Hibike! Euphonium – 10

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Not that it wasn’t going to anyway, Hibike! got on my good side early this week by elaborating on that dark flashback Kumiko keeps thinking of. Turns out she beat one of her senpais in auditions, and the senpai chewed her out, saying she’d be in the competition if only Kumiko…didn’t exist.

That’s a harsh thing for someone like Kumiko to hear, and it’s clearly stayed with her, because when Natsuki asks to talk, she’s worried she’s going to get it again.

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It’s not that Kumiko doesn’t believe she deserves her spot, it’s that she can’t help but feel in the way of a senpai. She deals with her objective supriority by recoiling almost apologeticaly before the one she beat. Fortunately, Natsuki is, as Kumiko aptly puts it, “a nice person.”

That is, she doesn’t hold it against Kumiko for winning the seat. On the contrary, she’s only been playing a year and didn’t expect to win, and knew she wouldn’t be able to hide either fact from Taki-sensei. So while she’s her senpai in age, Kumiko is her senpai in Euph experience, by six years!

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While I believe Natsuki when she says she didn’t have high hopes, Kaori is another story entirely. She really wanted the solo part in her final year, and while it’s clear she hasn’t made her peace with the fact she didn’t get it, she’s willing to accept the decision out of respect both for Taki-sensei, Reina, and the system.

But then rumors spread of Taki and Reina knowing each other, introducing suspicions of favoritism. Yuko relays these rumors second-hand to Kaori, and while I know she’s just trying to be a loyal and caring friend, she only made things worse in terms of Kaori getting over things, because things may not be on the straight and narrow.

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What’s disappointing is how indelicately Yuko brings the issue before Taki-sensei, in front of everyone. He doesn’t deny knowing Reina, but insists he showed no favoritism. When Yuko presses, Reina can no longer hold her tongue. Both she and Taki make things worse by refusing to to anything about it.

Reina storms out, followed closely by Kumiko, but rather than find Reina depressed or crying, Reina is simply frikkin’ PISSED OFF, unable to stand Yuko’s presence any longer. She gathers Kumiko in a big warm hug, seeking assurance that she’s right about being the best trumpeter for the soloist part. Kumiko gives it to her, not just because they’re friends, but because she believes it herself.

And because these two are so close and open now, Reina also informs Kumiko that she attended this school because she knew Taki would be directing the band. She probably knew rumors would surface, but they’d come from what amounts to sore losers, and she’d simply barrel through them and press forward. (Does this confirmation of her love for Taki mean Reina and Kumiko don’t have a yuri future? I guess we’ll see.)

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But that’s going to be tricky. As good as Reina is, the controversy has had a profound effect on band cohesion, with people taking sides all over again, and talking about everything behind Taki’s back. The bassists send Kumiko to try to get Asuka’s opinion on the matter, but off the record (and in confidence) Asuka admits she doesn’t care either way; insinuating she’s focused on her own path. Kumiko can’t tell if she’s putting up a facade; neither can we. Asuka remains wonderfully enigmatic.

Less enigmatic but still wonderful is Haruka, who can’t rely on Kaori again (since Kaori is mired in the middle of this) nor the ever-neutral Asuka. She knows that she, the president, needs to get the band back on track. So before Taki arrives, she addresses them, and gets a show of hands for those with problems with the auditions.

She gets a number of hands, but can’t do anything with them as Taki-sensei enters, having just gotten a brief talk with the faculty adviser, who also happened to know his father. She knows that he can’t help but be honest and only care about music when it’s good enough. But in this situation, he has to be more than a greatness detector: he has to regain his band’s trust, even if it means screwing over those who already won.

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To this end, he too breaks the silence about the controversy, and offers a second audition to anyone who wants one, only this time it will be held in the concert hall he rented, in front of the whole band. The first to raise her hand is Kaori, which we know has nothing to do with her thinking she’s better than Reina or believing Taki played favorites. I don’t think she believes either.

This is, as her friend said, about accepting herself, something she won’t be able to do if she doesn’t take this opportunity. Reina’s disappointment is clear and justified, but knowing her, she’ll take this as a fresh challenge on her path to become truly special. Even if she doesn’t care what others think of her, she can’t get to the nationals without the rest of the band.

I don’t think she’ll ever win the love Yuko and others have for Kaori, and it’s possible she’ll beat Kaori so badly they’ll still be against her. But who knows, perhaps this time, out in the open, she can convince them beyond doubt she deserves the solo part. It isn’t something she should have to do, but she has to all the same.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 09

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Kowai…

Last week was a beautiful and highly memorable episode oozing with romance, love, heart-swells and heartbreaks and confessions and rejections, and ASUKA DON’T GIVE A SHIT. She is the voice of the episode that brings us back down to earth from those indelible images of a sore-footed, one-piece-dressed Reina lugging a Euph up a mountain, or the perfect duet played high above the shimmering festival. Fun Time is over. Gotta practice!

While Asuka’s objection to “issues” getting in the way of her practice time is presented in a semi-comedic tone, it’s nice how her very objection and complete lack of patience on such a subject is also an indication of her issues, which remain internal so far.

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The distracted girl Asuka all but kicks out of the room is Midori, who still feels bad and possibly guilty about Hazuki getting rejected, believing she played a part in her failure. Her depressed mood is translating to noticeably poor play.

Hazuki keeps her frown upside-down, even though we know she feels bad too, she wants to be happy, and is taking the well-worn path of acting happy first. Her strategic (and very graceful) change of direction when Shuu enters the train is proof she wants to move on.

Kumiko, meanwhile, is still wrestling with the fact that people are telling her she likes Shuu, when she’s never given much thought about it, and can neither confirm or deny it. She can craft a defense against such allegations—”I didn’t want to lose a friend”; “we go way back.”—but they don’t tell the whole story of her true feelings, because that story hasn’t been written in a language in her head she can understand yet; it’s all out of focus.

This show does a fine job emphasizing how different Kumiko, Midori, and Hazuki are, which is I think why Kumiko has accepted them as friends. They’re not all trying to be the same, like the rhetorical sheep Reina blasts; rather, they’re embracing their differences to gain new insight.

Midori is probably a little surprised when Kumiko says they should just act normally, since that’s where she believes Hazuki is trying to get. But she respects and goes along with that idea.

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Real nice slow-rain

Of course, things aren’t normal for anyone right now, and not due to any love triangles, but because there are only 55 seats and more than 55 tushes, which means even those who have played beside one another have suddenly become their rivals for those limited seats.

It’s something that weighs on Kaori, who gets more screen time this week. I love how Haruka reassures her the way Kaori reassured her during her crisis of confidence. Kaori wants to become better so she can keep the peace in the band and prevent another incident like last year. There’s also considerable pressure on her from her peers, particularly those junior to her who idolize her as the band’s madonna.

It’s interesting that our first good look at Reina since her big breakout episode is crossing paths with her fellow soloist, the clearly intimidated Kaori.

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I also love how in so many animes, we always hear horns practicing somewhere on the grounds, and Hibike! finally focuses in on those musicians. Kumiko looks particularly isolated—by choice—in her little corner of the schoolyard as she practices her piece. When she hears another Euph playing the piece very well, she runs over and is surprised to find it’s Natsuki, who earlier in the show was dozing during practice.

Seeing Natsuki there, giving it her all, Kumiko suddenly snaps out of her complacence: her seat on the band is not assured; no one’s is. And she’s not the only one working hard to become better, so she’d better get back to it!

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Those nerves won’t do her any good in the audition (it might have been better, if less dramatic, had she not heard Natsuki prior to her audition), but she can’t shake them. At least, not until Reina enters the storage room, ignores whatever Kumiko mutters to her, and takes hold of her cheeks, so her their faces and eyes are locked into each other.

I’m going to do my best, so you have to, as well.

She doesn’t let go of Kumiko’s cheeks as she parry’s her “buts” with a repeat of that mantra-like line. Suddenly, Kumiko calms down, then puts her hands on Reina’s cheeks and agrees. It’s great to see the camera cut to their feet as Kumiko’s weight pushes against Reina’s.

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Zero hour: Kumiko’s audition. The atmosphere is so deliciously tense. I loved how Taki’s impressed reaction to learning how long she’s played one instrument made her worry she set the bar even higher for herself.

I found my breathing patterns change as I listened to each note of the first bars she’s told to play. And she plays it well. Not perfectly, but not badly, either. Then Taki asks her to play a bar she hasn’t practiced as much.

It’s a bar we don’t get to hear (the show is as great at knowing when to withhold music as when to use it for dramatic effect), but I knew she played it well, too; because while she initially panics a little, she remember’s Reina’s words, and the feeling of her hands on her cheeks, and does what she has to do.

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That being said, the announcements of the parts was as nerve-wracking as the audition, especially the seemingly cruel way their advisor lists the names of those who got seats, then simply saying the total afterwards.

At the sound of those totals we always see someone suddenly burst into tears, one by one; it’s like a battle, and they were unlucky enough to get hit by enemy fire; only they’re all friends and, in a way, family. The discomfort of that scene, and the lack of visible celebrations from the winners out of respect for their comrades, is all perfectly pitched.

That goes for when Kumiko is announced right after Asuka, as the only two Euphs who got seats. Kumiko seems almost guilty she snatched the second seat from Natsuki, after watching her transformation from apathy to devotion. It even reminds her of when that girl in the past asked her “Do you think this is funny?” which now sounds like a rebuke to Kumiko’s own apathy about music at the time. But the true meaning of those words, and the identity of the person who said them, remain elusive.

Midori gets a seat as the contrabass, but Hazuki fails, but takes it rather well, at least on the outside. Reina makes it too, then surprises the entire band (except for herself and probably Kumiko) when it’s also decided she, and not her senpai Kaori, will play all the solos.

But whatever social fallout such a decision has on Reina, I’m certain she’ll keep moving forward…will want Kumiko to keep walking beside her.

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P.S. MAL remains noncommittal about the episode total of this show. I don’t wish this often, but I truly hope this gets the second cour it deserves. Anyone know for sure?

Hibike! Euphonium – 08

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Now THAT, ladies and gentleman, is how it’s done. All hail KyoAni. Nagato Who-ki?

You’ll have to forgive all the incoming gushing, as I’m still a little overcome with ALL THE FEELS from this latest, greatest episode of Hibike! Euphonium, which also happens to be the best thing I’ve seen all Spring; maybe all year.

This episode was every bit a carefully, lovingly composed masterpiece with nary a note out of place, starting with not letting Kumiko off the hook. We’re right back at those desks with Hazuki, having dredged up the courage (and you can see her nervousness in the way her feet shift below that desks).

Kumiko has no clue what’s going on, but she’s about to. Surprising candidate for class yenta Sapphire takes Kumiko’s noncommittal attitude as tacit approval for Hazuki to ask Shuu out for the upcoming Agata Festival, a traditional ceremony of pairing-off for her peers.

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But as we’ve seen, Shuu isn’t interested in any other girls. He asks Kumiko out, and she again acts like a deer in the headlights. As she makes the transition from dark winter to more cheery summer uniform, the sky is appropriately as cloudy as her muddle of racing thoughts. He told her to think about it, but she’s having trouble thinking about anything. This state of mind is totally new for her, and it seems equal parts frightening and exhilarating.

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Kumiko didn’t ask to be thrown into a love triangle, which she literally draws out in her notebook just so she can behold it in a space other than the inside of her reeling head. Nor did she want to be put in a position where her chipper friend Hazuki gets hurt. But the aggressive Sapphire literally pushes Hazuki into doing what she wants to do and would probably regret not doing.

In a sign that Shuu simply isn’t on the same wavelength as her, he misjudges Kumiko’s efforts to slink away from him as a signal for him to follow her. Literally cornered, she grabs the arm of the first person to exit the practice room, who as fate would have it, is Reina! Hazuki also comes out, and asks Shuu for a moment; Shuu asks Kumiko if it’s really “okay”, and she tells him it is.

But it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. It’s almost not fair!

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I say almost, because Kumiko’s “consolation” prize is no consolation at all; but the jackpot; she just doesn’t know it yet. She may have grabbed Reina at random, but Reina considers the act a binding contract, and Kumiko’s in no position to argue. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kumiko was looking more forward to going with Reina, who’s telling her they’re going, than Shuu, whom she would’ve had to say “yes” to— something she’s apparently not ready for.

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I liked the episode’s inclusion of the normal couple Riko and Gotou as a sign that not everyone is locked in fraught triangles at school. But I also like how the show doesn’t play favorites for any particular vertex of the triangle we think is in play. Because of that, I was still rooting for the super-cute Hazuki, who eschews a yukata for a miniskirt and short-crop tee.

As for Reina, well…what is there to say? She’s hauntingly gorgeous, so much so that a more slapsticky show would have almost certainly gone inside an SD Kumiko’s head as she gulps comically loudly. Kumiko is also dressed decidedly boyishly compared to Reina’s ethereal snow-white one piece. But on this date, it’s Reina who leads: up a mountain and into another entirely new world for Kumiko; one she never saw coming.

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Like I said, I wanted to root for Hazuki and Shuu, but as cute as she is, the spark just isn’t there. At least Hazuki has the good sense to be quick and efficient about things, so that when Shuu does gently but firmly reject her, it doesn’t feel quite as sudden when she’s suddenly resolving to get him and Kumiko together, despite his claim there’s nothing there. Still, that shot of Hazuki from behind, gazing at the shimmering moonlit water that may as well be her tears, is a powerful image.

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This must be how it feels to lose your life, drawn to a beautiful thing, despite your fears.

As good as Hazuki’s failed confession was, it is quickly overshadowed by Kumiko’s date with Reina, as they trudge up the mountain, periodically switching instruments so they share the load.

Seeing you in that white one-piece, holding my euphonium, seems so wrong.

On this trek, far from all the other festival-goers Reina fearlessly lays her feelings for Kumiko bare.

—Don’t your feet hurt?
—They hurt. But I don’t hate pain.
—What? That’s kind of hot.
—Freak.

It would have been easy for Shuu to accept Hazuki’s confession and go out with her, having been spurned by Kumiko in a golden opportunity passed by. But the true love triangle doesn’t involve Hazuki at all; we now know it’s between Shuu, Kumiko, and Reina.

It’s like you put on a kind, good-girl face, but inside, you’re actually really distant. It makes me want to peel that good-girl skin off of you.

Bandmate Natsuki also remarked that Kumiko “is kind of distant like that”, and it’s true. It’s why we hear Kumiko narrating to us all the time: not just to explain how the concert band works, but she’s observing and reporting on her life, all the while keeping it at arm’s length.

It’s a side she didn’t know anyone noticed—heck, it might be a side she didn’t even know she had. But Reina has seen it. Reina stays away from people who “don’t interest her”, and believes fitting in, and being relieved about being the same as someone else is “stupid.”

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It was pretty ingenious how effortlessly Reina scooped Reina up and put her under her spell. I must say I did not expect a confession of romantic love, nor was there an indication the show would take a yuri turn so soon, but hey, it is Springtime, and by the time they’d finally reached the summit and seen the entire town and festival at their feet, as if they were standing in heaven, I wasn’t ruling out a kiss. Reina’s “not the same as the others” line seems to underline the fact that no guy in her life interests her as much as Kumiko does.

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On the one hand I couldn’t help but think Reina seems awfully happy to have found a kind of kindred spirit in Kumiko, which some might say makes her a hypocrite, only with different taste than most. But on the other, I really like her belief a life without pain or struggle isn’t a life at all. One only needs to see Hazuki’s struggles this week to understand that. She’s all smiles when she meets back up with Sapphire…until she isn’t. But she tried; she put her heart on the line. That matters.

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Kumiko’s life isn’t made any simpler by Reina’s confession—she’s still in a love triangle, just not the one she drew—but that hardly matters right now. On this particular night, she and Reina play the same song they played in middle school—because Reina likes it—and they play beautifully and in perfect harmony. As Sapphire said, all music begins with love, and Reina’s desire to be “special”, even more special than she already is, is also fueled by love.

In her narration, Kumiko admits to being “sucked in” by this “snow maiden”, and feeling like she wouldn’t mind “losing her life” to her. Only Reina isn’t a yuki-onna; she’s a girl who just confessed to her. Kumiko’s lack of a good reaction makes Reina repeat her assertion that Kumiko has a “terrible personality”, but she means it as a compliment; Reina doesn’t want perfect. And reaction or no, Kumiko now knows what it feels like to want or need to go out on a limb; take a risk; lay one’s heart bare, even if it might hurt or not work out. I daresay Kumiko lost her innocence this week. So…what will she do now?

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