Hibike! Euphonium S2 – 09 Review
I wonder if Natsuki could still pass the Turing-test in that moment. Forget about the question if a teenager could be this selfless, can a person, in general, be THAT selfless?! Isn’t the whole point of her relentless practicing to get the position she currently has? Shouldn’t she sound at least a tiny bit conflicted…?
Hibike Euphonium S2 09: Asuka is still in self-imposed exile and there’s only ONE person who can save her!
Or at least that’s what everyone seems to think.
I don’t know, does Asuka have any friends who might have an interest in helping her…? I guess not… And so it falls to Kumiko to be the most Euphonium-like person ever – which is a good thing apparently.
Asuka’s objectifying Kumiko! What a misogynistic thing to do! But seriously, there’s a version of this series out there in the multiverse where Kumiko is a human-size gibberish-talking Euphonium-moeblob who convinces people to love music just by… being sort-of in the same room as them.
How meaningful is life as a teenager? In animes the answer to that is often either moralistic or puristic (ie, it’s either about being a good person or someone who has found his place in society). And this ties either to whatever supernatural goob the series has invented or it’s just your typical coming-of-age-story. Furthermore, tonally it can go from a light comedy to heavy drama. But in the end, it’s a process, another kind of Hero’s Journey and its struggles should strike a note in some way that resonates with the audience. The creators of this series certainly like to claim that this note is realism but I would rather describe it as wish-fulfillment.
I think this is one of the few episodes that has some substance to offer. Most of it comes from the cinematography and direction. It’s clear that someone had really thought about what this episode is getting at and was trying to represent that visually. The topic of masks and how everyone is trying to disguise their true intentions finds itself represented by multiple shots where you can’t see people’s faces when they’re talking. Also, when Kumiko is responding to Asuka’s little sob-story, the lighting changes accordingly as if her reaction really changes the world looks to Asuka. It isn’t subtle and the script certainly isn’t pulling its weight as it should in such moments but as far as direction is concerned, this is another episode that clearly showcases how the series is still watchable despite its weak script.
This episode had quite a lot to say about Kumiko and why she’s the protagonist. Both Reina and Asuka try to explain to Kumiko why people open up to her and it isn’t an argument you would associate with realism. What both are getting at is how Kumiko earnestly tries to empathize with and understand people but ends up fumbling around because she can’t. Kumiko’s understanding doesn’t come from her intuition or knowledge but from people explaining to her why exactly she has this vague idea of “This is wrong.” in regards to something. Hibike Euphonium seems to think that Kumiko’s naivete and ignorance aren’t only excusable, they’re beneficial to her earnestness and her willingness to connect to struggling people.
The seconds before that were actually a nice moment of Reina showing understanding for Kumiko and her attempting to bolster Kumiko’s courage. Then this happens and I’m just thinking “Of course, they had to go one step further…”.
On the flipside, this indicates that everyone else in this episode is doing it wrong and somehow is unable to change their approach. It starts with Reina saying “Yeah, meddling is bad. This has nothing to do with us.”, continues with Natsuki giving Kumiko a “mission” and then there’s the awkward moment where Kaori “coincidentally” runs into Asuka and Kumiko as they’re walking to Asuka’s house. For some reason, nobody is willing to talk honestly to Asuka and confront her. The characters on this show are way too willing to just give Kumiko the spotlight in handling this situation. Even though, there are certainly a lot of other people who know Asuka better and probably also know what she’s going through. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, Hibike Euphonium abhors every action that isn’t straightforward and/or earnest. And watching the episode through that lens, the Kaori-scene, for example, is someone doing something VERY bad. It certainly seemed to me that Asuka’s hidden face in that moment and her later two comments about Kaori hint at a more cynical reaction of “What an asshole! If she has something to say to me, she should just say it!”.
But Kumiko isn’t special or virtuous in some way. And it seems like the only person who thinks that is Kumiko herself while everyone else treats the fact that she’s a clueless try-hard like she’s some kind of messianic gift to the ensemble. This is where it starts to feel like wish-fulfilment. On the surface, the Kumiko-Asuka-scene seems like this earnest and dramatic heart-to-heart-talk. The cinematography, the direction, the voice-acting, the animation: It all seems great. But then you look at the script: It’s a minute or so of exposition explaining why Asuka acted the way she did and then Kumiko says “But I like your music and I think you do, too!”. The way it plays out the series certainly seems to think that Kumiko’s emotions trump the down-to-earth depression Asuka tries to sell. And coming back to what Kumiko was saying before about how she doesn’t think she can talk to Asuka, these scenes where things get more serious and dramatic Kumiko’s insecurities disappear. Instead, it feels like Kumiko is brazenly flaunting her flaws to draw out exposition and confessions from other characters. The other characters are always giving back SO much when Kumiko is contributing so little to the conversation. And the series treats this like it’s a good thing.
Here again, it never seems like Kumiko fully comprehends how much of a clusterfuck Asuka’s situation is. Single mother, divorce, absent father who is also a musician, grades (I guess, Asuka’s grades have gotten worse…?) and then the father is also present at the Nationals: You could make an entire movie just about a character with that kind of backgroundstory. And to have this complicated story followed by Kumiko’s naïve simplicity feels like a disservice to that story. For Kumiko to really solve Asuka’s problem, I feel like this will be more about Kumiko dealing with it than Asuka herself dealing with it.
And there’s the essential paradox of this series: Here’s a series that is all about earnestness and finding the things in life that make you truly happy but there are obstructions and distractions that keep the characters from doing the latter and exhibiting the former. Kumiko is the primary character who has to deal with that and the only thing you get from her is to serve as the perfect audience-surrogate because she never knows more than the audience and people just keep telling her things without much prompting. She never says anything insightful but rather just exemplifies the show’s ideals. That she can do so despite her ignorance and naivete is an indication of how thin the show’s stories usually are.
- Natsuki’s rationale for wanting to have Asuka back makes no sense. Sure, it’s true, Asuka is objectively the better Euphonium-player. BUT…! One, Natsuki’s goal is to play in the ensemble. Two, saying that Asuka deserves the spot more because it’s her last year and that Natsuki always has the next year to take her spot legitimately makes no sense. Members of the ensemble are chosen based on the merit of their performance. The schoolyear Asuka’s in has nothing to do with it and Natsuki’s spot in the ensemble isn’t safe either (because there could always be a new student at the school next year who’s better, right?). Three, just because Asuka likes Kumiko which might give the latter an opportunity to convince Asuka to come back doesn’t mean that everyone else (including Natsuki) should just sit back and rely on Kumiko to be successful. When Mizore says to Kumiko that she should tell Asuka that they’re all waiting for her, she’s acting like it’s impossible for them to talk to Asuka themselves. They’re all going to the same frigging school! And everybody has phones and internet! Kumiko shouldn’t be the ONLY person to talk with Asuka about her problems!
- I honestly wonder how they will end up portraying Asuka’s parents in this arc. Will they demonize one or both or redeem both? Who knows… Right now, all I’ve heard and seen of the mother makes her seem like an asshole and a father who hasn’t visited his daughter since the divorce doesn’t sound like a great guy either. And the present… I mean, it always seems like a flimsy decision to give someone something you like without thinking about whether the other person will like it as well.
- They can’t help themselves with the yuri-bait, can they? “I’ll catch you and peel your mask off.”…? Also, Reina’s line that Kumiko always knows the right thing to say when it’s most important made me think of that moment in S1 where Kumiko repeats the “confession of love”-line to Reina. I think that’s the only time where Kumiko had actively said something dramatic to Reina. The next line indicates that she means when they both vowed to go to the Nationals but I don’t know… The phrasing’s a little weird to be just about that.
- Well, they certainly have made the whole “Reina’s in love with Taki”-thing a series-regular, haven’t they? Maybe it would matter a little more if Reina were the one to learn more about Taki instead of Kumiko…? Because Kumiko’s just sitting on that information and does nothing with it.
- No mention of Mamiko this week and Kumiko still can’t see the parallels between her sister’s situation and Asuka’s.
- Also, no Shuu. At this point, I wouldn’t even describe his relationship with Kumiko as a friendship. They barely know each other and they see each other even rarer (which logistically should be nearly impossible since they play in an ensemble together but oh well…).