The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Kyoto Animation

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.

Hibike! Euphonium 2: Reflection and Review After Three

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • I’ll break character for a mere moment and remark that Nozomi’s figure is very pleasing to the eye, before resuming and stating that Kyoto Animation’s attention to detail is impressive. Even in this image, scaled down to fit on the blog, it is possible to discern that there is a slight depth of field effect: Nozomi’s body is a little out of focus as the camera changes its attention to focus on Kumiko in the background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dash, Monoka: Hibike! Euphonium OVA Review and Reflection

“You have to work very hard behind the scenes, to make a message clear enough for a lot of people to understand.” — Stefano Gabbana

So named for the first syllables for three of the senior concert band members who did not make the cut, the Hibike! Euphonium OVA was released with the seventh Blu-Ray volume, following Hazuki’s experiences with her seniors as they practise for improvement and support the main concert band to the best of their ability. All the while, Hazuki is dealing with the aftermath of her attempt to ask out Shuichi, and Monoka’s decision to make individualised good luck charms for every member of the main concert band on the day of their competition. However, oversight leads them to leave the mallets behind, and realising that there’s no other way, Hazuki sprints off to retrieve them, making it just in time as Kitauji is set to go on stage. As a story set during the events of Hibike! Euphonium proper, the Hibike! Euphonium OVA details the events that occur concurrently with those of the main story, illustrating the unsuccessful members as resolved and supportive nonetheless. Far from being resentful or envious of those who had made it in, Monoka’s members are determined to work hard both to ensure another shot at concert band in the upcoming year, as well as to cheer on their fellow band members as they push for a shot at competing in the nationals.

Through its depiction, the Hibike! Euphonium OVA shows that systems in general are much more complex than what is visible. Set between episode eleven and twelve, the OVA shifts perspective to the group who had not made it and therefore, did not have a substantial presence in the final episodes. Between practising on their own and crafting good luck charms, the OVA shows that while Kumiko and Reina might have centre stage, Hazuki’s story merits telling. She comes to learn that, despite not making the cut in auditions, she’s discovered a joy in performing music, and while her involvement with the concert band ends for the present, she and the others nonetheless manage to find ways of continuing their passions for music. The importance of this contribution is highlighted when Hazuki decides to retrieve the mallets herself: though the band might be performing, it’s this singular action that demonstrates her commitment to Kitauji’s concert band. Hazuki’s actions, though not seen in the anime proper, saves the concert band a substantial amount of trouble. They are, in a sense, reminiscent of David Goodsell’s remarks on biological illustrations, that every single structure in one of his illustrations must be supported by other structures that cannot be seen in said image: their lack of visibility is certainly not indicative of a lack of importance.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For this OVA, I rolled with twenty screenshots, roughly distributed evenly to capture all of the moments within the OVA. Immediately, the lighting in the OVA is meant to evoke a sense of what the characters are going through: it’s shortly after these individuals have failed to make the cut for the band, and reflecting on this sort of melancholy, the scenes are permeated with greys. Even so, the girls immediately set about crafting an identity (“Monoka”) and goal for themselves.

  • Shuichi encounters Hazuki trying to carry her tuba and becomes somewhat embarrassed, suggesting that this is a ways shortly after Shuichi turns down Hazuki. On average, an orchestral tuba weighs around 25 to 35 pounds (and with its case, up to 45). While this is not particularly heavy (our lab’s Mac Pros from 2009 weigh 41 pounds and I move those around with reasonable frequency for presentations without difficulty), the fact is that they are quite bulky, and Hazuki’s preferred method of carrying them could result in back problems.

  • Struggling to find the words, Hazuki decides to set aside the past and encourage Shuichi forwards to do his best. Though Hazuki received less screentime as Hibike! Euphonium wore on, we recall that this was a consequence of Hibike! Euphonium having Kumiko as the protagonist: things are told from her point of view and as such, as she spends more time practising, there’s less time to relax.

  • That Hibike! Euphonium managed to work relationships into music was a nice touch: while it was certainly not subtle, it did not detract from music as a whole. After being rejected, Hazuki is struggling with the aftermath: friendships can and do turn a little unwieldy after such, and Hazuki wonders about Shuichi’s feelings for Kumiko, as well as expressing similar thoughts concerning love as I do.

  • Though this might be a mere OVA, Hibike! Euphonium spares no expense to ensure that the landscapes and lighting look as nicely as they did during the TV series, where the amount of detail put into the instruments was nothing short of impressive. Besides bringing all of the settings in the anime to life, the lighting does as much as the dialogue and music to set a particular mood.

  • Owing to its high production values, solid narrative and relatable characters, Hibike! Euphonium was well-received, sharing the spotlight with Shirobako and One Punch Man as one of the top anime of 2015 in the community. It represents one of Kyoto Animation’s finest works for quite some time, although I disagree that Hibike! Euphonium should be treated as “what K-On! should have been”.

  • The rationale for this is simply that the original materials are inherently different: the only thing that Hibike! Euphonium shares in common with K-On! is “music”. Beyond this, the K-On! manga was about a group of friends meeting through light music and eventually, figuring out that their junior is an irreplaceable treasure that made their club meetings special, and the Hibike! Euphonium light novel follows a high school concert band’s desire to see how far an honest effort will take them. Both works have a  different theme and are intended to tell a different story, so the comparison is invalid.

  • Quite honestly, I’m resentful of the society that places so much emphasis on finding someone “perfect” as “soon as possible”, and that single individuals are somehow “incomplete”. The resulting pressure drives people to pursue relationships even if it means hurting others in the process. Hibike! Euphonium, through Sapphire, supposes that pursuit of love is not a wasted endeavour provided that the feelings are genuine: I agree fully, and this is why I don’t ask people out on a whim. The downside is that being rejected here hits for double damage.

  • We’ll set this rather disquieting topic aside and return to Hibike! Euphonium, where we see Monoka shopping for the components required to craft their good luck charms. After the greys earlier in the episode, the warm colours of a sunset bathe Hazuki and Sapphire in a gentle light as the former puts her feelings out into the open. Colour saturation is amped up as Hazuki and the others busy themselves with creating their good luck charms, conveying the positive spirits everyone’s in.

  • Each good luck charm is lovingly constructed to properly capture Monoka’s wish for Kitauji’s band to succeed. I remarked in my review that ultimately, Hibike! Euphonium (or at least, Kyoto Animation’s interpretation of the light novels) suggests that the magic of music is such that the way there is only a part of the journey: once on stage, every struggle, challenge, triumph and memory fades as everyone concentrates on the singular purpose of delivering their best performance.

  • Natsuki’s generally apathetic attitude during the earlier sections of Hibike! Euphonium made her difficult to like, but her interactions with Kumiko allowed her character to mature. Seeing Kumiko’s earnest desire to improve reawakens a side of Natsuki that was lost after the events of the previous year, and despite not making the auditions, she nonetheless fulfils her role as a senior, hugging Hazuki here before imparting some advice. So, I’ve become fond of Netsuki’s character as a result.

  • One of the biggest strengths in Hibike! Euphonium as a whole was the character development; changes amongst the individuals are subtle but noticeable, and characters become more relatable, human, as the series gradually explores what drives their actions.

  • Noticing that Kumiko’s spilt something on her tie, Hazuki helps her switch to a clean one, continuing on with her support role. The OVA consistently reminds audiences that the folks behind the scenes serve just as critical a role as those at the front lines.

  • Though it might be in complete disagreement with what prevailing sentiments about Hazuki are, I feel that this OVA was a solid showcase for her actual character that the main series did not have sufficient time for. Hazuki is a rather likeable character who, despite experiencing her own doubts from time to time, always finds a way to smile nonetheless.

  • Though there may be that uncomfortable feeling between Shuichi and Hazuki, they get by reasonably well and are still on speaking terms with one another. Kumiko and Shuichi’s fist bump prior to their performance was in part motivated by Hazuki’s words of encouragement, and in the light novels, Kumiko and Shuichi eventually begin going out.

  • Hazuki’s message to Shuichi carries a dual meaning, wishing him both luck on his performance at the competition, as well as his pursuit for Kumiko’s heart. While most feel that Reina and Kumiko are the so-called “one true pair”, the light novels did not place particular emphasis on this element. So, for all intents and purposes, it is more natural to see Kumiko and Shuichi work out their differences and come to terms with their feelings to one another.

  • With the full weight of the concert band’s predicament coming to bear, Hazuki decides to leg it back to campus and recover the mallets. This is where the OVA’s title comes from, and the presently-accepted translation for かけです (Romaji: “kakedesu”) is “dash” because of its brevity. “Run” or “sprint” would be acceptable alternatives.

  • In a flashback, Hazuki reveals that if she was given a do-over, she’d pick concert band again, reinforcing Monoka’s overall sentiments about their current situation: they do not regret what has happened and have taken things in stride.

  • One week into 2016, and as predicted, I’ve hit the ground running with respect to being busy, which is why I’ve not been blogging with all that much consistency. Jay Ingram and his band visited our lab on Tuesday to see what research we’ve been conducting: my CAVE models were well-received, as was my thesis work. On Wednesday, I spoke with my supervisor about the remaining details of my thesis, and for the present, I’m working on another conference publication with a deadline on Valentines’ Day. Thursday saw a second presentation to executives from Telus World of Science in Edmonton, and yesterday, I swung by the Core for a hot, delicious bowl of seafood ramen on account of it being the coldest day of this year so far before returning to campus for a TA meeting. Lectures begin on Monday, but for me, my priority will be to get as much of the second conference paper done before term becomes more busy.

  • The OVA ends right as Kitauji takes to the stage and prepares to perform, with Hazuki looking on. Though specific reactions to the OVA have varied, viewers generally found it to be an enjoyable experience that sets the table for the upcoming second season. With this image, the figure captions are done, and I’ll be reviewing Glass no Hana to Kowasu Sekai within a week of its release. With how busy things have been, I imagine that 2016 is only going to intensify, so blogging frequency may fluctuate a little over the next while.

Consequently, while some might feel that Hazuki’s presence was unnecessary, and that the OVA’s contributions to Hibike! Euphonium are somehow inconsequential for being lighter in tone and content, I contend that this OVA is in fact necessary to appreciate the finale of Hibike! Euphonium. While the atmosphere lacks the same gravity as it did during the main season, the feelings and intents Monoka conveys about their passion for music cannot be understated: if this were not the case, Hazuki and the others would not have sufficient concern for their peers to have retrieved the mallets. In this way, they contribute behind-the-scenes to Kitauji’s gold and shot at the nationals. At the end of the day, this OVA’s contributions show that despite not making the cut, Hazuki and the others’ mindset make them more mature and perhaps, meriting a shot to play with the concert band itself in the future. For the present, the main topic on the audiences’ mind is the fact that Hibike! Euphonium is getting a sequel at some point; those who’ve read the light novels will likely already know what it will entail, but it’s not too difficult to surmise that we’ll be seeing Kitauji’s concert band gearing up for the national competition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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