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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