Hibike! Euphonium – 07

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I’ve enjoyed how throughout Hibike! Euphonium’s run it’s found little moments where Shuuichi always seems to gravitate toward Kumiko, who typically acts stiff, even annoyed by her childhood friend’s presence. At the same time, I imagine she’s not just tolerating  it, but legitimately comforted by it.

As we’ll see in the very end of the episode, Kumiko may be taking her bond with Shuuichi, and the easy rapport they have, for granted, even if it’s not intentionally. Their relationship is just one patch of the complex and multi-layered emotional tapestry of Hibike! Euphonium, a tapestry I’ve loved wrapping myself in week to week.

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The band uses their collective souls and breath to create music. But those souls are constantly beset by emotional obstacles—past, present, and future—that undermine their ultimate goal of achieving the level of technical precision and group cohesion necessary to have a shot at the Nationals.

When Kumiko overhears that her longtime friend and neighbor Aoi is thinking of quitting, and Shuuichi confirms it, she won’t believe it. But then, in the middle of practice, Taki can sense her single-handedly “muddying” the rest of the ensemble and calls her out, giving her the perfect chance to announce she is indeed quitting.

She does it abruptly, but her absence from the band is like an open wound from which negative energy festers. The president, Haruka, overtakes Kumiko in running after Haruka, but can’t convince her to come back. Haruka, in turn, has a crisis of confidence that had been brewing long before this most recent setback.

She cries in front of her junior Kumiko, lamenting that none of this would have happened if only Asuka had been president instead of her. It’s Asuka who comes out to the hall with a hanky for her tears. She lays it out to Haruka in very Asuka-esque fashion: If she knew all along really wasn’t cut out to be president she should have refused, as she herself did.

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Haruka takes the next day off, and the wound widens as now two third-years are absent. The show goes on without them, but Taki now notices Kumiko isn’t playing up to snuff. Being troubled does that; and in the sea of raging hormone and emotions that is high school, being troubled is an unavoidable fact of life. But unavoidable and unmanageable aren’t the same thing.

Hibike gets more info from her fellow eupher Natsuki about the civil war that took place within the band right before Kumiko and the first years arrived.  Haruka, Aoi, and the band’s “Madonna” Kaori were combatants and still bear the emotional scars of that war. Natsuki came out of it with a greater sense of commitment to her art, while Asuka remained neutral the whole time, staying above the fray.

Natsuki’s “war stories” invokes a memory for Kumiko from middle school, in which a short-haired girl refuses to accept her. It’s something that haunts her just as her since-resolved estrangement from Reina once did, only she’s not telling anyone about it, despite the fact it haunts her still.

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Meanwhile, Kaori visits Haruka and shakes up her pity party with hot potatoes, milk, and encouragement. She speaks the truth: Asuka may have been “smart” for refusing the presidency, but that doesn’t make Haruka stupid. Well, not just stupid…it took courage, courage that Asuka, for all her perfection, didn’t have, perhaps because logic can do such a good job of legitimizing retreat.

Haruka wasn’t held back by logic. The band was in tatters, but she picked up the remaining pieces, moved forward, and put it back together. If it weren’t for Haruka, there’d be no band for Taki-sensei to conduct. It’s what Kaori believes—and it’s the truth. Aoi’s exit from the band isn’t an indictment on her. Whether Aoi’s genuinely worried she won’t be able to get into a college if she sticks with a band, or she’s just using that as an excuse to retreat, she made her own choice.

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Having obviously picked up on the fact Kumiko is troubled about something she’s not telling anyone about, before alighting from the train Hazuki tells her if she ever wants to talk, she can. Up to this point these two and Midori have largely goofed off and had fun, so it’s nice to see their frienship growing deeper.

But poor Hazuki gets to see firsthand that the universe seems predisposed to putting Shuuichi and Kumiko together again and again, and that Shuuichi doesn’t seem to mind that phenomenon one bit. Yet once he’s aboard and sitting next to Kumiko, she’s immediately scolding him for bringing up Haruka hypothetically quitting.

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Yet in spite of her typical oh my god why do I have to deal with Shuuichi aura, Kumiko is also unmistakably engaged with him. Be it on a bench, on a bus, under a shelter, or on the train, when they’re together it’s like there’s a bubble around them and they are their whole world.

This is reinforced by the fact neither of them notice Reina’s sitting right next to them on the train. Even the camera didn’t notice. Ninja Reina! Not that she cares. Perhaps she sees what I see!

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President Ogasawara returns the next day to applause and sighs of relief, and the band continues their march towards the competition. If there’s one problem I had with this episode, it’s that it was a bit…stingy with the actual presentation of music. But that’s a small problem, and in fact, it’s actually better for the show to be stingy now, as it’s building up anticipation for the official performance, which I’m hoping will be as powerful as their march at SunFes.

Still, it’s telling that the chair where Aoi once sat remains unoccupied; the other saxophonists didn’t form up around the gap. This is a visual symbol that though the bleeding has stopped, the wound is still there. And it may not be the only one the band suffers as things get more grueling.

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Not only that, we finally get Hazuki bringing Shuuichi up to Kumiko; specifically, working up the courage to ask straight up whether they’re going out. Ending the episode with Kumiko’s simple bemused reaction to the sudden query is perfection. Just as she’s starting to put Aoi’s departure behind her and trying to play up to the standard Taki-sensei demands, Hazuki unwitingly tosses a new wrench in the works.

I don’t quite buy that Kumiko’s has never once seen Shuu as a potential love interest, only as a non-romantic childhood friend and occasional nuisance. In fact, I think part of why she typically regards him somewhat coolly is a result of feelings she’s not quite sure what to do with. Her look at the end here may not be puzzlement so much as a wake up call. With Hazuki’s heart now in the game, it’s time for her to take a position. And that’s got to be terrifying.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 06

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The sense of accomplishment from their SunFes success is short-lived, as Kitauji still has a long ladder to climb, being a school that has never scored higher than bronze, nor gotten out of prefectural stage of competition. Taki is taking the band’s desire to get to the nationals dead seriously, and he wants to field the best band he can, and that means auditions.

Auditions mean a first year can make it into the band if they’re better than a senior, but Hazuki doesn’t have any illusions about making the cut, as she’s still learning her way around Tubacabra. But Asuka won’t hear of her quitting before she tries, as it could cause problems in later years if super-talented first year tubaists join the band.

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As soon as Hazuki accidentally pulls out a piece of her tuba and panics, I was reminded of the first time I broke down my trumpet for maintenance. Like any complex instrument, musical or otherwise, it’s as important to know how it comes together and how it should work as it is to know how to play it well. The scene of the disassembled tuba also brings back happy memory for Kumiko: cleaning her (likely hand-me-down) euph as her sister cleans her trombone.

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I like how Kumiko and Reina have quietly settled into a nice friendship, though the two still seem a little embarrassed communicating so closely with one another. Or is that just the look of happiness on their faces? Clearly Kumiko was wrong about Reina holding a grudge; if anything, it seems as though all along Reina was looking for the right opportunity to reconnect with her former bandmate. Kumiko’s “payback” retort even inspires Reina to belt out a tune right there in the schoolyard, even as her senpai—now a rival in the auditions—plays up on the roof.

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Hazuki is a tough and determined one, so she decides to take her tuba home in a soft case and practice as much as possible. But she bristles at a beginner piece Asuka suggests she play, upset that it’s so slow and easy and that she still struggles with it. Determination and sticktoitiveness will only last so long when faced with a seemingly insurmountable task. She needs inspiration and motivation. Asuka thinks putting Kumiko in a “Tuba-kun” mascot suit will do the trick, but it only ends up charming Sapphire.

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As she practices alone in the hall, we catch a glimpse of a potential motivator for Hazuki: Shuuichi. Judging from the way she looks at Kumiko’s childhood friend, I’m willing to bet she wants more than anything to play at his level and be noticed by him for it.

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Then it dawns on her friends and bandmates: just as they overlooked the fact they never taught Hazuki how to properly clean her tuba earlier, she’s also never played in ensemble. She’s only been playing phrases by herself. Kumiko knows from experience—as all non-prodigal musicians do—that not sounding good, and knowing it, can wear one down and sap motivation.

So Kumiko and Sapphire meet Hazuki in their classroom and play the simply beginner piece that initially frustrated her. It turns out to be “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” which I didn’t catch when she just played her part, but that’s the point: the tuba is a team player; it only truly shines when it’s carrying an ensemble, even an ensemble of only three. You can see Hazuki’s face glow with inspiration and glee as she experiences this for the first time. She sees the light, literally (due to the sunset) and figuratively.

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She takes the tuba home that evening, but with a renewed sense of optimism and faith she can do this. Disaster almost strikes when she alights from the train and the great mass of the tuba almost sends her crashing to the ground, but she’s caught at the last second—by Shuuichi, who manages to rescue her without dropping his elaborate corn dog.

It’s kismet, I tellsya! It’s also a potential love triangle in the making, if I’m right about Kumiko not really hating Shuu. Regardless, Hazuki x Shuu would make a ridiculously cute couple.

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As for Kumiko, she takes her euph home too, “influenced” by Hazuki to wring out every bit she can before auditions, even if, after seven years, she’s all but assured a spot in the band. Aoi sees her and almost bitterly mutters to herself how lucky she is, even if Kumiko would probably argue that point.

But I tend to agree with Aoi, and not just because she has a boyfriend-in-waiting (if Hazuki doesn’t steal him!) Kumiko has arrived at Kitauji at the right time, when things are getting serious and reaching the nationals isn’t a fairy tale. Aoi and a lot of the other upperclassmen have been mired in mediocrity up to that point; their best high school days behind them. Kumiko is lucky, and young, and talented.

But like almost anyone young and transitioning to adulthood, she needs to be told that, and she needs to believe it.

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P.S. I’ve somehow resisted pulling my trumpet out from its case under my bed…until this week. After the episode I tooted out some scales. I’m sure my neighbors are ecstatic! A couple days of practice (not too much, don’t want to split my lips) and I’ll probably be able to do “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Hibike! Euphonium – 05

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That’s right, Sapph-er…Midori and Kumiko…hold your heads up high, ’cause this was one great episode of Hibike!. It built on the band’s steady improvement, and the fact that its members want to get better as a matter of pride, both personal and collective.

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With SunFes fast approaching, marching uniforms are distributed, and they’re appropriately adorable. Kumiko is initially worried that she hasn’t yet grown where she wants to, but the fact she’s not the only one cheers her up. She also manages to lock gazes with Reina, continuing the good vibes from the progress they made last week.

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With the inner turmoil among the members resolved, it’s just good to see the band out on the athletic field practicing their marching, which really is tougher than it looks. As Kumiko & Co. walk home you can see the hard work that they put in, and how well they’ll sleep. Then boom, Kumiko and Reina lock eyes again, this time on the train.

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Kumiko is as nervous as ever, and her attempts to start conversation are all shot down by one-word responses by Reina. It’s not until Reina herself asks Kumiko what she thinks of Taki-sensei.

Kumiko starts beboping about everything from his capabilities as a teacher to his good looks, and even mentions the bronze the school got last year, and Reina, gorgeously backlit by the city lights, presents her widest smile yet, which is both bemusing and heartening to Kumiko.

Reina probably has the hots for the handsome young conductor. (This probably won’t go well), but more importantly, Kumiko may have been wrong all along about Reina holding a grudge.

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When the morning of SunFes arrives, Kumiko goes over the dizzying array of logistics deploying a marching band to a festival entails, from arranging transport of the instruments (the bigger of which are helpfully handled by the larger lads) to the students themselves (by bus) and all the documentation and P.R. therein. The attention to details (like Hazuki practicing her steps) really lend a sense of occasion and professionalism and reality to the whole event.

Kumiko also ends up sitting next to Shuuichi (they’re meant for each other!), and is standoffish as usual, but he breaks the ice by professing his wish that both of them do their best today. She may outwardly resent his presence there, either as a sign of the past she left behind, but it’s still nice that he’s there; they can support one another just with their presence.

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It’s just Kitauji’s luck that they’ll march in between the top-ranked Rikka “Light-Blue Demons” and another elite band. Some of the returning members immediately worry they’ll be trampled. Then Kumiko goes over to a Rikka musician she knew from high school, who is glad to see her but has no idea why not only she went to Kitauji, but why Reina turned down Rikka to go there as well.

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Kumiko doesn’t know…at least not until the Rikka girl tries to lead her to some other friends from middle school. She realizes she’s about to fall into old habits and her old casual, half-committed attitude with the band, and realizes she should be with her bandmates, preparing to march. Then she knows why Kitauji: a clean break; a blank slate; a new start. And she doesn’t regret it.

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With that, Rikka starts its ridiculously elaborate, technically perfect, and disgustingly charming performance, which immediately intimidates and demoralizes Kitauji. They all snap out of it thanks to Reina, who breaks taboo by making noise during a march. But hey, it worked!

Taki-sensei didn’t really have any inspirational or motivational words for his band when they first arrived, but rather chooses to give them those words just when they’re about to march out there, sandwiched between two powerhouses:

Music is not something you do to show off your abilities to your rivals. But the many spectators and students of other schools still don’t know what Kitauji is capable of. So I believe today is a good opportunity for them to learn.

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He says those words as calmly as everything else he’s said to his band, but they make a powerful impact. You’ve shown me what you can do, he’s saying; Now show everyone…make them remember. And doggone it, they do. Kitauji shows they’re not a joke or a footnote in the high school band world anymore. It’s a powerful scene.

This is their coming out party, and they don’t screw it up. They have a beauty at drum major and a rookie on trumpet who rejected the mighty Rikka. They’re a motley bunch made up of students with all manner of reasons for being there, but they march and play as one, defiantly, purposefully, strutting their stuff, turning heads, and changing minds. Kumiko, Reina, and Kitauji are on the march.

This was a gorgeously animated and felt episode, in the finest tradition of KyoAni. Keep it up, Hibike!

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P.S. This episode was directed by Miyoshi Ichirou, one of KyoAni’s finest talents, who is responsible for standout individual episodes in Free!, Hyouka, Chu2Koi, Haruhi, and Tamako Market…and that’s just what I’ve seen.

Nisekoi 2 – 04

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I suppose it was predictable that Hana-san would turn out to be a better person than last week made her out to be, so I’m glad I was on the right track in hoping there was love behind her tough, intimidation, uncaring exterior.

A great symbol that Raku and Chitoge were both wrong about her is the cut to her breaking off a piece of her cigarette and eating it. It’s candy she uses for her oral fixation; she quit cold turkey when she got pregnant with Chitoge.

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Even so, Hana is not the world’s best mother, though she provides for her daughter. She said all those harsh things out of the mistaken impression Chitoge hated her, for raising her strictly, as she was raised.

She has a drawer full of personally-chosen Christmas presents for her dating back ten years, but has never found the right opportunity to give them to her, and always asks her age because she’s nervous and isn’t sure how to treat her. There’s no bitterness or apathy here; only a lack of communication.

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Enter Raku, with his most selfless and awesome heroics yet. It’s up to him to get these two very similar women in his lives who love each other deeply to overcome their misunderstandings about each other, while getting Hana to stop hiding behind her job and face her daughter properly.

It’s unfortunate Raku and Chitoge’s entire class, including the rest of his harem, is present when Raku whisks her off to a five-star hotel room, but there’s simply no time to explain. :3

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Not knowing initially what his gesture’s all about, Chitoge is also flustered and overwhelmed, but when Raku explains on the way and asks her to simply “trust in him”, she does so without a fuss, nestling her head into Raku’s back as he pedals with all his might for her and Hana’s sakes.

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Hana almost gets away on her private jet, but Raku manages to catch her on the phone, and puts Chitoge on the line to basically beg Hana to come back. Like any momma, the distressed cries of her young create a powerful urge for her to return to her offsprings’ side.

The resulting reunion on the runway goes from hilarious (Raku and Chitoge have to avoid being run down by the landing jet) to so heartwarming one forgets it’s Christmas and snowing out. Nice work, Raku!

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Raku gives the hotel room to Hana to spend some quality time with her daughter after they go out to eat, and Chitoge finally learns why she treasures her red ribbon so much: it was the same as a character in a book she loved as a child, and ten years ago during the summer they spent together, Raku told her she’d look good in it.

All this time she’s treasured it because it was a connection to her distant mom, but it also connects her to Raku, which combined with her current feelings for him, lends Chitoge an extra layer of destiny to their reunion ten years later.

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With that, Hana tells Chitoge to be a good girlfriend and go to the one who made their wonderful evening of reconciliation possible. Raku really worked his ass of this week like none other, so Chitoge doesn’t wake him up, but puts his head in her lap and enjoys the warmed of the guy she loves.

As for Raku himself, Hana doesn’t offer any revelations about his locket, but does figure out they’re pretend-dating, and wonders out loud if his feelings are really a sham. We know they’re not, and Chitoge’s certainly aren’t, but it’s more complicated than just that, especially in a post-credits scene with Kosaki expressing her relief to Ruri that Raku and Chitoge didn’t really spend the night in a hotel. Kosaki isn’t the best girl right now, but Raku likes her a lot too, so the battle is far from over.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 04

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Things couldn’t get much lower than they got last week, with the band unable to play together and various factions disputing whether to continue complaining to Taki or give in to his very new way of doing things.

Perhaps demonstrating her future as a diplomat, Haruka manages to work a weeklong ceasefire, during which time they’ll practice and attempt to get to a point where Taki will at least call them an ensemble, and only complain if he still doesn’t allow them to go to their precious SunFes.

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While all the negotiating takes place, Reina pretty much floats above it all, blasting her trumpet for all the school to hear. As narrator Kumiko puts it, this is Reina’s way of expressing her apathy for all this political bullshit…and I’m with Reina! They’re a band, for crying out loud; not a social club. If they want to go to SunFes, they need to be good enough to go, and the only way to do that is to knock off all the nonsense and get playin’.

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The accord thus reached, the more whiny of the band members are subjected to more of Taki-sensei’s abrasive tutelage; having them run laps before playing to build up their hearts and lungs; giving them semi-meditative breathing exercises, and singing solfège prior to creating overtones in group practice. In spite of their resentment for the man dishing out all this work, the band steadily gets better.

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Did I mention how much I love the relationship between Kumiko and Shuichi? She’s surly with him on the surface as usual—especially when he gets a dig in about her being cynical…which is true, by the way!—yet she still goes with him and hears him out about Reina getting into trouble with the seniors.

They do this in a very romantic spot, like that bench in the first ep, and even if the content of their conversation will never be accused of being lovey-dovey, the simple fact they can interact so casually and comfortably speaks volumes. There’s something there, but unlike other things this week, it’s left unsaid; whether it will remain unsaid all season remains to be seen.

Then they get in trouble when Shuichi blames Taki for not defending Reina—just when Reina is passing by on a bike on her way home. This is a bit of a coincidence, but I’ll allow it, because Kumiko realizes she made the same blunder she did back in that flashback that started her “rift” with Reina. She knows she can blame Shuichi for stating the behind-the-back talking, but she can’t deny that she agrees with his doubts about Taki.

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Kumiko’s fresh error vexes her during her parent-teacher conference (where we learn she followed her older sister into concert band, but her sister eventually quit), and when Reina asks Kumiko to join her in a dark and secluded corner of the schoolyard, she’s afraid of vicious retribution for that error.

Thankfully, Reina isn’t that kind of person. She apologizes, in her curt way, for saying too much. But that simple honesty broke the ice, allowing Kumiko to come out and say a lot of things to Reina she could never get around to saying until that moment: she’s sorry; she won’t say things about people behind their back; she’ll practice hard; she was inspired to work harder and aim higher by Reina’s Dvorak.

Kumiko saw the opportunity to say these things, and while she fears Reina will think she’s creepy now, she still feels good about saying them. For her part, Reina seemed moved by Kumiko’s sudden torrent of spoken feelings. Two episodes ago she made initial contact; now a dialogue is open, and they’re on their way to something resembling friendship.

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Kumiko decides not to keep quiet again in practice, encouraging a sleeping bandmate to join them in playing together, and surprised when she agrees. The rest of the band is able to channel the energy from their mutual dissatisfaction with Taki-sensei into becoming a better band, which may have been Taki’s intention all along.

When their week is up, the ensemble doesn’t sound perfect, but it does sound like an ensemble. They’re playing together. They can hear each other, and they’re playing like they have something to prove. The school hears them too, and are impressed. So SunFes is on, complete with a grueling, no-holds-barred practice schedule. I know it won’t be smooth sailing from here on in, but the progress both Kumiko and the band showed this week was very heartening. And hey, no one’s dying of an unspecified illness!

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Hibike! Euphonium – 03

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Watching Mikagura and Hibike! back-to-back is a study in contrasts. Eruna enters her new school looking to become its dashing hero, and when she’s knocked to the ground, jumps right back up, dusts herself off, and vows to carve her own path. Kumiko, on the other hand, has kept all of her fire within, and continues to allow herself to be stuffed into a euph-shaped hole despite not being particularly enthusiastic about it. Eruna believes she’s the best, while Kumiko never had any strong desire to be the best.

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Kumiko’s older sister greets her coldly, and while part of that may be emotional distance between sisters at different stages in their lives, perhaps her sis is a little disappointed Kumiko has “settled” for the euph “again”, knowing Kumiko herself isn’t that invested in it. “You don’t like the euph; I don’t like the euph…so what’s with the euph?”

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Be that as it may, hearing Hazuki toot her first note on “Tubacabra” lifts my spirits somewhat, as does her dutiful circular breathing practice-by-blow tickler. Kumiko may not be into this, but Hazuki is a lot more like Eruna; eager to learn and make the most of this opportunity. Then again, she got the instrument she wanted.

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This episode is half concert-band procedural, with Kumiko narrating how things work in a band, and giving said band a very professional feel, what with the sectional practices and lead-up to a rehersal as an ensemble. But little details here and there indicate that there’s a reason this band sounded so bad the first time Kumiko heard it: the band itself doesn’t quite work.

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Things are made painfully clear when the band pres Haruka summons their conductor Taki-sensei, perhaps against her better judgment. He gave them a simple beginner song to practice – “The Marine’s Hymn”, but it only takes a few measures of rough, uncoordinated play for him to cut the rehearsal short and call into question the band’s general understanding of what an ensemble is, before requesting they not waste his time.

Kumiko knows the band deserves the scorn, but the second years, who seem to be goofing off anyway, don’t react well to the tough love and stage a revolt of sorts.

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For the third time in as many episodes, Shuuichi approaches Kumiko to talk, only she’s flanked by her new friends and fellow bassists. Midori’s momentary misunderstanding about why Shuuichi was there was pretty cute, but Shuuichi is really there to confirm Kumiko’s concerns: as hard as some in the band may work, getting to the Nationals just may not be in the cards. Not with the way things are now.

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Things go from bad to worse when the second years’ revolt results in practice being canceled, which is not good for a band in desperate need of practice. As Kumiko, Hazuki and Midori start to head home with their heads hanging low, they suddenly hear a trumpet in the distance, which Kumiko recognizes instantly as Reina. As

She’s playing Dvorak’s “From the New World” – a piece that, beyond having it’s own anime, is something Kumiko knows the composer wrote when he was far from the home he knew and loved. There’s longing in the piece, and the pain of what’s been left behind, but there’s also hope; and enough feeling in the performance that the dusk almost looks like a dawn.

Reina’s lovely rendition, punctuated by a scream of frustration, made for a spirited, optimistic finish to what was, looking back, a pretty gloomy episode.

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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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Sora no Method – 09

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At this point, if Nonoka was extremely frustrated with Shione’s sudden about-face, I totally wouldn’t blame her, because I’m frustrated too. Not just because I didn’t feel like it was adequately explained why Shione did that about face, but because we come no closer to learning anything.

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We have the festival this week, which is nice and all, especially the way other classmates (who exist!) help out when crunch time comes around, but there’s zero progress and even some regression as Shinoe drifts further and further away, which makes this episode smack of stalling.

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All I can work on is my own theory on what Shione’s new problem is, and that is this: one new fact we learn is that calling a UFO was originally Shione’s idea, with Nonoka and the others going along with it.

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Then, it worked; the saucer came, and with it, Noel. Noel says she is the saucer, I imagine Shione is worried Noel will disappear if the group’s wish is fulfilled. Therefore, taking responsibility for Noel, Shione isolates herself from the others so the wish won’t be fulfilled and so Noel won’t vanish.

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That’s all we get, and despite some moments where Shione seems happy Nonoka is working so hard to figure out what her issue is, Shione doesn’t give her anything to work with other than “I hate you”, and “I don’t want anything else to do with you.” It’s almost as if Shione is trying to burn her bridges, making Nonoka and the others not want to be friends with her, as if that would make leaving them any easier.

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By the end, Shione never goes to the planetarium (which is awesome) with the others. But even if she’s working to stop their wish from coming true, Noel goes after Nonoka on her own and ends up passing out, either from being too far from the saucer or some other reason.

So despite Shinoe’s efforts, Noel may not be long for this world anyway. She was there to help deliver a wish to the group of friends; if they’re not a group of friends anymore, she has no more reason to keep existing in the world. If something else entirely is going on with Shione, we don’t learn about it this week…and frankly, I’m a little weary of being strung along.

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Zankyou no Terror – 11 (Fin)

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The perpetrators of the failed Athena Project meant for its child subjects to be discarded and forgotten. Nine and Twelve’s plan wasn’t about revenge, but about making sure they and the others weren’t forgotten; that those still alive who were responsible were plucked from beneath the rocks they’d hidden under. With increasingly stunning yet nonlethal attacks, they gradually built up their stature, until no one would be able to forget what they did, and by extension, that they lived.

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The most stunning yet is the high-altitude detonation of the stolen atomic bomb, which ended up not harming anyone but disabled all electronics in Japan. While it was yet another means of gaining attention and exposure among the masses, it also served as a firm counter-riposte to the efforts of the members of the Athena project to use technology to artificially enhance mankind. For at least a time, the EMP emitted from the bomb reverted the country to a far simpler state.

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Shibazaki became the Oedipus to Nine and Twelve’s Sphinx, looking past easy answers to solve the riddles of where they came from, what they were doing, and why. They unwittingly helped him to solve the case that had ruined his career, and finally learn what those he suspected of wrongdoing were up to, and putting them away for it. Justice tastes a lot better when it is acknowledged not just by oneself or amongst a few individuals, but by the same system that once helped shelter the wrongdoers.

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I will say that even in a series of a mere eleven episodes, Five’s arc was ultimately a bit of a detour, though as the only other surviving Athena subject, her actions tore Nine and Twelve apart, threatening the whole enterprise, only to bring them back together as strong as ever following her demise. She represented an alternate effect of Athena: that of unchecked chaos and rage. It’s also worth noting that after the end of the facility, she was and remained alone right up until her final confrontation with the others, while at least Nine and Twelve had each other, which had a grounding effect.

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Even so, just before the bomb goes off, when Lisa isn’t sure whether the world is about to end, Twelve tells her he and Nine were never needed by anyone until they met her and everything changed. Neither were ever ones for true, honest human interaction, let alone feeling what it was like to care for someone so much that you’d do anything to save them, which Twelve got that with Lisa. Even if he and Nine didn’t (nor intended to) survive the gestation of the better world they sought to build, they didn’t take Lisa down with them.

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On the contrary, through her adventures and their many rescues of her and acts of kindness towards her, Twelve and Nine instilled a fresh appreciation for life, and while many will ask her what it was like to be “Sphinx’s hostage” for all that time, she could never tell them much, because they’d never fully understand: she wan’t their hostage. She was their friend; their little sister whom they kept safe without fail. And they gave her hope.

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One Week Friends – 12 (Fin)

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Yuuki’s present awkwardness with Kaori, and Saki’s avoidance of Kiryu, are both the fault of the guy, and it’s up to them to turn things around. Interestingly, it seems Kaori herself is the catalyst for all of it, by doing what we suggested Yuuki to do, and that is to not let one’s strenuous efforts to retain every past memory interfere with the making of new memories, which is how friendships strengthen and grow.

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She also asks Kiryu what’s up with Yuuki, and while he tells her grudgingly, he knows its something Yuuki may never admit to her: he’s afraid of being with her, lest she one day lost her memories. The tender earnestness of their exchange provides Kaori with much-needed piece of the puzzle (and the knowledge Yuuki doesn’t hate her), it also inspires Kiryu to sort out his own self-made problem.

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The conciliatory scene between Kiryu and Saki isn’t long, but it’s extremely sweet. Kiryu capitalizes on the fact their group is up on the rooftop cleaning to confront Saki, and on her inability to run too far away from him, owing to her modest height. Saki merely misinterpreted his reaction to her proposal, something he apologizes for. He agrees to keep letting her rely on him since she’s so intent on it, though he won’t “baby” her the way her girlfriends do. What goes unsaid is that he doesn’t mind being her rock, because he likes her, but it’s implied in their agreement.

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With that couple’s problem efficiently resolved, it’s back to Yuuki and Kaori, whom everyone, even Kujo, notices a change in their behavior, like they’re forcing themselves. They seriously needed to work things out, so I was heartened when the news came both of them would be going on winter breaks with their families, because that felt like a dead giveaway they’d end up crossing paths.

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Sure enough, both their family trips are cancelled (or those plans never existed in the first place…?) Yet despite this, Yuuki and Kaori walk to the same bridge in what they think are futile hopes of seeing the other there. Their mutual shock and elation at finding each other there is lovely to behold. Though many opportunities arise to part ways, they end up spending the whole day together, because the truth is, neither wants to part ways.

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First, thank God, at long last, they FINALLY HIT UP THE CRÊPE PLACE! I’m in full agreement with Kaori that it’s “like a dream” watching them sitting there, enjoying the crêpes, together. Had the episode not done this, there’d be a far lower score at the bottom of this review, believe it. The dull grey of their surroundings is pushed to the edges of the frame by their warm colors; they look less in a gloomy fog and more in a kind of fluffy heaven.

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Yuuki walks her home, but they come across a shrine and decide to pray to it. Then Kaori starts to cry out of frustration, not knowing what to do in light of Yuuki’s wishy-washy behavior. While she doesn’t know what to do, she knows what she wants, and tells him: she wants to talk to him more, spend more time with him, and become ever closer friends. You know, what Yuuki wants. His wrongheaded attempts to keep her from crying caused her to cry.

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To Yuuki’s credit, he snaps out of his funk, hits himself in the face and insults himself for being such a dolt, and apologizes to Kaori, and goes further to say he wants the same things she does, and lastly, giving her a genuine, unforced smile, borne out of the progress they just made. From now on, they’ll worry less about losing the past or being burned in the future, but focus on making as many new memories together, in the present, as they can. They’re no longer just one-week friends.

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Final Cumulative Score: 8.33
MAL Score: 8.05

Stray Observations:

  • This was a thoroughly beautiful-looking episode, really making the cold overcast winter sky a major character all its own in terms of setting the mood and reinforcing that this was the end, or winter, of the show.
  • Like we said, as Kaori and Yuuki drew closer, they became a warm island, making the monochromatic starkness less ominous.
  • That’s not to say the whole episode was colorless save the characters. Kaori’s talk with Kiryu has a gorgeous palette and composition reminding us of a de Chirico painting, which also inspired the creator of Ico. An appropriate aesthetic, considering how isolated and lost Kaori was feeling.
  • Good on both Kiryu and Yuuki for getting over themselves, admitting they’re at fault, apologizing, and working to make things right. Like I said, the balls were in their courts.
  • I’ll admit I *gulped* when Kaori crossed the street, trailing behind Yuuki.
  • It’s notable that this episode didn’t contain any classic or overt “confessions”, but nor were they necessary, since couples are now on the same wavelength.

Samurai Flamenco – 20

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A lot of weird stuff has been happening to Masayoshi of late, particularly in the mental/metaphysical departments. So while his latest enemy appears to be a real flesh-and-blood guy, and someone he briefly met once before and has a whole story, that doesn’t mean he’s…real. Nothing this week suggests he really is, which is why no one really believes him.

“Real” or not, Sawada Haiji is a refreshing change of pace from the usual loud, boisterous, theatrical foes Flamenco has fought and defeated in the past. He’s incredibly stealthy and precise; impossibly so, as there are never any witnesses or evidence of his involvement in anything that happens to Masayoshi or his friends. And we say “that happens” instead of “Sawada does”, because the truth is, it could all be a coincidental sequence of simultaneous mishaps.

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Only Masayoshi is connecting the dots, egged on by the first in-person appearance and subsequent phone calls. Sawada is more than just an obsessed stalker or enemy, he’s the enemy; a classic nemesis, with the exact opposite goals of Masayoshi, and will hit him anywhere and everywhere where it hurts, even playing around with the idea of killing Goto. It’s telling then that when Masayoshi visits Goto, both to ensure he’s alright and to seek advice, this time bad things happen it has nothing to do with Sawada.

When Goto doesn’t believe him, Masayoshi throws Goto’s dead girlfriend in his face…which is a bad move, and Goto throws him out of his house. Masayoshi ends up by a riverbank to try to make sense of what’s going on, but ends up swimming wildly after a mirage of Sawada, a pretty creepy experience that awakens him to the possibility that no one else can see this newest evil because it resides within him, and only he can defeat it.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Samurai Flamenco – 16

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Given the ample resources of the Prime Minister, he can shout his lies loudly and consistently enough that the public comes to believe them as truths. Masayoshi has hit rock bottom not because his career has been destroyed and he’s homeless, hungry, and filthy, but because he has almost lost hope. He feels a fool for allowing the government to manipulate him, and sees world around him as a hostile enemy.

Stuck in this downward spiral and unwilling to steal or ask anyone for help lest he hurt more people with his selfish actions and dreams, he ends up becoming the recipient of aid from a Good Samaritan in the form of a poor, nearly-blind chap living in a tent in the park. After Masayoshi regales him with the abridged version of his story, the man tells him his: he was in the same spot Masayoshi finds himself: angry for being fooled and devoid of hope for the world. When a thug started beating him, he was ready to give up and die. Then Samurai Flamenco saved him.

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All it took was one kind, decent, good act for the man to realize he was wrong about the world. He started to help people, and they helped him and others in return. His world became a better place, but only because he refused to give in to despair and cynicism. He returns the favor, facilitating Masayoshi’s escape from a patrolling cop. The encounter reminded Masayoshi that even heroes need saving from those psychological villains. So he finally pays Gotou a visit, and Gotou asks what took him so long.

This is the Gotou who took Mari in when she too became lost, but also allowed Mizuki and Moe to confront her when she’d spent enough time stewing in her own angst. We mercifully, finally see that confrontation, and it’s a heated one, with lots of thrown punches and scathing remarks that cut to the quick. Mari hates Moe’s face right now because it reminds her that she’s a coward; that Moe volunteered to die for her in order to show her up. Like Masayoshi, she feels the world has turned on her, and she just wants to curl up and die.

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The other two M’s don’t let that happen. Even after she rips them to shreds about how much they depend on her greatness (Mizuki doesn’t dispute this, but hates the pathetic creature Mari has become) and flees to the place where King Torture tortured her, where she vomits and lies in it. Moe and Mizuki find her, and Moe, wearing a bag on her head, convinces Mari to return to their world, which isn’t complete without her. It was a showdown we’d been waiting for, so kudos to the show for finally giving it to us. It didn’t disappoint.

We also appreciated the symmetry of Masayoshi and Mari, at the end of their ropes, seeking out and being sought out by their best friends, respectively, and that the entire episode was devoted to the characters and relationships that had been neglected of late. It was welcome reparation for all the From Beyond shit the show put us through. With wounds healed, friendships repaired, and faith restored in the inherent, indomitable goodness of the world that shines beneath even the most well-funded lies, everyone’s in good shape for the final six episodes.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Kaname Joji is in full Hannibal Lector prison regalia, which is hilarious. Looks like his wife (who doesn’t know Sakura’s a flamenger, btw) could play a more important role soon.
  • Even at rock bottom, Masayoshi ain’t stealing bread. Dude’s for real.
  • It may seem a little contrived, but we like how a past recipient of Samurai Flamenco’s herosim is the one to pull him out of the abyss. Blind or no, that guy wasn’t going to turn him in.
  • Moe’s crush on Mari earlier in the show was played for chuckles, but we like how it evolved into genuine, unswaying love, which proves crucial Mari out of the abyss.
  • We actually liked how Mari and Moe’s embrace turned into a makeout session…Moe earned the hell of out that! Mizuki’s reaction is also pretty priceless.
  • Alright, show of hands: who thought that bright glowing vomit Mari spewed out was going to turn into something evil? We thought so; the show’s pulled that crazy shit out of left field before. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.