The Infinite Zenith

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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: Whole-Series Reflection and Review

“Drama aids self-discovery like nothing else. In removing it from our schools, we remove the inestimable benefits of it from our society.” —Rory Kinnear

Kumiko’s interactions with her seniors has a profound impact, resulting in the readmission of Nozomi into the concert band after her numerous conversations result in Yuko confronting Mizore, clearing up the misunderstanding between the two: it turns out that Mizore had been avoiding Nozomi for fear of being rejected, but once the two get their true feelings into the open, their friendship is restored. United, the concert band’s performance is exceptional, securing Kitauji a chance to compete at the nationals. Later, Asuka is forcibly removed from concert band at her mother’s behest, but demonstrates that being in concert band will not affect her ability to enter a suitable post-secondary institute to her mother and is able to rejoin. In the meantime, Kumiko struggles to deal with Reina’s growing feelings for Taki and with her own direction, and her sister’s cold reception at home after she decides to drop out of university and pursue a career path consistent with her interests. Kumiko and Asuka share the commonality of wanting to persist in concert band to play for those who they care about, and as the season concludes with their performance at the national competition. While only able to secure a bronze, the band resolves to work harder in the upcoming year to win gold.

Whereas Hibike! Euphonium‘s first season focused more predominantly on the concert band’s journey from basement to prominence, suggesting that their members were focused on a shared goal that allowed them to set aside their own differences in order to master their instruments and deliver performances worthy of praise, the second season of Hibike! Euphonium places a significantly larger emphasis on Kumiko and her dynamics with the other band members. Even if her actions are not directly intended to improve either her own situation or the situations of those involved, Kumiko’s experiences put her in the heart of the different challenges those around her face, and as she learns more, these situations contribute to her own desire of wanting Mamiko to understand and appreciate just how much of an impact she’s had on Kumiko despite the former’s own challenges. Ultimately, in dealing with the situations around her, Kumiko comes to play for her sister and depart on better terms, as well as re-evaluate her perspectives of Asuka more effectively, having learnt more about someone who initially seemed so aloof and perfect. The shifts in perspectives are a solid indicator that characters are multi-faceted beings in Hibike! Euphonium, bringing one world of high school students, concert band and their associated tribulations to life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • So, here we are, on the first day of 2017. It’s been snowing lightly throughout the day, and the skies were overcast, with a brisk chill in the air. All in all, it was unsuited for a walk, but the weather provided a ready-made justification for bundling up underneath a warm blanket with a cocoa, leaving the day open for gaming and reviewing anime. After shovelling out from the snowfall, I spent the whole of the afternoon in Sim City 4 and finally being able to try out Battlefield 1‘s Giant’s Shadow map.

  • It’s become somewhat of a yearly custom for my family to 打邊爐 (have hot pot) on New Year’s Day, and this year, we did so at home: shrimps, beef, lamb, chicken, squid, fishballs, a variety of vegetables and yi mien (伊麵) was on the menu, finished with sparkling peach juice. The more formal term for 打邊爐 is 火鍋 (literally “flaming pot”) in Chinese, and in Japanese, the kanji “鍋” is romanised as nabe.  Back in Hibike! Euphonium, while Asuka’s concerns for the band’s performance is understandable, it turns out that her worries would not come to pass: it turns out that Mizore and Nozomi have been mutually looking for an opportunity to clear up their misunderstandings,

  • I’m not sure if it’s just me who holds this view, but Kumiko looks sexy whenever she’s playing the euphonium, with her look of intense concentration. Musical performances in Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season are of a solid quality (whether it be depiction of the instruments’ moving parts or the play of light on their surfaces) , and Kitauji’s performance in the fifth episode for the national qualifiers was nothing short of impressive. Kitauji’s band has come quite a long ways from the first season, a far cry from the raggedy-ass group of misfits who lacked motivation and direction.

  • In the national qualifing rounds, Kitauji is able to make it, leading to much celebration. However, this point is merely a stepping stone for Kitauji, and they continue training under both Masahiro and Satomi to further hone their skills. Their victory here brings to mind the victory the Calgary Flames secured over the Phoenix Coyotes during the New Year’s Eve game last night: the first period saw four goals by the flames, with a particularly noteworthy goal from defenseman Dennis Wideman, who managed to score on a shot from the blue line.

  • After the first period, the Phoenix Coyotes answered with two of their own goals (after one was waived off in the first period on the basis of being scored by means of a high stick), but the game became a little less intense. The Flames would go on to win 4-2, a solid end to 2016, and we were treated to a bit of a fireworks show inside the Scotiabank Saddledome.

  • While Hibike! Euphonium is primarily focused around concert band, its setting in a high school environment also means that events such as culture festivals can be weaved into the narrative. Reina and Kumiko spend much of the day together, enjoying the exhibitions, and here, I note that I am immensely thankful that Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season has largely dispelled any misconceptions about the nature of Reina and Kumiko’s friendship.

  • Out of curiosity, I did a bit of reading into interpersonal dynamics between adolescent females by means of primary literature, and it turns out that any so-called yuri overtones that some individuals claim exist, are merely natural parts of their friendship. Scriptwriter Jukki Hanada even notes that their interactions are a part of youth, but some folks refuse to accept this explanation. The fixation folks have on these elements is unnecessary and contributes very little to discussion — Kyoto Animation’s interpretation of their friendship is perhaps a little more vivid than conferred by the light novel, but it should be clear that nothing is going on.

  • Mamiko’s relationship with Kumiko has been frequently presented as a rocky one as of late; Mamiko resents Kumiko for being able to continue with her pursuit of music, and frequent flashbacks show that it was Mamiko who inspired Kumiko to take up music. In my case, I’m rather glad that my younger brother is able to make his own decisions about things like career paths and life choices (his talent for applications of calculus in structural mechanics is magical, and I doubt he’d be happy with writing sorting algorithms), but it seems that he’s taken interest in almost all of my hobbies, including anime.

  • Frustrated by her sister’s cold attitude, Kumiko takes off into a rainstorm, and encounters Taki at a local florist. From Taki, Kumiko learns a bit more about his late wife, who was a music teacher seeking to take Kitauji to the national competition. Being someone he loved dearly, Taki was devastated by her loss, and over time, comes around, deciding to pick up where his wife left off in her memory.

  • According to those who have read the light novels, Kumiko’s friendship with Reina is presented with much less detail than in the anime. The second season covers the whole of the light novel’s second volume and most of the third volume. There are four volumes in total, with the last being released in 2015. An English-translated version of the first volume will be coming out in the summer of 2017.

  • Kitauji performs at a station concert to the public audience. The soundtrack for Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season is set for release on January 11, although at this point in time, nothing is known about the soundtrack’s length or its tracklist , but it will retail for 4320 yen (49.65 CAD at the time of writing) and consist of three CDs, being a mix of both instrumental and vocal pieces. I note that it is typical for an anime soundtrack to release after an anime has finished its broadcast run: in the case of Brave Witches, a delay in production meant the episodes were delayed by a week, and consequently, the Brave Witches soundtrack released prior to the finale.

  • Mamiko expresses disgust with her situation, stating that it was never her desire to study and enter a post-secondary institution. Her father counters that she should’ve made herself clear, but at this point, she’s obligated to finish if he is to continue paying for her tuition and living expenses. There are some occasions where I speak with my parents about my time as an undergrad, and they wonder if they’d pushed me too hard to finish in a timely fashion while taking a shot for medical school. However, things have stablised for now, and I whole-heartedly know that the path I ended up taking was one that would adequately prepare me for the next step. I do not regret doing my honours degree in health sciences to any extent.

  • Concurrently with the crisis at the Ōmae household is Asuka’s withdrawl from band after her mother forces her to leave, on claims that her involvement was detrimentally impacting her academic performance. It is here that Kumiko realises that Asuka, someone she’d long held to be the personification of perfection, is still human: while there definitely are people who look like they can handle everything, this often comes at a cost, and it was for this reason that in high school, I took on only a number of extracurricular activities that I knew I could handle. In my final year, I was on the yearbook committee as a photographer and layout designer, organised one of the parties in Model Parliament and was the director of the graduation committee’s evening slideshow team.

  • Outside of this, I was also enrolled at the Chinese Academy and did karate, but in spite of this, I somehow managed to keep my grades generally high. Of course, looking back, high school was a walk in the park compared to university. I bring myself out of my trip into my memories and return my focus to the present, where Kumiko’s fallen ill with the flu. Reina is visiting her here. Hibike! Euphonium released on Wednesdays, but I typically watched episodes on Thursdays during lunch hour owing to the fact that most of my effort was focused on Brave Witches, and for my scheduling, I’ve had a reasonable number of fried rices to enjoy while watching the anime.

  • Because I still vividly recall my thoughts as a high school student, I have a slightly different take on Reina’s pursuit of Taki’s heart than most people. Rather than trying to decide on its legitimacy based on an adult’s perspective, I understand that sometimes, students can develop a bit of a nascent crush on their instructors, and it is only because there’s quite a bit of a time gap that I share this story now — when I was in my first year of high school, I had a crush on my science instructor, who only remained at my school for one term. Childish, perhaps, but this is something that people do grow out of quite quickly.

  • With Asuka’s absence impacting Kumiko particularly hard, partially because she draws parallels between Asuka’s situation and that of Mamiko’s, Kumiko finds herself drawn towards trying to figure Asuka out and talk out what’s happening, even dropping by her residence with some sweets that’s been said to be Asuka’s mother’s favourites in an attempt to sway her decision. Kumiko, being Hibike! Euphonium‘s protagonist, is highly perceptive, and Asuka’s the only person she’s never really figured out.

  • Thus, throughout season one, most people cited Asuka as the biggest mystery: she presents as being a highly competent leader and euphonium player, but otherwise remains quite detached from the comings and goings within the concert band itself, acting only with the band’s overall performance in her interest. As such, she remains neutral about a great many things, including who she feels to be the better soloist. However, by season two, it turns out that Asuka’s father is a judge in the competition and left her mother: Asuka yearns nothing more than to play for him, and as such, is determined to have Kitauji reach a point where it can compete in a competition he is judging.

  • Despite her quiet personality, Kumiko can be moved to tears by a variety of things. She cries her eyes out during a talk with Asuka, demonstrating that she’s slowly growing to care for and understand the enigmatic senior that is Asuka. As far as I can tell, I never heard of any high school drama that resulted in tears, but then again, I was only focused on my own goals and my friends’ interests in high school, preferring to ignore drama and get the job done. This disregard for social hierarchies is another reason why my existence did not sit well with the more popular folks in my year, even to this day.

  • Asuka’s story arc comes to an end with her triumphant return to the concert band club. Having managed to perform to her usual standards in an examination for post-secondary admissions, her mother allows her to rejoin, and it is likely that Kumiko’s words may have motivated her to do all that is necessary for her to make her dream a reality. Asuka’s return revitalises the whole of the concert band, whose music had taken a hit in performance when Asuka had left.

  • Returning to the lookout point over their town, Reina and Kumiko share a conversation; Reina is absolutely smitten with Taki, who appears to be an old family friend. Shocked that Kumiko has not told her despite knowing, it’s a bit of a communications mishap that results in Reina’s surprise that Kumiko had been in on it the entire time. Reina and Kumiko’s friendship is taken with far too much rigour, with some folks asserting that to watch any possibility of a yuri dynamic shot down so firmly was physically painful. I’m not believing for a picosecond that this was relevant to Hibike! Euphonium at all, when the first season’s main theme was plainly about working towards a shared goal.

  • As it turns out, Reina’s feelings for Taki drive her own motivations to see Kitauji’s concert band win the national competition: knowing that Taki still very much loves his late wife and that her chances with him are poor, she decides that helping him find happiness by means of a victory will have to suffice. This is why she’s attending Kitauji when her skills would have allowed her to perform at any other high school of her choosing. While this prima facie seems to contradict Reina’s claims that she wanted to be special, these two objectives are not mutually exclusive: she wants to excel at trumpet to stand out, but she also wants to stand out so Taki will acknowledge her.

  • Hibike! Euphonium‘s third volume involves Kumiko coming to terms with her own feelings for Shuichi, and ultimately, the two begin a relationship. In the anime, Shuichi’s role is much more minor, and there is no kokuhaku: with only minimal time on-screen, he gives Kumiko a hair clip here, but its significance is not shown for the rest of the anime. In the novels, she acknowledges that she gets the hair clip from her boyfriend after Asuka asks her, and accepts her feelings for him, having moved forward from what had happened in middle school.

  • Kitauji’s performance at the national competition is never shown — once everyone is on stage, the scene fades out, and the band members are seen relaxing outside of the performance venue. However, they return inside the hall to await the results. Here, the conductors receive an award for their participation and efforts, with each school having prepared a special thank you message for their respective conductors. However, owing to the tumultuous events that preceded the competition, Kitauji’s band was focused entirely on practising and neglected this detail.

  • When none of Kitauji’s students can come up with an appropriate gesture of appreciation, Reina seizes the moment and declares that she loves Taki as he walks across the stage, drawing surprise from the others. Taki interprets this as a sign of respect, and even when Reina tries to clarify later, he neither accepts nor rejects her feelings, seeing her as a capable student. Here’s a bit of trivia about Reina’s character that is noticeably absent from the anime that was in the light novels — she tends to drop or break things whenever angered, smashing a glass when under the impression that Satomi is dating Taki back when she is first introduced (the anime merely has her stiffen and freeze in shock).

  • Because Hibike! Euphonium is more focused on the dramatic rather than the comedic, there are very few moments in the second season where there are amusing facial expressions relative to the first season. Hazuki promises to Midori here that she will work her hardest so she can play alongside her and Kumiko, but I suddenly realise that Midori and Hazuki do not figure greatly in my discussion: they were reassigned to more minor roles this season.

  • Asuka’s wish is fulfilled when she learns that her father approves of her performance, and she cheerfully passes leadership of the concert band to the second years. Meanwhile, Kumiko finally comes into the open with her honest feelings, saying she is thankful to Mamiko for inspiring her to take up the euphonium. At this, Mamiko smiles for the first time — she’s beautiful when smiling, reminding me somewhat of Brave Witches‘ Takami (if only for the fact that both are depicted as having proper lips), being a world apart from her usual scowl.

  • The thirteenth episode is the finale, feeling more as an epilogue of sorts as the third years graduate. The band put on one final performance for the third years, and later, Yūko is elected to take on the mantle of being the concert band’s new president, while Natsuki becomes vice-president. The two have a prima facie vitriolic relationship, with Natsuki frequently teasing Yūko, but in spite of this, the two can cooperate and work together when things really matter.

  • It turns out that Hibike! Euphonium provides a cold open both in a literal sense and in terms of the technique used: the first episode opened with Kumiko standing under snowy skies with an old euphonium manual. The finale shows that receives it from Asuka, who entrusts her with it so she may find joy in the euphonium: the light novel and anime’s title comes from 響け, or sound, to suggest that a euphonium’s sound is intended to warm the spirits. By this point, Kumiko’s come to realise that she no longer hates Asuka, having bonded with her through the season’s events, and will be sad to see her go. The ending is a conclusive one, showing that Kumiko’s resolved to continue playing for those around her.

  • When everything is said and done, Hibike! Euphonium is ultimately about the complex interpersonal dynamics and intrapersonal challenges that arise from the congregation of a diverse group of individuals who share a goal of competing at the national level in concert band. This is something that the anime captures exceptionally well. This is the main goal of Hibike! Euphonium, and in the end, romance just isn’t marked as being relevant to the narrative: Hibike Euphonium does just fine without fantasies of Kumiko and Reina, or the newly minted Kumiko and Asuka, neither of which hold any significance to the theme. Misconceptions of the anime notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed Hibike! Euphonium, and with the second season having covered most of the elements in the third and fourth volume, I do not imagine that there will be a continuation.

Distinct from its first season, Hibike! Euphonium continues to impress: aside from engaging characters whose struggles and aspirations are very relatable, the artwork, animation and sound in the anime are of a top calibre. This should hardly be a surprise, since Hibike! Euphonium was helmed by Kyoto Animation. Consequently, the resulting anime is one that earns a strong recommendation for all audiences in being able to immerse viewers in an anime about the life of high school students and their journey towards bringing success to their school’s concert band. Regardless of their reasons for participating and desiring a top place in a national competition, everyone is unified by their love of music and respect for one another. While it is very straightforwards to recommend Hibike! Euphonium, determining whether or not it merits the title of “Best Anime of 2016” is a much trickier one; I will not be making that call, since I do not do “anime of the year” posts on the virtue of not watching enough anime to fairly make an assessment, but I do predict that it will be high on the lists of one of the most-enjoyed anime of 2016, a well-deserved title for a strong story and top-tier execution.

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.

Remarks about the Special: Reina’s outlook is a catalyst for Kumiko’s growth, rather than a genre-defining presence in Hibike! Euphonium

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close-up.” —Chuck Palahniuk

  • The dynamics between Kumiko and Reina have always held a certain appeal to viewers, who felt that their friendship is a bit more close than would be typical in an ordinary friendship. From what I’m hearing, the novels de-emphasise this aspect, and consequently, I’m inclined to believe that KyoAni put these elements together as a means to expedite Kumiko’s growth.

I’ve long held that the minor scruples in Hibike! Euphonium ultimately proved to be minor, nothing worth fixating over in comparison to the anime’s primary objective of having Kitauji’s attaining a gold at competition. This formed the theme of the anime, I stated, simply because the anime was about a high school concert band’s honest efforts to see just how far they could go if they applied themselves to the task. Consequently, all of the conflicts, though with a role in the band’s journey, is not something that merits more detailed analysis. Naturally, some fans would disagree, purporting that these details matter even though the anime eventually resolved these conflicts quietly as Kitauji’s concert band prepares for competition. There is one particular matter that is meritorious of further discussion, dealing with Reina Kousaka’s declaration to be recognised above the others as someone special. When this was made clear, there are unverified claims that Japanese audiences reacted quite strongly to Reina. As per Hofstede’s model of cultural dimensions theory, Japanese culture tends to value collectivism, which is characterised by emphasis on group opinion and relationships, and losing/gaining face (i.e. “my actions can impact the reputation of those around me”). Thus, when Reina expresses explicitly that she wishes to be special, her attitudes are more consistent with those of individualism, where the individual’s own opinions and goals come first, and reputation is tied strictly to the individual (i.e. “my actions only affect how people see me”). This outlook is radically different than what is the norm in Japanese culture, understandably coming across as somewhat of a surprise, but for viewers in North America and Europe, Reina’s actions seem quite normal. However, there are some who erroneously posit her attitudes as being “edgy”, so the goal of this discussion is to explore why “edgy” is not the appropriate word to describe Reina.

Reina illustrates that her mannerisms are quite removed from Japanese norm almost immediately after her introduction, when she plays Amazing Grace after classes let out, before proceeding to yell out at the top of her lungs in frustration after learning Kitauji’s concert band is unfit to play at SunFes. Expression of one’s emotions is less acceptable in Japan relative to North America, but here, she’s visibly disgusted at Kitauji’s band. Typically, Japanese culture dictates that one must maintain their dignity in face of adversity (characterised by the oft-heard phrase “仕方ないがない”, or “it can’t be helped”). Whereas North American culture favours rising to the occasion when faced with challenges, the Japanese prefer to endure suffering, so people tend to go along with things even though it may not be optimal. By immediately presenting audiences with this action, Hibike! Euphonium paints Reina as an individual whose presence is quite pronounced in the Japanese classroom setting. This is later confirmed when she directly tells Kumiko that she desires to rise above the others and be recognised for doing so. Her words certainly carry an individualistic tone, but the manner in which she delivers them also serve to highlight how Reina sees herself. The Japanese language is typically wielded in such a way as to abet saving face, and consequently, there are a lot of particles and terms for providing indirect answers. For instance, if I ask someone whether they’re free to see a movie with me this Saturday, they might decline by saying “土曜日は、ちょっと” (lit. “Saturday is a little [inconvenient]”). Conversely, direct answers are not seen as offensive under most cases in North America, which characterises the culture’s propensity to focus on getting things done. Thus, by being direct to Kumiko, Reina demonstrates on numerous levels that she’s very much an individualist with clearly-defined aims, and the will to achieve her goals even if it means stepping on a few toes.

While Reina’s mannerisms and beliefs are bolder and more forward than what would ordinarily be seen in Japanese culture, this definitely would not satisfy the criterion for what it means to be “edgy” or “dangerous”, both in the context of Hibike! Euphonium and for fiction as a whole. We recall that a particular work or concept is “edgy” if it is avant-garde. Thus, for Reina’s personality to be defining a trend, her presence and actions must either have a substantial impact on the characters around her or motivate similar character designs in other works. While it’s true that Reina does motivate Kumiko to be a better euphonium player and strive for improvement, the other members of the band continue to conduct themselves as they had previously. Quite similarly, characters resembling Reina have been around in anime and light novels for quite some time, and as such, Reina’s forward personality is unlikely to inspire a new trend in light novels. Consequently, Reina cannot be considered as being edgy: though she drives Hibike! Euphonium forwards by inspiring Kumiko, her overall impact is much more limited than is initially apparent (some sources state that Reina’s role in the novels is much smaller). Rather than serving an “edgy” role, Reina’s presence in the anime adaptation of Hibike! Euphonium likely was intended as the catalyst to motivate Kumiko to perform her best in Kitauji’s competition. If this is the case, then my claims will continue to hold true: the minor subtexts and implications of Kumiko’s relationship with Reina notwithstanding, the two’s friendship ultimately serve one purpose, and that is to help Kumiko contribute her best to Kitauji’s performance.

  • This post came about as a response to some claims that Reina was “edgy”, and while my response is a little lengthy, it should clear things up in a satisfactory manner. The elevator pitch of this entire post is that Hibike! Euphonium‘s Reina is by no means edgy, even if her personality is unconventional by Japanese standards.