Hibike! Euphonium – 13 Review
So the next time you blow out your birthday-candles, remember to shout at all the attendants what you wish for.
This time I review:
Hibike! Euphonium 13: The ensemble has to overcome one last hurdle before it can go to the Nationals. Everybody’s nervous – but all their hard work pays off (big surprise…). Also, Kumiko and Shuichi are friends again, I guess.
Poignantly the final episode starts with a scene that’s very similar to how the first episode starts, thereby showing how much Kumiko has changed over the course of the series.
Music is one of those things a lot of female-driven slice-of-life-series use as a plothook, although for very different purposes. A series like K-ON! has a very different relationship with music compared to Nodame Cantabile for example. And a group of characters visiting a Karaoke-Bar has a different goal than those who are practice together for the sake of excellence. While a lot of series approach music in a sentimental way (the point of music being what it makes you feel), Hibike! Euphonium differentiates itself from those series with a far more direct approach to music that feels very down-to-earth and kinda realistic even.
A big part of the series’ approach to its theme of music is the outstanding music-production. Of course, every series centered on people playing music has its share of music-tracks to show off said music. Here, though, instead of only offering actual tracks for the highest points (where the characters excel) or the lowest points (when the characters’ music sucks), this series offers a far more subtle variety of how good or bad a certain character’s music sounds. You don’t just get to hear the difference between good and bad, you get to hear the ensemble of this series gradually improving. On the level of the music alone this series already has developed one overarching, if somewhat simplistic story of students becoming better musicians.
The students’ approach to music fostered by the teacher is also noteworthy here because it’s professionalism on one hand and ambition on the other. Immediately with the start of the series a goal is set. The students want to go to the Nationals and that sets the bar for how good they want to become. And one of the consistent story-beats is characters getting confronted by what this actually entails. The series starts with the ensemble having to come to grips with the teacher’s blunt criticisms and from there develop multiple little character-driven stories about how they handle this situation. And it fittingly culminates in a final episode that has a lengthy music-scene showing off how good the students have become.
But the driving force is what Kumiko only realizes at the very end of the series: That one has to work actively towards a goal and give it all one got. Especially with the way the series presents Reina and Kumiko, the notion of wishing for something to happen takes on obsessive qualities. When in a previous episode Kumiko starts to get nosebleeding from practicing too frantically, Hazuki and Midori try to get her to rest, the latter adding that Kumiko tried to reach for the moon and she should be proud of that. But giving up isn’t an option when both Kumiko in the previous episode and Reina at the start of the show compare any sort of failure with dying. There’s something shameful about not getting what they wished for.
At the same time, though, there are characters who don’t feel the need to feel ashamed of their loss or their departure from the ensemble. When Natsuki loses to Kumiko in the auditions or when Aoi decides to leave the ensemble, then they do so with a realistic understanding of the situation. Also when Kaori admits defeat in the second audition or when Hazuki doesn’t act surprised that she hasn’t made it through the auditions. As much as this series pushes this idea of obsessive ambition, the characters never become greedy and remain self-aware enough to admit defeat or to realize what their place is in the context of the ensemble.
The cast plays a big role in this series as how often the series relies on who does what instead of what is done. Story-wise Hibike! Euphonium is very character-driven. There’s a big cast of varied characters that all have a distinct place in the story. Where the series excels is in its attention to detail which leads to a lot of great little moments showing off the characters’ attributes and attitudes. In this final episode there are quite a few callbacks to earlier episodes. When Reina plays her solo, Kaori is shortly shown or when the president of the ensemble is giving this speech and is unsure, Asuka is shown giving her the thumbs-up, thereby referencing that one episode which dealt with the question whether it wouldn’t be better if Asuka were the president. This series constantly has made sure to build connections between various scenes and character-moments thereby solidifying the character-dynamics.
The other thing that helps the series to sell its characters is the great direction which is very adept at setting up scenes. When the ensemble is in the greenroom behind the stage, the perspective fleetingly switches from one character-interaction to the next while none of these interactions ever left the background-noise created by everyone nervously preparing him- or herself for the performance. The tension and nervousness was palatable in that scene thanks to the great direction. In general, the series’ atmosphere was always very poignant in most scenes. It’s thanks to that you got great moments like Reina’s and Kumiko’s “date” in episode 08 or Kumiko’s breakdown-scene as she starts running in the last episode. Whenever the series found something to focus on in a scene it generally did a great job of presenting the whole thing in the appropriate light. And of course, the animation plays a big role here, too. Just as instrumental as the direction is here, the animation also pulls out all the stops in how it visually presents the scenes.
A great visual summary of the series’ priorities in the second half: Shuichi absent, Midori and Hazuki becoming tertiary characters and Reina/Kumiko increasingly becoming more intimate with each other.
One story-line that sort-of runs parallel to the music-stuff is the sort-of “romantic” stuff. You have to call it “sort-of romantic” because the series never commits to any sort of romance during this series. There are romantic moments or moments you could maybe interpret as such but the series doesn’t do anything definitive. Of course, that’s strange when characters openly talk about love to each other or non-verbally hint at it. But in this regard the finale episode can only be described as disappointing because it makes you wonder what the point of the romantic stuff has been then. The series establishes multiple romantic character-dynamics but the series barely develops those or even acknowledges them really – with one exception: The relationship between Reina and Kumiko. While the series never commits to that either, this is the “sort-of romantic” relationship the series consistently has built up and developed over the course of the show. And the way the series presents their relationship clearly makes you think the creators are secretly cheering for those two. Reina’s and Kumiko’s relationship has meaning beyond a maybe romantic one but this series seemingly always found time to add some scene to each episode about how much closer the two have gotten since the end of the previous episode.
It’s easy to think how the creators are playing favors here by prioritizing Reina and Kumiko this much as other characters of this series can simply disappear. Shuichi is a good example who had been a close friend of Kumiko in the first couple episodes but after episode 08 Kumiko stopped talking to him and then in the last episode there was this shouting-match between the two and in this finale the series again acknowledges their close friendship with a short exchange that showed that they care about each other. The problem? These two have never actually resolved the drama of Kumiko allowing Hazuki to ask Shuichi out who then rejected Hazuki.
But this is a general problem in this series as you can see it constantly cut corners in its internal character-logic in order to fit the story the series wants to tell into 13 episodes. It gets bad to a point where the lack of time leads to superficiality. With the exception of Reina and Kumiko none of the characters in this show have much depth, or rather you see the promise of depth often but the series just doesn’t have any time to spare for delving into these depths. Like when Asuka is having this short speech about how she’s sad that her summer would end or when you see the teacher look at a photo of his dead wife, daughter, sister or whatever which clearly serves as some sort of motivation for him but in both instances this final episode is the first instance of the series addressing that. Rather than characterization, stuff like that feels like the writer is just throwing shit at the wall and hopes it sticks. The reason why the Reina’s and Kumiko’s relationship stand out in this series is because the series has consistently paid attention to it and has gradually developed it. Even Hazuki and Midori who are supposed to be Kumiko’s best friends kinda disappear in the second half as Kumiko only has eyes for Reina apparently.
The biggest disappointment in this series isn’t its poor time-management, though. It’s that there’s nothing complicated about the characters’ journey in this series. While there were plenty of obstacles to overcome and character-driven issues to address, any solution was quickly found. The reason for that is that everybody on this show just wants to do the right thing. In general, characters on this show are more honorable and steadfast than you would expect and so even when a character fucks up, deep down that character is already aware of that and all it needs is some character to spell that out to make the first character change course or at least regret their actions. When the ribbon-girl is starting her little hate-campaign against Reina, you get little moments here and there showing that she realizes quickly that what she’s doing is the wrong thing and she isn’t even convinced that her idol Kaori deserves to be the soloist instead of Reina. And with such uncomplicated goodness in the hearts of every character, you naturally don’t get to see a lot of cutting drama in this series. Your mileage may vary in that regard as you simply have to prepare yourself for short-lived conflicts that ultimately are all about nice people wanting to do nice things for each other and sometimes that isn’t as easy as you’d think (all while the whole ambition-train is heading for the Nationals).
The final episode ends with Kumiko announcing that the song continues. So I assume that KyoAni at least plans to release a second season at some point in the future. I mean, I praised the direction in this series, so what would happen if the second season would get another director? A big reason for why this series is so good isn’t its actual story but all the stuff around that. But even if the staff behind the anime doesn’t change, I hope the series narrows its scope even further. The best scenes in this series are those like in the 8th episode when the character-interactions aren’t rushed or just there to serve as linking-points for what has come before and what will follow after. And the best episode of the series is the 12th episode (and this one) where the series focused on Kumiko’s perspective alone or on a specific event which the whole cast attends and in both cases the series got a good character-driven storyline out of that.
Music and great character-moments are what makes this series great and the lack of time to get the most out of it is its big flaw. As a pleasant music-anime-series it certainly stands out with its great direction, music-production and subtle writing but the high expectations set by those qualities cause some disappointment from time to time as the series does less than you’d expect or buckles under the weight of its own ambitions.
- The music-production is great in this series but the soundtrack is also great. Mostly because you can clearly see how it isn’t one of those menu-soundtracks where someone gave a composer a list telling him or her “how many sad tracks the show needs”. The soundtrack actually underlines particular moments quite nicely.
- Natsuki and Ribbon-girl are really hitting it off, aren’t they?
- To be honest, the first time I watched this scene between Kumiko and Asuka, I was a bit confused. I thought it was Asuka but she suddenly had this extreme change in personality delivering this melancholic little speech to Kumiko. Does she have to leave before even attending the Nationals together with the rest? Or didn’t she think they could win? Or was this just the typical “Being a great teenager is great! But alas… I have to become an adult…”-blues?