Hibike! Euphonium S2 – 01/02 Review
… Which needs to be fixed! The goal is to become a human jukebox for classical music!
Hibike! Euphonium S2 01/02: The ensemble has won a competition but the Nationals are still far away! Sure, they’re good – but they need to get better! Because that’s ALL that matters to these kids!
Isn’t adolescence great?!
But some girl who quit the ensemble during its dark year due to bullying (what a loser!) wants to rejoin the ensemble. Of course, the senpais are against it. There’s no forgiveness for quitters. But Kumiko musters some courage and shows some compassion.
Is it deserved? Who knows…
I don’t think anybody in the audience needs to know THAT much about the Oboe…
At the beginning of the first episode Taki congratulates the ensemble for winning the qualifying tournament. That’s how the last season ended – with a victory for the reborn Kitauji High School club. And yet his next words are that they need to practice now even harder to get to the Nationals. With that both the nature of sequels and of the inherent story gets revealed: No victory is ever enough because there’s always some other struggle following the last one. It’s what keeps most battle-shounen-series going: another enemy, another power-up for the heroes, another victory. Series like Naruto, Bleach, D. Graymen or some Macross mecha-series just look towards the new enemy and focus on that. But what keeps Hibike Euphonium going isn’t so much the future but the past.
In the last season Asuka said at some point near the end how she wished for summer to last forever. And these first two episodes talk a lot about quitting, giving up in connection to Nozomi as well as how the big incident that nearly “destroyed” the club still looms over the 2nd-year- and 3rd-year-members of the club. But during the fireworks Kumiko also is melancholic as she thinks about how someday she will lose the friends she loves as they part ways. What makes this unusual for a series that supposedly is about “adolescence” is how the series is driven by the idea of regret. Characters don’t look at their actions in the present but as if they’re already looking back from an imaginary future. The imaginary regret of that perspective over how they haven’t done all they can seems to push all the “good” characters to push themselves over their limits.
In the Monaka-review I’ve already talked a bit about how unbalanced and obsessive the attitude of this series is. Adolescence doesn’t seem to be a time of confusion and growth; it just seems to be a prelude to the monotony of adult-life. The way Reina, Kumiko and a lot of other characters act in these first two episodes follows the definition of professionalism pretty closely. They take pride in what they achieve, they follow strict routines and all that matters is that they do their job well. And their job is playing music. That’s it. I mean, isn’t it strange that nobody ever makes speeches about the creative side of music? What does the music mean? What did the composer feel when he wrote it? But such questions are irrelevant as all that matters for them is the performance.
It’s here where the usual optimistic, straightforward tone of the series seems unrealistic. It reminds me of this existentialist quote from Albert Camus: “A man wants to earn money in order to be happy, and his whole effort and the best of a life are devoted to the earning of that money. Happiness is forgotten; the means are taken for the end.” Replace money with playing music well and you get a very Sisyphean struggle at the heart of this series. If there were anything more to these characters than just their role in the ensemble, then maybe the show would feel less shallow. No character in the show seems (except maybe Taki with his wife and kid who are dead… maybe) to have enough depth to have a life outside of that ensemble and music.
Where the series still shines easily is its visual direction. In the first episode when Team Monaka is playing for the rest, there’s a quick shot of Hazuki mentally preparing herself for the piece while silently moving her fingers. Details like this are what makes the show come alive because this single one-second-shot tells you all you need to know about what that character is thinking. This attention to detail is what makes the series so beautiful (together with the solid KyoAni-animation-style). Equally important is the music here because the series cares a lot about showing personality in how the music sounds. It isn’t just some reused mp3-audio from an already existing performance but it actually varies and develops in tandem with the series which gives the ambitions of the ensemble a gratifying sense of authenticity.
I guess, the writers of this series REALLY don’t like Shuu. Let’s show some compassion here: He pines for a girl who has known him since childhood but who acts completely indifferent towards him. Who does that?! Actually, why is he in love with her in the first place then?!
Story-wise the first arc focuses on two new characters: Yoroizuka, an oboe-player of the emotionless variety (think Rei from NGE or Nagato from Haruhi Suzumiya) and the lively Nozomi (she plays the flute) who wants to rejoin the club. Two story-beats are the centerpieces here: One is a flashback of both talking on a bus where the former says she hates competitions while the latter swears that they will go together to the Nationals in High School. The other story-beat is how Nozomi quit the ensemble after the bullying of the third-years got to her. It’s a good story-arc for this series as on one hand you can reaffirm the passionate stance on professionalism the series has by convincing Yoroizuka that she’s wrong to hate competitions and on the other hand Nozomi’s redemption will be a way for the 2nd-year- and 3rd-year-students to finally move past the horrible events. Then again, this is also what makes this a predictable affair – unless the series has hopefully some plottwists in store for the audience.
What hampers the drama in addition to that is how little the audience knows about those bad 3rd-years who bullied the rest of the ensemble. It’s still unclear just HOW bad things had been and what the teacher at the time was doing. Drama should never be kept going by withholding information from the audience. But many series do it and only very few can keep the suspense while the audience remains in the dark. Here it leads to the simple fact that it’s hard to empathize with Nozomi as it’s entirely unclear what exactly had happened back then. I mean, is the bullying a sufficient excuse for quitting or are the other Senpais right in abandoning her? Should Natsuki really feel responsible for what Nozomi was doing? Matters like that should’ve already been cleared up before that moment at the end of episode 02 where Kumiko is about to confront Asuka.
The series’ vague stance on romance continues as it’s quite unclear how serious you’re supposed to take Reina’s love for Taki and whether the relationship between Kumiko and Shuu will ever go anywhere. Especially Shuu’s role in the first two episodes is troubling. The first season already made a bad case for why Shuu’s romantic interest in Kumiko should ever get serious and the series continues to depict Kumiko as someone who seemingly couldn’t care less about Shuu. And of course, Shuu gets ridiculed by Reina as well by calling him “spineless”. Not being open about your feelings and being very direct about them isn’t seen as a virtue in this series and Shuu continues to get punished for it. The relationship between Kumiko and Reina seems to be toned down slightly so far. It’s much easier to buy them as really good friends in these first two episodes than it was in the first season. Although the fireworks-sequence from the first episode with the handholding came close again to Yuri-territory. It’s still baffling how moments with such a lack of self-awareness get into this series. That isn’t the depiction of friendship and this series doesn’t show any awareness of that at all.
On the whole, the beginning of this second season touts more consistency than improvement. It’s just more Hibike Euphonium. There’s nothing in these two episodes that will change how you feel about the series. If you liked the first season, you’ll like these two episodes. If you don’t, there’s nothing new here that changes or twists the essential formula of Hibike Euphonium’s story.
Episodes-Rating: 1st Episode 7.5/10 2nd Episode 6.5/10
- I guess, Reina’s love for Taki is now a matter of comic relief…?
- So Hashimoto is just the usual loudmouthed, easygoing college-friend who reveals himself to be quite wise and worldly. And the first thing the female teacher does is flirt with Taki. These two couldn’t just have been rational adults with a professional music-background, no, they needed to immediately hit you over the head with their characterisation.