The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Dash, Monoka: Hibike! Euphonium OVA Review and Reflection

“You have to work very hard behind the scenes, to make a message clear enough for a lot of people to understand.” — Stefano Gabbana

So named for the first syllables for three of the senior concert band members who did not make the cut, the Hibike! Euphonium OVA was released with the seventh Blu-Ray volume, following Hazuki’s experiences with her seniors as they practise for improvement and support the main concert band to the best of their ability. All the while, Hazuki is dealing with the aftermath of her attempt to ask out Shuichi, and Monoka’s decision to make individualised good luck charms for every member of the main concert band on the day of their competition. However, oversight leads them to leave the mallets behind, and realising that there’s no other way, Hazuki sprints off to retrieve them, making it just in time as Kitauji is set to go on stage. As a story set during the events of Hibike! Euphonium proper, the Hibike! Euphonium OVA details the events that occur concurrently with those of the main story, illustrating the unsuccessful members as resolved and supportive nonetheless. Far from being resentful or envious of those who had made it in, Monoka’s members are determined to work hard both to ensure another shot at concert band in the upcoming year, as well as to cheer on their fellow band members as they push for a shot at competing in the nationals.

Through its depiction, the Hibike! Euphonium OVA shows that systems in general are much more complex than what is visible. Set between episode eleven and twelve, the OVA shifts perspective to the group who had not made it and therefore, did not have a substantial presence in the final episodes. Between practising on their own and crafting good luck charms, the OVA shows that while Kumiko and Reina might have centre stage, Hazuki’s story merits telling. She comes to learn that, despite not making the cut in auditions, she’s discovered a joy in performing music, and while her involvement with the concert band ends for the present, she and the others nonetheless manage to find ways of continuing their passions for music. The importance of this contribution is highlighted when Hazuki decides to retrieve the mallets herself: though the band might be performing, it’s this singular action that demonstrates her commitment to Kitauji’s concert band. Hazuki’s actions, though not seen in the anime proper, saves the concert band a substantial amount of trouble. They are, in a sense, reminiscent of David Goodsell’s remarks on biological illustrations, that every single structure in one of his illustrations must be supported by other structures that cannot be seen in said image: their lack of visibility is certainly not indicative of a lack of importance.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For this OVA, I rolled with twenty screenshots, roughly distributed evenly to capture all of the moments within the OVA. Immediately, the lighting in the OVA is meant to evoke a sense of what the characters are going through: it’s shortly after these individuals have failed to make the cut for the band, and reflecting on this sort of melancholy, the scenes are permeated with greys. Even so, the girls immediately set about crafting an identity (“Monoka”) and goal for themselves.

  • Shuichi encounters Hazuki trying to carry her tuba and becomes somewhat embarrassed, suggesting that this is a ways shortly after Shuichi turns down Hazuki. On average, an orchestral tuba weighs around 25 to 35 pounds (and with its case, up to 45). While this is not particularly heavy (our lab’s Mac Pros from 2009 weigh 41 pounds and I move those around with reasonable frequency for presentations without difficulty), the fact is that they are quite bulky, and Hazuki’s preferred method of carrying them could result in back problems.

  • Struggling to find the words, Hazuki decides to set aside the past and encourage Shuichi forwards to do his best. Though Hazuki received less screentime as Hibike! Euphonium wore on, we recall that this was a consequence of Hibike! Euphonium having Kumiko as the protagonist: things are told from her point of view and as such, as she spends more time practising, there’s less time to relax.

  • That Hibike! Euphonium managed to work relationships into music was a nice touch: while it was certainly not subtle, it did not detract from music as a whole. After being rejected, Hazuki is struggling with the aftermath: friendships can and do turn a little unwieldy after such, and Hazuki wonders about Shuichi’s feelings for Kumiko, as well as expressing similar thoughts concerning love as I do.

  • Though this might be a mere OVA, Hibike! Euphonium spares no expense to ensure that the landscapes and lighting look as nicely as they did during the TV series, where the amount of detail put into the instruments was nothing short of impressive. Besides bringing all of the settings in the anime to life, the lighting does as much as the dialogue and music to set a particular mood.

  • Owing to its high production values, solid narrative and relatable characters, Hibike! Euphonium was well-received, sharing the spotlight with Shirobako and One Punch Man as one of the top anime of 2015 in the community. It represents one of Kyoto Animation’s finest works for quite some time, although I disagree that Hibike! Euphonium should be treated as “what K-On! should have been”.

  • The rationale for this is simply that the original materials are inherently different: the only thing that Hibike! Euphonium shares in common with K-On! is “music”. Beyond this, the K-On! manga was about a group of friends meeting through light music and eventually, figuring out that their junior is an irreplaceable treasure that made their club meetings special, and the Hibike! Euphonium light novel follows a high school concert band’s desire to see how far an honest effort will take them. Both works have a  different theme and are intended to tell a different story, so the comparison is invalid.

  • Quite honestly, I’m resentful of the society that places so much emphasis on finding someone “perfect” as “soon as possible”, and that single individuals are somehow “incomplete”. The resulting pressure drives people to pursue relationships even if it means hurting others in the process. Hibike! Euphonium, through Sapphire, supposes that pursuit of love is not a wasted endeavour provided that the feelings are genuine: I agree fully, and this is why I don’t ask people out on a whim. The downside is that being rejected here hits for double damage.

  • We’ll set this rather disquieting topic aside and return to Hibike! Euphonium, where we see Monoka shopping for the components required to craft their good luck charms. After the greys earlier in the episode, the warm colours of a sunset bathe Hazuki and Sapphire in a gentle light as the former puts her feelings out into the open. Colour saturation is amped up as Hazuki and the others busy themselves with creating their good luck charms, conveying the positive spirits everyone’s in.

  • Each good luck charm is lovingly constructed to properly capture Monoka’s wish for Kitauji’s band to succeed. I remarked in my review that ultimately, Hibike! Euphonium (or at least, Kyoto Animation’s interpretation of the light novels) suggests that the magic of music is such that the way there is only a part of the journey: once on stage, every struggle, challenge, triumph and memory fades as everyone concentrates on the singular purpose of delivering their best performance.

  • Natsuki’s generally apathetic attitude during the earlier sections of Hibike! Euphonium made her difficult to like, but her interactions with Kumiko allowed her character to mature. Seeing Kumiko’s earnest desire to improve reawakens a side of Natsuki that was lost after the events of the previous year, and despite not making the auditions, she nonetheless fulfils her role as a senior, hugging Hazuki here before imparting some advice. So, I’ve become fond of Netsuki’s character as a result.

  • One of the biggest strengths in Hibike! Euphonium as a whole was the character development; changes amongst the individuals are subtle but noticeable, and characters become more relatable, human, as the series gradually explores what drives their actions.

  • Noticing that Kumiko’s spilt something on her tie, Hazuki helps her switch to a clean one, continuing on with her support role. The OVA consistently reminds audiences that the folks behind the scenes serve just as critical a role as those at the front lines.

  • Though it might be in complete disagreement with what prevailing sentiments about Hazuki are, I feel that this OVA was a solid showcase for her actual character that the main series did not have sufficient time for. Hazuki is a rather likeable character who, despite experiencing her own doubts from time to time, always finds a way to smile nonetheless.

  • Though there may be that uncomfortable feeling between Shuichi and Hazuki, they get by reasonably well and are still on speaking terms with one another. Kumiko and Shuichi’s fist bump prior to their performance was in part motivated by Hazuki’s words of encouragement, and in the light novels, Kumiko and Shuichi eventually begin going out.

  • Hazuki’s message to Shuichi carries a dual meaning, wishing him both luck on his performance at the competition, as well as his pursuit for Kumiko’s heart. While most feel that Reina and Kumiko are the so-called “one true pair”, the light novels did not place particular emphasis on this element. So, for all intents and purposes, it is more natural to see Kumiko and Shuichi work out their differences and come to terms with their feelings to one another.

  • With the full weight of the concert band’s predicament coming to bear, Hazuki decides to leg it back to campus and recover the mallets. This is where the OVA’s title comes from, and the presently-accepted translation for かけです (Romaji: “kakedesu”) is “dash” because of its brevity. “Run” or “sprint” would be acceptable alternatives.

  • In a flashback, Hazuki reveals that if she was given a do-over, she’d pick concert band again, reinforcing Monoka’s overall sentiments about their current situation: they do not regret what has happened and have taken things in stride.

  • One week into 2016, and as predicted, I’ve hit the ground running with respect to being busy, which is why I’ve not been blogging with all that much consistency. Jay Ingram and his band visited our lab on Tuesday to see what research we’ve been conducting: my CAVE models were well-received, as was my thesis work. On Wednesday, I spoke with my supervisor about the remaining details of my thesis, and for the present, I’m working on another conference publication with a deadline on Valentines’ Day. Thursday saw a second presentation to executives from Telus World of Science in Edmonton, and yesterday, I swung by the Core for a hot, delicious bowl of seafood ramen on account of it being the coldest day of this year so far before returning to campus for a TA meeting. Lectures begin on Monday, but for me, my priority will be to get as much of the second conference paper done before term becomes more busy.

  • The OVA ends right as Kitauji takes to the stage and prepares to perform, with Hazuki looking on. Though specific reactions to the OVA have varied, viewers generally found it to be an enjoyable experience that sets the table for the upcoming second season. With this image, the figure captions are done, and I’ll be reviewing Glass no Hana to Kowasu Sekai within a week of its release. With how busy things have been, I imagine that 2016 is only going to intensify, so blogging frequency may fluctuate a little over the next while.

Consequently, while some might feel that Hazuki’s presence was unnecessary, and that the OVA’s contributions to Hibike! Euphonium are somehow inconsequential for being lighter in tone and content, I contend that this OVA is in fact necessary to appreciate the finale of Hibike! Euphonium. While the atmosphere lacks the same gravity as it did during the main season, the feelings and intents Monoka conveys about their passion for music cannot be understated: if this were not the case, Hazuki and the others would not have sufficient concern for their peers to have retrieved the mallets. In this way, they contribute behind-the-scenes to Kitauji’s gold and shot at the nationals. At the end of the day, this OVA’s contributions show that despite not making the cut, Hazuki and the others’ mindset make them more mature and perhaps, meriting a shot to play with the concert band itself in the future. For the present, the main topic on the audiences’ mind is the fact that Hibike! Euphonium is getting a sequel at some point; those who’ve read the light novels will likely already know what it will entail, but it’s not too difficult to surmise that we’ll be seeing Kitauji’s concert band gearing up for the national competition.

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