Hibike! Euphonium – 12 Review
Kumiko’s putting her warface on.
This time I review:
Hibike! Euphonium 12: Kumiko didn’t care about music or playing the Euphonium. And still she played the Euphonium because everybody needs a hobby, right? Losing or winning were just two different sides of a coin she flipped as if it was the business of luck alone what would happen. But all that changed as she met Reina again and this time anything other than winning is unacceptable. Because this time it’s personal.
Sure, ten days before the competition you ask a section of your ensemble to learn a new part to play. Because that’s a reasonable thing to expect from a high-school-ensemble.
This isn’t necessarily one of the show’s best episodes but it’s the one which shows a clarity of vision few of the other episodes in this series share. What always has plagued this series until now was a discomforting sense of uncertainty. Again and again you would get one story-beat after another in this series and you would wonder: “What for? What’s the point?” And it has taken this show 12 episodes to finally get an episode focused enough to actually answer those questions. The answer is that this show has always been about Kumiko discovering the meaning of commitment and ambition.
What this episode has shown more clearly than any other episode is how all the previous stories and character-moments have been a setup for Kumiko to confront her own failings and then realize why she has to overcome these. But more than that, the reason why Reina is really so important to Kumiko is that one, she provides Kumiko with the mystery of why she cried back then when they didn’t win and two, she serves as a role-model for how Kumiko should behave. So when Kumiko is getting closer to Reina in this series it’s because of Kumiko getting closer to understanding why Reina cried and at the same time she learns to empathize with Reina’s ambition and passion.
The story of Aoi, that one girl, who left because she had wanted to study for college-entrance-exams instead, that senpai trying to win the audition (despite knowing how small her chances had been to win against Kumiko), the story of how the ensemble from the last year had this conflict between students who didn’t have any ambitions and those who wanted to win competitions: It was all there to serve as stepping-stones for Kumiko to get closer to understanding Reina and to sympathize with her philosophy. So you reach this episode and Kumiko all of a sudden realizes that more than just having learned to understand this philosophy, she’s now driven by it.
What makes this episode work is the restraint the episode shows in actually focusing on Kumiko’s perspective. Also, thematically the episode is also far more focused than the other episodes because all the dialogues and the voice-over-narrative are tethered to this one problem of Kumiko struggling to keep up with the demands of the teacher. For once, the story actually gets somewhere because we only follow Kumiko who experiences an important moment of character-development at the end of the journey that is this 12th episode.
With all that said, there are a couple things in this series that seems superfluous or(potentially) extraneous. The big elephant in the room is of course the question of romance in this series. If you look at the role Reina is supposed to play here and then look at what this adaptation has turned her interactions with Kumiko into, then this adaptation has to offer a really committed yuri-romance-plot. The series’ relationship with this relationship can be best described as “pushy”. You get one scene after another of not only showing Kumiko and Reina becoming friends but the series goes out of its way to emphasize just HOW close those two are. Like, in this episode when Kumiko gets her phone back you don’t just get a quick line from Kumiko that Reina has called, no, you get to see the screen showing us that apparently Reina has been non-stop-trying to call Kumiko. Or in the previous scene it isn’t just enough that Kumiko wants Reina to get the solo-part but it turns into this sentimental scene characterized by trust and devotion. When it comes to these two this adaptation always goes the extra mile to make the scene more emotional. But the thing is: It isn’t necessary.
Kumiko is interested in and admires Reina because deep down she wants to be her but she doesn’t know why she should be like Reina and this whole series is her finding the answer to that. But when this adaptation is intensifying the weird dynamic these two have, you just get to see a Kumiko enamored with Reina and a Reina who blindly trusts Kumiko and constantly leans on her for emotional support. The series hasn’t just bringing them gradually closer over the course of the series, it has also kinda added an element of escalation to it. Thematically there’s no need for this to be a yuri-romance and it’s actually even more fitting if it were a friendship but this adaptation seemingly has made it its mission to give the Reina/Kumiko-relationship a far bigger (and differently characterized) role than it should have. This adaptation has invested SO much time in showing off how close Reina and Kumiko have become that it has to commit to this relationship being more important than just being a friendship crucial to the themes of the story.
But while with the romance you can at least accuse the series of adding an extraneous element, other stuff simply seems superfluous. In the previous episode Reina and Kaori redo their audition for the solo-part and the series never hides the fact that Reina is the better trumpet-player. If the story is supposedly all about Kumiko figuring out the meaning of ambition and commitment, then why does she stick around Reina instead of searching out Kaori to sort-of investigate why she even bothers to test her skills against Reina again. But Kumiko doesn’t need to do that because thematically the series actually already had covered that before when Kumiko had this scene with that senpai Natsuki who admitted that with this ambitious mood in the ensemble she just wanted to do her best but she knew that she wouldn’t be better than Kumiko and therefore she had no problem with the results. When Kaori refuses to play the solo-part, the idea behind it is essentially the same. In the same way Aoi, that girl which left the ensemble to concentrate on her studies, is the same as Kumiko’s sister in terms of what she thematically represents to Kumiko. You could easily merge those two into the same character and let it be Kumiko’s sister who tells her that she doesn’t regret giving up on music. Also, you could cut out the scene between Kumiko and Natsuki and just give Kaori when she refuses the solo-position a short speech mirroring what Natsuki said to Kumiko. From a characterization-perspective this stuff makes sense but in a 1-cour-series it would have made more sense to save time by cutting out characters or certain scenes that thematically don’t necessarily add to the story or repeat ideas which get expressed by other characters or scenes, too (I mean, the series already kinda cut Shuichi out of the story).
One of the most basic techniques is the “setup –> payoff”-pattern. You say something about “a” and later a will inform some decision, event and/or action. A lot of this series density comes from the script almost constantly zipping around with setting stuff up and delivering pay-offs from earlier stuff. And when you then see an episode like this one, you see what the series should be really like pacing-wise. But this series never stays focused enough to be concise with its themes. Instead there’s constantly stuff happening but Kumiko is just there as a witness or someone who just supports Reina from the sidelines. This series takes far too long to reach this stage where Kumiko isn’t just admiring Reina but also wants to be like her.
There has been a gradual development but it has happened under the guise of a relationship that certainly seems to push more towards yuri-territory than friendship-territory. And with the extraneous yuri-angle added to it, the fact that Kumiko not only gets closer to understanding Reina but also develops a passion for playing her instrument gets a bit buried by moments of sentimentality. What’s missing here is Kumiko being self-aware enough to notice how first her behavior around Reina changes and then how her attitude towards music changes. It has taken until this episode for Kumiko to stop being so passive and finally notice that she’s changed which leads to her pursuing her newfound ideals consciously instead of just offering admiration for those. Kumiko finally getting what is going on with herself feels more like someone hit a buttonswitch instead of the gradual development it should be. Until this episode Kumiko never really had the chance to reflect on what’s happening around her and what she thinks about where her place is in those events (and where she wants to be). It almost seems like Kumiko is actually surprised by her own character-development. I never like it when obliviousness is used as a tool to keep a character from consciously pondering what’s going on or showing signs of self-awareness. It’s just a little less worse than amnesia as a reason to artificially control a character’s development and intelligence. Like, all these thematic moments that occurred over the course of the last 11 episodes and NONE of them made Kumiko think about what she would do in their position and how she then would realize that she’s just as ambitious and single-minded as Reina for example. What was the point of all these events that were supposed to gradually get Kumiko to become more ambitious herself when she apparently never even thought about her own ambitions until now? Just the simple fact that she kept practicing with this school-ensemble whose demanding teacher and persistent practice-schedule should’ve made her realize what would get asked of her is she wants to stick around. It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder whether it really should’ve taken that long to reach this point.
In a previous review I mentioned how I don’t believe this series will reach a conclusive end but this episode proves that it’s less aimlessness or a lack of time but rather a lack of focus that has kept this series from offering an entertaining journey. For most of the series Kumiko’s motivation was supposed to be all about getting closer to Reina and the series kinda achieved this with episode 08, one could argue but it didn’t follow that up with anything new for Kumiko to do. The whole mystery of why Reina cried in the flashback certainly mystified Kumiko more than most of the audience but the whole thing never translated into a motivation to act – until now. And considering just how dense the plot of this series is, it’s disappointing to see how a lot of it now seems like a detour for moment of revelation that Kumiko should’ve experienced far sooner.
- Poor Shuichi… He and Kumiko finally talk again, get into a childish argument and Kumiko is so self-absorbed that she doesn’t even try to continue the conversation at some point.
- I guess, Reina’s interest in the teacher is now just a sort of joke…? The way this episode handled Reina’s reaction in that last scene certainly felt more like a comedic story-beat.
- Should a teacher really be so frank with a student like Taki is in this episode?
- There seems to be something going on between Natsuki and that ribbon-girl now.