Hibike! Euphonium S2 – 05-08 Review
Then simply don’t do it!
Hibike! Euphonium 05-08: And with that, the ensemble wins another competition!
And… since this wasn’t the Nationals, literally nothing has changed for the ensemble. I guess, they just have to continue being try-hards and it will all be fine.
Asuka’s mother raises her daughter alone and has decided to start some trouble. Trouble, which keeps Asuka away from the ensemble despite her wishes. And Kumiko’s sister’s in trouble because she has stopped playing the trombone despite her own wishes all those years ago! What a coincidence!
Also, Taki has a dead wife. Good to know and… that’s really all you need to know about that character.
You know she’s doing something wrong because she’s a real asshole in this scene. A hooray for subtlety!
The theme is a big part of any narrative. What is it that ties all things together? How can any plottwist no matter how confounding still end up contributing to the story? What will be the takeaway from the narrative after all is said and done? That’s where the theme comes into play. And I’ve talked plenty about Hibike Euphonium’s theme of passionate professionalism. But with Asuka’s arc, the series is entering familiar territory thematically – and seems to have nothing new to say about it.
Before that, though, the series has delivered two much-needed “filler-episodes” which are light on plot and story-development. Instead, the episodes take a break from any melodramatic problems and take its time exploring the characters. In this regard, the fifth episode is closer to a “filler-episode” than the sixth with its exploration of Taki’s past. But both episodes don’t have the same urgency the story-arcs usually have in this series.
Especially the fifth episode does something this series is still lacking most of the time: characterization beyond its direct link to the music. What makes the series feel shallow more and more is its isolationist attitude towards characterization. Most of the time, anything that hasn’t to do with its passionate professionalism is seen as a distraction or even a disturbance. Characterization ends and starts with the character’s relationship to this philosophy at the core of the series. And so, it’s good to see Taki have a motivation that is a tad more complex. Not that the idea of fulfilling a dead person’s wish or feeling a general obligation towards such a person is a fundamentally fresh idea. But it gives Taki depth in a way very few characters have in this series.
It’s a sad thing how having an answer to “Why does this character give a shit?” is a rarity in the series’ characterization. Sure, basically all the story-arcs concern itself with a character dealing with their attitude towards the ensemble and its demands. But here’s where the theme feels more like a roadblock than the guideline for consistency it should be. The passionate professionalism at the heart of the series is all the series cares about. Once a character has learned to understand what the theme of the series is, all problems of that character’s life get solved. Even how the story-arcs have approached that theme thus far cements the theme’s inflexible nature. Despite the series’ progression, the series hasn’t yet questioned or deconstructed that theme (the closest thing to that is Kaori but it isn’t portrayed as a counter-point). Instead of using its story-arcs to offer another point-of-view, showing another path towards the theme or adding more depth to the theme (by for example showing how it impacts other aspects of the characters’ lives), the theme of the series is a rigid ideal that every character is supposed to aspire to. And all the variation the series has is to tell us that any deviation from the ideal leads to failure.
Asuka’s story-arc in the seventh and eighth episodes is a good example of that. What makes it one of the series’ stronger arcs is Asuka herself. Here’s a character who does have layers (like Taki). Her cheery personality, her sense of humor, her secret cynicism, her complicated home life: All of this amounts to a sense of depth many of the other characters are lacking. And having to decide between her passion for music and her emotionally frail mother’s tantrums is a good basis for drama.
Of course! You give up a ton of free time, you have to deal with the harsh judgments of the teachers, you have to bear the weight of everyone’s expectations and you have to finish school at the same time… But whatever, it’s no biggie if you end up getting nothing out of this. It’s all about the journey, isn’t it? And trying really hard without winning any competitions and awards is a great story to tell to your grandkids.
Where it all falls apart is the utter lack of subtlety and the sheer amount of symbolism the audience gets drowned in here. The story in those two episodes is forceful to the point where a lot of moments might as well have a flashing subtitle across the screen saying “GET IT?!”. This story-arc is laying it on SO thick, you have to fear that either the writers think the audience is full of morons or they can relate to the story-material so little, they’d think this is the amount of storytelling needed to explain what’s going on.
Where to even start…? First of all, Kumiko’s sister and Asuka basically have the SAME story-arc but they’re on opposite ends of that arc. Real life is keeping both from really doing what they want. It’s just that the sister is the future version of what would happen if Asuka were to really quit the ensemble. This would be less of a problem if Kumiko were aware of that or (better yet) we’d actually follow one of those characters in the story. Again, though, we have to follow Kumiko getting her shit together over the course of multiple episodes just so that she can be instrumental in confronting these characters with their flaws. Meanwhile, the story is pounding the audience repeatedly with its symbolism (the Euphonium-CD, the phrase both Asuka and Kumiko’s sister use) and the way the sister talks about the trombone. It’s frustrating to watch. Especially because Kumiko shows neither empathy nor compassion for Asuka or her sister and is instead just curious and confused. It’s safe to assume that at the end of the eighth episode most of the audience is multiple steps ahead of Kumiko in understanding what is going on and what should be done to change that.
I have to say that I like the idea of Kumiko as the protagonist more than what this series has done with her. The eighth episode is the worst one in that regard. At the beginning of the first season, Kumiko had been a very carefree and reluctant “hero”. Her involvement in the ensemble and her blossoming friendship with Reina more or less happened to her instead of her actively working towards some goal. But during the first season she found her love for the ensemble and found a new friend (or new love, some might say, I guess) in Reina. At the end of the first season music and the ensemble became things she cared for and was passionate about. In that regard, the flashbacks from episode 08 feel like a retcon. Suddenly Kumiko had always been a BIG fan of music and her sister had actually inspired her to start playing music as well. As far as I remember, that story sounded VERY different when Kumiko told it during the first season. The general tone back then made Kumiko seem laid-back and disinterested. Now all of a sudden her sister’s life is supposed to have had a huge impact on Kumiko’s attitude towards music. When Shuu says to Kumiko’s sister how she has always admired her and had always wanted to play music with her together, I’m just left wondering “Where is this coming from?!”. Sure, this does add depth to Kumiko’s character but it certainly hadn’t been there before in that form, which is the reason why it feels like a retcon.
It often feels like the series is hitting you over the head with its story these days. Mostly it’s the series’ fault for not evolving its ideas or how it approaches the already existing ones. Every obstacle in the story doesn’t lead forward but is treated like a blemish of dirt on a static idea of what the school-ensemble and its characters should be like. Whatever depth there is doesn’t lead to captivating storytelling due to a combination of sluggish storytelling and heavy-handed symbolism. The lack of subtlety in the recent episodes makes it easy to sit in judgment of the characters who don’t deal with the seemingly obvious problem directly. Instead of empathy, it’s simply impatience that settles in after every time Kumiko doesn’t find anything of note to say in response to the drama unfolding in front of her.
Episodes-Rating: 5th Episode 5/10 6th Episode 6.5/10 7th/8th Episode 5.5/10
- Reina giving Kumiko the same CD she has gotten from her teacher makes no sense… unless Hibike! Euphonium is planning on adding magic to its setting.
- Good thing we get a ton of flashbacks about how much Kumiko has always wanted to play music because of her sister. But when her sister is making the argument that she gave up the trombone because of her parents, her father is like “Nope, that was all you, kid.” and that’s it. Maybe a flashback illuminating that would’ve been more relevant story-wise…? Now the tension of that arc is kept up in part by withholding that information. Because all this little story-arc has to offer is to find out what is really going on and then confront that issue.
- Also, Kumiko’s character in the first episode of the first season is the complete opposite of chibi-Kumiko. You know, I really don’t like when flashbacks also have build-up as if they’re little story-arcs of their own when functionally they’re just there to inform the present-day-narrative.
- On a side-note: Maybe Westworld is doing something similar but at least you’re getting something out of each scene no matter what is happening chronologically.
- The behavior of Asuka’s mom in that teacher-lounge was… embarrassing, to say the least. She seemed narcissistic (everything seemed to be about her in her mind), slapped her kid, started shouting AND it all happened in front of an “audience”: Way to go, Asuka’s mom!
- Well, at least we get to see Shuu a little bit more now. The series certainly could do more to make him a more relevant character because of his connection to Kumiko but hey, it’s better than nothing.
- The concert in episode 05 was another well-animated moment in this series. But we’ve seen this kind of scene before which doesn’t make it any less good-looking but certainly less impressive.
- That moment before the concert where you see all these girls talk to each other in pairs (the direction and especially the cinematography give you that impression)… and the fact that Reina suddenly decides she isn’t playing just for herself after all and her two candidates are Kumiko and Taki instead (and she even decides to settle on Kumiko because playing for Taki would be more suitable for a stuffy ballad)… I really don’t know how this scene could be more yuri-esque than that. It’s a scene overflowing with intimacy instead of mere friendship. Because of moments like this, people will continue to call this series yuri-bait.