Hanebado! – 09 – Turnabout is Fair Play

Ayano and Nagisa’s preparations for their finals match are interrupted by the inauspiciously conspicuous return of Connie Christensen, who wants a rematch with Ayano. Ayano, who as we know is not the same Ayano Connie embarrassed the last time they crossed, stays cordial, but her first words to Connie—that her panties are showing—demonstrate how unseriously Ayano is taking her.

Ayano’s attention turns to her broken Wei-Wei mascot on her bag, and Shiwahime invites her to a kind of Wei-Wei theme park with Connie (Erena also tags along). The Wei-Wei-ness is like catnip to Ayano, who switches off Badminton Mode and has a lot of fun for once, to the relief of Erena. Meanwhile, Shiwahime inadvertently sabotages Connie’s olive branch to Ayano in the form of a Wei-Wei keychain.

It turns out Connie didn’t return for a rematch at all; she came to express her desire to be a family with Ayano and her mother Uchika. When Connie finally gets the words out, Ayano completely brushes them off, and affably leads Connie to a badminton court, where her first devastating shot sends a clear message that it won’t be a friendly match.

We see more of the perennially lonely Connie’s past when Uchika takes her under her wing and essentially adopts her, while all the while Connie’s knowledge of the existence of a “big sister” who is Uchika’s biological daughter looms over her as a kind of challenge to clear. She wants the acknowledgement of both Uchika—who never once told Connie she was better than Ayano—and Ayano herself.

She doesn’t get it, and I’d argue she doesn’t really deserve it after how she entered Ayano’s life. Sure, Connie thought Ayano was playing mind games with her when they first met, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ayano sought a friendship in good faith, unaware of Connie’s identity.

That being said, Ayano lays the contempt on a little thick, as she essentially transforms into a Badminton Youkai, all crazy eyes and twisted smirks, in utterly rejecting Connie on the grounds she’s resolved to abandon her mom the way she abandoned her.

While Ayano refuses to forgive and forget or turn the other cheek, a dejected Connie returns home with Shiwahime to find the rest of her team has done all three, giving her emotional support when she’s never felt lower. Sorry, Hanebado, but this whole “actually Connie is the victim now, let’s all feel bad for her” isn’t quite working for me.

Who has two thumbs and doesn’t care about Yu’s attempts to get one of the male players to notice her? [holds up two thumbs] This guy. Also, I’m not confident Nagisa practicing until her knees give out is the best strategy for having a good match against Ayano. If Ayano doesn’t clean her clock I’ll be very surprised.

What could turn the tables slightly in Nagisa’s favor is the fact that Ayano returns home to find her mother, big stupid hair bow and all, waiting there to greet her like nothing’s happened. However unpleasant a character Connie may be, she’s no match for the awfulness that is Hanesaki Uchika, Ten-Time Worst Mother of the Year.

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Hanebado! – 08 – Her Own Kind of Badminton

Ishizawa Nozomi, who was chosen over Nagisa for an elite school spot by her coach, is really only interested in winning and thus validating the trust her coach placed in her. Ayano, who has gradually abandoned all pretense of sportsmanship or empathy and has now become, essentially, a badminton murderbot, is also only interested in winning.

Both dispatch their opponents with ease and look down upon them as wasting their time. Yet I couldn’t help but feel like this episode was merely buildup for, even filler before the more substantial match involving Ayano. To be frank, I just don’t really care about Nozomi’s situation, while we’ve already dealt with Nagisa’s issues.

Ayano is on the shelf for the remainder of this episode; another spectator in the Nagisa-Nozomi showdown, and boy does she lay on the aloof bitchiness thick. I was hoping someone—say Elena—would kick her in the bum (either physically or verbally) but Ayano isn’t interested in discussing her conduct unbecoming.

As long as she wins, she doesn’t want to hear from anyone about anything…but is more than willing to giver her own running negative commentary about Nagisa’s chances against Nozomi, which she believes to be slim. Nozomi’s coach believes a strategy of making Nagisa run and change direction will blow out her knees.

And so in this match, we have a coach who is not only a constant verbal presence during play (which is hella annoying) but so obsessed with analytics and oppo research that he sees Nozomi as little more than an avatar or tool with which to execute his badminton.

The problem is, Nozomi is still a child, and trying to find out who she is, not just as a player but as a person. The coach’s constant browbeating is constantly undermining that growth, and the effects are just as serious as the fatigue on Nagisa’s knees.

After losing the first set, Nozomi stands up to her coach for the first time and basically tells him to butt out; she’s going to try things her way. To his credit, the coach is accepting of her choice and almost seems proud to be cast aside in this way, realizing he pushed her too far. So at least he’s not a complete two-dimensional jerk.

Nozomi proceeds to win the second set, but loses the third, giving Nagisa the victory, a spot in the Nationals and in the final match versus Ayano. But more importantly, she played the rest of that match for herself, not her coach, and despite losing, had a ton of fun, reminding her why she plays in the first place.

As for Ayano, she concedes she was wrong and that Nagisa is better than she thought…but likely doesn’t see Nagisa as even the slightest threat in the finals. We’ll see if her insufferable arrogance backfires next week, or if her precipitous abandonment of humanity will continue to proceed apace.

Considering both Connie and her mother could be in attendance, the timing for some kind of downfall for Ayano couldn’t possibly be worse!

Hanebado! – 01 (First Impressions) – Everything is Pointless

Hanebado! opens fast and crisp, in the midst of a match in the badminton nationals. One player is struggling as hard as she can and sweating bullets; the other is just calmly, coolly blowing her opponent away with a 21-o game.

The scene features some really decent sports animation, elevating the action to a kind of heightened reality with viewing angles, cuts, and shifts in speed. But as exciting as the match looks, neither player is happy at the end; neither the victor nor the defeated.

Cut to six months later, the victor (Hanesaki Ayano) along with her longtime friend (Fujisawa Elena) are first years at the same school as third-year player she defeated (Aragaki Nagisa), who is so upset over the loss she’s taking it out on the other players in the club, forcing several to quit rather than endure more abuse.

Ayano wants nothing to do with badminton, but while exchanging easy volleys with Elena on a tennis court, an errant bounce of a serve by the boy’s tennis club’s first-year ace Saionji nearly hits Elena in the face, but Ayano lunges in front of her and smashes it away, gaining a point in a game she wasn’t even playing.

A coach grabs Ayano and inspects her wrists and hands, forcing Elena to defend her. Meanwhile Nagisa (whom Ayano beat) wanders off, regretting how harsh she was with the now-departed players. She’s comforted by her friend Riko, who remains with the team and is likely the only person Nagisa is comfortable crying around.

So the main players in Hanebado! are a girl possessed with phenomenal natural talent who has no motivation to actually play, and a girl who is basically the opposite, with a good metric fuckton of angst between them. A classic talent-vs.-hard work dynamic, which results in a very shounen manga-style challenge at the end: If Ayano beats Nagisa, she won’t have to join.

That means in this rematch, Nagisa will have to find some way to turn the tables. Perhaps in the last six months she’s narrowed the gap between them? I’m a couple weeks behind in this show because I was trying to avoid watching a sports anime, but there’s no way I’m backing out of this before I watch the result, which will no doubt feature more of that sweet sweet shuttlecock action!

Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 13 (Fin)

WE’RE SO SCREWED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 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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