The Infinite Zenith

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

Tag Archives: Kyoto Animation

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S: Whole Series Review and Reflections

“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.” –Walter Anderson

Tohru decides to work at a maid café and encounters another dragon, Ilulu. After Tohru fights her, Ilulu decides to remain behind and ends up befriending Kobayashi. Ilulu eventually picks up a job at a local candy store and helps return a doll to its owner, while Kanna and Riko spend more time together, and during the summer, Kanna makes a new friend in New York. Shōta learns that Lucoa enjoys his company, although her openness still bothers him. Elma begins settling to her job at the same company Kobayashi works at, but is horrified when she learns that their hours might interfere with her ability to buy time-limited sweets. Over time, Kobayashi learns that Elma and Tohru had known one another for quite some time, as well as the fact that what Tohru had desired most was to live out life on her own terms. At the summer festival, Tohru spends time with Kobayashi and openly admits that she has romantic feelings for Kobayashi. Lucoa later invites the entire crew to a hanami, and Tohru seizes the chance to try and get married with Kobayashi. This is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S, Kyoto Animation’s triumphant return to the television format after the devastating fire at their main studio back in July 2019. Continuing on with the story that the first season had presented four years earlier, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S capitalises on its established cast to push the story in a new direction, all the while retaining all of the stylistic elements that had made the first season so enjoyable. During its run, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S impresses because it is able to cover a wide range of topics, from what constitutes a hobby, to the appreciation of nuances about interpersonal relationships and the importance of having a place to return to. Although Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S never explicitly defines an Aesop regarding these topics, the conversations that spring up are detailed enough to invite viewers to reflect on these questions for themselves; as varied as these topics might be, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S suggests that, through things like Kobayashi coming to realise how much Tohru’s done for her, to Tohru and Elma coming to terms with how they’d supported one another despite always being at odds owing to their factions, there are many things in one’s everyday life that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Despite the plethora of smaller motifs that crop up in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S, the core element within this story is that one benefits most by being true to oneself, irrespective of whatever labels one involuntarily inherits as a result of their birth or on virtue of their station. Tohru might have been born into the Chaos faction, which had sought to annihilate humanity and the gods, but her experiences had led her to wish for a peaceful life, going against her faction’s goals, and pursue life on her own terms. This is what ended up leading her to Kobayashi, and while perhaps a bit bold as a visual metaphor, generally speaking, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S suggests that, in life, people are often pushed in a direction that may not align entirely with their desires. The end result is that one winds up living with regrets that can accumulate over time and fester as feelings of doubt, or even resentment. For Tohru, after seeing the kindness that Kobayashi demonstrates towards her, she begins to accept that humanity as a whole has its merits, and in particularly, has no qualms about following her heart where Kobayashi is concerned. For viewers, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S can be seen as a series encouraging people to do the same, and be truthful to themselves, whether it be one’s life choices or identity. To live life being constrained by labels or assigning labels arbitrarily to others is to deliberately hinder one from being their best. Kobayashi discovered this in her youth; after desiring to wear a maid’s outfit once, she was surprised to learn that no one figured she’d look good in one, and was dissuaded from trying again. However, Tohru indicates that it matters little what others think; if Kobayashi likes wearing maid outfits, then she should do so regardless of what others make of it. Of course, there is a limit, too: Fafnir’s ill-fated attempt at creating a dōjin is hilarious, and here, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S indicates to viewers that while one should be true to oneself, there are occasions where some lines shouldn’t be crossed, either: the key to things is moderation. Although Tohru’s way of living sometimes gets on Kobayashi’s nerves, more often than not, seeing the remarkable ease at which Tohru gets along with other people, and even those of an opposite faction, is comforting to Kobayashi, who slowly opens up and comes to realise that she returns Tohru’s feelings.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The last time I wrote about Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was three years ago: back then, I’d taken this anime up for the Terrible Anime Challenge and found that the first season had definitely earned its reception. Here in the second season, things begin with Ilulu’s introduction, and like Tohru, who initially had a tough time adjusting to life with Kobayashi, Ilulu has trouble understanding why Tohru chooses to hang around with Kobayashi. She wonders if Kobayashi’s managed to seduce Tohru and attempts to mess with Kobayashi by changing her biological sex.

  • However, Kobayashi manages to fight off the problems posed by  this new body, and after sitting Ilulu down to chat with her, succeeds in convincing Ilulu to stick around. It turns out that Ilulu had long been curious about humanity but was discouraged by other Dragons. In the present, Ilulu becomes a regular member of the cast, and in her human form, appears as a petite but stacked girl. However, despite being the same age as Tohru, she ends up finding more joy with the younger members of the cast.

  • As a result, Ilulu ends up spending time playing Monopoly with Kanna, Shōta and Riko, learning that despite her appearances, Kanna is diabolical, and Riko’s so infatuated with Kanna that she’s willing to sacrifice herself to let Kanna win. The character dynamics in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S are as solid as ever, and it was great to see everyone bounce off one another. However, while the youth have fun, Kobayashi learns from Tohru and the others that doing something isn’t about what others think, but rather, what one thinks. This is a recurring theme in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S, to the point where I’m confident in saying that the series is letting viewers know that one should always be true to themselves, and relationships are no different, even if things are unconventional.

  • Beyond its core messages, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid excels with presenting a variety of topics, such as what makes a hobby fun. Tohru initially struggles with the concept before coming to realise that it’s an activity to be pursued for one’s enjoyment – not everything necessarily needs to have merit to society, and so long as one strikes a balance between their responsibilities and interests, having a hobby is fine. Of course, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid indicates that there is a little something called moderation, and hilariously shows what happens the moment Tohru finds something that amuses her.

  • While Elma had joined the company that Kobayashi and Makoto work at to earn the funds needed to buy the sweets she’s become fond of, she ends up being an integral part of the team, as well: Dragons have the ability to trivially master tasks that take humans years to cultivate, but in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, the Dragons’ prodigious skill always end up being used in a hilarious fashion, and the Dragons themselves are more human than they realise. This combination creates much of the comedy throughout the series: Kyoto Animation’s best works have always struck a balance between more moving moments and humourous moments by timing the latter in a way as to release tensions after the former.

  • The end result is that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is able to cover more impactful topics, but then create catharsis by dropping a punchline once the lesson from the topic is conveyed. In other cases, the Dragon’s outrageous abilities are applied to trivially solve mundane problems. For instance, when Tohru helps one of the women from the neighbourhood watch on her rounds, she ends up frightening the living daylights out of some local thugs, and the thugs later regard her as someone respectful, surprising Kobayashi.

  • The Dragons might possess power surpassing humanity’s, but what really keeps things going is their interest in human constructs. Kobayashi takes everyone to an amusement park, and Ilulu is able to spend a fun-filled day with Kanna and Riko. As with the first season, Riko continues to positively melt in pleasure every time she’s with Kanna, and in return, Kanna does seem quite fond of Riko, as well. The pair end up going on several more adventures throughout Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S, and Ilulu herself begins stepping out into the world after Tohru presses her to get a job.

  • The conflict between Elma and Tohru is a longstanding one: neither understood the other when they’d met during medieval times, and while the two have attempted to fight one another to the death on several occasions, their dislike for one another usually manifests in a more human fashion, such as clashing every time they meet. The depth of topics that could be covered regarding Elma and Tohru’s stance on humanity is actually a worthwhile one that could comfortably occupy its own post, speaking to the strength of the writing in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. With this being said, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S is a series that could’ve been written about in an episodic fashion because it touches on such a diverse array of topics. The story that Tohru tells of how she and Elma met, for instance, might be seen as a lesson in theology and humanity’s relationship with religion. Folks who’ve studied this sort of thing in post secondary would find Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid actually has something interesting to say about worship in human civilisation.

  • Similarly, the anime deals with aspects of sociology and pyschology: while touching upon them in the dialogue, the characters’ actions end up saying much about these topics. However, I’m not covering these topics because they weren’t my area of expertise. Instead, while Elma enjoys her sandwich with “indecent enthusiasm”, I can speak to the commonalities between the programming language that Kobayashi’s company utilises: she notices that then language is similar to the spells that Mages in their world uses. While seemingly a minor detail, it suggests that magic in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is Turing Complete (i.e. it can be used to describe a solution for any problem), in turn implying that magic is much deeper than the anime lets on.

  • The more serious or intensive topics in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid are balanced by the fact that fanservice is casually incorporated into the story. Here, Ilulu (unintentionally) embarrasses and flusters Taketo after taking up a job at his grandmother’s candy store by changing out in the open. Watching the characters bounce around in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid stands in stark contrast with these more interesting conversations and creates the sense that while there are serious moments, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid isn’t all serious, either.

  • When the children ask why she’s so stacked, Ilulu indicates that her chest is actually the storage for the organs that generate her fire. The children think nothing more of things, and as it turns out, Ilulu excels at her job, bringing joy to everyone who visits the old candy store. By this point in time, Ilulu’s integrated very well with humanity, and her destructive inclinations are cast aside. Ilulu had always felt a pull towards humanity, and when she’s able to be herself, with people who are rooting for her, she’s at her very best.

  • No individual is an island, and people are shaped by the company they keep: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid indicates that people in good company have the potential to become their best selves, and this is a very encouraging thought. Over time, Taketo comes to understand Ilulu a little better, and even comes to appreciate her helping around the candy shop. Here, Taketo offers to teach Ilulu a trick so she can impress the customers the next time they visit by evening: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has solid artwork and animation befitting of Kyoto Animation, and while their different series have different art styles, one thing that stays consistent in all of their works is the attention paid to detail, as well as the depth of colours in a given scene.

  • One day, Shōta tires of being treated like a plaything and seeks out Lucoa’s weaknesses in the hopes he can hold them as a trump card against her. When Lucoa learns of this, she explains to Shōta that her biggest fear is losing her home, and while she is more than capable of coming and going as she pleases, she stays by Shōta because of his spirit and kindness. The dynamic between Shōta and Lucoa reminds me of what was seen in both Mother of the Goddess’ Dormitory and Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō; both of these series purely utilised the humour of the ensuing chaos, but in Miss Kobayashi‘s Dragon Maid, there is a balance between crude laughs and meaningful moments that allows the anime to be more than merely an ecchi comedy.

  • From rivals to best friends, Kanna and Riko are a fan-favourite. Voiced by Maria Naganawa, who’d also voiced Slow Start‘s Kamuri Sengoku and Laffey of Azur Lane, Kanna is an adorable Dragon whose love for practical jokes led to her exile. In human society, Kanna gets along well with those around her, occasionally uses her abilities to gain an upper hand in an unfavourable situation but otherwise finds that despite being a Dragon, she can learn much from the people around her. Befriending Riko facilitates this, and Kanna comes to appreciate the value of friendship.

  • The pair’s journey to the confluence point between the Motoara and Naka Rivers allow Riko and Kanna to share time together. The anime is set in and around Koshigaya in Saitama Prefecture, and Kobayashi works at the heart of Tokyo. Moreover, Fafnir and Makoto submit works for the Comiket event. The gentle, nostalgic presentation of landscapes and cityscapes alike in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid have a Lucky☆Star and K-On!-like feel to them, creating a sense of nostalgia. Compared to the first season, the improvements in visual are subtle, but still noticeable in that the second season has better reflection and lighting effects, which can be seen on the rivers here.

  • In order to create his dōjin, Fafnir enlists Lucoa’s help by using her as a model of sorts for his sketches. Despite his aloof mannerisms and initial dislike for humans, Fafnir lodges with Makoto and continues on his treasure hunt with Japanese pop culture (i.e. manga and games). For his Comiket submission, Fafnir decides to do a dramatisation of the dynamic between Lucoa and Shōta, but on the day of the event, his work fails to sell, while Makoto and Lucoa both enjoy greater success, speaking to the idea that there’s a gap between what one considers to be treasure, and making something worthwhile for others.

  • The setup in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is such that more introspective stories are given more time, and then a funnier segment is shown right after. In this way, viewers are assured that after the anime says something meaningful, the moment is gently diffused using humour to remind folks that life is a balance of taking things seriously and finding things to smile about. Here, Shōta reacts to finding Lucoa’s submission to Comiket. I do not doubt that viewers would be curious to see this for themselves, but for Shōta, seeing Lucoa in less-than-flattering poses and outfits proves a little too much for him.

  • If and when I’m asked, I’ve always had a fondness for Lucoa: unlike the other Dragons, she’s strictly neutral but gets along with both the Chaos and Harmony factions alike. Further to this, despite her preference for tight-fitting clothing and provocative manner, Lucoa is wise and kind to those around her. Lucoa had previously given some wisdom to Tohru, hence their friendship, and even herea on Earth, she continues to offer Tohru advice, such as how to best look after Kobayashi when she falls ill. While Lucoa might be a little dicey at times, her heart is in the right place, and with this, Tohru is able to help get Kobayashi back to health.

  • While Kobayashi is out with the common cold, Tohru fears the worst and sets off in search of a panacea capable of neutralising all disease while Kobayashi rests. When she returns to Kobayashi, she’s distinctly woebegone after her journey. While Kobayashi has since recovered, she accepts this anyways, realising the extent that Tohru cares for her. It’s a touching moment, at least until it turns out this panacea also transformed Kobayashi into a cat. Each segment of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is broken up by cards that display five symbols, some of which are pertinent to the segment’s messages, and some of which are random.

  • Some folks have felt that these symbols might conceal a hidden meaning behind everything in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, but for the most part, viewers aren’t concerned about any additional messages that the anime might be trying to convey. Here, after Ilulu grows worried when a doll is abandoned at the candy shop, she sets off in search of the owner. With Kobayashi’s help, the owner is found, and she reveals that she’d long to keep the doll but worried about peer pressure, thinking that abandoning it would be the most painless way. It turns out Ilulu has her own story about having done something similar, only to regret it since, hence her determination to get the doll returned.

  • The biggest moments in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid are all related to being honest with oneself, and what one truly wants, rather than giving in to peer pressure. Whether it be something like wearing the clothes one wishes to, holding onto things of great importance to oneself, or pursuing the relationships of one’s choosing, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid encourages viewers to follow their hearts. Consequently, I find that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a fantastic vessel for communicating things like yuri, even more effectively than dedicated yuri series: this is a story that presents a world accepting of things that might be unusual or uncommon, and this acceptance is what leads people to find their happiness.

  • This lesson is certainly applicable to reality; different people will have different preferences, and it is not society’s business to judge others for this. I’ve long held that, so long as people are not actively causing harm to others as a result of their choices or imposing their choices onto others, they can do as they wish, and I’ll accept them all the same. Conceptually, this shouldn’t be difficult to do, so it is a little baffling as to why there is so much of a fuss where others are concerned. All of the Twitter and Reddit wars on these topics are therefore impertinent, and not worth paying any mind to. Back in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, on a summer’s day, Kanna, Riko and Shōta decide to ask Elma to take them on a picnic after Tohru suddenly was called in to work.

  • It is notable that by this point in time, Shōta’s become friends with Kanna and Riko, enough to hang out and converse with them. After cooking up fish and whipping up some curry, Elma gets distracted by how refreshing the creek water is and fails to notice that Shōta’s headed off to search for some magical sources, with Kanna and Riko tagging along. Elma ends up tearing half the forest apart, all the while worrying that Tohru will think of her poorly. When she does catch up to the three, she’s relieved they’re fine, and Tohru is none the wiser. Elma’s overreaction to what she thinks Tohru thinks of her is not dissimilar to how Yama no Susume‘s Aoi tends to imagine Hinata mocking her where in reality, Hinata is unlikely to do so.

  • Tensions eventually reach an all time high between Elma and Tohru; the matter of Tohru leaving unexpectedly has been a bit of a sore spot for Elma, and the pair decide to have an old-fashioned no-holds barred throw-down. Fights between Dragons rival the fight on Titan, when Thanos uses the Power Stone to rip the crust off a nearby moon and throw the pieces onto Titan’s surface to overwhelm Tony Stark, but the fight in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S also allows Elma and Tohru to talk things out. The fight is resolved, the pair leave with a better understanding of one another and accept a dinner invite from Kobayashi. Later, the two look like they’re back at it again, only for it to be a test of resistance to see who could last the longest without laughing after being tickled.

  • When Kanna gets into a disagreement with Kobayashi over something unseen, she decides to get some space and flies off into the night, eventually ending up in Manhattan. This story was particularly charming, and in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S, a series already brimming with heartwarming and enjoyable moments, Kanna’s New York trip was particularly fun to watch. After arrival, Kanna realises that she’s unfamiliar with English and falls back on her magic to quickly pick things up. The remainder of the segment is rendered in Japanese, and Kanna is able to learn from a hot dog vendor that he doesn’t accept Japanese Yen. The sharp-eyed viewer will notice Tohru chilling in the stands here, beside a couple taking a photo together, attesting to Kyoto Animation’s incredible attention to detail.

  • Kanna eventually runs into a girl similar to her in age and saves her from some kidnappers. The girl introduces herself as Chloe and buys Kanna lunch in thanks, before the pair take a tour of New York together. As it turns out, Chloe had also run away from home after some trouble occurred, and after Kanna heads off, the kidnappers manage to catch up to Chloe. Before anything can happen to her, Kanna arrives in time to fend everyone off, before offering to take Chloe home with the aim of having her talk things out with her parents.

  • In doing so, Kanna realises that she should also return home and properly apologise to Kobayashi. Besides giving viewers a chance to check out New York, this episode of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S also indicates that one of the best way to determine on a course of action can be found in helping others out. By speaking with Chloe and offering one course of action, Kanna comes to understand that there are parallels in her situation and Chloe’s. Kanna ends up flying Chloe home before heading back to Japan, but not before inviting Chloe to come visit whenever she has a chance to do so.

  • It typifies Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid ability to make all of their characters so enjoyable to watch: there is no particular group of characters I favour over the others, and everything in this series is entertaining to watch. One element in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid I’ve completely skated over is the music: the opening and ending songs are fun, and while the incidental music is quite ordinary, there are some moments where it shines, as well. The song that plays while Kanna flies Chloe back home, while speaking of how family are the people who will always be there for one, no matter what happens, is a heartwarming one that reminds me of the songs used in a Studio Ghibli work: it’s the first track on the soundtrack and is titled 希望の歩み (“Steps of Hope”).

  • After Kanna returns home, it’s back to the languid and laid-back summer of Japan. On a particularly hot summer’s day, Kobayashi’s got the day off, and she decides to take it easy on this day. With life as busy as it is, I’ve now begun to really appreciate those days where there are no major tasks to finish (ranging from life-related matters like bills and bank appointments, to blogging) , and I am afforded the time to do exactly nothing. Unlike Kobayashi, I tend to spend this idle time with my nose in a good book: over the past few years, I’ve been slowly working on building up my personal library because the public library’s offerings have been on the decline. In fact, it is now easier to buy back the books I read back when I was a student, and the advantage is that I would no longer need to make a drive to the local library for books.

  • In a heart-melting moment, Kanna accidentally spills her barley tea onto her homework and attempts to dry it using a hair-drier. A subtle touch I found particularly nice was the fact that she’s using her tail as the electrical outlet. Kanna possesses an affinity to electricity, and while she can’t regenerate her magic owing to the lack of mana in the air, electrical power replenishes her stores. It is clear that this electric energy can go both ways, and she generates enough power to run a hair-drier. In the end, Kobayashi spots her and helps her clean up.

  • If memory serves, it’s actually quite rare for Kobayashi and Kanna to spend time together, so seeing the two spending a day together was quite refreshing. Quieter moments like these are actually becoming increasingly uncommon in reality, and a ways back, I read about how the ongoing health crisis had one unexpectedly positive effect on some folks: it forced them away from their more hectic and busy lives. Prior to the lockdowns and whatnot, families were focused on juggling multiple extracurricular activities and schoolwork with athletics and community service. As it turns out, parents hold the belief that being busy is a status symbol: it feels good to be getting things done all the time and having things to tell one’s colleagues and friends.

  • When the health crisis shut down these activities, at least 40 percent of Canadian families reported they were spending more time with family in a positive way, and 37 percent of people found the reduced commutes meant they had more time to pursue things they otherwise didn’t have the time to do so. While things are slowly inching towards what they had been prior to the health crisis, more people are considering adopting a more balanced lifestyle, versus trying to pursue full schedules and social status. In retrospect, I led a moderately busy life prior to the health crisis (workweeks were packed, I went to the gym four days of the week and did martial arts on the side, and had enough time left over to blog), but I still found things manageable.

  • As such, once things do pass, I see myself returning to my old routine without too much concern, although I will likely be blogging less in favour of spending time on other pursuits. Back in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Kobayashi enjoys a massage from Tohru after the latter learning about her stiff back from work. The penultimate episode focuses on Kobayashi wondering if she’s worthy of Tohru’s attention, and one day, after Kobayashi is called in to meet her company’s CEO (Shōta’s father and a mage himself), she also ends up speaking with the Emperor of Demise, who explains that he wanted Tohru to find her own way after a lifetime of conflict. In the end, Tohru opens up to Kobayashi and reveals that, fed up with the conflict between the Chaos and Harmony faction, went to fight the gods on her own, but was impaled and ended up back on Earth.

  • Having found her happiness with Kobayashi, Tohru no longer feels compelled to be someone she’s not: throughout Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S, Tohru is much more receptive of humans and makes a more sincere effort to understand them. In the process, she also develops more human-like traits. When Kobayashi teases her by using a counting-out rhyme to pick a kimono for Tohru, Tohru responds by picking the opposite one Kobayashi landed on. The finale is a fitting one for the series, seeing the characters visit a summer festival before partaking in a very special hanami session.

  • On the night of the summer festival, after learning there’s a line for omurice at Tohru’s stall, she panics and laments missing out on the host of other summer festival foods. Elma’s penchant for foods is unmatched, and while she has a serious disposition, her weaknesses with food means that others can buy her out easily by promising to treat her to something. Having grown familiar with Elma’s traits, Tohru promises to save her some omurice, and here, I will remark that today is Halloween. It’s also grown cold, befitting of the weather this time of year; on Friday, we had our first snowfall of the year, and yesterday, I decided to go for a stroll in the snow-covered woods nearby, headed in to get my MacBook Pro recycled and wrapped the day up with a delicious dinner of our usual favourites (sweet and sour pork, fried tofu, seafood and chicken, seafood and Chinese broccoli, and a beef and daikon dish).

  • We’re not expecting anyone for Halloween tonight on account of the neighbourhood being an older one, but I am looking forwards to my customary Halloween KitKat and sitting down to my two favourite Halloween specials, Garfield’s Halloween Adventure and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, later this evening. Back in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S, Riko and Kanna head off, as do Ilulu and Taketo, and Shōta and Lucoa, leaving Kobayashi and Tohru alone to take in the summer festival’s sights together. When the fireworks begins, Tohru attempts another kokuhaku with Kobayashi, but Kobayashi laughts things off, shocking Tohru. During the summer festival, each of the pairs speak about matters dear to them: Kanna and Riko wish to spend more time with one another, Taketo and Ilulu comment on how it’s okay to be childish every so often, and Shōta and Lucoa speak on their world’s differences.

  • Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S ends with a beautiful hanami party set in a special place known only to Dragons: the event was hosted on Lucoa’s suggestion, and Tohru’s got a few special events planned out for the day. This represented a superb way to bring the second season to a close by allowing everyone to unwind and bounce off one another away from their day-to-day lives; for Tohru, it’s also a chance to soften Kobayashi up to see if her feelings are returned. By the end of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S, Kobayashi has certainly opened up, although it looks like it’ll take more than a peaceful atmosphere and with a few drinks in her to get Kobayashi to be entirely honest about how she feels regarding Tohru.

  • There is no denying that after Tohru arrived in Kobayashi’s life, things have certainly been more colourful and eventful; Kobayashi certainly never expected to have such experiences, and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S is yet another example of how chance encounters can completely alter the course of one’s life in unforeseen, rowdy and more often than not, positive ways. This speaks to how things like romance and friendship can suddenly come out of the blue, and it is evident that despite her words indicating otherwise, Kobayashi does return Tohru’s feelings (although at this point, not quite to the point where she’s willing to partake in a wedding).

  • Overall, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S is a solid A (4.0 of 4.0, or 9.0 of 10 for the folks familiar with the 10-point scale): it’s a triumphant return to form for Kyoto Animation, being a strong all-around performance that shows the studio has not only endured, but found a way to carry on in spite of tragedy. While Kyoto Animation’s future remains somewhat uncertain, I do hope that they will continue producing anime with the level of quality and integrity that they do: Kyoto Animation stands apart from other studios for treating staff well, which in turn is reflected in the fact that their works are consistently excellent.

  • The ending to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S is well-chosen, showing that heading into the future, while Kobayashi’s likely to find herself subject to more of Tohru, Kanna, Elma, Lucoa and Fafnir’s misadventures, she’s come to enjoy them as well; while initially exasperated at Tohru’s attempt to marry her, while escaping from the proceedings, she also smiles, indicating that she has accepted and embraced the fun that comes with the craziness of having Dragons around. However, just because this marks the end of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S proper does not mean things are at an end just yet; in the new year, an OVA accompanying the home release will become available, and I rather look forwards to seeing that, too.

Sporting the iconic Kyoto Animation style, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S is simultaneously a continuation to their successful run of 2017’s Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and a respectful tribute to the 36 lives that were lost in the terror attack back in 2019. The quality of the artwork and animation in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S are of the standards Kyoto Animation is known for: backgrounds are detailed, water and lighting effects look photorealistic, and the animation is smooth, making use of creative camera angles and perspectives to capture everything from the intimate moments Tohru and Kobayashi share, to the scope and scale of destruction whenever dragons clash. In spite of the tragedy, Kyoto Animation’s staff evidently put their hearts and souls into making Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S a successful anime: I noted this in an earlier discussion for Violet Evergarden: The Movie, but it is worth reiterating that actions like these are the best form of revenge. The terrorist responsible for such heinous actions had sought to inflict death unto Kyoto Animation for a perceived slight, with the aim of gaining notoriety, and so, by rising above and beyond this unfortunate incident, their staff have demonstrated commendable resilience. Violet Evergarden: The Movie and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S show that their current staff continue to honour the fallen by doing their best work. The sum of the themes in these two works after the fire implore viewers to keep moving forwards and be true to oneself; together, both works remind people of the importance to continue pushing forwards no matter how difficult it gets. In particular, because Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S was written as a comedy, Kyoto Animation is also indicating to viewers that despite what happens, making the most of the present and seizing the future gives people something to look forward to, and smile about.

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.

Koe No Katachi (A Silent Voice): Movie Review and Full Recommendation

“Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person.” —Tennessee Williams

As an elementary student, Shōya Ishida and his classmates relentlessly bullied Shōko Nishimiya, a deaf girl who had transferred into his class. When she transferred out of their school shortly after, his friends made him a scapegoat, leading to his isolation throughout middle school and high school. By this point, Shōya has learned sign language and seeks to make amends, seeking to return her notebook that he’d retained, but when it falls into the river and Shōya jumps in to retrieve it, he is suspended from school following Shōko’s sister, Yuzuru’s posting it online. His heart set on rectifying his past transgressions, Shōya helps Shōko reconnect with Sahara and brings everyone back together for a day at the amusement park, but Miki later reveals Shōya’s past, prompting him to come forwards with how he’d felt about the whole situation. Shōko grows distressed, feeling she is personally responsible for what had happened to Shōya and attempts to commit suicide by jumping off her apartment’s balcony, but Shōya saves her, falling from the balcony and lapsing into a coma. During this time, Shōya and Shōko’s mothers reconcile, and when Shōya reawakens, he finds Shōko, explaining to her that the consequences of his actions during elementary are his responsibility to bear. When their school’s cultural festival begins, Shōya attends with his friends, feeling he’s finally found redemption and solace. At least, this is the simple summary of Koe no Katachi‘s film adaptation of the manga of the same name. Released in September 2016 with a runtime of 130 minutes, this film’s home release came out ahead of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name back during May, and having watched it, this is a movie with an exceptionally strong story, following the ins and outs surrounding Shōya’s path to absolution from his transgressions.

Being at the heart of Koe no Katachi, Shōya’s redemption is the single theme in the movie: Koe no Katachi is meant to illustrate that past mistakes are not so easily forgiven or forgotten, but through Shōya, also demonstrate that individuals are not static entities. Clearly remorseful of his cruelty to Shōko, Shōya persists in setting things right even as circumstances continue to transpire against him, setting him back. This stands in stark contrast with his persistence in bullying Shōko during his childhood; as a child, Shōya is evidently a highly unpleasant individual, but his own suffering drives him in a different direction, bringing about a profound change. These changes are presented through his actions, rather than his appearance, and his determination to right wrongs with Shōko is particularly encouraging to watch, showing how even the most hideous of actions can be forgiven with sufficient persistence towards what is right. By the film’s end, he manages to overcome a long-standing challenge in addressing other people, and the changes in his character are noted by some of his peers, who can once again count him as a friend. Shōya’s change is further accentuated by his juxtaposition with Naoka Ueno; in their childhood, they bullied Shōko together primarily because Naoka held feelings for Shōya, longing to earn his attention. While Shōya’s definitely seen the error of his ways and have changed, enduring and doing his utmost to make amends even as his classmates and adults attempt to tear him down, Naoka continues to resent Shōko, going to the lengths of insulting her, refusing to understand her situation and even beating her down physically following Shōya’s hospitalisation. If Shōya is meant to epitomise understanding and change, then Naoka represents a stubborn refusal to improve: she’s intended to evoke hostility in audiences to further emphasise just how far Shōya has come. The sum of his actions in the present and understanding of his actions as a child culminate to form an individual who’s plainly a better person, allowing Koe no Katachi to craft a direct and brilliant tale of redemption.

Following Koe no Katachi‘s release, Makoto Shinkai himself remarked that this film is “fantastic piece of work” and a “polished and grand production” that possessed finess surpassing his own films. While perhaps speaking to Shinkai’s humility and ever-present drive to improve, his remarks also mirror the element that allows Koe no Katachi to be such an effective film: Koe no Katachi is polished precisely because it focused on a single element in Shōya’s redemption. This allows the film to explore in an in-depth fashion the intricate emotions that arise when an individual sets out on such a journey. All of the characters in Koe no Katachi feel authentic, reacting to situations with the same fluidity and naturalness as humans to create a world whose characters come to life. From the tears that are shed to smiles shared, emotions in Koe no Katachi are finely crafted to showcase the spectrum of feelings that Shōya, Shōko, their parents and their classmates come about as a consequence of Shōya’s choices. Shinkai, when speaking of this polish, is referring to this strength of execution in Koe no Katachi: the movie’s greatest strength is being able to follow Shōya in such detail and granularity to really present emotions as we know them. Consequently, if Your Name‘s strength was the scale of the narrative, then Koe no Katachi is equally as impressive for being able to bring so many elements from its story to life owing to its concentration on a single, yet powerful idea.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I have a bit of a confession to make: one of the reasons why this review was so long in the making was primarily because I had a bit of a writer’s block in trying to come up with things to discuss for the figure captions, despite there being a paltry thirty – thirty screenshots is the standard for movie reviews, but the unique nature of Koe no Katachi meant it was quite difficult to decide what I would say for the moments that are included in this discussion. It makes sense, though, to introduce Shōko, in the foreground, and Shōya. Their given names are remarkably similar, meant to emphasise their connection in the context of Koe no Katachi.

  • In Koe no Katachi‘s opening flashback, Shōya relentlessly bullies Shōko. His character’s design and appearance, coupled with the actions, immediately paint him as a troublemaker, someone unfavourable and unlikeable. He’s sitting beside Naoka Ueno, a classmate with a minor crush on him and so, participates in the bullying. Despite looking like Hibike Euphonium‘s Reina Kōsaka  and even K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama, Naoka is definitely not a sympathetic character and in fact, can be seen as the catalyst for Shōya’s actions, egging him on. The bullying reaches a climax when Shōya forcibly removes Shōko’s hearing aids, causing her to bleed from the ears.

  • The incident eventually leads Shōko to transfer away, and Shōya is made scapegoat for the incident. A despicable character by all counts, Shōya’s character as a child brings to mind my bullies of old, who would pull similar tricks. The bullying would dissipate with time, as I became more social from a growing command of English: I suspect that my weak English skills, in making it difficult to communicate with others, resulting in misunderstandings not unlike Shōya’s frustration at being unable to communicate with Shōko properly. This realisation comes out of the blue, and I think that I can forgive my old bullies now, having determined what the likely cause was.

  • After her hearing aids are damaged, Shōya’s mother steps up to compensate Shōko’s mother. The two are polar opposites despite their similar backgrounds; Shōya’s mother is loving and caring, supporting Shōya even when the world turns him away, while Shōko’s mother is cold and bitter, a result of her marriage failing when her husband’s family influenced him into leaving.

  • Raw emotions are at the forefront of all things in Koe no Katachi: the movie is open and honest in how the characters feel about one another, as well as themselves. In this manner, Koe no Katachi, who presented Shōya in a very unfavourable light, sets itself up to show audiences just how much he’s changed and persuades viewers to give him a chance. His subsequent actions stand in stark contrast with his appearance, and in time, audiences will come to empathise with Shōya, rooting for him as he tries to right things with Shōko.

  • In the present, resolute on setting things right, Shōya attempts to befriend Shōko and make an honest attempt to understand her, even learning sign language in the process. One of the unique aspects about Koe no Katachi from a visual perspective is that the movie makes extensive use of depth-of-field and chromatic aberration effects in an image’s peripheries to give the sense that it is being captured from an older camera. The visuals bestow upon Koe no Katachi a very distinct feeling that is overt in some places, and subtle in others, mirroring Shōya’s perspective on the world.

  • After saving Tomohiro Nagatsuka’s bike from would-be thieves, Shōya finds in Tomohiro an admiring companion willing to come to his aid despite knowing very little about him; in a manner of speaking, Tomohiro is similar to Shrek‘s Donkey in that both respect the protagonist for having done them a good deed and following them around after. In my books, the definition of friendship is a relationship between two individuals built around unconditional trust and support: friends are there for the people they care for in tough times and share in their happiness during good times.

  • Initially masqurading as Shōko’s boyfriend, Yuzuru is revealed to be Shōko’s younger sister, fiercely protective of her sister and doing her utmost to will Shōko to keep living in her own manner, even despite a lack of care from their mother. With a deep-seated hatred of those who bullied Shōko, Yuzuru and Shōya initially do not get along well despite Shōya’s efforts, but over time, she comes to accept Shōya. Watching all of the relationships change over time in Koe no Katachi was remarkably rewarding; the changes are a sign that in some cases, even the most rockiest of starts and wretched of people can reconcile and cooperate once they understand one another.

  • The turning tide in Yuzuru and Shōya’s interactions follows after she captures an image of him jumping into the river to retrieve Shōko’s journal, which leads to his suspension from school. In spite of this action, Yuzuru is surprised that he is not even mad about the turn of events. He reveals that he does not feel himself to have suffered in full for his past actions against Shōko, and learning of his sincerity, Yuzuru begins to regard Shōya with reduced hostility. One of the pastimes that Shōko has is feeding birds, and Shōya, longing to befriend Shōko, takes this activity up as well; he occasionally buys bread and visits Shōko.

  • Yuzuru plays with Maria, daughter of Shōya’s older sister and a Brazilian fellow. The cast of Koe no Katachi‘s manga is quite large, and the plot is more intricate, with a movie being at its core, but the animated film of Koe no Katachi is much more concise, dropping the film narrative entirely and focusing on Shōya’s changing relationship with Shōko. Despite these omissions, the film is a powerhouse whose main strength is being able to so thoroughly explore a youth’s journey towards reconciliation and redemption. Such stories typically are more epic in nature, but in Koe no Katachi, the journey is set in the realm of reality – the dæmons that Shōya face are ultimately his own.

  • With all of the efforts that Shōya has made towards befriending Shōko, Shōko attempts kokuhaku, but because of her speech impendiment, Shōya believes she is talking about the moon (suki vs tsuki). People who are deaf can acquire spoken language to varying extents depending on their education and when their deafness occurred. Voiced by Saori Hayami (Tari Tari‘s Sawa Okita, and Aoyama Blue Mountain of GochiUsa), Shōko speaks in broken Japanese, struggling with pronunciations; her command linguistics are consistent with being born deaf, yet another indication of the sort of effort that went into creating Koe no Katachi.

  • In her teens, Naoka’s resemblance to Reina is reinforced ever more strongly. As Koe no Katachi was helmed by Kyoto Animation, the film’s characters derive traits from Hibike Euphonium. However, Naoka, despite her similarities in appearance, is quite unlike Reina: the former is a stern, hard-working trumpeter who expresses concern for her friends in her own manner, while Naoka is a self-centred and conceited individual, refusing to understand Shōko. Of all of the people that Shōya reconnects with, she is the only person to continue bullying Shōko even after all this time, wondering why Shōko never fights back against her bullies.

  • When Shōya and the others visit an amusement park, he realises that it is a joy to be doing things that friends are normally able to do before things start going south once Naoka meets up with Shōko. I remark here that I’ve been referring to every character by their given name, even though in the film, everyone refers to one another by their family names. As much of a disconnect as there is in writing my reviews, I am following North American conventions for naming people in a casual setting and as my reviews are more casual in nature, I will use given names even though I’d gone through the film hearing everyone’s family names instead.

  • Naoka’s actions cause Shōya to begin ignoring her; throughout Koe no Katachi, blue x’s are used to illustrate the fact that Shōya cannot look others in the eye and ignores them. Kyoto Animation’s interpretation of these x’s are artistically done, as the pulsate and move around slightly to give them a hand-drawn feel. Popping out from the scenes, they do much to convey to audiences how Shōya feels about those around him, giving viewers a very clear sense of who Shōya is able to make eye contact with throughout the film. It is later revealed that Naoka continues to physically and verbally abuse Shōko.

  • When Miki Kawai exposes Shōya’s past to the others, it creates a rift amongst the friends that Shōya had gained while trying to help Shōko. The class representative back when they were elementary students, Miki is solely driven by her own aspirations and does not hesitate to throw people under the bus for her own gain, believing in her superiority over others. She as feelings for Satoshi Mashiba, a fellow classmate who is generally kind to Shōya but grows disapproving upon learning of Shōya’s action in the past, having been bullied himself.

  • Shōya eventually confronts the others about their actions and how no one present is really guilt-free for what happened to Shōko during their elementary school days, acknowledging that he too shoulders the burdens of his past actions. His words hit the others hard, although Koe no Katachi shows that words alone don’t really mean much against actions. By this point in the movie, the changes beginning to manifest in Shōya are becoming apparent, although Naoka herself remains quite unchanged from her past self. Immensely unlikable and unpleasant despite her appearance, Naoka is intended to represent individuals who remain trapped in the past, and while it is true that people can change over time, there are others who persistently cling to their memories.

  • As Koe no Katachi progresses, Shōya spends an increasing amount of time with Shōko, travelling to the countryside and exploring together. He is able to help Shōko experience a quantum of happiness during this time, although his actions also drive Shōko to become, ironically, unhappy – she blames herself for everything that’s happened to Shōya and his friends.

  • Because of his actions previously, Shōko’s mother despises Shōya, but consents to allow him to stay when he helps Shōko bake a cake on her birthday. One of the joys about Kyoto Animation’s strongest works has always been how they can make audiences to empathise with cold and unfriendly characters – by presenting their changes over time in response to the different events around them, it shows the characters as being willing to learn, giving them a human sense. Of course, not every Kyoto Animation anime does this: characters remain quite flat in things like Lucky Star and K-On!, but other of their works, such as CLANNAD and Hibike! Euphonium, excel at creating characters audiences come to care for.

  • Koe no Katachi‘s rising action comes full throttle at a summer festival; while deeply enjoying the moment and the fact she’s able to spend time with her family after everything that’s occurred, it is here that Shōko is overwhelmed by her guilt. Under the pretense of returning home to retrieve something while a fireworks display is in progress, it is here that Shōko decides to commit suicide, drawing parallels with Shōya, who considered suicide but ultimately backed down. Unlike Shōya, Shōko had every intention of following through.

  • It is only through Shōya’s timely intervention that Shōko is saved, and in this moment, Shōko realises that people do care for her, promising to do better for Shōya’s sake. However, the cost of this effort in saving Shōko is that Shōya himself falls into the river: unlike Bruce Wayne, who managed to save Raʾs al-Ġūl (masquerading as Henry Ducard), Shōya’s in a bit more of a difficult position and only just manages to pull Shōko up from the balcony.

  • The fall Shōya sustains causes him to lapse into a coma. Naoka later reveals that Kazuki Shimada and Keisuke Hirose, Shōya’s former best friends, were the ones who pulled him from the river, despite their presently less-than-cordial relationship. I remark here that Koe no Katachi is a film whose review could have easily been the same size as that of my Your Name review, as there is so much to discuss regarding the rationale behind each character’s actions, and whether or not some actions can be justified.

  • In the aftermath of Shōya’s admission to a hospital for his injuries, Shōko’s mother and Yuzuru express their apologies at what’s happened out of guilt despite reassurances from Shōya’s mother that things will be alright. The part of the movie that does not sit well with me, attesting again to excellence in the movie’s execution, is the fist fight that breaks out between Shōko’s mother and Naoka. Even at this point in time, Naoka continues to be, for the lack of a better phrase, an irredeemable piece of shit. In the manga, she later takes on a modelling job with Miyoko Sahara, a tall girl. Nothing befalls Naoka in either the film or the manga, and while this leaves loose ends, it’s also a part of reality: the number of instances where assholes can get away with atrocious behaviour is mind-boggling.

  • When Shōya finally reawakens, the first person he encounters is Shōko. Openly apologising to her for his actions in their childhood, Shōya reminds Shōko that he bears responsibility for his own suffering, and that Shōko had nothing to do with his isolation after she transferred out. He also expresses that he understands her situation, hence his longing to be with her, helping Shōko to live normally. In finally doing what he had set out to do, this moment between Shōya and Shōko marks the film’s climax.

  • Shōya returns to school in time for the cultural festival. Koe no Katachi and Your Name, two powerhouse films from summer 2016, have been compared against one another to a nontrivial extent on the ‘net owing to both films’ superb execution, moving story and exceptional artwork. From a purely box office gross perspective, Your Name comes out on top, but when one delves into the narrative, there are enough differences for me to say that both films have their own merits, and from my own subjective perspective, both films are worth watching for their own strengths.

  • If and when I’m asked, I would say that Koe no Katachi and Your Name share the relationship between Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Interstellar. While this initially comes across as being a very unusual comparison, the reasoning for this is mainly because, like Koe no Katachi and Your Name, both of Dunkirk and Interstellar have unique points that make them enjoyable. In particular, like DunkirkKoe no Katachi is focused on a very specific idea (the former deals with three unique perspectives during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, while the latter is entirely about Shōya’s journey of redemption). Both movies excel in their use of emotions and cues in the environment to convey how the characters are feeling to audiences, from the visceral fear and uncertainty in Dunkirk to the regret and determination of Koe no Katachi.

  • Shōko finally lets loose an insult directed at Naoka, doing so with a smile on her face, before they part ways. With the comparison done for Dunkirk and Koe no Katachi, the parallels between Interstellar and Your Name are easier to draw: for one, I’ve already remarked on the similarities of one of the thematic elements in both films earlier. Both films are set on a large scale, covering a variety of topics during their narrative, and are unparalleled in terms of their visual fidelity: Your Name is immediately recognisable for its distinct rendition of Comet Tiamat, as well as Makoto Shinkai’s masterful artwork. Similarly, the super-massive black hole, Gargantia, in Interstellar remains one of the film’s most iconic components. Much like how Your Name attempts to strike a balance between the science and the body-switching phenomenon, Interstellar was written within terms outlined by Kip Thorne: the realm of physical laws must not be departed from.

  • Ultimately, I cannot say that I enjoyed Interstellar or Dunkirk over the other, so in that vein, I did not enjoy Koe no Katachi over Your Name and vice versa: both films are exceptional to watch and highly entertaining with powerful merits backing each. My end recommendation is to watch both. Of course, these are merely my own thoughts: many folks enjoyed Your Name for its riveting performance and vivid colours, while others still find Koe no Katachi to be more touching for its strong focus on characterisation.

  • The dénouement in Koe no Katachi is bright and cheerful: Shōya finally comes to feel that he has found redemption, and the x’s peel away from the people surrounding him en masse, bringing the film to a close. The manga continues in illustrating the dramatic changes: his and Shōko’s mother become friends, accepting Shōya and expressing her thanks that he and Shōko have become friends.

  • After high school, Shōya has become more sociable, and when they visit their elementary reunion, is shown hand-in-hand with Shōko, implying that he’s come to understand how she feels about him. The events of the manga are more protracted and intricate, but in film form, Koe no Katachi has done a fantastic job of capturing the theme of redemption with its visuals. Taken together with the manga, Koe no Katachi shows just how dramatic this change can be: Shōya’s rough start with Shōko transition into an awkward friendship from which love blossoms.

  • As it turns out, while it was quite tough to get the Koe no Katachi review rolling, once I actually started, things began to become a little easier as I warmed up. It helps that I’ve seen Dunkirk, which provided a bit of inspiration for diving into the themes and execution when I began considering Christopher Nolan’s two most recent feature-length films. I finished Koe no Katachi early in July, and a bit more than a month after I drafted out the review, this post is finally finished. As a bit of amusement for readers: compare and contrast my description of Naoka in the figure captions against those of the actual paragraphs. Thanks for reading!

Koe no Katachi is something that merits a strong recommendation for anime fans and folks unfamiliar with anime alike. The powerful story, in covering a full spectrum of emotions, is well worthwhile simply because it shows that people can and will change, and that this effort is met with reward. In conjunction with Kyoto Animation’s typical mastery of visual and aural elements, the film is a remarkable experience for the senses. Granted, as an adaptation of the manga, liberties were taken with the narrative (the film omits Shōya’s attempts to make a film, and also the aftermath of Shōya’s redemption, when he becomes more sociable and counts Shōko as a dear friend), but Koe no Katachi nonetheless manages to smoothly craft a succinct film from the manga. With director Naoko Yamada at the film’s helm, Koe no Katachi showcases the sort of mastery that can be borne out of a film whose narrative is concise but well-executed: movies need not always feature dramatic moments, complex narratives and obscure symbols to provoke discussion amongst viewers. Even the simplest of things in life, the seemingly unassuming journey of a high school student, can be immensely intricate and merit exploration; at this, Koe no Katachi simply excels, weaving superior artwork, sound and narrative together into an entity that keeps its audiences engaged for the film’s entire duration.

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.