I usually try to end 12 days of anime with a moment of personal importance, with reflection on the self and honesty. Ain’t got something like that this year! Not that there weren’t moments or series like that, but none I could really talk about in depth. So let’s do the next ‘me’ thing after that and gush over KyoAni.
Hibike! Euphonium 2 has been stellar. I keep notes over the year to remember key scenes or events I might want to talk about during these 12 days and I ended up with 4 for Hibike! Euphonium 2 alone. I probably could have justified adding a few more to that as well. And it hasn’t even finished yet – as of writing, there are still 2 episodes to go! The finale is going to pull out something, I know it, but even so there is a huge amount I could talk about.
(Oh yeah, MAJOR spoilers for Hibike! Euphonium 2 ahead)
The first scene I felt like I needed to talk about comes from episode 4. Mizore – a newly introduced character for S2, but established to have been in the band from the start of S1 – comes across as a loner in the club, a bit cold and distant to everyone else. Still, she is a skilled oboist and doesn’t bother anyone so nobody’s too concerned. Yuuko chats with her though, as they both attended the same middle school.
Nozomi is another new character, and established to be one of the many first year members who quit the club in the previous year (a recurring source of tension throughout the series). She’s been trying to get back in, but Asuka won’t let her. Cutting a long story short, Asuka is trying to protect the club by protecting Mizore – when Nozomi quit, she didn’t talk to Mizore about it or even tell her she was leaving. This deeply hurt Mizore, as Nozomi was her closest – only – friend. It was almost an act of abandonment from her perspective. Seeing Nozomi again surfaces all those feelings. She freaks out, flees and hides. Asuka couldn’t let the only oboist lose focus, and so has been attempting to the two separate for now to prevent exactly this – of course, it didn’t work out.
When Kumiko finds Mizore, we learn how she feels, and it’s painfully relatable. Mizore and Nozomi were very close, but Nozomi was popular and had many friends, whereas Mizore only had Nozomi. If you’ve ever been in that position – being friends with someone more popular than yourself – you can likely understand what she’s going through. The sense of guilt that comes with selfishly wanting to keep your friend to yourself, the irrational feelings of betrayal when they choose to spend time with other friends… you can recognise that it isn’t fair to feel this way, but what are you supposed to do when you have nobody else? And in this case, Mizore feels like Nozomi didn’t even care enough about her to tell her she was quitting the club. Mizore feels like the friendship may have been entirely one-sided, and it hurt.
In the end, Nozomi finally talks with Mizore and the truth is far less underhanded – she didn’t want to pull Mizore out of something she clearly loved over a conflict that she wasn’t involved in – and it all resolves happily. As a bonus, we also get to see a side of Yuuko that we hadn’t before – she considered herself Mizore’s friend, so was hurt hearing how Mizore considered herself alone. To see Yuuko care that much about being someone’s friend, and to be so upset when she felt it wasn’t noticed or reciprocated, was wonderful to see in a character who could be fairly mean. In the end, Mizore was put in the same position she was putting Nozomi in – Mizore was self-absorbed, but understandably and sympathetically so.
Episode 5 represented a major technical accomplishment for both the series and for television anime – or even animation – as a whole. What we get to see is a 7 minute long, uninterrupted, concert performance. Every character and every instrument is beautifully realised and animated in gorgeous detail. Warped reflections of characters out of frame can be seen on the instruments, the timing of their play is synced to the music, and the varying senses of intensity and space in the music is on show through the actions and expressions of all the characters.
I’m not really able to talk about it in too much technical detail, or even give an idea what reactions in the industry were – I’m no sakuga nerd, after all – but what I can say is that this would have been impressive in a film. And this was on TV! It was an absolute treat, a real gift to the audience, as we have – not even during the first season – seen a full performance from the band. It is such an impressive sequence in a series that was already stunning people with its animation.
Kumiko, despite being the focal character, has never been shown to get heavily emotional. We never see her cry or scream or anything like that – she tends to prefer being a bit cagey and awkward instead. So the climax of episode 10, and of Asuka’s character arc, was surprising and powerful.
Asuka has all but quit the club. Her mother wants her to focus on her studies and, as it turns out, has never been hugely in favour of Asuka playing the Euphonium. Kumiko, being a fellow Euphonium player and having become somewhat close to Asuka (or as close as it seems possible to), gets tasked with finding out what’s going on and trying to bring her back. She finds out, she tries talking with Asuka, but it hasn’t worked. So, on one of the last possible days before Taki officially has Natsuki replace Asuka, Kumiko tries one last time and confronts Asuka privately.
Kumiko’s older sister recently announced her intent to quit college and work to be a beautician. Her parents are against it and the situation is complex. What it boils down to is that she was always trying to meet their expectations: when they wanted her to focus on her studies, she quit the trombone; when they wanted her to go to college, she did. Her own desires were put aside to meet their expectations, and she regrets it deeply. So when Kumiko confronts Asuka, she sees Asuka making all the same mistakes, acting like she knows what she’s doing despite just being a high-schooler. So when Asuka tries to brush aside Kumiko’s claims that everyone in the club wants her back, that she’s being childish, Kumiko rips into her. She tears down Asuka’s ‘cool’ and ‘indifferent’ front, and exposes it for the absurdity and insecurity it is. She accuses her of making decisions she’s going to regret, of lying to herself about what’s important to her. Asuka has always been this strong, distant, unreachable character, so to see her humbled so profoundly makes for one intense scene.
But more than that is just the sheer emotion Kumiko shows. She’s practically yelling in Asuka’s face while crying and pleading, harshly criticising someone she looks up to and finally letting her selfishness out. This whole scene is an outpouring of Kumiko’s true feelings for Asuka, and that despite the teasing, the coldness, the insincerity and all of Asuka’s other bullshit, Kumiko still really cares for her and truly wants to play the Euphonium with her. The presentation and performance here ramps the intensity tenfold – you can feel the tears in Kumiko’s voice, and the direction drops the entire rest of the world out of focus so that for this exchange they may as well be the only two people that exist, which surely is how they both feel.
It’s a rare sight for both Asuka and Kumiko, as neither show themselves to be this vulnerable or emotional. For both of them, it’s a hugely important moment in their development. And the result hits far harder for that significance.
Season 1 of Hibike! Euphonium didn’t grab me until episode 8. That was the one with Reina and Kumiko on a mountain, having a deeply revealing conversation that was intensely intimate and romantic. I wrote about it last year! It really left an impression on me, and so season 2 revisiting that scene was a very pleasant surprise.
Much like the first time, things are tense between Kumiko and Reina, and Kumiko is once again clueless. Reina has found out that Taki has a wife; worse, she found out Kumiko has known for a while, and said nothing to her. It’s understandable that Reina would see that as an act of betrayal, as Kumiko not valuing their friendship enough.
The reality, of course, is that Kumiko didn’t want to hurt Reina. And as it turns out, Reina didn’t know his wife had passed away a long while ago.
It’s a difficult scene to watch. You start out expecting a blowout fight between Kumiko and Reina, but then it moves to Reina essentially just venting her disappointment in Kumiko and herself before stating an intent to just forget about it and move on, if possible. It ends with Kumiko hitting her with the truth. At that moment you see a mix of sadness and guilt wash over Reina’s face; she feels awful. She acted selfishly, yelled at her parents, disappointed Taki, and lashed out at Kumiko, and she didn’t even know the truth. And even though Kumiko expected anger, even though Reina was critical of her, Kumiko nonetheless comforts and supports her.
There was a lot of value in reusing the same setting. It shows Reina probably perceives it as a place she can be comfortable in, where she can open up and say things that are difficult for her. She’s done so twice now. But more than that, it highlights the difference between the two scenes: the first time presented the start of newfound passion and the excitement that comes with it, but this second time shows simple comfort and support. Kumiko and Reina have come so far together over the course of this story, and this little mountain viewing platform beautifully landmarks that journey.