“Drama aids self-discovery like nothing else. In removing it from our schools, we remove the inestimable benefits of it from our society.” —Rory Kinnear
Kumiko’s interactions with her seniors has a profound impact, resulting in the readmission of Nozomi into the concert band after her numerous conversations result in Yuko confronting Mizore, clearing up the misunderstanding between the two: it turns out that Mizore had been avoiding Nozomi for fear of being rejected, but once the two get their true feelings into the open, their friendship is restored. United, the concert band’s performance is exceptional, securing Kitauji a chance to compete at the nationals. Later, Asuka is forcibly removed from concert band at her mother’s behest, but demonstrates that being in concert band will not affect her ability to enter a suitable post-secondary institute to her mother and is able to rejoin. In the meantime, Kumiko struggles to deal with Reina’s growing feelings for Taki and with her own direction, and her sister’s cold reception at home after she decides to drop out of university and pursue a career path consistent with her interests. Kumiko and Asuka share the commonality of wanting to persist in concert band to play for those who they care about, and as the season concludes with their performance at the national competition. While only able to secure a bronze, the band resolves to work harder in the upcoming year to win gold.
Whereas Hibike! Euphonium‘s first season focused more predominantly on the concert band’s journey from basement to prominence, suggesting that their members were focused on a shared goal that allowed them to set aside their own differences in order to master their instruments and deliver performances worthy of praise, the second season of Hibike! Euphonium places a significantly larger emphasis on Kumiko and her dynamics with the other band members. Even if her actions are not directly intended to improve either her own situation or the situations of those involved, Kumiko’s experiences put her in the heart of the different challenges those around her face, and as she learns more, these situations contribute to her own desire of wanting Mamiko to understand and appreciate just how much of an impact she’s had on Kumiko despite the former’s own challenges. Ultimately, in dealing with the situations around her, Kumiko comes to play for her sister and depart on better terms, as well as re-evaluate her perspectives of Asuka more effectively, having learnt more about someone who initially seemed so aloof and perfect. The shifts in perspectives are a solid indicator that characters are multi-faceted beings in Hibike! Euphonium, bringing one world of high school students, concert band and their associated tribulations to life.
Screenshots and Commentary
- So, here we are, on the first day of 2017. It’s been snowing lightly throughout the day, and the skies were overcast, with a brisk chill in the air. All in all, it was unsuited for a walk, but the weather provided a ready-made justification for bundling up underneath a warm blanket with a cocoa, leaving the day open for gaming and reviewing anime. After shovelling out from the snowfall, I spent the whole of the afternoon in Sim City 4 and finally being able to try out Battlefield 1‘s Giant’s Shadow map.
- It’s become somewhat of a yearly custom for my family to 打邊爐 (have hot pot) on New Year’s Day, and this year, we did so at home: shrimps, beef, lamb, chicken, squid, fishballs, a variety of vegetables and yi mien (伊麵) was on the menu, finished with sparkling peach juice. The more formal term for 打邊爐 is 火鍋 (literally “flaming pot”) in Chinese, and in Japanese, the kanji “鍋” is romanised as nabe. Back in Hibike! Euphonium, while Asuka’s concerns for the band’s performance is understandable, it turns out that her worries would not come to pass: it turns out that Mizore and Nozomi have been mutually looking for an opportunity to clear up their misunderstandings,
- I’m not sure if it’s just me who holds this view, but Kumiko looks sexy whenever she’s playing the euphonium, with her look of intense concentration. Musical performances in Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season are of a solid quality (whether it be depiction of the instruments’ moving parts or the play of light on their surfaces) , and Kitauji’s performance in the fifth episode for the national qualifiers was nothing short of impressive. Kitauji’s band has come quite a long ways from the first season, a far cry from the raggedy-ass group of misfits who lacked motivation and direction.
- In the national qualifing rounds, Kitauji is able to make it, leading to much celebration. However, this point is merely a stepping stone for Kitauji, and they continue training under both Masahiro and Satomi to further hone their skills. Their victory here brings to mind the victory the Calgary Flames secured over the Phoenix Coyotes during the New Year’s Eve game last night: the first period saw four goals by the flames, with a particularly noteworthy goal from defenseman Dennis Wideman, who managed to score on a shot from the blue line.
- After the first period, the Phoenix Coyotes answered with two of their own goals (after one was waived off in the first period on the basis of being scored by means of a high stick), but the game became a little less intense. The Flames would go on to win 4-2, a solid end to 2016, and we were treated to a bit of a fireworks show inside the Scotiabank Saddledome.
- While Hibike! Euphonium is primarily focused around concert band, its setting in a high school environment also means that events such as culture festivals can be weaved into the narrative. Reina and Kumiko spend much of the day together, enjoying the exhibitions, and here, I note that I am immensely thankful that Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season has largely dispelled any misconceptions about the nature of Reina and Kumiko’s friendship.
- Out of curiosity, I did a bit of reading into interpersonal dynamics between adolescent females by means of primary literature, and it turns out that any so-called yuri overtones that some individuals claim exist, are merely natural parts of their friendship. Scriptwriter Jukki Hanada even notes that their interactions are a part of youth, but some folks refuse to accept this explanation. The fixation folks have on these elements is unnecessary and contributes very little to discussion — Kyoto Animation’s interpretation of their friendship is perhaps a little more vivid than conferred by the light novel, but it should be clear that nothing is going on.
- Mamiko’s relationship with Kumiko has been frequently presented as a rocky one as of late; Mamiko resents Kumiko for being able to continue with her pursuit of music, and frequent flashbacks show that it was Mamiko who inspired Kumiko to take up music. In my case, I’m rather glad that my younger brother is able to make his own decisions about things like career paths and life choices (his talent for applications of calculus in structural mechanics is magical, and I doubt he’d be happy with writing sorting algorithms), but it seems that he’s taken interest in almost all of my hobbies, including anime.
- Frustrated by her sister’s cold attitude, Kumiko takes off into a rainstorm, and encounters Taki at a local florist. From Taki, Kumiko learns a bit more about his late wife, who was a music teacher seeking to take Kitauji to the national competition. Being someone he loved dearly, Taki was devastated by her loss, and over time, comes around, deciding to pick up where his wife left off in her memory.
- According to those who have read the light novels, Kumiko’s friendship with Reina is presented with much less detail than in the anime. The second season covers the whole of the light novel’s second volume and most of the third volume. There are four volumes in total, with the last being released in 2015. An English-translated version of the first volume will be coming out in the summer of 2017.
- Kitauji performs at a station concert to the public audience. The soundtrack for Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season is set for release on January 11, although at this point in time, nothing is known about the soundtrack’s length or its tracklist , but it will retail for 4320 yen (49.65 CAD at the time of writing) and consist of three CDs, being a mix of both instrumental and vocal pieces. I note that it is typical for an anime soundtrack to release after an anime has finished its broadcast run: in the case of Brave Witches, a delay in production meant the episodes were delayed by a week, and consequently, the Brave Witches soundtrack released prior to the finale.
- Mamiko expresses disgust with her situation, stating that it was never her desire to study and enter a post-secondary institution. Her father counters that she should’ve made herself clear, but at this point, she’s obligated to finish if he is to continue paying for her tuition and living expenses. There are some occasions where I speak with my parents about my time as an undergrad, and they wonder if they’d pushed me too hard to finish in a timely fashion while taking a shot for medical school. However, things have stablised for now, and I whole-heartedly know that the path I ended up taking was one that would adequately prepare me for the next step. I do not regret doing my honours degree in health sciences to any extent.
- Concurrently with the crisis at the Ōmae household is Asuka’s withdrawl from band after her mother forces her to leave, on claims that her involvement was detrimentally impacting her academic performance. It is here that Kumiko realises that Asuka, someone she’d long held to be the personification of perfection, is still human: while there definitely are people who look like they can handle everything, this often comes at a cost, and it was for this reason that in high school, I took on only a number of extracurricular activities that I knew I could handle. In my final year, I was on the yearbook committee as a photographer and layout designer, organised one of the parties in Model Parliament and was the director of the graduation committee’s evening slideshow team.
- Outside of this, I was also enrolled at the Chinese Academy and did karate, but in spite of this, I somehow managed to keep my grades generally high. Of course, looking back, high school was a walk in the park compared to university. I bring myself out of my trip into my memories and return my focus to the present, where Kumiko’s fallen ill with the flu. Reina is visiting her here. Hibike! Euphonium released on Wednesdays, but I typically watched episodes on Thursdays during lunch hour owing to the fact that most of my effort was focused on Brave Witches, and for my scheduling, I’ve had a reasonable number of fried rices to enjoy while watching the anime.
- Because I still vividly recall my thoughts as a high school student, I have a slightly different take on Reina’s pursuit of Taki’s heart than most people. Rather than trying to decide on its legitimacy based on an adult’s perspective, I understand that sometimes, students can develop a bit of a nascent crush on their instructors, and it is only because there’s quite a bit of a time gap that I share this story now — when I was in my first year of high school, I had a crush on my science instructor, who only remained at my school for one term. Childish, perhaps, but this is something that people do grow out of quite quickly.
- With Asuka’s absence impacting Kumiko particularly hard, partially because she draws parallels between Asuka’s situation and that of Mamiko’s, Kumiko finds herself drawn towards trying to figure Asuka out and talk out what’s happening, even dropping by her residence with some sweets that’s been said to be Asuka’s mother’s favourites in an attempt to sway her decision. Kumiko, being Hibike! Euphonium‘s protagonist, is highly perceptive, and Asuka’s the only person she’s never really figured out.
- Thus, throughout season one, most people cited Asuka as the biggest mystery: she presents as being a highly competent leader and euphonium player, but otherwise remains quite detached from the comings and goings within the concert band itself, acting only with the band’s overall performance in her interest. As such, she remains neutral about a great many things, including who she feels to be the better soloist. However, by season two, it turns out that Asuka’s father is a judge in the competition and left her mother: Asuka yearns nothing more than to play for him, and as such, is determined to have Kitauji reach a point where it can compete in a competition he is judging.
- Despite her quiet personality, Kumiko can be moved to tears by a variety of things. She cries her eyes out during a talk with Asuka, demonstrating that she’s slowly growing to care for and understand the enigmatic senior that is Asuka. As far as I can tell, I never heard of any high school drama that resulted in tears, but then again, I was only focused on my own goals and my friends’ interests in high school, preferring to ignore drama and get the job done. This disregard for social hierarchies is another reason why my existence did not sit well with the more popular folks in my year, even to this day.
- Asuka’s story arc comes to an end with her triumphant return to the concert band club. Having managed to perform to her usual standards in an examination for post-secondary admissions, her mother allows her to rejoin, and it is likely that Kumiko’s words may have motivated her to do all that is necessary for her to make her dream a reality. Asuka’s return revitalises the whole of the concert band, whose music had taken a hit in performance when Asuka had left.
- Returning to the lookout point over their town, Reina and Kumiko share a conversation; Reina is absolutely smitten with Taki, who appears to be an old family friend. Shocked that Kumiko has not told her despite knowing, it’s a bit of a communications mishap that results in Reina’s surprise that Kumiko had been in on it the entire time. Reina and Kumiko’s friendship is taken with far too much rigour, with some folks asserting that to watch any possibility of a yuri dynamic shot down so firmly was physically painful. I’m not believing for a picosecond that this was relevant to Hibike! Euphonium at all, when the first season’s main theme was plainly about working towards a shared goal.
- As it turns out, Reina’s feelings for Taki drive her own motivations to see Kitauji’s concert band win the national competition: knowing that Taki still very much loves his late wife and that her chances with him are poor, she decides that helping him find happiness by means of a victory will have to suffice. This is why she’s attending Kitauji when her skills would have allowed her to perform at any other high school of her choosing. While this prima facie seems to contradict Reina’s claims that she wanted to be special, these two objectives are not mutually exclusive: she wants to excel at trumpet to stand out, but she also wants to stand out so Taki will acknowledge her.
- Hibike! Euphonium‘s third volume involves Kumiko coming to terms with her own feelings for Shuichi, and ultimately, the two begin a relationship. In the anime, Shuichi’s role is much more minor, and there is no kokuhaku: with only minimal time on-screen, he gives Kumiko a hair clip here, but its significance is not shown for the rest of the anime. In the novels, she acknowledges that she gets the hair clip from her boyfriend after Asuka asks her, and accepts her feelings for him, having moved forward from what had happened in middle school.
- Kitauji’s performance at the national competition is never shown — once everyone is on stage, the scene fades out, and the band members are seen relaxing outside of the performance venue. However, they return inside the hall to await the results. Here, the conductors receive an award for their participation and efforts, with each school having prepared a special thank you message for their respective conductors. However, owing to the tumultuous events that preceded the competition, Kitauji’s band was focused entirely on practising and neglected this detail.
- When none of Kitauji’s students can come up with an appropriate gesture of appreciation, Reina seizes the moment and declares that she loves Taki as he walks across the stage, drawing surprise from the others. Taki interprets this as a sign of respect, and even when Reina tries to clarify later, he neither accepts nor rejects her feelings, seeing her as a capable student. Here’s a bit of trivia about Reina’s character that is noticeably absent from the anime that was in the light novels — she tends to drop or break things whenever angered, smashing a glass when under the impression that Satomi is dating Taki back when she is first introduced (the anime merely has her stiffen and freeze in shock).
- Because Hibike! Euphonium is more focused on the dramatic rather than the comedic, there are very few moments in the second season where there are amusing facial expressions relative to the first season. Hazuki promises to Midori here that she will work her hardest so she can play alongside her and Kumiko, but I suddenly realise that Midori and Hazuki do not figure greatly in my discussion: they were reassigned to more minor roles this season.
- Asuka’s wish is fulfilled when she learns that her father approves of her performance, and she cheerfully passes leadership of the concert band to the second years. Meanwhile, Kumiko finally comes into the open with her honest feelings, saying she is thankful to Mamiko for inspiring her to take up the euphonium. At this, Mamiko smiles for the first time — she’s beautiful when smiling, reminding me somewhat of Brave Witches‘ Takami (if only for the fact that both are depicted as having proper lips), being a world apart from her usual scowl.
- The thirteenth episode is the finale, feeling more as an epilogue of sorts as the third years graduate. The band put on one final performance for the third years, and later, Yūko is elected to take on the mantle of being the concert band’s new president, while Natsuki becomes vice-president. The two have a prima facie vitriolic relationship, with Natsuki frequently teasing Yūko, but in spite of this, the two can cooperate and work together when things really matter.
- It turns out that Hibike! Euphonium provides a cold open both in a literal sense and in terms of the technique used: the first episode opened with Kumiko standing under snowy skies with an old euphonium manual. The finale shows that receives it from Asuka, who entrusts her with it so she may find joy in the euphonium: the light novel and anime’s title comes from 響け, or sound, to suggest that a euphonium’s sound is intended to warm the spirits. By this point, Kumiko’s come to realise that she no longer hates Asuka, having bonded with her through the season’s events, and will be sad to see her go. The ending is a conclusive one, showing that Kumiko’s resolved to continue playing for those around her.
- When everything is said and done, Hibike! Euphonium is ultimately about the complex interpersonal dynamics and intrapersonal challenges that arise from the congregation of a diverse group of individuals who share a goal of competing at the national level in concert band. This is something that the anime captures exceptionally well. This is the main goal of Hibike! Euphonium, and in the end, romance just isn’t marked as being relevant to the narrative: Hibike Euphonium does just fine without fantasies of Kumiko and Reina, or the newly minted Kumiko and Asuka, neither of which hold any significance to the theme. Misconceptions of the anime notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed Hibike! Euphonium, and with the second season having covered most of the elements in the third and fourth volume, I do not imagine that there will be a continuation.
Distinct from its first season, Hibike! Euphonium continues to impress: aside from engaging characters whose struggles and aspirations are very relatable, the artwork, animation and sound in the anime are of a top calibre. This should hardly be a surprise, since Hibike! Euphonium was helmed by Kyoto Animation. Consequently, the resulting anime is one that earns a strong recommendation for all audiences in being able to immerse viewers in an anime about the life of high school students and their journey towards bringing success to their school’s concert band. Regardless of their reasons for participating and desiring a top place in a national competition, everyone is unified by their love of music and respect for one another. While it is very straightforwards to recommend Hibike! Euphonium, determining whether or not it merits the title of “Best Anime of 2016” is a much trickier one; I will not be making that call, since I do not do “anime of the year” posts on the virtue of not watching enough anime to fairly make an assessment, but I do predict that it will be high on the lists of one of the most-enjoyed anime of 2016, a well-deserved title for a strong story and top-tier execution.