The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Hibike! Euphonium

Hibike! Euphonium The Movie: Chikai no Finale, Review and Reflections on Our Promise, A Brand New Day

“You are on this council, but we do not grant you the rank of Master.” –Mace Windu, Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith

During the winter, Kumiko is taken aback when Shūichi asks her out. In the present day, Kumiko, now a second-year students, wonders about recruitment and later welcomes Kanade Hisaishi, a first-year euphonium player, into the concert band club. During the first club meeting, instructor Noboru Taki states Kitauji’s objective this year will be to make the National tournament, but club president Yūko Yoshikawa reminds everyone that their goal isn’t merely to make it, but to win. Kumiko and third-year Tome Kabe are assigned to look after the first years together. The concert band thus divides its members out to practise, and it becomes clear that work will be needed to reduce the emotional distance separating the first-years from the senior students: Mirei Suzuki is a taciturn tuba player who finds it difficult to connect with the others, while Motomu is a double bass player who dislikes his family name. Kumiko quickly finds herself amidst the drama surrounding the first year students and does her best to resolve conflicts in her role. During the Sun Festival Marching Band performance, Kumiko manages to convince Mirei to continue playing in the concert band despite the fact that the latter does not feel like she fits in, and Mirei soon reconciles with the others. However, Kanade grows angry, feeling Kumiko to have interfered in something that would have sorted itself out. During the summer festival, Kumiko goes on a date with Shūichi, but after Shūichi tries to kiss her, she angrily runs off and finds Reina at the summit of Buttokusan, which the two had previously ascended. They speak briefly about their futures here. The next day, Tomoe reveals that she intends to stand down from competition, but will continue in managing the concert band club from the sidelines. She privately explains to Kumiko that she developed Temporomandibular joint dysfunction and cannot play without experiencing pain, but is relieved. Later, Kanade seeks out Kumiko and asks her about how Reina came to be chosen for the solo trumpet role. Kumiko replies it was based purely on skill, but Kanade feels that had Kitauji not done as well, Reina would have shouldered the blame. When the auditions to determine who should perform in the concert band for the qualifiers, Kumiko and third-year euphonium player Natsuki Nakagawa notice that Kanade plans to throw the fight. They pull her from the auditions and ask the percussion continue. It is here that Kumiko learns from Kanade the truth – in middle school, Kanade had been selected to play in place of a more senior student, but they only placed silver, leading the others to wonder if they were better off with a senior student. She manages to convince Kanade to give it her all regardless, and when the audition’s results arrive, it turns out Kumiko, Kanade and Natsuki had made the cut. The concert band begins preparing for the competition, attending another summer camp, and Kumiko decides to break things off with Shūichi until her future becomes more certain. On the day of competition, Kitauji delivers a compelling performance of the suite from Liz and the Blue Bird, moving the audience (including Asuka and Kaori, who’ve returned to watch) but do not qualify for the nationals. In the aftermath, Yūko compliments the group for having given their strongest performance yet, but Kanade is devastated. Some time later, Kumiko becomes the president of Kitauji’s concert band club.

Released in April 2019, Hibike! Euphonium: Chikai no Finale (Oath’s Finale) is a continuation of Kumiko’s journey in Hibike! Euphonium, dealing with her journey in joining what was a raggedy-ass concert band and, under instructor Noboru Taki’s tutelage and the company of individuals who would see Kitauji’s glory restored by reaching the national competition, participate in what is a pivotal moment in her experience as a euphonium player. Chikai no Finale picks up where Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season left off, and places Kumiko in a newfound position of leadership and responsibility; previously a first year, Kumiko had observed what went on around her with Asuka and the drama that unfolded, subtly changing the dynamics of the concert band club and contributed to giving Kitauji a taste of what could be. As a second year student now, Kumiko is more active in looking after the new first year students: while a skilful euphonium player, Kumiko’s main challenge lies not in ensuring the technical excellence of those she is mentoring, but rather, in dealing with the interpersonal conflict that arises. Because she’d been a passive actor following her introduction, pushing Kumiko into a leadership role and watching her handle the disagreements amongst the first years served to indicate to viewers that her experiences with Kitauji, both in reconciling with Reina upon reaching the Kansai preliminary competition, and helping the seniors to appreciate that Kitauji’s concert band has a future by placing bronze the previous year, have all allowed Kumiko to mature, leaving her better prepared to help Kitauji realise a long-standing dream of making and winning at the national level. In spite of this, Kumiko has a ways to go yet, and this is what Chikai no Finale aims to accomplish by showing Kumiko learning the ropes of leadership.

Kumiko settles into her role well and is seen as doing a strong job of leading the first year students (she develops a reputation for being an effective help desk): out of the gates, she manages to slow double bass Motomu’s sense of isolation, and by convincing the other students to respect his wishes, Motomu comes to find his own place in the concert band, becoming closer to Midori in the process, who shares his preference for a particular name and is also a bass player. Similarly, when tensions reach a boiling point with Mirei on the day of the Sun Festival, Kumiko manages to diffuse things and convinces Mirei to perform. However, these new responsibilities exact a toll, and Kumiko becomes exhausted in the process – she must look after the first year students on top of her own practise, and each problem she becomes involved in is not an easy one to solve. Kumiko faces her toughest challenge in Kanade, who is outwardly a capable and polite euphonium player. Her experiences in middle school contribute to her belief of leaving weaker players behind, and ultimately, it takes a tearful confrontation for Kumiko to both get the truth out of Kanade and convince her to play her best for her own sake. Coupled with an uncertainty about her future, Kumiko is at a bit of a crossroads, and so, entering the competition, carries this burden with her. In spite of this, the sum of Kumiko’s actions, and her own focus, allow her to play her part well, and Kitauji comes ever closer than ever towards realising their dream: despite having come short again, Kumiko is poised to lead Kitauji to fulfilling the promise of getting to the national competition.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • With Chikai no Finale, we return to Kumiko’s story in Hibike! Euphonium, and with it, the incredibly vivid and detail visual presentation that viewers have come to know the series for. The side-story, Liz and the Blue Bird, featured a dramatically different visual style to emphasise the færietale-like story surrounding Nozomi and Mizore, but in Hibike! Euphonium proper, the artwork emphasises detail in order to show just how rich Kumiko’s world is. As the film begins, Shūichi does a kokuhaku to Kumiko, whose reaction is one of shock, but the outcome is evident: Kumiko does return his feelings. This, however, is a secondary aspect to Chikai no Finale, where the focus is squarely on Kitauji’s next shot at making the national competition.

  • Music instructor Noboru Taki’s arrival at Kitauji during Hibike! Euphonium‘s original run permanently changed the way the school’s concert band operated. Noboru prefers to maximise the students’ autonomy and gives them considerable freedom in picking their goals, striking a balance between supporting his students and spurring them to improve themselves: he is strict and quick to point out flaws, but also is polite and offers students suggestions on correcting said flaws. In the time since Hibike! Euphonium began running, I remain the only person around who feels that Noboru resembles actor Cillian Murphy, whom I know best as The Dark Knight trilogy’s Dr. Crane.

  • Signifying the shift in Kitauji’s attitudes this year, the concert band’s goal isn’t merely to reach the nationals, but rather, it is to outright win. The band is far more motivated and determined than before – Kumiko and Noboru both played a nontrivial role in pushing the band to the qualifiers the previous year, and while they’d only earned a bronze for their performance, it showed that with the right pieces in play, Kitauji could indeed return on a path to excellence. Because the band is already focused on a goal, much of the conflict of the previous year is absent, leaving the story to focus on a new challenge the band faces.

  • This new challenge takes the form of first year students who’ve just joined the concert band club: getting the new blood up to speed with the processes and expectations of the concert band is the easy part and problems immediately arise with two of the first years. Mirei is a tall girl whose stoic personality contrasts Satsuki Suzuki’s, another first year, and while she loves the tuba, she feels that she does not fit in with the others. Similarly, Motomu dislikes being called by his last name and reacts vociferously when others fail to respect this.

  • Between mediating all of these challenges, Kumiko faces another problem: a first year girl in the trombone section appears to have taken an interest in Shūichi (at least, from Kumiko’s point of view). In any other series, this would be a major plot point, but Chikai no Finale‘s focus is elsewhere: Chikai no Finale has a lot of moving parts on top of the main objective of getting the first years settled in and pushing towards qualifying for nationals. The film can come across as busy, but these secondary events emphasise to the viewer the complexity of the band members’ lives: their activities with the concert band club do not exist in a vacuum.

  • Tomoe Kabe is a third year student who plays the trumpet. In Hibike! Euphonium, she was a secondary character with a limited role, but for Chikai no Finale, she’s tasked to look after the first year students alongside Kumiko. I’ve had no trouble following Chikai no Finale‘s narrative despite the number of subplots, and appreciate they are there to really emphasise the logistical and interpersonal problems that Kumiko must deal with in her role, but not everyone shares this perspective – the only other review out there for Chikai no Finale is at Anime News Network, where they counted this as a strike against the movie.

  • In general, Anime News Network’s review of Chikai no Finale is not particularly useful, doling out criticisms for criticisms’ sake without making an honest effort to understand why the film was presented the way it did. This is a generally something I try to avoid: one should at least make an attempt to know why a work was presented the way it was, and then criticisms can be directed at the execution, rather than the decision. Back in Chikai no Finale, when Kumiko spots Shūichi demonstrating one of the techniques with a trombone that prompts the first year girl to laugh, she immediately experiences a twinge of jealousy that causes her to lob a bottle at him.

  • Besides Kanade bringing up Shūichi, the potential of a love triangle manifesting is not brought up again anywhere else in Chikai no Finale and therefore, implies that what Kumiko saw ended up being inconsequential despite her own worries. While outwardly friendly, Kanade seems to have a hidden side to her character, as well. The choice to place their conversation here, by the locked stairwell that leads to the roof, is a subtle but clever bit of imagery suggesting that for now, Kumiko’s done all she can with Kanade and won’t be able to go any further.

  • Kyoto Animation has always excelled with character placements in a scene, using distance and positioning to convey a specific mood. On the day of the Sun Festival, a marching band event, Mirei’s emotions boil over and she runs off; during practise, she felt distanced from everyone else, and it is here during Sunfest where Kumiko must rise to the occasion. Kanade’s own remarks during this moment feel snide, uninformed, and it ultimately takes Kumiko to convince Mirei that her skill speaks for itself, that others have already understood this about her – it falls upon Mirei to decide whether she wants to be more social or not, and while everyone is ready to accept her, she’ll have to take the initiative, since it’s always hard to tell.

  • In the aftermath, Mirei’s distance with the others, especially the tubas, closes. In a way, Kanade is who Kumiko and Reina were a year ago: she freely speaks her mind and also has a fixation on skill, arguing that it can offset any personality flaws. When Kumiko remarks that Mirei’s opened up, Kanade’s look of disgust says that she’s unwilling to accept the outcome Kumiko’s created, mirroring Kumiko’s own doubts about how Asuka went about resolving conflicts among the band members the year before.

  • Motomu’s growth is not shown, but after the Sun Festival, he’s mentioned as being more personable, even if he remains a bit blunt. Because Kitauji only has a small number of bass players, it’s said that Midori’s capabilities as a bass, coupled with her personality, has led him to open up, as well. Because it happened so quickly, and off-screen, viewers are meant to understand that even without Kumiko intervening directly, in good company, the the first year students are rapidly feeling more and more at home with Kitauji’s concert band club. They discuss Liz and the Blue Bird here: Motomu’s played it previously, and while he found it difficult, looks forwards to attempting again. Meanwhile, Hazuki reads the original picture book and is moved to tears.

  • After classes, when Reina remarks that Tomoe’s been feeling a little off and then her train of thought leads her to conclude she wants Noboru for herself, Kumiko bursts into laughter, leading Reina to strike out with her schoolbag in frustration. While Kumiko is widely regarded as hiding her true self by others, two season and a movie have allowed us to see her as she really is, rather than the face she presents the world. Still, she remains elusive at some points; Reina ends up asking what Kumiko intends to do about Shūichi, but Kumiko turns things around yet again by wondering what Reina intends to do if Noboru ever asked her out, earning herself more admonishment from Reina in the form of a swift kick to the shins.

  • During the summer festival, Shūichi and Kumiko go on a date. By this point in time, Kumiko’s reputation as a mediator and resolver of conflict has earned her the moniker of “The Oumae Consultation Room”, attesting to the good she’s doing, although Kumiko herself still feels unsure by things. On uncertainty, we are now into week three of the partial lock-down at home from the pandemic, and this time of year is normally a time of celebration and enjoying the spring weather. Despite being unable to be out and about, it means getting creative with being at home: this past weekend, we made an oven-roasted prime rib with a pepper-and-garlic rub, loaded mashed potatoes and asparagus. Good food is critical to morale, and aside from keeping away from gatherings, I hope that readers are eating well and doing their best to maintain good health.

  • After leaving the festival, Kumiko and Shūichi find themselves down a quieter street, and Shūichi feels the time has come to take first base, but Kumiko feels the time is not right, and the location is as unromantic as one can imagine. When it first began airing, discussion surrounding Hibike! Euphonium was focused purely around what is colloquially referred to as “shipping”: Hibike! Euphonium originally gave the impression that Shūichi and Kumiko would never be a couple, and some went as far as citing the Westermarck Effect as to why this was the case. The short version of this psychological theory is that unrelated people who live closely together supposedly lose any sexual attraction to one another, but the theory has been refuted through several studies that contradict its claims. Per their reasoning, since Kumiko and Shūichi have known each other for a long time, the Westermarck Effect must have surely been in play, right?

  • The correct answer is a resounding no: Chikai no Finale promptly shot down these misguided assertions within its first 30 seconds. I never did get why some people insist on drawing upon discredited branches of psychology to work out the outcome of relationships in anime, but the reality is that there are pages upon pages of psychoanalysis about Hibike! Euphonium that missed the mark entirely and offer nothing useful to readers. After leaving Shūichi to meet Reina, the two share candy pops and discuss the future from Mount Daikichiyama’s observation, where they first shared time together during the TV series. This site is commonly misidentified as Hanno’s Mount Tenran – Mount Tenran was seen in Yama no Susume and is located closer to Tokyo, whereas Hibike! Euphonium is in the Kyoto area.

  • Tomoe had already hinted that her motivation as a player was weakening, and when she steps down from auditioning, it comes as a shock to the whole of the concert band. The cause of this decision is something that Tomoe only shares with Kumiko and the instructors: she’s afflicted by Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, which is characterised by inflammation of the TMJ muscles. There are treatments: medication is usually prescribed to manage the pain, but more long-term solutions include dental splints or surgery. The route that Tomoe does end up going for is intentionally not shown in Chikai no Finale, since it’s meant to show viewers the complexity of Kumiko’s world; there are numerous events that are outside of her control, and she can’t worry about everything.

  • Kanade seeks to understand what happened the previous year with Reina and Kaori – Reina’s selection as the soloist had raised many eyebrows, but with Kitauji’s performance, doubts were dispelled. Kanade thus wonders what people’s perception of Reina would be had Kitauji performed poorly instead. It is certainly true that with results, the drama of who is assigned for what role becomes a distant memory, whereas in failure, drama results in scapegoats being made. Kumiko believes there’s more to it than that, having seen for herself how Kitauji handles things, but also declines to specify. While Kumiko is known for speaking her mind, when in a leadership role, like Asuka, she begins to become more mindful of what she says.

  • A personality of contradictions, Kumiko is an interesting character because she embodies a variety of traits, and unbound by any one archetype, her actions are very life-like. In front of instructors, she’s modest and polite, while with juniors, she does her best to be composed and reliable. It is in front of Satsuki and Midori that she relaxes a little, and with Shūichi and Reina, she’s the most genuine. In Chikai no Finale, Kumiko becomes more confident; already evident in her actions, another subtle touch I liked was how Tomoyo Kurosawa performs Kumiko. In the TV series, Kurosawa delivered Kumiko’s lines with an inflected hesitancy, but here in Chikai no Finale, Kurosawa plays a more decisive Kumiko.

  • When it’s Kanade’s turn to play, Kumiko and Natsuki hear her making rudimentary mistakes in the test piece. Feeling this to be unusual, they immediately pull her from the audition under the pretext that she’s not feeling well and needs a breather. The instructors adjudicating the audition agree, capitalising on the break to test the percussion candidates, and Kanade is taken out to the woodshed. It is here that viewers learn the truth behind why Kanade is as standoffish as she is: like Reina was the previous year, Kanade was regarded as a talented euphonium player and selected for an important role, but when their school failed to advance, she was made the scapegoat, and other students made it clear that they’d rather have had a more senior student perform.

  • This is the conflict internal to Kanade: on one hand, she desperately wants to shine and be recognised for her skill, but on the flip-side, she also worries about suffering from a similar fate should Kitauji fail to make the competition. In the end, feeling that her want to avoid trouble outweighs a desire to prove herself, she decides to throw the fight and deliberately perform poorly in the audition to avoid future trouble. Upon hearing this, Kumiko refuses to accept this and implores Kanade to best her and Natsuki fair and square, since holding back from performing would only hurt the concert band.

  • A resolution is reached as Kanade understands how Kumiko and the others feel: irrespective of who actually makes the cut and earns the privilege of performing, everyone shares one common goal. With Kanade’s story in the open, her motivations explained and her intentions understood, there are no more loose ends for the concert band to deal with. From here on out, Chikai no Finale really ramps up the pacing, and what the anime took several episodes to do during the second season, is completed in the space of minutes. This is perhaps the only real strike I have against the film: some moments could have been explored in greater detail, and I would not have minded an extra twenty minutes of run-time to show things like Midori and Motomu getting to know one another better, or Tomoe’s role in a support capacity following her announcement.

  • As the TV series did before it, Chikai no Finale returns Kumiko and Reina to the summer camp. This time, having resolved most of the outstanding issues with the first year students, Kumiko and Reina are free to consider their own futures, and Kumiko contemplates breaking off her relationship with Shūichi until things become more certain. In a new year, Kumiko has a new set of problems to deal with: the last time she’d enjoyed the summer weather, her mind was on the drama surrounding Mizore and Nozomi.

  • Consequently, when Anime News Network’s review goes to claim that Chikai no Finale “retreads on similar conflicts and character beats on the TV series”, I cannot help but wonder if the reviewer expected the movie to spoon-feed themes to them. There are subtleties in Chikai no Finale that are present, serving to remind viewers that the concert band is likely to experience drama and stumble on their path to the nationals each year, but more importantly, Kumiko’s experiences leave her better prepared to handle them. The similarities in what happens in Chikai no Finale and the two seasons, then, are deliberately chosen to speak to the idea that the problems Kumiko face have a precedence and therefore, a solution.

  • On the day of the competition, Kitauji alumni, including trumpeter Kaori Nakaseko, whom Yūko admires greatly. When their seniors reappear to watch Kitauji’s performance, Yūko is moved and can barely contain her excitement, while Natsuki smiles knowingly. The dynamic between Natsuki and Yūko was a fun one to watch, a far cry from my initial thoughts on the two characters. At Hibike Euphonium‘s inception, I was never too fond of Yūko or Natsuki. The former, I found too protective of Kaori and closed-minded, while the latter was too lazy and unskilled to be of consequence. To see Yūko and Natsuki mature throughout Hibike! Euphonium was very rewarding.

  • Kumiko herself receives a pleasant surprise when Asuka shows up to watch her alma mater perform. Even though she is no longer a student at Kitauji, Asuka’s personality and approaches towards dealing with drama in Kitaji’s concert band left a tremendous impression on Kumiko, who applies the best Asuka had to offer with her own unique approaches for handling things. This is something I’m familiar with: having been a teaching assistant in graduate school for the same courses I once took, I ended up running my tutorials and office hours the way my favourite TAs did, with my own styles that stemmed from things I would’ve liked to see TAs do for me. A good mentor makes all the difference, and it is no joke when I say that during my second year, the only thing that stopped me from dropping my toughest course was a TA who cared enough to mentor and support me, which allowed me to maintain the minimum passing grade in that course needed to remain in satisfactory standing for the health sciences program.

  • We’ve come to it at last: Kitauji’s performance of Liz and the Blue Bird at the national competition. Static screenshots do this scene no justice, and it is only watching it in full where one can get a sense of the technical excellence Kyoto Animation has committed to delivering. The sum of every disagreement, spill, fight and tear shed culminates here on the stage, and for the next few minutes, viewers are treated to some of the most sophisticated and jaw-dropping work that Kyoto Animation produces.

  • In previous Hibike! Euphonium posts, I featured the other characters playing their instruments, so here, I’ve opted to kick the party off with Kanade. While Kanade gave off an unlikeable air early on, par the course for every character in Hibike! Euphonium, her hostility came from the fact that we knew little of her background, and once this is in the open, viewers immediately can see the parallels between Kanade and Reina. Knowing this, and recalling how Kumiko ended up reconciling with Reina, the way ahead for Kumiko and Kanade becomes much clearer. By the concert, this particular conflict is resolved, and viewers can count on Kanade to be doing her best for the sake of Kitauji.

  • With their conflicts long resolved, Mizore and Nozomi both cleared the auditions and participate in the competition, playing their best. The events of Liz and the Blue Bird are a nice supplement to Chikai no Finale, but not mandatory for following events of the latter: in a manner of speaking, Liz and the Blue Bird was meant to show that two key performers see themselves in the færietale, which created a very strong emotional connection between their own experiences and that of the story, in turn resulting in a more emotionally charged and genuine presentation.

  • While I tend to emphasise character growth and development purely based on what the author’s intents are, not everyone believed that Liz and Bluebird to be a simple, but touching side story that brought even more life into the Hibike! Euphonium universe. One “Verso Sciolto” made the preposterous claim that references to Japanese folklore and symbolism in Liz and the Bluebird made revisiting Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season required materials if one intended to enjoy Chikai no Finale. Even as early as Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season, Verso Sciolto made a spectacle of themselves at an anime forum I frequent, foisting on the other forum-goers the idea that a deep background in Japanese folklore and færietales was mandatory to appreciate Hibike! Euphonium, and that multiple watch-throughs of the anime was needed to pick up on things like Kumiko’s hair-clip, which supposedly spoke more about her character than her actions, and also required intimate knowledge of hanakotoba to decipher.

  • Verso Sciolto’s arrogance and presumptuous manner concealed a simple reality: they did not “get” Hibike! Euphonium better than anyone else. All of the symbols, folklore and other obscure references they made were red herrings, completely irrelevant to Hibike! Euphonium – behind all of that pedantic posturing and patronising purple prose, was a petty individual who lacked any sort of understanding about human relationships, intents, beliefs and desires. To have regarded Verso Sciolto’s claims as even having the most minute amount of value would be to deliberately diminish one’s own enjoyment of Hibike! Euphonium. As such, it was most fortuitous that Verso Sciolto has since been banned from virtually every online venue under the sun that discusses anime.

  • With discussions on Hibike! Euphonium being considerably more peaceable now, viewers can focus on their own enjoyment of the series. In Chikai no Finale, Kyoto Animation makes extensive use of creative camera angles to capture Kitauji’s performance from every angle. Besides conventional head-on shots and over-the-shoulder shots, there are several moments where the camera is placed in the rafters, pans above the entire scene from the front, and even behind the players. In the movie format, Kyoto Animation has always made use of clever camera placement to portray a scene, and my favourite instance of this is found in K-On! The Movie, where a shot of the Jubilee Gardens on the bank of the River Thames was shown with a sweeping shot.

  • I’ve chosen to wrap up Kitauji’s performance with Kumiko on the euphonium here, since no Hibike! Euphonium post would be complete without at least one screenshot of Kumiko performing. There is far more to Chikai no Finale, and Hibike! Euphonium, than symbols and folklore: at its core are the characters and their experiences that, in conjunction with a visually and aurally powerful journey, creates a series that is very compelling. While Kyoto Animation may give the impression that certain symbols or folklore hold great meaning, this actually comes from their approach to storytelling, and at the centre of everything they’ve made are the characters, not abstract ideas.

  • Kitauji’s performance is the best they’ve ever put on: members of the audience are moved to tears, and Asuka is all smiles when watching her old school perform again. I admit that to my alma mater, I am not as committed as Asuka: after graduating from high school, I only returned once to obtain cover letters from old instructors, and that was about it. While high school is but one part of life, the reason why anime so frequently portrays it is because it also happens to be in one’s halcyon days, where folks are old enough to have noteworthy experiences and at the same time, not be burdened with the responsibilities of adulthood.

  • Following their performance, Kitauji is all smiles for their group photo, a wise decision considering what’s about to come next. I think I still have my old band pictures from middle school floating around somewhere: when I was in middle school, band was the only extracurricular activity that I did, but it was time-intensive enough so that spare moments I had were filled. By high school, the reason I stopped band was because I wanted to experience other extracurricular activities (which resulted in me joining the Yearbook Club all three years of high school) and because my skill with the clarinet and trumpet were strictly average.

  • Ultimately, while Kitauji does manage to earn a gold rank, they do not advance to the national competitions. Reina dissolves into tears again, but a wiser Kumiko now knows to support her. This outcome is what motivates my page quote: because I am a personal blog, I am afforded the freedom to have a bit more fun with my reviews. The quote itself is sourced from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, a moment that’s reached infamy in internet culture. In context, it can be taken to mean that one particular accomplishment or achievement is made, but the outcome is not what is desired. For Kitauji, earning gold is equivalent to Anakin’s being appointed to the Jedi Council, but not making nationals would parallel the Council’s decision to not make Anakin a Jedi Master, which would have given him access to forbidden Holocrons containing what he imagined to be the knowledge to save Padmé.

  • When the other members of Kitauji’s band learn of the results, they are as devastated as the members who performed. The beautiful summer weather suddenly looks like it is mocking Kitauji, as though daring anyone to say they had a good time performing. Having accompanied the characters overcome so many challenges (Kumiko and Reina, Kanade, Motomu, Mirei, Natsuki and Yūko, and Nozomi and Mizore), when considering the long and difficult path it took to reach a point where Kitauji could get gold and seeing the results, the outcome seemed doubly unfair and can be felt even from the viewer’s perspective: everyone had gone all-in, fighting tooth-and-nail to put on their best performance ever.

  • With all the tears and gloom, Yūko demonstrates leadership as the concert band club’s president: walking in front of the massed group, she declares that there’s more cheer in a graveyard despite the fact that Kitauji has much to be proud of. Between the path it took to reach this point, and that everyone gave it their genuine all, the results are nothing to be ashamed of. Given that everyone’s shown they can get better, reaching even loftier heights is a matter of when. It is evident that Yūko handles her responsibilities well, and while Chikai no Finale did not give her much chance to shine as a leader, this speech at the end shows viewers how far she’s come, as well, from an admirer to a leader in her own right.

  • When Hibike! Euphonium began, I knew half the characters half as well as I would’ve liked, and I liked less than half the characters half as well as they deserved. It’s been five years since the anime started, and in that time, through both seasons and two movies, I feel that I’ve got a much better measure of everyone now, and I know all of the characters as well as I’d like, as well as liking all of the characters exactly as much as they deserve. Everyone has their own story, their raison d’être for doing what they do, and once this is understood, it becomes very easy to empathise with them.

  • While the other band members understand the significance of their gold in this year’s competition, Kanade is understandably unhappy. She parallels Reina in her words, saying that one’s best effort is meaningless without results. When Kanade declares that she’s so frustrated that she could die, Kumiko is immediately reminded of what Reina had said all those years ago. However, this anger can be channeled into effort anew, and having tasted defeat, Kanade and the first years will doubtlessly have the motivation they need to push even harder and accomplish their dreams.

  • Entering her final year, Kumiko becomes the president to Kitauji’s concert band club. The whole of Chikai no Finale establishes that Kumiko had really grown into her duties, and in the days upcoming, viewers will not have any doubt that Kumiko will be a great club president, as Yūko and Asuka have been before her. One thing I’ve not mentioned up until now were the use of the Instagram Stories perspectives throughout the film: these moments have no thematic significance, but are meant to give a more “in the moment” snapshot of things and bring viewers closer to the characters. In other words, these Stories aim to accentuate the atmosphere, rather than say something different. Innovative use of framing has always been Kyoto Animation’s forté, and in all of their films, these are strictly used in enhancing the viewer’s sense of connection to what’s being shown. This brings my talk on Chikai no Finale to a close, and with this, we now enter the Spring 2020 anime season. A handful of shows have caught my eye, including TamayomiHoukago Teibou Nisshi, and Oregairu‘s third season.

During its run-time, Chikai no Finale deliberately draws parallels between the experiences that Kanade and the other first years face, with Kumiko’s own experiences previously. This deliberate choice accomplishes two things for Chikai no Finale. The first is that it shows Kumiko drawing from her own experience and learnings, doing her best to apply her own brand of problem-solving to a situation based on what she gained by spending time with Asuka, and the second is that the commonalities are present: what Kanade goes through is something that Kumiko and Reina had gone through, and where there is precedence, there are also the beginnings of a solution. Chikai no Finale therefore aims to show the journey of how Kumiko comes to develop her own approach for handling interpersonal conflict in Kitauji’s concert band, using a combination of what worked for Asuka and what she felt she could’ve done better in Asuka’s place. The end result is that Kumiko is better-equipped for dealing with the inevitable drama within a concert band, and so, when Kumiko does become the concert band club’s president, viewers know that, while she may not always have the solution or resolve a situation in an optimal manner, she is nonetheless capable, doing her best and prepared to lead Kitauji on one final run towards the national competition. Chikai no Finale is a thrilling addition to Hibike! Euphonium that paves the way for Kumiko to lead Kitauji’s concert club to the nationals, but beyond its story, Kyoto Animation continues to deliver an excellent component, making use of clever camera angles, lighting, animation and sound to fully immerse viewers into Kumiko’s story. When everything is said and done, this film is for all fans of Hibike! Euphonium: there are references to the earlier seasons that are much more meaningful for folks who’ve seen both seasons, although one could still follow the film easily without the requisite seasons. Between Kumiko’s story and Kyoto Animation’s masterful production value, Chikai no Finale is well worth the watch, and one must wonder when the remainder of Hibike! Euphonium will be adapted in full.

Hibike! Euphonium: Liz and the Blue Bird (Liz to Aoi Tori) Movie Review and Reflection

We’ve such a golden dream
Such a golden dream can never last
My burden lifted
I am free

–Cage, Aimer

After an encounter in middle school led to friendship developing between Nozomi Kasaki and Mizore Yoroizuka, the two joined Kitauji High School’s Concert Band. Energetic and outgoing, Nozomi plays the flute while the reserved, taciturn Mizore plays the oboe. When the concert band picks Liz and the Blue Bird as a piece, Mizore and Nozomi are selected to perform the suite’s solo. At the same time, Nozomi and Mizore are forced to consider their futures; Mizore is recommended a music school, and Nozomi decides to follow her, but realises that her skill with the flute is not comparable to Mizore’s oboe. Meanwhile, Mizore envies Nozomi for being able to connect with others so easily, and at the same time, longs to be closer to Nozomi. After a conversation with Reina, Mizore performs the solo with her fullest effort, bringing some of the concert band’s members to tears. The two share a heartfelt conversation after, promising to remain friends even if their paths diverge in the future. Liz and the Blue Bird premièred in April 2018, focusing on secondary characters; the choice to tell a deeper story about the friendship between Nozomi and Mizore is motivated by the impact they had on Kitauji’s concert band in the events prior to the start of Hibike! Euphonium; the driven and determined Nozomi spearheaded an exodus after realising that Kitauji’s band was a raggedy-ass group disinterested in competing seriously. Mizore ended up staying behind, and Nozomi’s return during the events of Hibike! Euphonium 2 formed the basis for the conflict during its first half. The depth behind each of the characters in Hibike! Euphonium meant that a myriad of stories about concert band’s members could be told, and on first glance, the story between Nozomi and Mizore is one of interest, dealing with two polar opposite personality types, their friendship and how the two each deal with thoughts of parting ways in the future.

Liz and the Blue Bird‘s primary themes is a familiar one – deliberately chosen for the characters’ involvement in Kitauji’s incident, it shows the extent of Nozomi and Mizore’s friendship. Having long admired Mizore’s skill with the oboe, Nozomi’s charisma and fiery personality has a major impact on the band, but it now appears that she went to these lengths to give Mizore a chance to shine. Liz and the Blue Bird thus explores the difficulty both encounter as their time in high school comes to an end. The film is so named after the færie tale that frames the narrative: a girl named Liz finds a bluebird who transforms into a girl. As they get to know one another, Liz comes to enjoy her time with the bluebird. However, when Liz finds that the bluebird periodically sneaks out to fly at night, she realises that she cannot keep the bluebird forever and lets her go to rejoin her winged companions. It is a tale of parting, with both Mizore and Nozomi realising that they’re struggling to part with one another. In the end, though, it is precisely by letting go that allows the blue bird to reach her full potential; Nozomi must learn to let go of Mizore so she can pursue her career in music, and Mizore must let go of Nozomi so she can continue to direct her unparalleled passion and energy towards leading others. Liz and the Blue Bird proceeds as one would expect: by the film’s end, Nozomi and Mizore find their solutions, accepting that they will one day part ways, but this does not preclude their continued friendship.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Liz and the Blue Bird‘s segments with Liz feel distinctly like a watercolour brought to life, attesting to the sophistication of animation. By bringing sound and motion to such scenes, it is possible to really capture a particular aesthetic. The story of Liz and the Blue Bird is a fictional one, being written specifically for Liz and the Blue Bird; I could not find any reference to the story outside of the context of Hibike! Euphonium, even when doing a search for its German name (Liz und ein Blauer Vogel).

  • Unlike Hibike! Euphonium, which is vivid, rich in colours and bursting with life, Liz and the Blue Bird is much more subdued and gentle with its hues. Differences in the animation style are apparent; Liz and the Blue Bird tends to focus on subtle, seemingly trivial details, whether it be the bounce in Nozomi’s ponytail, the girls shifting their chairs together or assembling their instruments. Small moments are lovingly rendered, and while not of thematic significance, shows that Hibike! Euphonium is intended to convey a very human story in that no journey or experience is too trivial for consideration.

  • Old characters make a return in Liz and the Blue Bird; Kumiko, Reina, Midori, Hazuki, Natsuki and Yūko appear as secondary characters. The flatter art style means that everyone looks different from their usual selves, and this reduction in detail has the very deliberate and calculated effect of forcing the viewer to focus on what’s happening to the characters. While the characters do not stick out unreasonably from their environments, their motions and voices immediately draw the viewer’s attention to them.

  • I would imagine there is another reason to utilise a more subdued palette: because Liz’s story is rendered with watercolours, an inherently soft and gentle medium, had Liz and the Blue Bird stuck with the style seen in the series proper, the contrast would’ve been too jarring. Hibike! Euphonium is vivid to convey that music is immensely colourful, and Kumiko’s performances have always been very spirited as Kitauji strove to further their performances.

  • The short of the færie tale is that a young woman encounters a girl with blue hair following a strong storm and takes her in. Over time, the two become close as friends and live their days together happily. However, the blue bird’s nature means that she occasionally sneaks out at night to stretch her wings. Liz notices this and begins to realise that the blue bird longs to fly again. In this context, the bird is taken to represent freedom, and in particular, blue birds have traditionally been regarded as harbingers of happiness and joy.

  • The blue bird in Liz and the Blue Bird, then, suggests to viewers that happiness is found in freedom, and applying this to Nozomi and Mizore, the girls cannot be said to reach or discover their full potential unless they have the freedom to do so. Nozomi and Mizore both see themselves in the story; while Mizore actively wishes her eventual parting with Nozomi will never come, Nozomi puts on a brave front and expresses a desire to perform the piece, hiding her own doubts behind a veneer of confidence.

  • I’m sure that numerous of my readers will have their own memories of picture books from their childhood that stand out. When I was a primary student, I predominantly read science books, and at the age of six, I knew about all of the planets and their compositions. I have a particular fondness for non-fiction and so, did not read very many picture books. However, I do recall greatly enjoying The Berenstain Bears, as well as David Bouchard’s If You’re Not From The Prairie, a beautiful book about things only those living in the grasslands of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba might appreciate.

  • The sharp contrasts between Nozomi and Mizore are immediately apparent; people flock to Nozomi and her energy, and here, she befriends fellow fluatists, connecting with them and becoming a part of their energy. I’ve always found the pronunciation to be a little strange (“flaut-ist”, IPA: flaǔtist), having heard about it while listening to a radio programme about flutes following a concert band practise during my time as a middle school student. It may surprise readers to know that once upon a time, I was a clarinet player and also performed for my school’s jazz band.

  • As a part of the old concert band at my middle school, we went on to perform well in several competitions around the city. The jazz band was strictly an in-school activity, and I learned trumpet on my own to give that a go. After entering high school, I stopped with music, but I have no regrets about both performing in a band, and then choosing to explore other avenues. Here, on the left-hand side, we have Ririka Kenzaki, a new addition to Hibike! Euphonium. She’s a first year oboist who is voiced by Shiori Sugiura and does her best to befriend Mizore, stating that it’d be good for section cohesion if everyone got to know one another a little better.

  • Every event in Liz and the Blue Bird parallels the events Mizore and Nozomi have experienced: the time Liz and Blue Bird spend together are moments of bliss during which both Liz and Blue Bird are living in the moment. However, all things eventually come to an end, with the færie tale foreshadowing Blue Bird’s longing to soar in the skies again, and how this mirrors Nozomi and Mizore’s situations.

  • Mizore’s shyness is her weak point; at several points in Liz and the Blue Bird, Mizore expresses a desire to be physically closer to Nozomi. For much of the movie, circumstance prevents anything from happening. I’ve received numerous complaints about my lack of focus on yuri in my discussions. In general, my counter-arguments are that making the distinction between close friendship and yuri does not alter the conclusion that I reach: in the case of Liz and the Blue Bird, whether or not I chose to count Nozomi and Mizore’s as yuri, the theme invariably is that separation is a real concern for the two, but that they manage to move past it.

  • With almost three quarters of a year having elapsed since Liz and the Blue Bird premièred in theatres, it is unsurprising that discussion about the movie has been very limited of late. As is the case for every anime movie, folks with the time, resources and commitment would’ve watched this movie as it screened in Japan. In a rare turn of events, I agree with most early reviews of the film; these reviews citing the film’s imagery and message as its strengths, and its pacing and outcomes as being weaker.

  • However, an old nemesis appeared amidst the discussions: Verso Sciolto, who’d previously plagued the Your Name discussions, arrived and claimed that folklore and fairytale references were essential to appreciating both Liz and the Blue Bird as well as Hibike! Euphonium, believing that symbolism in the film will “inspire people to re-watch and re-examine the two seasons of the TV series as well”. The correct answer is that if people choose to revisit Hibike! Euphonium, it will be to see the character dynamics, rather than any non-existent literary symbols Verso Sciolto has fabricated.

  • Verso Sciolto goes on to claim that “Ishihara embellishes whereas Yamada distills” in comparing Hibike! Euphonium‘s TV series with Liz and the Blue Bird, and that the latter is an example of minimalism. Both are wrong: Hibike! Euphonium is richer in detail because the details and colours serve to reinforce the idea that music is more than the sum of its parts. It is unfair to grossly reduce a director’s style into one word. I noted earlier that Liz and the Blue Bird deliberately takes its style so it can more seamlessly transition between Nozomi and Mizore’s stories and that of Liz and the Blue Bird.

  • It is of some comfort, then, that this Verso Sciolto has been banned from a variety of avenues for discussion for forcibly injecting psuedointellectual remarks, pointed questions and a know-it-all attitude into discussions wherever they went. While having some influence on discussions, especially surrounding Your Name, their absence will be welcomed, especially now that Makoto Shinkai has announced that his next work, Tenki no Ko (Weathering with You), will hit theatres in Japan on July 19 this year.

  • Over the course of Liz and the Blue Bird, Ririka’s persistent but gentle efforts to befriend Mizore yields results when Mizore consents to help her prepare reeds. Ririka’s personality blends a kind and gentle nature with innocence, and it was rewarding to see the beginnings of a friendship form as she spearheads the effort to create more cohesion among the double-reed instruments.

  • Back in Liz and the Blue Bird, tensions begin growing between Mizore and Nozomi when Mizore mentions that she plans to go to music school. Lacking any idea of what to do with her future, Niiyama sensei suggests that Mizore apply for music school owing to her skill with the oboe.  Mizore is the sort of individual who seems uncertain of her future, but when she applies herself towards making her dreams a reality, she does so with her full efforts. After joining concert band in middle school on Nozomi’s suggestion, Mizore put her all into playing the oboe to keep from being separated from Nozomi.

  • After Reina arrives and bluntly remarks that Mizore seems to be holding back, Yūko, Natsuki and Nozomi see Reina and Kumiko performing the solo with their respective instruments. Noting the emotional intensity but also the balance between the two, Nozomi realises the strength of Kumiko and Reina’s friendship as well as their musical prowess. The precise relationship between Reina and Kumiko was the subject of no small debate when Hibike! Euphonium aired: this particular aspect of Hibike! Euphonium seems to overshadow everything else, even though the point of the anime was to see a raggedy-ass group come together and realise a shared dream.

  • While my school days are long behind me, I still vividly recall all of the instructors who helped inspire and encourage me: at each level, there are a handful of mentors and instructors who stood apart from the rest, and it is thanks to them that I ended up making the most of each choice that I took. Whether it be offering new ways to think about problems, or providing words of encouragement, their contributions helped make me who I am, and to this day, I am still in contact with some of my old mentors.

  • Nothing is truly infinite; in Liz and the Blue Bird, separation soon comes up, as well. When the time comes for Blue Bird to leave Liz, it is a difficult moment. A quote whose source has been difficult to pin down states that one must let go of something if they love it; its return heralds that things were meant to be. It seems counterintuitive, but in Cantonese, there’s a concept called 緣份 (jyutping jyun4 fan6, “fate”), that supposes that if something was meant to be, then it will show up in one way or another.

  • I disagree that Liz and the Blue Bird is a minimalist film from a visual and thematic perspective; numerous closeup of everyday objects are presented to show that despite the simpler artwork, elements are nonetheless present in the environment. They form a bit of a visual break, causing the eye to pause for a moment while one continues listening to the dialogue. Liz and the Blue Bird is simple, but not minimalist: simplicity is something easy to understand and natural, while minimalism is a deliberate design choice that aims to do more with less. Simplicity is not equivalent to minimalism, and in Liz and the Blue Bird, the anime is not doing more with less, but rather, being very precise about what its intents are.

  • While Mizore speaks to instructor Niiyama, Nozomi speaks with Yūko and Natsuki: both come to the realisation that they must learn to let the other go in this dialogue, for holding into the other is to deny them of exploring the future. This is the turning point in the film where the tension rises: for Mizore, she decides to be truthful with her feelings, while Nozomi is a bit more stubborn. I admit that Nozomi is my favourite character of Hibike! Euphonium – for her fiery spirit and figure.

  • In the færie tale, Liz eventually ends up allowing Blue Bird to take flight and join her fellow birds in the sky. Cages form a part of the symbolism in Liz and the Blue Bird: representing security in the present and also constraining the future, Mizore expresses a wish that she’d never learned to open the cage. This imagery is mirrored in Aimer’s “Cage”, a beautiful song that was used during the unveiling of the life-sized Unicorn Gundam at Diver City in Odaiba.

  • We’re now a ways into 2019, and the year’s already been quite busy as I acclimatised to a new workplace. I wake up much earlier than I did before to make the bus ride downtown, and while I greatly enjoy what I do, I admit that weekends have become even more valuable as time to sleep in a little (I get to wake up at 0720 rather than my usual 0600, or 0530 on days where I lift). This past weekend, after karate, I enjoyed the first dim sum of the year: their special included two different kinds of noodles as well as a flavourful salt-and-pepper fried squid.

  • While Liz and the Blue Bird might deal predominantly with Nozomi and Mizore’s friendship, music is still very much a part of the narrative. During one practise, the band reaches the solo, and Mizore begins playing her part with such sincerity and emotion that it brings several of the band members to tears, including Nozomi. It is in this moment that Nozomi realises that she needs to allow Mizore to go free and pursue her future.

  • In a manner of speaking, Mizore and Nozomi are simultaneously Liz and Blue Bird: both long to prolong a friendship with someone special, but both also need to let the other go for the future’s sake. Mizore’s performance shows that she is committed to her decision in enrolling in a music school, and understanding their gap, Nozomi ultimately decides to pursue studies at another institution. She is shown studying diligently for her entrance exams later on.

  • While Hibike! Euphonium is ultimately simple in its themes and all the stronger for it, discussions surrounding this series is much more complex and involved than strictly necessary. Taking a step back and enjoying Hibike! Euphonium in a vacuum, I find a genuine series whose enjoyment comes from being able to empathise with the characters over time and gradually coming to root for them.

  • The film’s climax occurs in the science room by the day’s last light; Mizore and Nozomi open up to one another about their feelings and intentions for the future. Much as how Nozomi envies Mizore’s skill with an oboe and how her musical talents will allow her to accomplish great things, Mizore is jealous of Nozomi’s ability to take charge, influence and get along with numerous people. They voice their dislikes about the other, and with their feelings out in the open, tearfully embrace.

  • The sum of their understanding is mirrored in the environment, which takes on a warm glow as red and pink hues seep in, displacing the cooler and more distant yellows. Kyoto Animation excels at use of light and colour to convey emotions: they are particularly strong in using subtle details to complement the dialogue, and I find that understanding the choice of colours in a given scene contributes more substantially to one’s enjoyment of their works, rather than focusing on objects that end up being red herrings.

  • I’ve lasted thirty screenshots without mentioning thus: the necks of Liz and the Blue Bird were never a visual distraction that some felt it to be. With this post, I’ve finally caught up with Hibike! Euphonium, and the next major instalment will be another film releasing in April 2019. Titled Oath’s Finale, it will deal with the national competition and return things to Kumiko’s perspective. Given release patterns for Hibike! Euphonium and my own habits, I anticipate that I’ll be able watch and write about Oath’s End somewhere this time next year – anyone who’s still around by then is clearly a champion.

Standing in sharp contrast with Hibike! Euphonium‘s televised run, Liz and the Blue Bird has a much simpler, flatter art style. Although environments are still gorgeously animated, the characters’ own conflicts take the forefront: the deliberate choice to create more subdued backgrounds is to place focus on the characters and their challenges, reducing emphasis on the world around them. The story of Liz and the Blue Bird itself is also distinctly animated: Kyoto Animation succeeds in bringing a water colour to life and creates a very compelling style that, while distinct from the events of Liz and the Blue Bird, also integrate elegantly into the story. The choice to use a different visual style than Hibike! Euphonium‘s exceptionally rich colours and details is not a strike against Liz and the Blue Bird; although they might look different, the characters retain their personalities in full. The end result is a very concise, slow-paced story of parting and its difficulties; music still has its focus, and perhaps because of this art style, the music of Liz and the Blue Bird‘s concert band movements also has a much more singular attention on the flute and oboe solos, in a parallel of how the film is about Mizore and Nozomi. Altogether, Liz and the Blue Bird is an enjoyable addition to Hibike! Euphonium; helmed by Naoko Yamada (who’d previously directed K-On! The Movie and Koe no Katachi), Liz and the Blue Bird shifts away from the politics of high school clubs as seen in Hibike! Euphonium and employs Yamada’s preference of returning things to the basics, crafting a story about the intricacies of interactions between individuals. Admittedly, I prefer this approach, as it is much more sincere and meaningful in exploring people; Yamada has succeeded in Liz and the Blue Bird with giving Mizore and Nozomi’s friendship a more tangible sense, making the film a different but welcome addition to Hibike! Euphonium.

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’s figure is very pleasing to 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.

  • 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.

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.

Hibike! Euphonium: Final Reflection and Review

“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.