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 – 05

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One thing that makes Euph such a joy to watch is that it isn’t only the musical performances that are beautifully animated with the utmost attention to detail, it’s everything.

Hazuki doesn’t just grab hold of the handle on the train, you see the specific angle of her Chuck Taylors as she’s doing so, then looks out the window at the sights going by. Something mundane, like riding a train, is elevated to something special.

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So too is Kumiko when she starts to get scared about the oncoming Kansai Competition, even though we learn neither she nor the others had any reason to fear. They put everything into preparing for a twelve-minute piece, and it pays off big.

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Asuka, mostly keeping to herself unless someone like Kumiko or Nozomi approached her, stands up before the president to say some words that need to be said, about how she isn’t going to be satisfied having simply made it to where they are; she wants to win and move on to the nationals. Now they’re one step closer.

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If mundane things are wonderfully rendered in Euph, then the musical performances are simply that much more impressive. Every little clink of the instruments before the music starts, the teast of Taki-sensei raising his hands, then cutting to the sound of cicadas outside, only to bring us back into the performance.

The bold, brash, and challenging-sounding piece they play draws us in; the band plays as well as they ever have. Everyone knows their role and they execute with near perfection. Kumiko plays to the level Taki expected; Reina, playing for her and not Taki, knocks it out of the park with the trumpet. And Mizore’s oboe solo is full of grace and emotion, now that she’s no longer lamenting Nozomi.

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There’s a bit of suspense after the credits when the schools and their scores are announced, but I never for one second believed Kitauji would get anything less than Gold and to advance onward. I mean, they simply brought it with that performance.

Like Kazuki backstage, I couldn’t help but pray no big mistakes were made, and none were. As a result, the Nationals are now in view on the horizon, and it’s great to see the release of tension once they know it is. Kitauji is for real, but it only gets tougher from here.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 04

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In the end, Kumiko couldn’t do it. Or at least she couldn’t do it in time: confront Yoroizuka Mizore about Nozomi. Time is something no one in the concert band has: the competition is in ten days and they’ll be playing after Myoujou Technical.

It’s apropos that moments after nailing her piece in practice, Nozomi appears to praise her, than to ask if Mizore is around, since she heard her oboe. An oboe, by the way, that Nozomi remembers as being far more “fun” than it is now.

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There’s a reason for that, and it’s revealed this week, in IMO the best episode of the Fall 2016 Season so far (keep in mind I’m not watching Yuri!! On Ice). The tension when Kumiko realizes Nozomi is headed to Mizore, and Mizore’s painful reaction and quick retreat, are all beautifully done, as is Yuuko dropping all pretense and begging Kumiko to find Mizore quickly.

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Kumiko is the one who finds Mizore first, and though she didn’t get to her in time to save her from a painful encounter, she more than mitigates that by forming the conduit through which misunderstandings can be cleared up and fences mended, which was Kumiko’s hope in getting involved all along.

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Mizore, as we know, is bad with people. It’s hard for people to approach her and harder for her to approach them. So when Nozomi did approach her, in middle school, and they became fast friends, it was a revelation.

So much so, that when Nozomi quit the band without telling her, Mizore worried that it was because she was being left out. Nozomi was her only friend; Nozomi had many; and she feared more than anything that she was mistaken about their friendship.

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When Nozomi quit, Mizore shifted to Yuuko, but anyone could hear in her oboe play that she was still playing only for Nozomi; that Nozomi quit and could no longer play with her. When Yuuko arrives, worried sick, Mizore is so worked up about Nozomi that Yuuko has to remind her she has her too.

To that, Mizore reveals something more: that Yuuko was friends with her only out of pity; another misunderstanding. She was also mistaken in thinking her guilt over Nozomi and the others quitting was more important than being happy about winning the Kyoto Competition.

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Tanezaki Atsumi and Yamaoka Yuri do superb, powerful work here, bringing vitality and raw emotion to Mizore and Yuuko, respectively; there are moments when Tanezaki channels Hanazawa Kana. When Nozomi enters the classroom to find out what’s amiss, Touyama Nao adds her voice to this choir of awesomeness.

The most important misunderstanding is revealed by having the two friends finally face each other and clear the air: Nozomi didn’t tell Mizore she was quitting because she didn’t want her to quit too. She admired how diligent Mizore practiced.

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This was a case of someone who has trouble making friends and someone who has trouble not making friends ending up in each others’ blind spots. So it’s a good thing Yuuko and Kumiko are there to help bring them both into the light.

It’s also a case of my patience being rewarded, and I always reward shows that do that. Just when I needed some kind of catharsis over the building character tensions Kumiko was juggling, we get exactly that, and it’s as compelling and dramatically satisfying as anything on HBO. That’s the power of KyoAni at its best.

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Those fantastic scenes between Kumiko, Yuuko, Mizore, and Nozomi were bookended by Kumiko encounters with her older sister (who wordlessly storms past her and out of the house after an argument with their father), and her sister from another mother, Reina. The earlier scene very succinctly illustrates how wading deeper into her bandmates’ problems has taken her further away from her family’s. To be continued.

Her scene with Reina, on the other hand, is almost a reward for Kumiko (and us!) For a second I thought she’d bring up the fact that Taki-sensei is a widower. Instead, she asks Reina if there’s anyone in particular she plays for. Reina is, as Kumiko so perfectly puts it, “so Reina” in her reply that she mostly plays for herself.

But I’d wager a part of her plays for Kumiko too, as part of Kumiko plays for her. After all, come the next competition, everyone in the concert band will live and die on each others’ performances, not just their own.

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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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