the tiebreaker, calls Kaori’s name, asking if she’ll be the soloist for the competition. After a few moment’s introspection, Kaori herself refuses, saying it should be Reina.

Really, how could she not? As both Kumiko and I have remarked, Kaori is a good person. She’s taken things as far as she can, and knows when she’s been beaten. Even if a hysterical Yuko still can’t quite accept it, she must, as Kaori does. As for Taki-sensei, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he knew this was exactly how the audition would go down.

While no one other than Kumiko and later Hazuki volunteered to clap for Reina, nor did they clap for Kaori after hearing how good Reina is, choosing to abstain. I’m sure both Reina and Taki would have preferred not being accused of being the recipient and doler-outer of favoritism, but in the end merit and talent triumphed over sentiment and pity.

If Kitauji’s going to have a chance at the Nationals, this is how it has to be.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 10

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Not that it wasn’t going to anyway, Hibike! got on my good side early this week by elaborating on that dark flashback Kumiko keeps thinking of. Turns out she beat one of her senpais in auditions, and the senpai chewed her out, saying she’d be in the competition if only Kumiko…didn’t exist.

That’s a harsh thing for someone like Kumiko to hear, and it’s clearly stayed with her, because when Natsuki asks to talk, she’s worried she’s going to get it again.

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It’s not that Kumiko doesn’t believe she deserves her spot, it’s that she can’t help but feel in the way of a senpai. She deals with her objective supriority by recoiling almost apologeticaly before the one she beat. Fortunately, Natsuki is, as Kumiko aptly puts it, “a nice person.”

That is, she doesn’t hold it against Kumiko for winning the seat. On the contrary, she’s only been playing a year and didn’t expect to win, and knew she wouldn’t be able to hide either fact from Taki-sensei. So while she’s her senpai in age, Kumiko is her senpai in Euph experience, by six years!

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While I believe Natsuki when she says she didn’t have high hopes, Kaori is another story entirely. She really wanted the solo part in her final year, and while it’s clear she hasn’t made her peace with the fact she didn’t get it, she’s willing to accept the decision out of respect both for Taki-sensei, Reina, and the system.

But then rumors spread of Taki and Reina knowing each other, introducing suspicions of favoritism. Yuko relays these rumors second-hand to Kaori, and while I know she’s just trying to be a loyal and caring friend, she only made things worse in terms of Kaori getting over things, because things may not be on the straight and narrow.

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What’s disappointing is how indelicately Yuko brings the issue before Taki-sensei, in front of everyone. He doesn’t deny knowing Reina, but insists he showed no favoritism. When Yuko presses, Reina can no longer hold her tongue. Both she and Taki make things worse by refusing to to anything about it.

Reina storms out, followed closely by Kumiko, but rather than find Reina depressed or crying, Reina is simply frikkin’ PISSED OFF, unable to stand Yuko’s presence any longer. She gathers Kumiko in a big warm hug, seeking assurance that she’s right about being the best trumpeter for the soloist part. Kumiko gives it to her, not just because they’re friends, but because she believes it herself.

And because these two are so close and open now, Reina also informs Kumiko that she attended this school because she knew Taki would be directing the band. She probably knew rumors would surface, but they’d come from what amounts to sore losers, and she’d simply barrel through them and press forward. (Does this confirmation of her love for Taki mean Reina and Kumiko don’t have a yuri future? I guess we’ll see.)

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But that’s going to be tricky. As good as Reina is, the controversy has had a profound effect on band cohesion, with people taking sides all over again, and talking about everything behind Taki’s back. The bassists send Kumiko to try to get Asuka’s opinion on the matter, but off the record (and in confidence) Asuka admits she doesn’t care either way; insinuating she’s focused on her own path. Kumiko can’t tell if she’s putting up a facade; neither can we. Asuka remains wonderfully enigmatic.

Less enigmatic but still wonderful is Haruka, who can’t rely on Kaori again (since Kaori is mired in the middle of this) nor the ever-neutral Asuka. She knows that she, the president, needs to get the band back on track. So before Taki arrives, she addresses them, and gets a show of hands for those with problems with the auditions.

She gets a number of hands, but can’t do anything with them as Taki-sensei enters, having just gotten a brief talk with the faculty adviser, who also happened to know his father. She knows that he can’t help but be honest and only care about music when it’s good enough. But in this situation, he has to be more than a greatness detector: he has to regain his band’s trust, even if it means screwing over those who already won.

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To this end, he too breaks the silence about the controversy, and offers a second audition to anyone who wants one, only this time it will be held in the concert hall he rented, in front of the whole band. The first to raise her hand is Kaori, which we know has nothing to do with her thinking she’s better than Reina or believing Taki played favorites. I don’t think she believes either.

This is, as her friend said, about accepting herself, something she won’t be able to do if she doesn’t take this opportunity. Reina’s disappointment is clear and justified, but knowing her, she’ll take this as a fresh challenge on her path to become truly special. Even if she doesn’t care what others think of her, she can’t get to the nationals without the rest of the band.

I don’t think she’ll ever win the love Yuko and others have for Kaori, and it’s possible she’ll beat Kaori so badly they’ll still be against her. But who knows, perhaps this time, out in the open, she can convince them beyond doubt she deserves the solo part. It isn’t something she should have to do, but she has to all the same.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 09

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Kowai…

Last week was a beautiful and highly memorable episode oozing with romance, love, heart-swells and heartbreaks and confessions and rejections, and ASUKA DON’T GIVE A SHIT. She is the voice of the episode that brings us back down to earth from those indelible images of a sore-footed, one-piece-dressed Reina lugging a Euph up a mountain, or the perfect duet played high above the shimmering festival. Fun Time is over. Gotta practice!

While Asuka’s objection to “issues” getting in the way of her practice time is presented in a semi-comedic tone, it’s nice how her very objection and complete lack of patience on such a subject is also an indication of her issues, which remain internal so far.

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The distracted girl Asuka all but kicks out of the room is Midori, who still feels bad and possibly guilty about Hazuki getting rejected, believing she played a part in her failure. Her depressed mood is translating to noticeably poor play.

Hazuki keeps her frown upside-down, even though we know she feels bad too, she wants to be happy, and is taking the well-worn path of acting happy first. Her strategic (and very graceful) change of direction when Shuu enters the train is proof she wants to move on.

Kumiko, meanwhile, is still wrestling with the fact that people are telling her she likes Shuu, when she’s never given much thought about it, and can neither confirm or deny it. She can craft a defense against such allegations—”I didn’t want to lose a friend”; “we go way back.”—but they don’t tell the whole story of her true feelings, because that story hasn’t been written in a language in her head she can understand yet; it’s all out of focus.

This show does a fine job emphasizing how different Kumiko, Midori, and Hazuki are, which is I think why Kumiko has accepted them as friends. They’re not all trying to be the same, like the rhetorical sheep Reina blasts; rather, they’re embracing their differences to gain new insight.

Midori is probably a little surprised when Kumiko says they should just act normally, since that’s where she believes Hazuki is trying to get. But she respects and goes along with that idea.

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Real nice slow-rain

Of course, things aren’t normal for anyone right now, and not due to any love triangles, but because there are only 55 seats and more than 55 tushes, which means even those who have played beside one another have suddenly become their rivals for those limited seats.

It’s something that weighs on Kaori, who gets more screen time this week. I love how Haruka reassures her the way Kaori reassured her during her crisis of confidence. Kaori wants to become better so she can keep the peace in the band and prevent another incident like last year. There’s also considerable pressure on her from her peers, particularly those junior to her who idolize her as the band’s madonna.

It’s interesting that our first good look at Reina since her big breakout episode is crossing paths with her fellow soloist, the clearly intimidated Kaori.

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I also love how in so many animes, we always hear horns practicing somewhere on the grounds, and Hibike! finally focuses in on those musicians. Kumiko looks particularly isolated—by choice—in her little corner of the schoolyard as she practices her piece. When she hears another Euph playing the piece very well, she runs over and is surprised to find it’s Natsuki, who earlier in the show was dozing during practice.

Seeing Natsuki there, giving it her all, Kumiko suddenly snaps out of her complacence: her seat on the band is not assured; no one’s is. And she’s not the only one working hard to become better, so she’d better get back to it!

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Those nerves won’t do her any good in the audition (it might have been better, if less dramatic, had she not heard Natsuki prior to her audition), but she can’t shake them. At least, not until Reina enters the storage room, ignores whatever Kumiko mutters to her, and takes hold of her cheeks, so her their faces and eyes are locked into each other.

I’m going to do my best, so you have to, as well.

She doesn’t let go of Kumiko’s cheeks as she parry’s her “buts” with a repeat of that mantra-like line. Suddenly, Kumiko calms down, then puts her hands on Reina’s cheeks and agrees. It’s great to see the camera cut to their feet as Kumiko’s weight pushes against Reina’s.

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Zero hour: Kumiko’s audition. The atmosphere is so deliciously tense. I loved how Taki’s impressed reaction to learning how long she’s played one instrument made her worry she set the bar even higher for herself.

I found my breathing patterns change as I listened to each note of the first bars she’s told to play. And she plays it well. Not perfectly, but not badly, either. Then Taki asks her to play a bar she hasn’t practiced as much.

It’s a bar we don’t get to hear (the show is as great at knowing when to withhold music as when to use it for dramatic effect), but I knew she played it well, too; because while she initially panics a little, she remember’s Reina’s words, and the feeling of her hands on her cheeks, and does what she has to do.

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That being said, the announcements of the parts was as nerve-wracking as the audition, especially the seemingly cruel way their advisor lists the names of those who got seats, then simply saying the total afterwards.

At the sound of those totals we always see someone suddenly burst into tears, one by one; it’s like a battle, and they were unlucky enough to get hit by enemy fire; only they’re all friends and, in a way, family. The discomfort of that scene, and the lack of visible celebrations from the winners out of respect for their comrades, is all perfectly pitched.

That goes for when Kumiko is announced right after Asuka, as the only two Euphs who got seats. Kumiko seems almost guilty she snatched the second seat from Natsuki, after watching her transformation from apathy to devotion. It even reminds her of when that girl in the past asked her “Do you think this is funny?” which now sounds like a rebuke to Kumiko’s own apathy about music at the time. But the true meaning of those words, and the identity of the person who said them, remain elusive.

Midori gets a seat as the contrabass, but Hazuki fails, but takes it rather well, at least on the outside. Reina makes it too, then surprises the entire band (except for herself and probably Kumiko) when it’s also decided she, and not her senpai Kaori, will play all the solos.

But whatever social fallout such a decision has on Reina, I’m certain she’ll keep moving forward…will want Kumiko to keep walking beside her.

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P.S. MAL remains noncommittal about the episode total of this show. I don’t wish this often, but I truly hope this gets the second cour it deserves. Anyone know for sure?

Hibike! Euphonium – 08

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Now THAT, ladies and gentleman, is how it’s done. All hail KyoAni. Nagato Who-ki?

You’ll have to forgive all the incoming gushing, as I’m still a little overcome with ALL THE FEELS from this latest, greatest episode of Hibike! Euphonium, which also happens to be the best thing I’ve seen all Spring; maybe all year.

This episode was every bit a carefully, lovingly composed masterpiece with nary a note out of place, starting with not letting Kumiko off the hook. We’re right back at those desks with Hazuki, having dredged up the courage (and you can see her nervousness in the way her feet shift below that desks).

Kumiko has no clue what’s going on, but she’s about to. Surprising candidate for class yenta Sapphire takes Kumiko’s noncommittal attitude as tacit approval for Hazuki to ask Shuu out for the upcoming Agata Festival, a traditional ceremony of pairing-off for her peers.

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But as we’ve seen, Shuu isn’t interested in any other girls. He asks Kumiko out, and she again acts like a deer in the headlights. As she makes the transition from dark winter to more cheery summer uniform, the sky is appropriately as cloudy as her muddle of racing thoughts. He told her to think about it, but she’s having trouble thinking about anything. This state of mind is totally new for her, and it seems equal parts frightening and exhilarating.

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Kumiko didn’t ask to be thrown into a love triangle, which she literally draws out in her notebook just so she can behold it in a space other than the inside of her reeling head. Nor did she want to be put in a position where her chipper friend Hazuki gets hurt. But the aggressive Sapphire literally pushes Hazuki into doing what she wants to do and would probably regret not doing.

In a sign that Shuu simply isn’t on the same wavelength as her, he misjudges Kumiko’s efforts to slink away from him as a signal for him to follow her. Literally cornered, she grabs the arm of the first person to exit the practice room, who as fate would have it, is Reina! Hazuki also comes out, and asks Shuu for a moment; Shuu asks Kumiko if it’s really “okay”, and she tells him it is.

But it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. It’s almost not fair!

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I say almost, because Kumiko’s “consolation” prize is no consolation at all; but the jackpot; she just doesn’t know it yet. She may have grabbed Reina at random, but Reina considers the act a binding contract, and Kumiko’s in no position to argue. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kumiko was looking more forward to going with Reina, who’s telling her they’re going, than Shuu, whom she would’ve had to say “yes” to— something she’s apparently not ready for.

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I liked the episode’s inclusion of the normal couple Riko and Gotou as a sign that not everyone is locked in fraught triangles at school. But I also like how the show doesn’t play favorites for any particular vertex of the triangle we think is in play. Because of that, I was still rooting for the super-cute Hazuki, who eschews a yukata for a miniskirt and short-crop tee.

As for Reina, well…what is there to say? She’s hauntingly gorgeous, so much so that a more slapsticky show would have almost certainly gone inside an SD Kumiko’s head as she gulps comically loudly. Kumiko is also dressed decidedly boyishly compared to Reina’s ethereal snow-white one piece. But on this date, it’s Reina who leads: up a mountain and into another entirely new world for Kumiko; one she never saw coming.

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Like I said, I wanted to root for Hazuki and Shuu, but as cute as she is, the spark just isn’t there. At least Hazuki has the good sense to be quick and efficient about things, so that when Shuu does gently but firmly reject her, it doesn’t feel quite as sudden when she’s suddenly resolving to get him and Kumiko together, despite his claim there’s nothing there. Still, that shot of Hazuki from behind, gazing at the shimmering moonlit water that may as well be her tears, is a powerful image.

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This must be how it feels to lose your life, drawn to a beautiful thing, despite your fears.

As good as Hazuki’s failed confession was, it is quickly overshadowed by Kumiko’s date with Reina, as they trudge up the mountain, periodically switching instruments so they share the load.

Seeing you in that white one-piece, holding my euphonium, seems so wrong.

On this trek, far from all the other festival-goers Reina fearlessly lays her feelings for Kumiko bare.

—Don’t your feet hurt?
—They hurt. But I don’t hate pain.
—What? That’s kind of hot.
—Freak.

It would have been easy for Shuu to accept Hazuki’s confession and go out with her, having been spurned by Kumiko in a golden opportunity passed by. But the true love triangle doesn’t involve Hazuki at all; we now know it’s between Shuu, Kumiko, and Reina.

It’s like you put on a kind, good-girl face, but inside, you’re actually really distant. It makes me want to peel that good-girl skin off of you.

Bandmate Natsuki also remarked that Kumiko “is kind of distant like that”, and it’s true. It’s why we hear Kumiko narrating to us all the time: not just to explain how the concert band works, but she’s observing and reporting on her life, all the while keeping it at arm’s length.

It’s a side she didn’t know anyone noticed—heck, it might be a side she didn’t even know she had. But Reina has seen it. Reina stays away from people who “don’t interest her”, and believes fitting in, and being relieved about being the same as someone else is “stupid.”

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It was pretty ingenious how effortlessly Reina scooped Reina up and put her under her spell. I must say I did not expect a confession of romantic love, nor was there an indication the show would take a yuri turn so soon, but hey, it is Springtime, and by the time they’d finally reached the summit and seen the entire town and festival at their feet, as if they were standing in heaven, I wasn’t ruling out a kiss. Reina’s “not the same as the others” line seems to underline the fact that no guy in her life interests her as much as Kumiko does.

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On the one hand I couldn’t help but think Reina seems awfully happy to have found a kind of kindred spirit in Kumiko, which some might say makes her a hypocrite, only with different taste than most. But on the other, I really like her belief a life without pain or struggle isn’t a life at all. One only needs to see Hazuki’s struggles this week to understand that. She’s all smiles when she meets back up with Sapphire…until she isn’t. But she tried; she put her heart on the line. That matters.

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Kumiko’s life isn’t made any simpler by Reina’s confession—she’s still in a love triangle, just not the one she drew—but that hardly matters right now. On this particular night, she and Reina play the same song they played in middle school—because Reina likes it—and they play beautifully and in perfect harmony. As Sapphire said, all music begins with love, and Reina’s desire to be “special”, even more special than she already is, is also fueled by love.

In her narration, Kumiko admits to being “sucked in” by this “snow maiden”, and feeling like she wouldn’t mind “losing her life” to her. Only Reina isn’t a yuki-onna; she’s a girl who just confessed to her. Kumiko’s lack of a good reaction makes Reina repeat her assertion that Kumiko has a “terrible personality”, but she means it as a compliment; Reina doesn’t want perfect. And reaction or no, Kumiko now knows what it feels like to want or need to go out on a limb; take a risk; lay one’s heart bare, even if it might hurt or not work out. I daresay Kumiko lost her innocence this week. So…what will she do now?

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Hibike! Euphonium – 07

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I’ve enjoyed how throughout Hibike! Euphonium’s run it’s found little moments where Shuuichi always seems to gravitate toward Kumiko, who typically acts stiff, even annoyed by her childhood friend’s presence. At the same time, I imagine she’s not just tolerating  it, but legitimately comforted by it.

As we’ll see in the very end of the episode, Kumiko may be taking her bond with Shuuichi, and the easy rapport they have, for granted, even if it’s not intentionally. Their relationship is just one patch of the complex and multi-layered emotional tapestry of Hibike! Euphonium, a tapestry I’ve loved wrapping myself in week to week.

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The band uses their collective souls and breath to create music. But those souls are constantly beset by emotional obstacles—past, present, and future—that undermine their ultimate goal of achieving the level of technical precision and group cohesion necessary to have a shot at the Nationals.

When Kumiko overhears that her longtime friend and neighbor Aoi is thinking of quitting, and Shuuichi confirms it, she won’t believe it. But then, in the middle of practice, Taki can sense her single-handedly “muddying” the rest of the ensemble and calls her out, giving her the perfect chance to announce she is indeed quitting.

She does it abruptly, but her absence from the band is like an open wound from which negative energy festers. The president, Haruka, overtakes Kumiko in running after Haruka, but can’t convince her to come back. Haruka, in turn, has a crisis of confidence that had been brewing long before this most recent setback.

She cries in front of her junior Kumiko, lamenting that none of this would have happened if only Asuka had been president instead of her. It’s Asuka who comes out to the hall with a hanky for her tears. She lays it out to Haruka in very Asuka-esque fashion: If she knew all along really wasn’t cut out to be president she should have refused, as she herself did.

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Haruka takes the next day off, and the wound widens as now two third-years are absent. The show goes on without them, but Taki now notices Kumiko isn’t playing up to snuff. Being troubled does that; and in the sea of raging hormone and emotions that is high school, being troubled is an unavoidable fact of life. But unavoidable and unmanageable aren’t the same thing.

Hibike gets more info from her fellow eupher Natsuki about the civil war that took place within the band right before Kumiko and the first years arrived.  Haruka, Aoi, and the band’s “Madonna” Kaori were combatants and still bear the emotional scars of that war. Natsuki came out of it with a greater sense of commitment to her art, while Asuka remained neutral the whole time, staying above the fray.

Natsuki’s “war stories” invokes a memory for Kumiko from middle school, in which a short-haired girl refuses to accept her. It’s something that haunts her just as her since-resolved estrangement from Reina once did, only she’s not telling anyone about it, despite the fact it haunts her still.

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Meanwhile, Kaori visits Haruka and shakes up her pity party with hot potatoes, milk, and encouragement. She speaks the truth: Asuka may have been “smart” for refusing the presidency, but that doesn’t make Haruka stupid. Well, not just stupid…it took courage, courage that Asuka, for all her perfection, didn’t have, perhaps because logic can do such a good job of legitimizing retreat.

Haruka wasn’t held back by logic. The band was in tatters, but she picked up the remaining pieces, moved forward, and put it back together. If it weren’t for Haruka, there’d be no band for Taki-sensei to conduct. It’s what Kaori believes—and it’s the truth. Aoi’s exit from the band isn’t an indictment on her. Whether Aoi’s genuinely worried she won’t be able to get into a college if she sticks with a band, or she’s just using that as an excuse to retreat, she made her own choice.

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Having obviously picked up on the fact Kumiko is troubled about something she’s not telling anyone about, before alighting from the train Hazuki tells her if she ever wants to talk, she can. Up to this point these two and Midori have largely goofed off and had fun, so it’s nice to see their frienship growing deeper.

But poor Hazuki gets to see firsthand that the universe seems predisposed to putting Shuuichi and Kumiko together again and again, and that Shuuichi doesn’t seem to mind that phenomenon one bit. Yet once he’s aboard and sitting next to Kumiko, she’s immediately scolding him for bringing up Haruka hypothetically quitting.

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Yet in spite of her typical oh my god why do I have to deal with Shuuichi aura, Kumiko is also unmistakably engaged with him. Be it on a bench, on a bus, under a shelter, or on the train, when they’re together it’s like there’s a bubble around them and they are their whole world.

This is reinforced by the fact neither of them notice Reina’s sitting right next to them on the train. Even the camera didn’t notice. Ninja Reina! Not that she cares. Perhaps she sees what I see!

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President Ogasawara returns the next day to applause and sighs of relief, and the band continues their march towards the competition. If there’s one problem I had with this episode, it’s that it was a bit…stingy with the actual presentation of music. But that’s a small problem, and in fact, it’s actually better for the show to be stingy now, as it’s building up anticipation for the official performance, which I’m hoping will be as powerful as their march at SunFes.

Still, it’s telling that the chair where Aoi once sat remains unoccupied; the other saxophonists didn’t form up around the gap. This is a visual symbol that though the bleeding has stopped, the wound is still there. And it may not be the only one the band suffers as things get more grueling.

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Not only that, we finally get Hazuki bringing Shuuichi up to Kumiko; specifically, working up the courage to ask straight up whether they’re going out. Ending the episode with Kumiko’s simple bemused reaction to the sudden query is perfection. Just as she’s starting to put Aoi’s departure behind her and trying to play up to the standard Taki-sensei demands, Hazuki unwitingly tosses a new wrench in the works.

I don’t quite buy that Kumiko’s has never once seen Shuu as a potential love interest, only as a non-romantic childhood friend and occasional nuisance. In fact, I think part of why she typically regards him somewhat coolly is a result of feelings she’s not quite sure what to do with. Her look at the end here may not be puzzlement so much as a wake up call. With Hazuki’s heart now in the game, it’s time for her to take a position. And that’s got to be terrifying.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 06

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The sense of accomplishment from their SunFes success is short-lived, as Kitauji still has a long ladder to climb, being a school that has never scored higher than bronze, nor gotten out of prefectural stage of competition. Taki is taking the band’s desire to get to the nationals dead seriously, and he wants to field the best band he can, and that means auditions.

Auditions mean a first year can make it into the band if they’re better than a senior, but Hazuki doesn’t have any illusions about making the cut, as she’s still learning her way around Tubacabra. But Asuka won’t hear of her quitting before she tries, as it could cause problems in later years if super-talented first year tubaists join the band.

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As soon as Hazuki accidentally pulls out a piece of her tuba and panics, I was reminded of the first time I broke down my trumpet for maintenance. Like any complex instrument, musical or otherwise, it’s as important to know how it comes together and how it should work as it is to know how to play it well. The scene of the disassembled tuba also brings back happy memory for Kumiko: cleaning her (likely hand-me-down) euph as her sister cleans her trombone.

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I like how Kumiko and Reina have quietly settled into a nice friendship, though the two still seem a little embarrassed communicating so closely with one another. Or is that just the look of happiness on their faces? Clearly Kumiko was wrong about Reina holding a grudge; if anything, it seems as though all along Reina was looking for the right opportunity to reconnect with her former bandmate. Kumiko’s “payback” retort even inspires Reina to belt out a tune right there in the schoolyard, even as her senpai—now a rival in the auditions—plays up on the roof.

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Hazuki is a tough and determined one, so she decides to take her tuba home in a soft case and practice as much as possible. But she bristles at a beginner piece Asuka suggests she play, upset that it’s so slow and easy and that she still struggles with it. Determination and sticktoitiveness will only last so long when faced with a seemingly insurmountable task. She needs inspiration and motivation. Asuka thinks putting Kumiko in a “Tuba-kun” mascot suit will do the trick, but it only ends up charming Sapphire.

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As she practices alone in the hall, we catch a glimpse of a potential motivator for Hazuki: Shuuichi. Judging from the way she looks at Kumiko’s childhood friend, I’m willing to bet she wants more than anything to play at his level and be noticed by him for it.

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Then it dawns on her friends and bandmates: just as they overlooked the fact they never taught Hazuki how to properly clean her tuba earlier, she’s also never played in ensemble. She’s only been playing phrases by herself. Kumiko knows from experience—as all non-prodigal musicians do—that not sounding good, and knowing it, can wear one down and sap motivation.

So Kumiko and Sapphire meet Hazuki in their classroom and play the simply beginner piece that initially frustrated her. It turns out to be “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” which I didn’t catch when she just played her part, but that’s the point: the tuba is a team player; it only truly shines when it’s carrying an ensemble, even an ensemble of only three. You can see Hazuki’s face glow with inspiration and glee as she experiences this for the first time. She sees the light, literally (due to the sunset) and figuratively.

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She takes the tuba home that evening, but with a renewed sense of optimism and faith she can do this. Disaster almost strikes when she alights from the train and the great mass of the tuba almost sends her crashing to the ground, but she’s caught at the last second—by Shuuichi, who manages to rescue her without dropping his elaborate corn dog.

It’s kismet, I tellsya! It’s also a potential love triangle in the making, if I’m right about Kumiko not really hating Shuu. Regardless, Hazuki x Shuu would make a ridiculously cute couple.

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As for Kumiko, she takes her euph home too, “influenced” by Hazuki to wring out every bit she can before auditions, even if, after seven years, she’s all but assured a spot in the band. Aoi sees her and almost bitterly mutters to herself how lucky she is, even if Kumiko would probably argue that point.

But I tend to agree with Aoi, and not just because she has a boyfriend-in-waiting (if Hazuki doesn’t steal him!) Kumiko has arrived at Kitauji at the right time, when things are getting serious and reaching the nationals isn’t a fairy tale. Aoi and a lot of the other upperclassmen have been mired in mediocrity up to that point; their best high school days behind them. Kumiko is lucky, and young, and talented.

But like almost anyone young and transitioning to adulthood, she needs to be told that, and she needs to believe it.

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P.S. I’ve somehow resisted pulling my trumpet out from its case under my bed…until this week. After the episode I tooted out some scales. I’m sure my neighbors are ecstatic! A couple days of practice (not too much, don’t want to split my lips) and I’ll probably be able to do “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Hibike! Euphonium – 05

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That’s right, Sapph-er…Midori and Kumiko…hold your heads up high, ’cause this was one great episode of Hibike!. It built on the band’s steady improvement, and the fact that its members want to get better as a matter of pride, both personal and collective.

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With SunFes fast approaching, marching uniforms are distributed, and they’re appropriately adorable. Kumiko is initially worried that she hasn’t yet grown where she wants to, but the fact she’s not the only one cheers her up. She also manages to lock gazes with Reina, continuing the good vibes from the progress they made last week.

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With the inner turmoil among the members resolved, it’s just good to see the band out on the athletic field practicing their marching, which really is tougher than it looks. As Kumiko & Co. walk home you can see the hard work that they put in, and how well they’ll sleep. Then boom, Kumiko and Reina lock eyes again, this time on the train.

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Kumiko is as nervous as ever, and her attempts to start conversation are all shot down by one-word responses by Reina. It’s not until Reina herself asks Kumiko what she thinks of Taki-sensei.

Kumiko starts beboping about everything from his capabilities as a teacher to his good looks, and even mentions the bronze the school got last year, and Reina, gorgeously backlit by the city lights, presents her widest smile yet, which is both bemusing and heartening to Kumiko.

Reina probably has the hots for the handsome young conductor. (This probably won’t go well), but more importantly, Kumiko may have been wrong all along about Reina holding a grudge.

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When the morning of SunFes arrives, Kumiko goes over the dizzying array of logistics deploying a marching band to a festival entails, from arranging transport of the instruments (the bigger of which are helpfully handled by the larger lads) to the students themselves (by bus) and all the documentation and P.R. therein. The attention to details (like Hazuki practicing her steps) really lend a sense of occasion and professionalism and reality to the whole event.

Kumiko also ends up sitting next to Shuuichi (they’re meant for each other!), and is standoffish as usual, but he breaks the ice by professing his wish that both of them do their best today. She may outwardly resent his presence there, either as a sign of the past she left behind, but it’s still nice that he’s there; they can support one another just with their presence.

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It’s just Kitauji’s luck that they’ll march in between the top-ranked Rikka “Light-Blue Demons” and another elite band. Some of the returning members immediately worry they’ll be trampled. Then Kumiko goes over to a Rikka musician she knew from high school, who is glad to see her but has no idea why not only she went to Kitauji, but why Reina turned down Rikka to go there as well.

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Kumiko doesn’t know…at least not until the Rikka girl tries to lead her to some other friends from middle school. She realizes she’s about to fall into old habits and her old casual, half-committed attitude with the band, and realizes she should be with her bandmates, preparing to march. Then she knows why Kitauji: a clean break; a blank slate; a new start. And she doesn’t regret it.

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With that, Rikka starts its ridiculously elaborate, technically perfect, and disgustingly charming performance, which immediately intimidates and demoralizes Kitauji. They all snap out of it thanks to Reina, who breaks taboo by making noise during a march. But hey, it worked!

Taki-sensei didn’t really have any inspirational or motivational words for his band when they first arrived, but rather chooses to give them those words just when they’re about to march out there, sandwiched between two powerhouses:

Music is not something you do to show off your abilities to your rivals. But the many spectators and students of other schools still don’t know what Kitauji is capable of. So I believe today is a good opportunity for them to learn.

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He says those words as calmly as everything else he’s said to his band, but they make a powerful impact. You’ve shown me what you can do, he’s saying; Now show everyone…make them remember. And doggone it, they do. Kitauji shows they’re not a joke or a footnote in the high school band world anymore. It’s a powerful scene.

This is their coming out party, and they don’t screw it up. They have a beauty at drum major and a rookie on trumpet who rejected the mighty Rikka. They’re a motley bunch made up of students with all manner of reasons for being there, but they march and play as one, defiantly, purposefully, strutting their stuff, turning heads, and changing minds. Kumiko, Reina, and Kitauji are on the march.

This was a gorgeously animated and felt episode, in the finest tradition of KyoAni. Keep it up, Hibike!

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P.S. This episode was directed by Miyoshi Ichirou, one of KyoAni’s finest talents, who is responsible for standout individual episodes in Free!, Hyouka, Chu2Koi, Haruhi, and Tamako Market…and that’s just what I’ve seen.

Hibike! Euphonium – 04

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Things couldn’t get much lower than they got last week, with the band unable to play together and various factions disputing whether to continue complaining to Taki or give in to his very new way of doing things.

Perhaps demonstrating her future as a diplomat, Haruka manages to work a weeklong ceasefire, during which time they’ll practice and attempt to get to a point where Taki will at least call them an ensemble, and only complain if he still doesn’t allow them to go to their precious SunFes.

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While all the negotiating takes place, Reina pretty much floats above it all, blasting her trumpet for all the school to hear. As narrator Kumiko puts it, this is Reina’s way of expressing her apathy for all this political bullshit…and I’m with Reina! They’re a band, for crying out loud; not a social club. If they want to go to SunFes, they need to be good enough to go, and the only way to do that is to knock off all the nonsense and get playin’.

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The accord thus reached, the more whiny of the band members are subjected to more of Taki-sensei’s abrasive tutelage; having them run laps before playing to build up their hearts and lungs; giving them semi-meditative breathing exercises, and singing solfège prior to creating overtones in group practice. In spite of their resentment for the man dishing out all this work, the band steadily gets better.

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Did I mention how much I love the relationship between Kumiko and Shuichi? She’s surly with him on the surface as usual—especially when he gets a dig in about her being cynical…which is true, by the way!—yet she still goes with him and hears him out about Reina getting into trouble with the seniors.

They do this in a very romantic spot, like that bench in the first ep, and even if the content of their conversation will never be accused of being lovey-dovey, the simple fact they can interact so casually and comfortably speaks volumes. There’s something there, but unlike other things this week, it’s left unsaid; whether it will remain unsaid all season remains to be seen.

Then they get in trouble when Shuichi blames Taki for not defending Reina—just when Reina is passing by on a bike on her way home. This is a bit of a coincidence, but I’ll allow it, because Kumiko realizes she made the same blunder she did back in that flashback that started her “rift” with Reina. She knows she can blame Shuichi for stating the behind-the-back talking, but she can’t deny that she agrees with his doubts about Taki.

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Kumiko’s fresh error vexes her during her parent-teacher conference (where we learn she followed her older sister into concert band, but her sister eventually quit), and when Reina asks Kumiko to join her in a dark and secluded corner of the schoolyard, she’s afraid of vicious retribution for that error.

Thankfully, Reina isn’t that kind of person. She apologizes, in her curt way, for saying too much. But that simple honesty broke the ice, allowing Kumiko to come out and say a lot of things to Reina she could never get around to saying until that moment: she’s sorry; she won’t say things about people behind their back; she’ll practice hard; she was inspired to work harder and aim higher by Reina’s Dvorak.

Kumiko saw the opportunity to say these things, and while she fears Reina will think she’s creepy now, she still feels good about saying them. For her part, Reina seemed moved by Kumiko’s sudden torrent of spoken feelings. Two episodes ago she made initial contact; now a dialogue is open, and they’re on their way to something resembling friendship.

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Kumiko decides not to keep quiet again in practice, encouraging a sleeping bandmate to join them in playing together, and surprised when she agrees. The rest of the band is able to channel the energy from their mutual dissatisfaction with Taki-sensei into becoming a better band, which may have been Taki’s intention all along.

When their week is up, the ensemble doesn’t sound perfect, but it does sound like an ensemble. They’re playing together. They can hear each other, and they’re playing like they have something to prove. The school hears them too, and are impressed. So SunFes is on, complete with a grueling, no-holds-barred practice schedule. I know it won’t be smooth sailing from here on in, but the progress both Kumiko and the band showed this week was very heartening. And hey, no one’s dying of an unspecified illness!

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Hibike! Euphonium – 03

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Watching Mikagura and Hibike! back-to-back is a study in contrasts. Eruna enters her new school looking to become its dashing hero, and when she’s knocked to the ground, jumps right back up, dusts herself off, and vows to carve her own path. Kumiko, on the other hand, has kept all of her fire within, and continues to allow herself to be stuffed into a euph-shaped hole despite not being particularly enthusiastic about it. Eruna believes she’s the best, while Kumiko never had any strong desire to be the best.

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Kumiko’s older sister greets her coldly, and while part of that may be emotional distance between sisters at different stages in their lives, perhaps her sis is a little disappointed Kumiko has “settled” for the euph “again”, knowing Kumiko herself isn’t that invested in it. “You don’t like the euph; I don’t like the euph…so what’s with the euph?”

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Be that as it may, hearing Hazuki toot her first note on “Tubacabra” lifts my spirits somewhat, as does her dutiful circular breathing practice-by-blow tickler. Kumiko may not be into this, but Hazuki is a lot more like Eruna; eager to learn and make the most of this opportunity. Then again, she got the instrument she wanted.

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This episode is half concert-band procedural, with Kumiko narrating how things work in a band, and giving said band a very professional feel, what with the sectional practices and lead-up to a rehersal as an ensemble. But little details here and there indicate that there’s a reason this band sounded so bad the first time Kumiko heard it: the band itself doesn’t quite work.

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Things are made painfully clear when the band pres Haruka summons their conductor Taki-sensei, perhaps against her better judgment. He gave them a simple beginner song to practice – “The Marine’s Hymn”, but it only takes a few measures of rough, uncoordinated play for him to cut the rehearsal short and call into question the band’s general understanding of what an ensemble is, before requesting they not waste his time.

Kumiko knows the band deserves the scorn, but the second years, who seem to be goofing off anyway, don’t react well to the tough love and stage a revolt of sorts.

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For the third time in as many episodes, Shuuichi approaches Kumiko to talk, only she’s flanked by her new friends and fellow bassists. Midori’s momentary misunderstanding about why Shuuichi was there was pretty cute, but Shuuichi is really there to confirm Kumiko’s concerns: as hard as some in the band may work, getting to the Nationals just may not be in the cards. Not with the way things are now.

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Things go from bad to worse when the second years’ revolt results in practice being canceled, which is not good for a band in desperate need of practice. As Kumiko, Hazuki and Midori start to head home with their heads hanging low, they suddenly hear a trumpet in the distance, which Kumiko recognizes instantly as Reina. As

She’s playing Dvorak’s “From the New World” – a piece that, beyond having it’s own anime, is something Kumiko knows the composer wrote when he was far from the home he knew and loved. There’s longing in the piece, and the pain of what’s been left behind, but there’s also hope; and enough feeling in the performance that the dusk almost looks like a dawn.

Reina’s lovely rendition, punctuated by a scream of frustration, made for a spirited, optimistic finish to what was, looking back, a pretty gloomy episode.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 02

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Everyone’s subtly hiding their true feelings and gathering in the safest direction.

Kumiko has a clear picture of the ideal scenario in which she and Reina make up, but rather than approach her and say anything, she procrastinates. Hazuki and Midori don’t want to interfere too much, but it’s starting to get ridiculous.

Kumiko’s hesitation makes sense: she believes Reina expects some kind of apology, but doesn’t feel like she’s in the wrong. She’s worried her true feelings will create conflict, so she avoids contact. Mind you, avoiding Reina forever is simply not realistic when the two are in the same band.

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As the newly-assembled band is introduced to the instruments and asked to choose which one they’d like to play, it’s a case of Kumiko not wanting to take the safest course, but rather looking for something new.

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It’s never been that she’s loved the Euph; the Euph was simply thrust upon her in grade school and middle school because no one else would play it. And while she may be simply messing around, the energetic senpai Asuka seems to see that long-standing relationship with the Euph in Kumiko’s face.

When Kumiko’s neighbor Aoi lets slip Kumiko’s an old hand at the Euph, her fate is sealed, but on the bright side, Hazuki (who is chosen Cinderella-style by the Tuba) and Midori (contrabass) will be in the same section as her.

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Speaking of neighbors, I continue to like how standoffish with Shuuichi Kumiko is, as if she can barely stand his presence…especially when he relays his interest in switching up his intrument. Like the Euph, he’s an example of something that just fell in her lap in life and she ran with it, without seriously weighing her choices. For his part, Shuuichi seems to want to remain on cordial terms with her—after all, he’s the one who’s approached her both times now.

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Then Taki-sensei, the band’s director, shows up and gives his students a choice: will they go for the Nationals, or just play to have fun? It’s up to them; he’ll support them either way, but won’t go easy on them if they want to compete.

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They put it to a vote, and suddenly Kumiko finds herself looking Reina’s way. Not surprisingly, Reina has her hand raised to go for the Nationals. Suprisingly, Aoi, raises her hand to have fun. Unlike the Euph or Shuuichi, here’s a non-circumstantial choice being given to Kumiko when she has the agency to make it…and she abstains, again worried either choice has its risks.

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That nice line up at the top is spoken by Aoi after the band meeting. It’s the third year the band has voted for the Nationals, and they’ve never gotten close; a little cynicism on her part is understandable. But she also knows why so many people voted for rather than against, which is the same reason Kumiko doesn’t want to tell Reina she doesn’t want to apologize for being less emotionally involved when they lost back then, and the same reason Taki asked the kids what they wanted to do: it’s all about finding those safe places of minimal conflict.

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But not all conflict is bad; some conflict breeds creativity and innovation, and greater things than could have been achieved in those safe places. So Kumiko, hiding behind her bookbag, finally approaches Reina at the sink. Reina simply asks her if she’s playing Euph again, and Kumiko says she is…and that’s it!

Now, this encounter is far from the perfect yet impossible scenario Kumiko envisioned, but that scenario only lived inside Kumiko’s head. Here, she’s not in her head going around in circles about how Reina might feel or how things might go. Instead, she’s taking one small baby step outside of that safe zone, as herself. As Aoi says, three years can flash by all too fast…and she knows Kumiko will regret spending them hiding in her head or behind her bookbag.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 01 (First Impressions)

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This Spring, Satelight’s Haruhi spinoff goes head-to-head with a new show from its former studio KyoAni, helmed by the director of both Chu2kois and one of Steins;Gate’s screenwriters. While I definitely had the franchise feels with the quiet and perfectly lovely Nagato Yuki-chan, I have to admit I was more impressed with Hibike!’s first outing. This first round goes to KyoAni.

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Yes, this is yet another very pretty show featuring cute high school girls doing musical stuff. Ya know…like K-On! Except…I don’t know! I’ve never seen a lick of K-On!, so I imagine this show is benefiting from my total ignorance of the show many are going to be comparing it to. I, on the other hand, am still coming off the not-flawless but undeniably gorgeous and powerful Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, which really gave KyoAni’s best a run for it’s money (when its episodes were properly funded).

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What I liked right off the bat was how normal and grounded out protagonist Kumiko seemed to be (parts of her remind me of Kato Megumi from Saekano). She’s not struggling with deep-seated psychological trauma, nor does she spew flowery monologue, she’s just trying to figure out what she’s going to do with herself in high school, which she considers a fresh start from some mild unpleasantness a the end of middle school.

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While she’s typcially level-headed, Kumiko does have flashes of exuberance, which makes sense when you consider how much energy one has to put into a big brass horn to make it sing. She’s naturally drawn to her new school’s concert band (which sucks), but the arrival of her former bandmate Kousaka Reina spooks her. It’s not that they had an official falling out; she just severely misjudged Reina’s enthusiasm and desire to WIN IT ALL (the nationals) rather than just make “dud gold.” Kumiko’s initial perspective is: It’s still GOLD! Gold is fine! Better than fine, it’s great!

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Kumiko probably fears that being around someone as fierce as Reina would accentuate the gap in their enthusiasm, yearning, and commitment. It could also call into question her personal definitions of “victory”, “success”, or “greatness”. But one thing I learned from Uso is that musicians can never ever half-ass things, nor can they ever be satisfied until they’ve done there very frikkin’ best. Can Kumiko say she’s done that?

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Surprise! Kumiko has a childhood friend…who’s a GUY! Okay, that’s not that exciting or surprising in and of itself…though he pops into the picture late. What’s interesting is how he and Kumiko interact. There’s immediate chemistry you’d expect of old friends, but other than her initial fright-spazz, their relationship is handled with a very light and mature touch.

Also interesting: when Shuichi mentions he’s joining the band, Kumiko declares she won’t be. Shuichi could interpret this as Kumiko not wanting to be in the same club as him, but we have access to Kumiko’s head, and know it’s because she’s worried about Reina. I doubt she even realized her declaration could have come off as a rejection.

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Kumiko returns home, and major kudos to her seiyu Kurosawa Tomoyo for really nailing her household affectation (as opposed to her school or head voice), which is lazier, and deeper in tone. There, surrounded by reminders in her room that she is, in fact, a musician, she recalls when she and Reina were last on stage together, playing Orpheus in the Underworld.

She’s listening in her head, but her former conductor, having just come from a shrine, is listening to it on his phone. The way the bombastic music soars and blares when he switches it back has a soul-uplifting effect. Heck, my cat even galloped into the room when I kicked the volume up to become surrounded by SOUND! You kicked ass back then, Kumiko seems to think. And it was a blast. I want to get back to that. I’ve gotta get back to that!

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Fortunately, she also has two new friends in Sapphire (?) and Hazuki, two musical novices who plan to join the band. As a trumpet owner (and occasional player), I can remember the same joy Hazuki gets out of finally getting a good embouchure on the mouthpiece and making a sound, even if it’s a goofy duck call-like sound without a horn attached. I’ll bet it jogged Kumiko’s memory too. Between that and the other girls’ enthusiasm, Kumiko changes her mind right then and there.

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Her reticence towards playing with crazy-intense Reina was overruled by her desire to play again, watch her new friends develop beside her, and maybe turn her school’s relatively crappy band around. But she still has to confront Reina. All the promotional material, OP, and ED suggest they’ll end up getting along fine, so some suspension of disbelief is indicated, but I look forward to finding out not whether, but how she makes up with Reina. That starts next week, to which I very much look forward! After all, music makes everything better.

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