Hibike! Euphonium OVA: Dash, Monaka – Review
… even if it’s the worst moment of your life!
This time I review:
Hibike! Euphonium OVA: A bunch of failures learn the hard lesson of not living up to expectations by happily becoming a cheering fan-club for the rest for the ensemble! Also, Hazuki gets convinced to try her luck with Shuichi and (naturally) quickly changes her tune to cheering him on to get his shit together and start a relationship with Kumiko… because you know she’s been waiting since… I guess, it must have been after the time she showed no interest whatsoever in going on a date with him.
But before you think, this means that she’s into Reina… wait a minute… it’s a bit more complicated than you’d think.
At this point, I just assume the writers of this show somehow convinced themselves this sort of writing perfectly captures the experience of High-School-friendships between girls.
The synopsis of this OVA claims this is a whole episode about Team Monaka which are all the members who had failed the auditions. I doubt, though, that anyone will give a shit about Team Monaka at the end of this OVA. In reality this OVA is more like a collection of scenes cut from the series with a focus on Hazuki. And in that sense the OVA actually becomes essential viewing for anyone who has an interest in this series. Especially since Hazuki’s interactions with Shuichi in this OVA clarify a few things regarding romance in this series.
Already in the opening-scene of this OVA, you get less the sense that this will be a standalone-story. It immediately clarifies that the story isn’t happening after the end of the original series. The speech from the teacher to the rejected members (given shortly after the auditions’ results got announced) perfectly sums up the philosophy of the series. Hibike! Euphonium was a series about daring optimism. More than just looking at life in a positive light, it was about the ability to turn life into something sated with a relentless pursuit of earnest, good-hearted goals. In that way even the failure of rejection that Team Monaka had experienced isn’t even a failure. Following the simplistic philosophy of “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” the teacher argues that the pain they felt from losing should be considered a unique experience and offer a sense of drive that none of the accepted members share. The argument of the teacher is that failure just gives you a higher chance of succeeding the next time.
And we see that philosophy in practice as these various Hazuki-focused scenes show us her change in attitude towards Shuichi. Of course, the biggest reason for why this OVA doesn’t work on its own at all is that you’re expected to grasp which scene happens when within the timeline of the original series. What these scenes offer, though, is more or less a showcase of the series’ philosophy in action. In the second scene of the OVA, Hazuki talks with Sapphire and hints at her crush on Shuichi. But she immediately assumes that Kumiko and Shuichi are in a relationship and is about to give up. Hazuki even argues that dealing with love is too painful. Sapphire, though, argues that she HAS to try and that only earnestly following her feelings will give her happiness.
Of course, the audience knows she’ll get rejected and so this moment feels strangely ironic. Hazuki fears that her love has no hope of succeeding – and it doesn’t. This is where the series’ philosophy gets a little bit weird. What always seemed strange in Hibike! Euphonium is how it approached bad feelings. Instead of just dramatically resolving these to find some good among the bad, the series seems to argue that feeling bad at all is a mistake. The pursuit of happiness in this series is optimistic to the point of being fanatical. It’s following reasoning where as long as you stay positive, everything will be fine.
And in the second half of this OVA post-rejection you can see the bizarre results of that philosophy. Hazuki who got rejected (which she already expected) is now not only rooting for Kumiko and Shuichi to get together but the OVA seems to equate this rejection with some sort of coming-of-age-empowerment (as seen at the end when she rejects Shuichi’s offer to help and carries a heavy instrument on her own in contrast to an earlier scene). Also, in the Team-Monaka-side-plot she ends up running to the school and back to the concert-hall for some mallets. It’s optimism without introspection or moral judgment.
Oh, the irony!
Speaking of moral judgment… It took this OVA for me to finally realize how the series wanted me to treat Shuichi. In this series, you’re always doing something wrong when you’re not trying to rush towards some goodhearted goal or when you’re not being earnest. All conflicts in this series originate from characters not being earnest or ambitious enough. Since everyone is essentially a good person the only way to do wrong is to be motivated by bad emotions. Therefore, the idea of happiness finds a very forceful presentation in this series. Bad feelings are bad – so you shouldn’t feel them. That’s why Hazuki takes Shuichi’s rejection and immediately tries to help him win Kumiko’s heart. But I doubt a normal person would take a rejection from a person she loves and then would immediately instead cheer him on to start a relationship with another girl. That’s a freakish level of selflessness!
But if we apply this philosophy of a fanatical pursuit of happiness to the original series, a lot of stuff makes way more sense, I feel like. So, who you’re supposed to be like according to this philosophy is someone who either tirelessly chases after a goal (Reina) or someone who earnestly expresses positive emotion (Sapphire). Whenever a character doesn’t adhere to these two rules that character is fucking up! Applied to the romance of the series, you realize a couple things immediately: One, Kumiko and Shuichi are supposed to be a pair but the former is a real dork and the latter hesitates too much. Two, whenever girls interact with each other they’re ALWAYS earnest and positive (with the one exception of the hate-campaign against Reina).
Shuichi starts to make much more sense after a comment from Hazuki saying to him at the very end something like “Kumiko’s waiting for you.”. So, if we reexamine their scenes together and consider anything other than earnestly expressing positive emotions a “bad move”, then Kumiko’s apathy towards Shuichi becomes a “bad move”. It’s especially because there are multiple instances in the series and in this OVA, too, where it’s assumed that they’re in love with each other. If that’s true, whenever those two are NOT expressing love for each other, they’re doing something wrong (so the series doesn’t treat it like an assumption at all and more like a declaration). And the flimsy way with how Kumiko rejected Shuichi for this festival wasn’t very earnest (which makes it a bad thing). After that they didn’t talk to each other because Shuichi didn’t approach her to express his love (which is a bad thing). It’s only at the very end, prompted by Hazuki’s encouragement that Shuichi talks again to Kumiko and his earnestness convinces her to do this little symbolic fist-bump.
The second thing I noticed in this episode is that this series is infatuated with the idea of girl-on-girl intimacy. You can clearly see in this OVA and also in the original series that Hibike! Euphonium is full of one-on-one-scenes. There are two scenes between Hazuki and Natsuki in this OVA where they talk alone and in one of them Natsuki hugs Hazuki just because she can “sense” her emotional pain. I think that’s the real reason why the story-arc of Reina and Kumiko was so weirdly romantic: In this series universe that’s just the norm of how girls interact. Here all girls are these intimate soulmates who can immediately relate to each other and can get very intimate to convey their sympathy and understanding.
Clearly this is an OVA that doesn’t really tell a story. It simply adds scenes from a new perspective to the narrative of the series. And it made me re-evaluate the series. I’ve said until now that Hibike! Euphonium is a yuri-series because of how it treats Reina and Kumiko but after this OVA I think I would say the opposite instead. It’s an essential addition to the series and if you’ve liked the original series, then this is a must-watch.
- And so here’s the part where I kinda re-evaluate the original series because this OVA does add a different perspective and more details to the story. The short version is that I like the series less. Two things have emerged as massive problems for me: One, the series’ emotional philosophy makes no sense (and makes it hard to relate to the characters). Two, the storytelling for the character-relationships is bad.
The easiest way to explain why the emotional philosophy of this series is half-assed would be to recommend the Pixar-movie Inside Out. It’s a movie about Sadness and Joy having to realize that they have to work together as they control a girl who’s growing up. Meanwhile, this is a series that indeed tries to tell you that EVERY bad emotion is bad. But instead of accepting that as a part of life, the series proposes to simply exorcise all these kinds of feelings.
The storytelling of the original series doesn’t make sense when it comes to the relationship between Kumiko and Shuichi and the other one being Kumiko and Reina. On paper the former is a dude who wants to win the heart of a childhoodfriend who doesn’t consider him boyfriend-material yet. Secretly (or subconsciously… who knows), though, she likes him, too. On paper the latter is Kumiko as a socially awkward person trying too hard to apologize to this other about a little argument they had. But Kumiko finds out that she actually kinda likes this girl and said girl secretly had liked her for a long time and so they fast become friends.
So, you have one storyline about a dude romancing a childhoodfriend and another storyline about a socially awkward girl unexpectedly becoming friends with an intimidating girl. The reason why everybody started shipping Reina and Kumiko was because a schizophrenic must have written the script for this series! It’s like someone got the memo “Shuichi and Kumiko are supposed to become lovers – Kumiko and Reina are supposed to become friends” and mixed up the pairings when he wrote the script for the series.
In the series, Kumiko starts out on friendly terms with Shuichi. Then another friend comes between them and causes a little drama which leads to them ending their friendship. But at the end they can set aside their differences and make up. On the other hand, Kumiko is consistently engaging Reina in a series of increasingly intimate moments that kinda culminates when Kumiko repeats the whole ‘confession of love’-line uttered by Reina previous to that point. The plot/script doesn’t match the story here! Shuichi’s plot in the series reads like “good friendship falls apart but in the end gets made whole again” while Reina’s reads like “one character gets increasingly closer to another character until they’ve both confessed their love for each other.”.
Looking back on it, the storytelling of Hibike! Euphonium seems very dissonant when it comes to the relationship between characters or various emotions. Bad emotions get suppressed and positive relationships gets blown up way out of proportion for no reason while somewhat troublesome relationships (instead of becoming dramatic) simply get the silent treatment from the series.
- Who would you care more about? The Kumiko who doesn’t give a shit about the world and is emotionally insecure or the try-hard Kumiko who is fixated on doing her job as musician? Of course, the latter did become interesting because of her new relationship with Reina except that’s just “supposed to be” a run-of-the-mill friendship (and in this series’ universe that even makes sense). Personally I care more about Kumiko as a flawed person than who she becomes later in the series.
- Also, the reason why nothing happens between Taki and Reina is because the latter only talks about it. Unless you dare to fulfill your dreams, they won’t come true: That’s this series’ philosophy. And odds of success have nothing to do with that – because even if you fail, you’ll just become a stronger person because of that.
- As a series that is this obsessed with intimacy, it’s strange how on the surface it’s more like an ensemble-drama. Theoretically this isn’t the story of a group of people and not specific ones. And the amount of characters introduced by the series certainly would make it seem like an ensemble-piece. But in action, scenes are written around intimate small scenes instead of creating huge multi-layered scenes where multiple characters act and interact at the same time. In this series you have a clear hierarchy of who’s important and who isn’t in contrast to an ensemble-scene where multiple characters are put on a level playfield.
Posted on February 6, 2016, in Anime, Hibike! Euphonium, Reviews and tagged Anime, かけだすモナカ, Dash Monaka, 響け！ユーフォニアム, Hibike! Euphonium, Kakedasu Monaka, review, Sound! Euphonium. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.