The Infinite Zenith

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

Hibike! Euphonium 2: Reflection and Review After Three

“That’s your new target, unless it’s not big enough.” —John Clark, Clear and Present Danger

Having earned a gold and securing a position in the qualifying tournaments, Kitauji High School’s concert band prepares for the national level competition. In the aftermath of their victory, and the intermittent breaks afforded by the summer season, Kumiko learns more about the rifts that developed in Kitauji’s previous year among the second year students. Between practises, she spends more time with Reina and accompanies her to a summer festival; Reina grows more friendly towards Hazuki and Sapphire. Taki later announces that Kitauji’s band will be attending a training camp to further hone their performance. It is here that Kumiko learns that Taki once had a wife, and her passing resulted in his leaving his musical career behind. Similarly, Reina attempts to deal with her own feelings for Taki, and with Kumiko’s encouragement, asks Taki as to whether or not he is involved in a relationship with her. The myriad of interpersonal conflicts and challenges, so audaciously swept aside so Kitauji could perform their best last season, return: this particular aspect shows that although their band might be a contender, its members are still human and as such, are characterised by distinctly human elements, from regret and longing to jealousy and doubt. Coupled with Kyoto Animation’s magic touch (the animation and audio effects are of a top calibre), Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season is off to a tremendous start.

Hibike! Euphonium 2 continues on in the path its predecessor laid down: the interpersonal dynamics are a part of the anime (and its original light novel) as much as their shared goal of accomplishing something substantial and leave with no regrets through their music. Some elements, set aside as the first season ended, make a return to show that the impacts of some decisions and actions are more far-reaching than initially apparent. Nozomi’s leaving the band is revealed to be one of the several factors that resulted in the oft-mentioned rift amongst the second years, and a part of Asuka’s reluctance to accept her re-admittance is in part owing to the possible fallout it may have on the band’s members (in turn, potentially costing them the Nationals). It speaks partially to the strength of the original novels and Kyoto Animation’s adaptation, that the complexities of human interactions are captured so solidly in Hibike! Euphonium. Furthermore, it appears that Kumiko is finding herself entangled in a larger amount of this drama owing to her personality, and this aspect could result in some unforeseen consequences within the band resulting from her decisions (or indecision): in upcoming episodes, the challenge for the narrative will lie within the extent that each of these elements are depicted as having an impact on one another. If this is improperly handled (say, some characters’ actions are conveniently negated or dismissed), the overall story could feel implausible or forced. So far, Hibike! Euphonium has performed satisfactorily, and as such, it is more likely that Hibike! Euphonium 2 will convincingly explore the sort of drama within the band to paint the characters in a relatable manner, while at once continuing on with its theme that music can transcend some human limitations.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Season two of Hibike! Euphonium picks up right where the first season ended, marking a far cry from how things had been during the first season’s opening episode. A double feature spanning some forty minutes, the opening of Hibike! Euphonium 2 was a fantastic watch that set the stage for what’s to come — its extended length contributes to why this post has thirty images as opposed to the usual twenty. Further to this, I’ve added an extra category on the blog’s sidebar, since I’ve got a non-trivial number of Hibike! Euphonium posts now.

  • All told, I can only identify a small number of characters from Hibike! Euphonium by name: beyond Kumiko, Hazuki, Sapphire, Reina and Asuka, everyone else’s names are not bits of information I’ve given the effort towards memorising. This is one of the hazards of anime with a large number of characters, but in Hibike! Euphonium, I can recognise roughly who a character is based on their appearance, so it’s not as though everyone’s identities are a mystery to me.

  • Reina and Kumiko speak with Taki to obtain the keys for the music room, and here, the amount of visual clutter in the staff room is impressive. Papers are piled this way and that, with sticky notes, textbooks and desk organisers littering the tables. Wires can be seen on the floor, along with other details, showing the visual fidelity available in Hibike! Euphonium. Quite truthfully, the folks who vocally stated that Kyoto Animation’s contributions are “harming the industry” during K-On!‘s run had limited foresight: in 2016, things like K-On! and Lucky Star are not commonplace, and anime remains quite diverse.

  • The unknown individual following Kitauji’s band around turns out to be Nozomi Kasaki, a second year student who was once a member. Following the incident in the second year, she quit, and now, seeks re-admittance into Kitauji’s concert band following their performance in the qualifiers, expressly looking for Asuka’s approval. Asuka does not immediately reveal her reasons for declining Nozumi’s request, and in the first season, the largest questions surrounding Asuka was which aspect of her personality was a façade.

  • It’s high time I actually consolidated present intel on the frequently-alluded to incident under one roof — my roof. Following the defeat of Minami Junior High’s musical program, Nozomi, Natsuki, Yuko, and Mizore joined Kitauji’s band with the intent of winning the Nationals. However, with Kitauji’s concert band lacking the motivation to practise and better themselves, the Minami students began standing against the goals of their seniors, splitting the band into two factions (one side favouring improvement, and the other favouring the status quo). Ultimately, Nozomi lead nearly half of the members, among them the top players, to quit.

  • Arriving early in the mornings, Taki listens to and watches videos of top-tier schools at competitions to better gain an idea of what Kitauji’s own concert band requires in order to stand against the best of the best. His laptop is plainly a MacBook Air, with its distinct keyboard and aluminium finish, but lacks the product name on the screen’s bottom. if such a device existed, its manufacturers would almost certainly face a lawsuit of gargantuan proportions from Apple: their product designs are patented, and a few years ago, Samsung was sued by Apple for utilising patented GUI elements and device design concepts.

  • Wide-angle shots of the concert band during practise are commonplace in Hibike! Euphonium: whereas other anime often utilise LoD tricks to simplify scenes when there are a great number of actors present, Kyoto Animation does their best to ensure that the details are not lost. From an optimisation perspective, this can be grossly inefficient, but the end effect in Hibike! Euphonium is one that is impressive.

  • The aftermath of the Kitauji Schism was that former friends were distanced. Guilt amongst some of the members also manifested, who felt that they were unable to prevent the events from unfolding. Nozomi is said to be at the crux of everything: a capable leader who is driven by goals, she is an excellent flautist and despite being in her first year at the time of the schism, managed to rally a sufficient number of band members to pack their bags.

  • The friendship between Kumiko and Reina has always been a point of interest among some of the audience members; Reina admires the darker side of Kumiko that is detached with the surrounding world. Seeing a side of herself in Kumiko, Reina and Kumiko became fast friends during the first season, speaking in ways that led much of the community to assume the worst. With this in mind, I believe that these elements are shown to emphasise that the two are more similar than one might initially believe.

  • The last time I watched an anime with a liberal helping of fireworks, it was Glasslip in summer 2014. At the time, I was just setting out on my journey into graduate studies. I could not make heads or tails of what message Glasslip was trying to convey, and now, two years later, I’ve finished that programme. Even with two years’ worth of additional experiences, knowledge and background, I still have no clue what Glasslip was about. However, in that time, I’ve fallen in love with Risa Taneda’s Kimi eto no Refrain, a song that brings to mind some of Stereopony’s compositions.

  • If Reina and Kumiko engage in yuri behaviours, I said right before Hibike! Euphonium 2 aired, I will eat an entire raw ghost chili (a cross between C. chinense and C. frutescensand stream the results live. One of the hottest peppers in the world, with a Scoville rating of around 1041427  (by comparison, a habañero chili ranks between 100000 and 300000 Scoville units), the ghost chili is so potent that a small piece can immediately water the eyes and cause immense pain. Consuming an entire pepper at once will result in sweating, vomiting and in severe cases, can even induce seizures. I’m glad that I won’t be taken up on this challenge: by Hibike! Euphonium 2, it’s clear that Reina and Kumiko are friends, albeit close ones.

  • Although I’ve not played a musical instrument in a band for upwards of ten years now, I was in a concert band many years back and played the clarinet. The full story is provided back during my first impressions post for Hibike! Euphonium (itself written a year-and-a-half ago), and in the decade or so that’s elapsed, I’m now completely illiterate as far as reading sheet music goes. With that being said, being in a concert and jazz band was still a fantastic experience.

  • The page quote is taken from an exchange between John Clark and Domingo Chavez in Clear and Present Danger: they are laser-designating a target where drug lords are meeting for a bombing run, and a large yellow monster truck appears. Seeing that is a suitable target, he orders Chavez to paint it. Curiously enough, the quote can also be interpreted to describe Taki’s perspective on Kitauji’s collective goal of winning the national level competition, and that their sights should be set high in order to motivate their performance. In addition, since I included mention of Tom Clancy in a Hibike! Euphonium post, I figured it would be appropriate to add a quote from a Tom Clancy novel.

  • Precisely a sixth of this post’s images deal with Kumiko and company’s day out to the community pool, relaxing before everyone embarks on a musical training camp, for the sole reason that, like Sargent Avery Johnson of Halo, I know what the readers like. Here, Kumiko and Sapphire react to Reina’s assets; Reina had earlier remarked that her swimsuit was growing somewhat tight, and I’m certain that veteran anime viewers would know what would follow.

  • According to some sources, Asuka and I would not be able to stare one another down, making her one of the taller of the female students in Hibike! Euphonium. Here’s a random bit of trivia about myself: I’m precisely the average height for a person of Cantonese background. I’m not particularly sensitive about my height: between folks who are of the mind that being “vertically challenged” has advantages, such as being able to disperse heat faster and not requiring so much leg room while on an airplane, and the folks who find that being taller means projecting more confidence and being able to reach things higher up, I can thus remark that  I’ve got best of both worlds: I’m short enough to sit comfortably on a commercial flight, and are still tall enough to reach most things.

  • Kumiko and Nozomi share yet another conversation: after hearing more background about the band’s schism from the previous year, Kumiko finds herself drawn in and wonders whether or not she’d be able to talk to Asuka herself to see what the outcomes are. I cannot recall whether or not Kumiko has been shown to be listening to Nozomi’s flute performances in recording form during the previous season, but she’s said to immediately recognise Nozomi’s style of performing.

  • I’ll break character for a mere moment and remark that Nozomi is rather pleasing on the eye, before resuming and stating that Kyoto Animation’s attention to detail is impressive. Even in this image, scaled down to fit on the blog, it is possible to discern that there is a slight depth of field effect: Nozomi’s body is a little out of focus as the camera changes its attention to focus on Kumiko in the background. I do not imagine that many anime utilise this effect frequently, otherwise, I would have likely noticed.

  • An individual whose name will not be mentioned here has stated that “In a certain way…Kyo Ani is dialing up the Kumiko x Reina vibes, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, they seem to be backpedalling…”. Such an outlook could only arise if said individual genuinely believes that Kumiko and Reina’s friendship extend well beyond what might be considered ordinary. I personally did not find this to be the case: their dialogues and exchanges are par the course for how friends interact, and assert that the folks at Tango-Victor-Tango are making a mountain out of a molehill.

  • Taki introduces Satomi Niiyama, an expert in woodwind instruments, to help guide and improve the woodwind section’s performance. Upon remarking that he never flatters needlessly, some of the female members in the band somehow reach the conclusion that Taki and Satomi are in a relationship of some sort. Even armed with my incredibly vast powers of deduction and reasoning, I cannot figure out how this follows.

  • This is actually the greatest moment across all three of the opening episodes, to watch Reina react to the mere prospect that Taki might not be single #GG #GoodGame #LOLOLOLOLOL. All jokes aside, I’ve experienced thus and consequently, note that again, Kyoto Animation has done a marvelous job of capturing what these thoughts and feelings might look like. From some studies, heartbreak causes the brain to release the same neuroreceptor compounds that are released when one is physically harmed, resulting in an unpleasant sensation equivalent to actual pain.

  • Kumiko converses with Mizore Yoroizuka, a talented oboe player who was once friends with Nozomi. Detesting competitions, she’s generally quiet and enjoys practising alone, arriving even earlier than Reina. In the aftermath of the previous year’s events, she dislikes Nozomi and it is for this reason that Asuka refuses to readmit Nozomi into the concert band, expressing concern that Mizore’s performance will be negatively impacted owing to her strained relationship with Nozomi.

  • One aspect in Hibike! Euphonium 2 that seemed much more noticeable relative to the first season is Kumiko’s voice: she’s voiced by Tomoyo Kurosawa (of Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Itsuki Inubozaki). It somehow slipped my notice, but Tomoyo’s deliver of Kumiko’s voice in this second season feels more hesitant, giving it a life-like quality that mirrors Kumiko’s traits quite well. In fact, I feel that she sounds a bit like Five Centimeters per Second‘s Akari Shinohara (Yoshimi Kondō).

  • Quite truthfully, I’ve never been the sort of person to get caught up in interpersonal drama, and as such, during my days as a high school student, largely ignored it for each club or activity I participated in. It turns out, for instance, that there had been a bit of a mess in the yearbook club during my senior year. It seems that there was some sort of conflict behind-the-scenes, which accounted for why the numbers in the club dwindled, and the club advisor had assigned me the additional tasks, which I summarily finished. The yearbook thus came out on schedule to the students, who were none the wiser.

  • In general, I believe that drama should never be allowed to impact performance at any point in life, and decisions should not be made on the sole basis of minimising or causing drama. This “get it done” outlook means that I tend to clash with folks who place a great deal of emphasis on social hierarchies. Back in Hibike! Euphonium 2, Masahiro Hashimoto jovially addresses the students, saying that their music should be performed with a style representative of what Kitauji is, rather than mechanically. When Taki notes that Masahiro has his moments, the latter replies in kind, stating that all of his lines are quotable. Taki and Masahiro have known one another for quite some time and is an expert on percussion, being asked to help out with improving the band’s performance.

  • At the end of another day’s practise, which involves ten back-to-back performances with two minute intermissions, the entire band is exhausted and gather around a bonfire to light fireworks. As someone who is a morning person, I cannot get much work done by evenings and prefer to relax: yesterday, after a day’s effort in vacuuming the house and clearing out the bathrooms, I stepped out for dinner at the 桃園 Cafe HK, enjoying the katsu curry with spaghetti and a fried pumpkin slice.

  • Kumiko and Reina share a moment together with the sparklers. With Kumiko’s encouragement, Reina steps forth to confront her fears and ask about Taki’s marital status, learning that he’s not seeing Satomi, who is married. In the meantime, Kumiko learns something rather more surprising from Masahiro, who shares with her that Taki was once married. Following his wife’s death, Taki never remarried and, became more grim and silent than before.

  • This would appear to be the element that led Taki to leave the world of professional music, but when he applies to the music instructor position at Kitauji, Masahiro found himself relieved that Taki had slowly begun to gather himself and return to music. This element could make Reina’s endeavours a little more challenging: despite having known Taki for quite some time, it does not appear that she’s fully aware of his past.

  • Kumiko’s direct interactions with Yuko Yoshikawa (Hibike! Euphonium‘s equivalent of Lieutenant Angelo) in Hibike! Euphonium‘s first season were minimal, and being the straight-shooter that she is, when asked as to how she feels about Yuko, Kumiko responds that she’s not particularly fond of her. She learns of Yuko’s own perspectives on competitions: Yuko finds them to be an unfair assessment of a group’s performance, standing in contrast with Reina, who enjoys competitions because of the thrill of being able to gain a better idea of where her skills lie.

  • It actually took me the better half of a day to come up with things to say for the different moments in this Hibike! Euphonium talk, and it suddenly strikes me that even with more images, I’ve not covered all of the possible aspects that are meritorious of discussion. This attests to the amount of activity in Hibike! Euphonium, although for my own discussions, I will attempt to focus on the more basic elements in the theme, leaving topics dealing with the minutiae to the folks with more leisure time than myself.

  • This post comes to an end, and so, I’ll be returning once Hibike! Euphonium 2 wraps up in December to give a talk on the entire series. I’ll be keeping an eye on both how well the themes from the first season are retained, as well as what journey the band takes en route to their target. In the meantime, I’ll be resuming my weekly Brave Witches talks once the episodes begin airing again, and enjoy the fact that I’ll have the upcoming Saturday to relax.

With this in mind, I am greatly looking forwards to how Hibike! Euphonium 2 turns out; this is the prevailing opinion amongst the English-speaking viewers, who are likewise anticipating seeing more elements pertaining to the characters, their backgrounds and motivations. Aside from the life-like characters (who are portrayed as being multi-layered and complex as any characters from a Tom Clancy novel), Hibike! Euphonium 2 possesses top-tier artwork rivalling those of Makoto Shinkai and Studio Ghibli movies; this is impressive for the fact that a high standard is consistently seen in every episode. From the papers and clutter around Taki’s desk, to the reflections off the river during the fireworks show, and the detail in the brass instruments, Kyoto Animation has done much to ensure that each aspect is visceral, popping off the screen to capture that sense of realism. During my review of the full first season back in the summer of 2015, I remarked that a continuation would have been icing on the cake, but presently, with the second season under way, expectations are high for the narrative to deliver a compelling story about the next leg of Kitauji’s journey to capture the title of national champions in concert band.

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