“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” —Vince Lombardi
This season’s premier anime about music concludes on a high note: after three episodes, Hibike! Euphonium details the personal aspects surrounding Kumiko, Hazuki and Sapphire as they continue practising to make the auditions. Such events include the mini-scandal that arises when Reina is chosen over Kaori to be the trumpet soloist, a love triangle between Kumiko, Hazuki and Shuichi, and Kumiko learning about her own passion for music as she spends more time with Reina. In spite of these turbulent events, all of these minor scrapes and bruises fall to the wayside as the day of the competition draws closer; spurred on by their own motivations, and by instructor Noboru Taki’s training regiment, Kitauji’s concert band put in their best efforts in practise. When the day of the competition comes, Kitauji’s performance, brimming with their honest intentions of excelling, leads them to be among the bands chosen for competition at the national level.
For all of the discussions and debates out there about the character growth in Hibike! Euphonium, the anime’s final performance illustrates how in the end, the internal conflicts in the characters ultimately are not as great of a concern as the band’s overall will and determination to give their best possible performance. Kitauji’s concert band members are able to set aside their own doubts, hesitation and reluctance to accept Noboru’s methods and their fellow band member’s dedication, working towards a tangible, meaningful goal. Thus, when all is said and done, the final performance shows a band whose members have successfully overcome their conflicts, both internally and amongst one another. This is often the case wherever a journey is undertaken: as things culminate towards the end, the bumps on the path matter less compared to what lessons were learnt from those bumps. Through Hibike! Euphonium, Kyoto Animation captures this notion perfectly.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Since I ended my last Hibike! Euphonium post with a picture of Reina, so I shall begin this post with the same. Despite being aloof and distant, viewers will warm up to Reina’s disposition as she interacts more with Kumiko: her smile is warm, and this is a side of her that she only displays towards Kumiko.
- With the emphasis on competition, improvement and self-reflection, one might consider Hibike! Euphonium to be what viewers were anticipating when they saw K-On! for the first time. The only similarity the two anime share are that music is involved, and they’re both produced by Kyoto Animation, but beyond this, Hibike! Euphonium is about a band’s journey towards the National competition, while K-On! presented a more relaxed story about the value of time spent with friends.
- Near Hibike! Euphonium‘s halfway point, Kitauji participates in the SunFes festival as a marching band. Despite performing after the prestigious Rikka academy, Kitauji demonstrates its commitment towards improvement here, surprising the audiences with their performance.
- That Hibike! Euphonium was adapted from a light novel, rather than a four-panel comic, would speak volumes about why there’s a cohesive story here: after SunFes,
Dr. Crane Noboru announces that there will be auditions for the upcoming competition. This adds additional weight to the story, and although audiences wouldn’t doubt that Kumiko will make it in, suspense comes from wondering whether or not Hazuki will pass.
- Auditions, or “try outs” for the athletically-minded are intended to weed out members whose skill level and hearts are not fully on board. When auditions end, the end result is a team or group consisting of the players that satisfy the minimum requirements. Hibike! Euphonium is able to subtly capture the sense of dejection for the individuals who did not make the cut.
- Another subtle conflict raised is the love triangle forming between Kumiko, Hazuki and Shuichi forms the conflict prior to the audition. One of the things that Kyoto Animation excels at with Hibike! Euphonium is the inclusion of natural conflicts and challenges amongst the characters without diverting an unreasonable amount of time to explore these stories. Naturally, there are some (especially those of Tango Victor Tango) that may gripe that this creates flat characters and prevents closure.
- However, the deliberate choice to leave some elements ambiguous or unexplored is similar to how real life works: one does not necessarily know all the details of those around them, and to ask would be considered impolite or discourteous in some cases. In Hibike! Euphonium, audiences only have access to Kumiko’s narration, and as such, can only see the story from her eyes. It would therefore make sense that only what she perceives is explored in greater detail.
- Thus, Kumiko, Shiuchi and Hazuki’s relationship woes are presented as being quite fleeting. Quite similarly, when the results of who will be the trumpet soloist are announced, there is a great deal of strife within the band; Kaori loses to Reina, leading Yuko Yoshikawa (a second year trumpeter with a bow in her hair) to accuse Noboru of playing favourites. This bit of competition drives a rift through the band, but again, finds resolution on relatively short order.
- Reina confides in Kumiko that she wants to excel and become special at her own pace, disregarding Japanese social convention. The imagery here is evocative of the Snow Woman legend in Japan, suggesting that Kumiko is drawn to Reina’s beauty in spite of the hazards. If we look past the superficial elements, Reina’s beauty is her drive to be unique, and the associated hazard stems from this violating social convention. For the astronomers amongst my reader-base, the Venus-Jupiter conjunction can be seen in the background. This serves as yet another reminder of how committed to realism Kyoto Animation is.
- Kumiko’s experience as a Euphonium player allows her to pass the auditions, and similarly, Midori succeeds as well, but Hazuki is unsuccessful. Maintaining an optimistic outlook, Hazuki resolves to continue playing next year. Earlier episodes show that Kumiko was reluctant to take up the euphonium again, rather similar to how Miho was initially wishing to distance herself from Panzerfahren. Because what precisely led to this is never explicitly mentioned, it’s logical to conclude that the message here is that what matters is making the most of the present, rather than atoning for anything from the past.
- Thus, with respect to the comparatively quick timeframe in which conflicts are resolved, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the director views them as minor setbacks in the grand scheme of things; what truly matters in Hibike! Euphonium is reaching the competition and performing well. As such, I don’t see a particular need to analyse Asuka’s character. Behind her easy-going, cheerful veneer, Asuka might be hiding something, but again, because it’s not relevant to how well Kitauji can perform, it’s not necessary to consider how Asuka as a character will impact the overall theme.
- Though Hibike! Euphonium is a drama, there are some moments where comical expressions are used to visually denote the incredulity of a particular moment.
- Under the summer heat, Kumiko suffers a nosebleed that stains her uniform, an issue that would not have been present with the brown winter uniforms. The summer uniforms have a much lighter feel to them, and I read an interesting discussion on the uniform’s differences between summer and winter. For me, I do not see a change in approachability, but a change in atmosphere: the lighter, airier summer uniforms reflect on the characters’ gradually opening up more and following their hearts, whereas the brown winter uniforms suggest rigidity and formality, which was very much present earlier in the season.
- K-On! featured a light rock band with five members. The number of members in Kitauji’s concert band number is more impressive, and the fact that Kyoto Animation is able to animate everyone playing their instruments is a testament to how their craft has improved in the six years since the K-On! aired.
- The drive for excellence is what keeps me rolling: similar to Reina, I approach anything I do with the mindset of giving it my best, and will only stand down once I know for certain that all avenues have been explored. Spending time with Reina allows Kumiko to understand the same, and coupled with words of encouragement from Noburu, Kumiko masters her section in time for the competition.
- Kumiko’s ponytail makes a return in the finale, neatly evening out the series the way it started. However, when Hibike! Euphonium started, Kumiko decided to wear a ponytail merely for appearances’ sake, to leave behind her past self in a manner of speaking. By the finale, she does so out of practicality’s sake, and these minor differences in motivation can do much to convey the sort of character growth that Kumiko’s undergone over Hibike! Euphonium‘s run.
- On the day of competition, whatever unresolved tensions between Kumiko and Shiuchi have largely been set aside as tensions and pressure mounts prior to performance. Some of the band members who were not selected to compete worked together to create good luck charms for the performers, showing that this is a band whose members do care for one another, and that any bad blood from earlier have largely dispelled.
- Thus, when everyone is on stage, there is only music: nothing else matters. This is really what Hibike! Euphonium boils down to, and while the anime takes the time to show the scratches that occurred on the journey here, the sweat and tears that each member have contributed ultimately result in a payoff, illustrating that for all the challenges faced, with the right motivator, Kitauji’s band can indeed perform well.
- Naturally, being an anime about music, I imagine that the soundtrack for Hibike! Euphonium will be an excellent listen. It’s set for release on July 8, a short ways from the present, and I most certainly look forwards to hearing “Crescent Moon Dance” in all of its glory. I was originally intending on writing about OreGairu Zoku first, but a quick glance at the site metrics made the decision for me: there does seem to be a great deal of interest in all things Hibike! Euphonium.
- The finale comes full circle with Reina crying, although this time, Reina’s tears are of joy rather than disappointment. It’s finally over now, and what a journey it was. This is an anime that is relatively easy to recommend, as it succeeds in telling Kumiko’s story, balancing the main story with side elements to provide realism (in life, there’s always more than one’s occupation), and making use of audio-visual elements that show KyoAni as a studio that’s always improving their game.
With this theme in mind, it’s not too surprising to see dynamics between Reina and Kumiko, or the conflicts that Shuichi remark as having afflicted Kitauji’s concert band in previous years, become less relevant as the day of the competition moves closer. Hibike! Euphonium is an anime about a band overcoming past limitations and doubts: under Noburu’s watchful eye, each member learns to awaken their own drive for excellence. The role of these smaller details, serve to push Kumiko towards understanding her internal desire to excel and reach the nationals, rather than contributing to the theme directly. When Kumiko embraces her passion for music, these internal conflicts are resolved in a satisfactory manner. While the uninitiated may claim that this does not result in good closure, Hibike! Euphonium in fact resolves the all of the sub-stories that gradually developed in a rather elegant and logical approach. This marks the end of Hibike! Euphonium for the present, although to close the anime off here is to leave room open for future developments, either in the form of a movie or second season. While a continuation would be nice, it’s not necessary, given that Hibike! Euphonium successfully conveys its message to the audience.