Hibike! Euphonium – 11 Review
I get the feeling that the director or script-supervisor has dictated that each episode-script had to contain at least one romantic scene between Reina and Kumiko with the addition that these two would be getting closer to just making out wildly on-screen with each new episode.
This time I review:
Hibike! Euphonium 11: Kaori and Reina get their showdown. But before that their respective love-interests do the rounds in dealing with the circumstances of this confrontation. Also, the teacher’s cruel ploy ends up working for some reason without anybody realizing just how close they had come to the teacher putting Kaori into a VERY difficult position.
In this series nothing is ever about just music…
I feel like I’m watching a Let’s-Play of a VN here which has various routes you can pursue but at some point the player had decided to pursue the Reina-route and now we see the narrative consequences of choosing that path. Like you get a story explaining how you romanced the object of desire you’ve chosen but everything around that is just there to support that. There’s stuff that was important during the first act but now is suddenly irrelevant as if the VN is saying “Hey, if you wanna find out more about that person or thing, you gotta play the other routes!”. I never stopped considering this series to be a yuri-series because of how it portrayed and focused on Reina’s and Kumiko’s relationship but we’re getting to a point where I want to tell the series to tone it down a bit. On one hand, I get it, they’re supposedly in love (great job never addressing that directly while delivering scene after scene that kinda dances around that obvious message) but on the other hand, the scenes those two share alone feel like they’re happening in a different show. When those two are alone, they’re acting with so much pathos it just reminds you how tepid the overarching story of this series has been so far.
Hibike Euphonium has reached this point where seemingly who the main-character has chosen as a lover is more important than the actual story. I mean, this has always been the series’ constant companion. And it’s the kind of romantic plot where Kumiko’s persistence in paying attention to Reina has automatically led to Reina having always been in love with Kumiko kinda. Sure, one can easily watch this series as a succession of Reina-Kumiko-scenes where the latter falls in love with the former. But Reina’s interest in Kumiko is strange because of how unprecedented it is. You got this character that is all about “I want to be the best! Fuck you all!” and when a former classmate approaches her she’s like “Yeah, you’re really interesting. How about I confess my deepest secrets to you and make you my lover?”. After you have suspended your disbelief for that setup the romance gets better between the two but the series has never really managed to explain where the connection between the two girls’ past is coming from and how this actually effects the events in this series (maybe it will be a finale-reveal but who knows…).
You have to categorize this series as a romance actually because this episode doesn’t pull any punches in how it hints at multiple yuri-romances. And this hinted-at romance is what’s driving this episode symbolically and literally. Kaori’s fangirl is doing the rounds for a “Cry Me A River”-performance and even though her intents in each exchange change, you essentially get the same message a couple times: That fangirl wants Kaori to win but deep down she already knows that Kaori is worse than Reina. And I wish the series would’ve actually focused more on how this trumpet-stand-off could potentially hurt Kaori more than help her. Of course, with the plot being as dense as ever, it just became a throwaway-line.
What this episode has done symbolically is drawing parallels between Kaori’s relationship with her fangirl and Kumiko’s relationship with Reina. Both fangirls are the first to clap for their respective love-interests. And while the two fangirls have their respective moments with their love-interests those scenes are very different in character. In fact, when the club-president is talking with Kaori you get the sense that there’s something going on between Kaori and Asuka. It would explain why Asuka was so anxious the last episode and went out of her way to listen to Kaori’s practice.
If you have seen Asuka in action, it’s pretty obvious why.
In contrast to that you have another very loaded cheesy romance-moment between Reina and Kumiko. I doubt that scene even exists in the novels because at this point Kumiko has turned into a different character. You can call this character-development but for a series whose plothook is whether some random high-school-ensemble will make it to the Nationals, this is a very romance-oriented character-development. Questions like whether Reina is good enough or just how good Kaori is are never up for debate in that scene. Kumiko really is just telling Reina what she needs to hear here. This brings it back to my last episode’s review where I’ve talked about how the behavior of Kumiko and Reina echoes a couple tropes of a stereotypical heterosexual romance. Here again you have Kumiko in the feminine position of talking sense to Reina who has to go out there and accomplish something. Kumiko’s role is purely supportive here but she’s supporting the figure that stands in the limelight and that figure wouldn’t be there without that support.
Talking about characters that need support: Shuichi. Here’s why I feel like I’m watching a route from a VN play out. At some point Kumiko decided to focus on Reina instead of responding to Shuichi’s advances. And because of that Kumiko never helps Shuichi with practicing but at the same time she convinces Reina to not lose on purpose to Kaori. And the series would’ve maybe delved into the teacher’s background, Reina’s love for him and Shuichi’s relationship with Kumiko more if she had chosen differently but those story-tidbits are still there, of course. It just leads to scenes that are slightly different.
This moment where Kumiko hears Shuichi practicing and thinks “I want to get better.” is SO cruel. Look, I get it, she isn’t in love with him but this series still invested a lot of time in establishing them being good friends. Except of course if that whole sarcasm-shtick of Kumiko actually wasn’t an act at all and she was seriously telling Shuichi to fuck off constantly without him ever realizing just how serious she has been all this time with this horrible behavior.
Of course, this would work better if the series had actually committed to having Kumiko as a narrator and having her perspective as the only one we get in this series. But since the series didn’t, you have to distinguish between the omniscient narrator-Kumiko and the her character and you have to constantly suspend your disbelief for just how often Kumiko finds herself in a position where she can eavesdrop on important dramatic conversations. Sometimes the series gets restricted by this format and other times it just ignores the obvious narrative setup for Kumiko as the maincharacter and narrator. You could’ve reduced the denseness of the plot greatly by actually committing to just showing what Kumiko sees and hears.
The teacher’s actions in this episode also could’ve only worked because the writer was on his side. In any other scenario the students might’ve found out just how much of a dick that teacher is. I mean, for a moment there you’d think that him choosing Kaori despite Reina being the better trumpet-player was a merciful choice. But she would go through hell trying to catch up to Reina’s talent for the Nationals and even that might not be enough and I assume, it’s obvious who the students will blame for the ensemble’s failure. That the teacher is setting Kaori up for this without her honestly winning that position is just cruel.
And since this is one of those rare school-animes where teachers are actually relevant to the plot, it’s interesting to look at what this series thinks about teaching. All the yuri-romance is so schmaltzy in this series but at the same time Reina’s romance with Kumiko is closely tied to this ambition to be special. And Kumiko’s just there to support Reina. In addition to being very hierarchal this series wants those high-school-students to be really professional. When Shuichi is asking out Kumiko for a fun date at a festival, he’s asking for the wrong thing in terms of this series. Of course, Asuka & Co get a pass because they pray at a shrine and Midori gets a pass because she’s taking care of her family but Hazuki and Shuichi naturally are losers because they don’t play by the rules! Once again you get an anime with a very competitive understanding of teaching. Of course, it’s hidden by the fact that the losers in this series are always very humble, realistic and whatnot.
And this philosophy is easily shown by how futile this whole thing has been Kaori’s fangirl has started. It even gets kinda depressing just how realistic the series portrays this philosophy with Reina simply being better in every way. Where it gets weird is how you get strangely grounded moments like this while you get romantic Kumiko-Reina-moments that are so schmaltzy that they seem to come from an entirely different universe.
The connections between characters and the chain of causality those create are what drive this series but the series has neither the room nor the time to fully explore this approach. Rather than looking at this as a music-series, the story of this adaptation lends itself more to character-driven short-lived character-melodrama with a focus on a particularly schmaltzy romance. But the series has never found a way to drive the series forward except to suddenly introduce new problems that disappear as quickly as they appear. And so when you get to the Kumiko-Reina-scenes which had gotten constant build-up it feels like they belong to a different show because those scenes are developing into a direction the rest of the series hasn’t caught up with yet. There hasn’t been an episode in this series that I hated but at some point I couldn’t help but react to the end of each episode with a shrug and “Okay, now what…?”. And I had the same reaction this time. I’m interested to see what happens next but there’s nothing here to make me feel excited about what’s coming next.
- In the 9th episode you got this image of Kumiko and Reina “kissing off-screen” and visually you actually get a continuation in this episode. This series has some problems but visually and direction-wise this series nails it when it comes to presenting good character-moments like this one:
Guess somebody has a foot-fetish…
- At this point I simply pity Shuichi for having the worst kind of highschool-life imaginable. The girl who he was in love with turns out to be in love with another girl, he’s falling behind in ensemble-practive and said girl who was also kinda a good friend of his has stopped talking to him altogether.