Saekano 2 – 02

Utaha has finished her script, and to celebrate has Tomoya take her out for a day of shopping, dining, and watching films that aren’t poorly-received (i.e. ghosty, shelly) live-action anime adaptations.

It’s a date, no doubt about it, at least as far as Eriri is concerned, observing the couple’s interactions from afar like, well, a stalker, with Megumi forced to tag along for plausible deniability.

But Utaha doesn’t merely toy with Mr. Ethical: she makes it a point to bring up the fact that now that the script is complete, her job with Blessing Software is also done, and she’s looking to the future.

She asks Tomoya his opinion not only on where she should attend university (out in Kansai or fifteen minutes away) as well as to pick which script should be used: she wrote two. She’s basically telling the director to choose a direction; not unreasonable.

When Eriri and Megumi meet with Tomoya (thanks to Megumi having a key to his place!) they see the ending and see Tomoya’s dilemma. Eriri both acknowledges Utaha’s artistry, comparing it to the Metronome of Love series she claims to have never read, while complaining that it’s a lot more work.

Still, she doesn’t automatically reject this new ending, nor does Megumi: they, like Utaha, leave it up to Tomoya. Sorry dude, gotta make some hard choices, and not everyone is going to be happy. Especially with Izumi’s doujin game already out there in demo form, living in the same genre as their game.

Saekano excels when Tomoya is one-on-one, as he is with the lovely Utaha most of this episode. But I also liked how their interactions were shadowed by Eriri and Megumi (especially the difference in Utaha and Eriri’s reactions to the movie, which chose a “childhood friend-friendly”, and thus Eriri-friendly, ending).

I can’t say whether the script of Saekano is cliched per se; all I can say is that it is unafraid of commenting on the very genre and medium it exists in, or of being almost self-back-pattingly self-referential and irreverent of those institutions.

But the dialogue is expertly delivered by the actors, and the character design is strong, so even if this show’s ‘weakness’ is its script (which I’m not saying is the case), it’s more than capable of making up for it in other areas, which makes this show enjoyable to watch on any given week.

But I don’t think it needs a live-action adaptation.

Saekano 2 – 01

“Why are things so bad between them?” asks Mr. Awful Thick-Headed Deaf Protagonist, AKA Aki Tomoya, referring to the near constant bickering and fierce competition between Eriri and Utaha. Cue a flashback to a year ago when the two rivals first meet, and Eriri learns Utaha is not only the author of the “Metronome In Love” novels she enjoys with Tomoya, but that she’s trying to snatch her Tomoya away.

Eriri tries in vain to steer Utaha away from Tomoya, while Utaha is irritated to learn how well Tomoya knows his childhood friend Eriri. Utaha brings Eriri up to Tomoya because she’s “interested in knowing more about her”, meaning she’s eager to gather info on a foe.

For all the contempt Eriri and Utaha have spewed at one another throughout last season, they are nonetheless connected by a strong underlying mutual respect. They’re not just foes, but worthy foes. And however much they may differ in creative philosophy, neither can deny the other’s obvious talent, or even be a bit envious of it, considering they excel in different areas (Eriri art, Utaha words).

Utaha learns that Eriri’s motivated by revenge for all the frustration she’s suffered having to hide her talent away beneath a pristine social facade; while Eriri believes she has the haughty Utaha figured out as a cold, calculating ice queen who looks down upon and manipulates her fans with her technique. Neither is wrong!

So back in the present, while they’re still bickering as fiercely as when they first met (with Tomoya as the totem of their rivalry), they can still acknowledge one another’s skill and passion for their craft, and can agree with Tomoya when he says theirs could be a collaboration for the ages.

The praise and enthusiasm of the guy they both like makes it easier for them to look past their surface hate for one another, and the value in working together, even if it’s not always, or ever, smooth sailing.

When Tomoya requests an illustration by Eriri autographed by both her and Utaha as Kashiwagi Kazumi, Eriri, Utaha, and Megumi also requests autographed illustrations. The apparent mortal enemies proudly hang them in their homes, proving their respect and admiration for one another beyond any doubt, even if they’d never ever say it to each other’s faces.

Saekano 2 – 00

Saekano is back, baby! And it has not changed its ways, no sir. In its Episode 00 special, it doubles down on the enticing Episode 00 of its predecessor, piling on the fan service thick and garnishing with witty banter.

We arrive in the middle of an argument between Eriri and Utaha about an anime they disagree about, and again they seem to be talking about the very anime they’re in, and whether it’s deserving of a second season. After this first taste, I’d tend to agree with Eriri.

Like the hot springs episode 00 of last season, all the girls are after Aki’s attentions in one way or another, and everyone remains consistent in their respective approaches: Michiru with the cousin angle, Eriri with the childhood friend angle, Utaha with the Mr. Ethical schtick, and Megumi with the stealthiness and running commentary. Saekano 2 adds Hashima Izumi, another childhood friend of Aki’s and a fan of Eriri’s, to the mix, because hey, why not?

At a hotel in Odaiba overlooking the Rainbow Bridge and Statue of Liberty (yes, Tokyo has its own small one) the game-making group has gathered, and donned swimsuits because Megumi wouldn’t pose in a bikini unless everyone else was so attired. Aki has zero designs on spending the night, but when all the girls but Utaha end up in the room and she’s nowhere to be found, it’s clear she’s used her power of the purse to arrange things so she’d end up alone with Aki.

She claims to have only poured ginger ale for Aki and herself, but he has the sneaking suspicion it’s actual alcohol, and we know how that turned out for him and the girls at the hot spring. Unfortunately for Utaha (but fortunate for everyone else), while she turned her phone off, Aki’s remains on, and the gig is up. Utaha has not given up, but I wonder how far she realistically thinks she can get with such schemes.

At first Michiru only seem to be here to do pool suplexes on her cousin and put him in holds that mean something a lot different now that they’ve both grown, but it turns out she’s been working hard like Eriri and Utaha, writing not one but ten pieces of BGM for the game so far. As she gives the others a sample, her work has a motivating effect on the artists and scriptwriter, and they whip out their own tools of the trade and get to work as Izumi looks on in awe.

That leaves Megumi free to slip out and admire Tokyo Bay with Aki, among many other couples. For all the attempts of the others in the harem, it’s clear who truly has the upper hand, and she makes it look effortless as usual. For all the inappropriate contact Aki endured from Michiru, the advances from Utaha, the hugs from Izumi, and the reminiscing with Eriri, simply standing close but not too close beside his heroine seems to be ideal for Aki.

The other girls may be shapely and beautiful (and the camera never lets us forget it) but Megumi’s appeal just seems to run deeper and fuller. I look forward to seeing how she, Aki, and the others traverse their relationships with each other as the development of their dating sim progresses. And the only people who would sit there and find faults in someone’s hard work are pathetic losers who have forgotten how to enjoy life!!!

Little Witch Academia – 07

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The Gist: In a desperate attempt to turn her grades around and not get expelled, Akko ‘treats’ Professor Pisces to water only the finest of celebrities drink. Of course mineral water is a terrible thing to pour into a tropical fish tank and, all too soon, Akko has ‘flushed’ the professor into the sewer and a grade-saving adventure!

Along the way, Akko learns to speak Fish, save an endangered species from a poacher, improve on her polymorphing skills, and win the grudging recognition of the faculty (and not get expelled, obviously).

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This week finally nailed a slice-of-life tone for LWA. The supporting cast members received balanced screen time, spread across Akko’s many classes. Lotte and Sucy were the consistent observers, which is the role they fit best structurally, and the scenes felt full and fit together in a way that made Akko’s world feel lived in.

But, above all else, that world was finally fun again. From slapstick to a silent ‘talking’ character, the humor was perfectly timed and delightfully absurd. I absolutely died when Megumi Han delivered Akko’s sobbing response to flushing her teacher down the drain.

The Verdict: This is LWA doing the right things – being fun, upbeat, unexpected and bizarre. Sure, it could benefit from an overarching plot for the cast to focus on but, as long as it keeps Sucy and Lotte by Akko’s side (but not crowding her spotlight) and keeps the weird fun rolling, I don’t mind.

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Little Witch Academia – 06

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The Gist: Akko continues to struggle with magic and is forbidden to attend the school’s banquet for heads of state. So, Akko attempts to visit a forbidden magic location on campus instead.

Along the way, she meets Andrew, a handsome boy who considers magic outdated and is totally her love interest. Together, they are chased by a polar bear, saved by that professor who is totally not secretly Chariot, and gain an the understanding that magic takes hard work and dedication.

Roll credits…

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While this week continued LWA’s streak of filler episodes, it did contain a few gems. I loved that Akko’s transformation spell, which requires the caster to ‘imagine what the result will look like,’ literally turns Andrew into an Ass. The story also benefited by Andrew having no interest in Diana, thankfully removing any love triangle distractions from future episodes. It was also nice for Akko to finally get a reality check, which may allow future episodes to be framed with greater purpose.

On the down side, the episodes narrative points were heavy handed. Seeing Professor Ursula’s hair change from red to blue makes it obvious that she is Shiny Chariot. It was also unnecessary, because her interaction with Akko immediately after Akko witnesses Chariot’s school-days-montage already implies that to the viewer. I’d argue the entire chase scene with the polar bear was superfluous too, because it only results in the viewers seeing the Ursula/Chariot reveal, and gives no real development for Akko/Andrew.

And that’s saying nothing of Frank, Andrew’s friend who’s existence in the plot serves no purpose at all. Between Frank and Andrew’s father, and the uneventful moments of the banquet, not much happens. Rather, those non-scenes isolate Akko and Andrew’s argument about magic scene and the polar bear chase scene in a way that makes them feel ‘not enough’ to float the over all episode on their own.

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Are the twin dark-complexioned girls an homage to Harry Potter’s Pavarti twins?

The Verdict: The image above captures my frustrations pretty well. There are a lot of characters, few of which we know or care about, standing around doing nothing. The world is full of details, but we are told nothing about them (presuming the different color details on each witch’s costume means anything).

Akko and Chariot are the only central characters who get screen time this week, and Chariot was and still is a compete enigma. Why is she hiding? Why does she care about Akko? (beyond having a similar backstory) Why should we care as viewers when Akko’s narrative purpose is barely more than ‘she will learn magic?’

This would matter less if the show was just a slice-of-life piece, but that would require stronger relationships between the characters, and a greater emphasis on day-to-day living in the world, which LWA does not really do (Lotte’s episode was the closest we’ve seen of that…and half the reviewers didn’t like it).

In closing, I’m pretty disappointed with LWA. It’s well-animated, has a potentially interesting setting, and characters that could be charming. However, its focus on Akko is structured too much like a destiny piece to let that world grow, but isn’t focused enough to feel like an epic journey and the characters come and go from each week’s story in too disposable a fashion. You just can’t care for a character if they aren’t there.

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Little Witch Academia – 05

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The Gist: Akko and Amanda are at each other’s throats this week, which quickly lands them in detention. Fortunately, or not, this positions them perfectly to witness a flock of dragons fly off with the Sorcerer’s Stone, which leads the adversaries to pool their collective trios for a witches verses dragons chase.

Along the way they meet Lord Fafnir, an ancient but financially forward thinking dragon, get into a robot dragon fight complete with shotguns and rocket-propelled grenades, free the school from its debts (via Diana) and land back in detention. Akko and Amanda even become friends…at least, for a short period of time.

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Akko-centric ‘outbursts’ aside, this week was all about story at the edges…

Unfortunately, this week is far less than the sum total of its parts. Despite Akko’s wonderfully elastic facial expressions, her squabbling with Amanda just isn’t interesting. Similarly, when Akko flips Amanda backwards out of her chair and spends detention scowling and belligerent with everyone, our ability to empathize with her plucky underdog status is greatly reduced. Combine that with Akko’s lack of impact on the plot, her story doesn’t feel like it had any purpose (She is the reason for the six students to witness the plot’s resolution, nothing more.)

The addition of Amanda, Constanze and Jasminka to the plot presents its own issue. What value does a third trio of student witches add to the narrative? Sure, Constanze’s inventions are cute, and her mechanical broom is a plot device to get the girls to the dragon’s hideout, but she and Jasminka aren’t actually characters. Beyond their physical characteristics and plot-devices, they don’t speak and do not physically interact with the rest of the cast. This lack of presence prevents them from even serving as counterpoints of Akko’s Sucy and Lotte or Diana’s lackeys.

This is a very strange choice for characters that get as much screen time as Amanda this week. It’s too much exposure (and design work) to serve the background role they otherwise appear to have been asigned.

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Lord Fafnir, in front of his stock exchange monitors…

The Verdict: If this week’s purpose was to not have a purpose, then it succeeded. More precisely, several of the episode’s elements are best described as ‘not being important in the first place.’

Diana revealing the school’s debt is a lie? Despite being mentioned in every previous episode, its rapid resolution with no zip or humor saps any fun from the payoff. Not that the dragon was built up in any previous episode, nor has the core cast suffered due to the financial conflict. So the debt, itself, was not a consequential conflict in the first place.

Akko x Amanda’s relationship reset? Amanda has barely been in the show so far, and her only contributions have been Akko x broom rides related. So who cares?

Ultimately, competent visual design and quality rendered action give it just enough to be watchable. It’s the power of ‘stuff happened coherently and it looked good’ but not much more. Compared to last week, which I enjoyed more than Preston enough to take over reviewing it, color me not pleased…

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Masamune-kun no Revenge – 05

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I’ve found that it’s tricky switching gears from Kuzu no Honkai, an R-rated seinen show, with Masamune-kun’s Revenge, a PG-13 rom-com that’s becoming increasingly harem-y. You won’t see a lot of girls posing with airsoft guns in Kuzu.

The two shows, while ostensibly about relationships between people, go about their business in very different ways. Revenge, even at its most serious, is still a much “lighter” show than the leaden Kuzu. I realize I’m not saying anything particularly groundbreaking here, just noting an observation.

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For one thing, Revenge utilizes an array of familiar, well-trodden elements from its genre as it progresses. Masamune truly wants to get Adagaki to fall for him so he can exact his revenge, but he’s unwittingly finding himself flush with women, due partially to his hot guy status, but also his genuine, if sometimes, reluctant, kindness, borne from once being on the other side.

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Put up against Adagaki, Yoshino, and even class-rep Futaba, so far Fujinomiya Neko is the weakest of the girls now in his orbit, for two big reasons. First, she’s less of a character than a collection of odd quirks (elaborate lies, going commando, fake blood) that doesn’t yet add up to anything. Second, like Masamune we know nothing about her, why she truly respects/admires him, and why she transferred.

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Her most interesting moment comes when she spots her competition, Adagaki (which had me thinking of and comparing her to Akane over at Kuzu, which I really shouldn’t do). But again, because we have no idea why she’s going after Masamune specifically, I’m not really invested in her mission to beat Adagaki.

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Masamune, meanwhile, ends up firmly back on Adagaki’s bad side, for, among other reasons not being more forceful in rebuke her advances. Adagaki is still figuring out what she feels about this guy, but it’s clear she really doesn’t like watching another girl get too close to him, or the fact he does next to nothing to stop it. It makes her think he’s shallow to fall under another’s spell so easily.

The two get to have it out, somewhat, when they’re punished for skipping class by having to clean the pool (which is oddly full of water). Because it’s a pool, Adagaki naturally ends up in it, can’t swim, and almost has to be rescued.

When pressed, Masamune admits he can’t help but want to save her, since he likes her so much. Adagaki wants proof: a kiss. Looks like the turbulence caused by Neko didn’t fully snuff out the flame…unless, like last week, another unfortunate interruption ruins the moment…again!

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Little Witch Academia – 04

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We’ve got ourselves a Lotte-centric episode, with Akko and Sucy simply along for the ride. After Akko steals a tart (not a pie; she wants that made clear) from the kitchens, all three roommates are punished, and Lotte’s weekend plans to attend a new book release are dashed.

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Akko comes up with a very simple plan to sneak the three of them out of school and into town, and Lotte’s fully on board because this is a can’t-miss event: the release of volume 365 of night fall, which is a pretty blatant (and only intermittently humorous) parody of Twilight and the crazed fandom that surrounds it, a world which Akko and Sucy are decidedly not a part of.

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While some of the ridiculous snippets from the bowels of night fall’s vast milieu elicit a chuckle or two, and Akko learns there are people who don’t simply try to become those they idolize, but are content to support them…but it’s a pretty thin premise, and the episode lacked the visual panache and, more importantly, the heaping helpings of Akko-moxie that characterized the first three.

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Little Witch Academia – 03

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The heart-pounding and heartwarming fun of LWA continues as its third episode is all about broom flight, or, for the first two-thirds of it, about how totally unable to fly Akko is. No matter how hard she “focuses” or how loudly she says the magic words, gravity won’t release her from the ground.

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She’s wanted to fly her whole life, and proudly bears the scars that prove it. As Akko fails and fails again, you can feel her frustration mounting, especially once she learns there’s to be a broom relay and Diana is the favorite to win. There’s the sense Akko is right on the cusp of a magical breakthrough, but just needs something to go her way and complement her boundless passion.

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After some last-ditch “training” that seems more designed to amuse Sucy than help Akko, the relay begins, and thanks to some magical trickery and research on the competition, Sucy is able to get Lotte out to a sizable lead that she then extends. Then it’s Akko’s turn, and Sucy lends her a potion that turns her broom into a ribbiting pogo stick. As Diana says with disgust, it ain’t pretty.

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Then, the feral broom in the magical items cafe Akko wanted to try out rejects the one who stole/purchased it (Amanda) and takes an interest in Akko. It makes her fight tooth and nail to stay on, and tries to throw her off many times, but Akko won’t let go, and it takes her on a magical ride through homes, under oceans, and through the sky at jetliner speeds.

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LWA truly brings the fun and the wonder, whether it’s the sweeping sights of Akko’s detour or her veritable galaxy of inventive acrobatics and contortions. She doesn’t win – the broom handles break off and the broom turns into a bird and flies off – but she comes in a close second, once again commanding Diana’s grudging respect.

As Diana says, Akko’s got passion. I daresay she’s brimming with moxie as well. Will it be enough? Ursula looks at her younger self in the trophy case, and maybe sees Akko going down a similar path. And she seems worried. But I wouldn’t rule out Akko continuing to surprise everyone—even her apparently disillusioned idol.

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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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3-gatsu no Lion – 02

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Two stories are told in this episode of 3G, which have thesis statements of their own, but tie into the central idea that Rei and the Kawamoto sisters aren’t in a one-sided deal. He’s not the only one getting something out of this. And he’s well aware he’s getting something out of this.

The first begins with the not-surprising realization that Rei has shoji buddies with far more forceful personalities, which he’s nonetheless able to coexist with on his own terms. Nishioka has made Rei his personal rival, and Matsumoto wants to beat him so he can appear on TV for his ill grandpa who taught him.

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Matsumoto and his longtime friend Smith are also nice guys, so when they go out to celebrate at the hostess club where Akari works, they’re nothing but respectful (and appropriately in awe) of the stunning Akari, and don’t make their 17-year-old Kohei drink liquor. Akari confides to Rei that these are the kind of guys to hang out with.

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It hearkens to the first time Akari and Rei met: when some not-so-nice guys did make Rei drink himself into a stupor (which probably didn’t take much, considering his size and complete lack of tolerance). It was Rei at his most vulnerable, and he had no way to hide it.

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That didn’t matter at all to Akari, who took him into her home and took care of him. It’s a pretty good chance he got alcohol poisoning that night, so when he couldn’t force himself to vomit some of it up to ease his pain, she showed him how. Concerned, gentle, caring: both the Akari at home and Akari the Hostess are equally amazing and beautiful to Rei.

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Before he met Akari, Rina, and Momo, Rei saw the new town he lived in in monochrome, as if walking through a dream. But from the moment Akari welcomed him in their lives and told him he could come by anytime (and meaning it), color returned to his life, and with it, a measure of joy.

The second half, “the other side of the bridge”, marks the difference between the cold industrial/commercial side where he lives (akin to Ayanami Rei’s memorable digs) and the warm, homey, comfortable side where all the Kawamoto sisters are, as well as the food.

Rei can never refuse Akari, and he doesn’t when she invites him to join them for Obon. Because he knows, the Kawamotos have suffered profound loss just as he did. He helps fill the void in their lives so it doesn’t fill with grief, and they restore color to his. It’s a nice arrangement, and watching it play out is enough to melt the hardest heart.

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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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