Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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