Hibike! Euphonium S2 – 10 Review

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It took this series over 20 episodes to finally confront Kumiko with some hard truths. If this show isn’t getting a third season, it’s a weird decision to only acknowledge shortly before the end that the series-protagonist is a big wimp who has a lot of growing-up to do.

Hibike! Euphonium S2 10: Kumiko’s little visit to Asuka hasn’t changed anything unsurprisingly.

After this failure, things only get tougher for Kumiko as both Mamiko and Asuka show her that she’s still far away from being an efficient trouble-solver.

But hey, she’s just a child, so it’s fine, right? No need to already behave like an adult in high school. I’m sure there are a ton of YA-stories out there that show how growing up isn’t a priority when you’re in high school, right? The coming-of-age-genre generally deals with all these kids in their twenties who finally learn what being an adult means, right?!

Review:

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This describes pretty well what the writers think of Asuka. In the end, Asuka doesn’t have to find a compromise or give up something precious. She pretty much gets everything she wants.

A lot of literature has dealt with the question of what adulthood means and how/when you should reach it. In some stories the coming-of-age-process is a necessity and the earlier the child masters adulthood (with virtues like responsibility, reliability etc.) the better. Other stories would rather depict childhood as a wondrous refuge of innocence that tragically gets lost once adulthood is reached. Trying to find Hibike Euphonium’s place between these two extremes wasn’t a big concern for the series thus far but the tenth episode has found surprisingly clear words.

Clarity is certainly this episode’s biggest strength. It’s ironic certainly that while the 9th episode was visually impressive and lackluster script-wise, the 10th episode reverses this equation completely. Characters speak their mind and the straightforward, passionate tone the series is constantly aiming for finally finds itself combined with much-needed self-reflection and insight. Both times when Kumiko is talking to Asuka and Mamiko, she gets confronted by them. It’s particularly striking because if the last episode was all about the series indulging Kumiko and showering her with praise and opportunities, this episode basically lists all the reasons why I haven’t liked Kumiko as a protagonist for a long time. I think it’s the first time someone actually confronted Kumiko in this series and criticized her. Otherwise, characters have just responded sympathetically to her try-hard friendliness or in the case of Reina she’s gotten the attention of a genuine weirdo.

With her scathing words, Asuka’s calling into question everything about Kumiko as a person and what she has done so far in this season. Asuka calls her unreliable for being curious about other people’s problems without having the courage to really get involved. In addition to that, she questions whether everybody even trusts her or really cares about whether Asuka stays or goes. What’s making this such an effective argument is that it’s true or a cynical interpretation of the truth. Since the series is following Kumiko who’s such a flawed person, Asuka’s making the argument that everything she thinks she knows may be equally flawed. And we have seen in how she handled Mizore’s troubles she actually didn’t handle them at all. It just sort-of had a happy ending independent of her involvement. She was just there as an observer and nothing more.

And this is where I think Kumiko stands in the way of making the transition to a happy end work. Asuka’s supposed to be the kind of smartass-teenager who thinks everyone’s a dipshit – except her. Of course, that makes her an arrogant asshole. Normally characters like her are even the protagonists in YA-stories. Problems arise, though, when the arrogant asshole actually IS the smartest person in the room. There’s nothing hypocritical about Asuka’s smart-assery when she’s allowed to show off her intelligence. And it makes you question why we followed Kumiko for over 20 episodes if she’s such a doofus. Asuka’s criticisms are the obstacle Kumiko has to overcome to progress as a character instead of being the proof of Asuka’s flaws they should serve as.

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The lesson being: Just be selfish when you make life-decisions. There’s no way life would ever make it hard for someone to do what they want to do. Nah, regretting that you haven’t been stubborn enough in the past matters more.

But the episode also covers the counter-argument to Asuka’s down-to-earth-nihilism. Since Kumiko has finally got it that Mamiko’s troubles are connected to Asuka’s takes Mamiko’s words and makes this statement: “You don’t have to be such an adult! It’s okay to be a child!” The rest of her argument relies on the usual “Let’s try our hardest together!”-spiel that plays up the “passionate professionalism”-attitude of all the characters who aren’t troubled. Two topics emerge from this perspective that illuminate what the series (and specifically this season) is getting at. The first one is about the nature of adulthood and the second one is about regret.

Hibike Euphonium isn’t a fan of adulthood, is it? The series doesn’t have a lot of adult-characters but on one hand we have adults who are stuck in the past or have regrets and on the other hand we have adults who’re fundamentally unhappy. Even the two adult-friends of Taki essentially perform their roles from their college-days. Taki himself is driven by his love for his dead wife and characters like Asuka’s mom and Kumiko’s parents can’t relate to the joy of childhood anymore which makes them seem bitter and cold. Whatever good some adult exhibits in this series is based on their younger self from the past while everything bad is described as “adult”. The series is implying that “the adult thing to do” is directly in opposition to childish joy.

Why childish joy is so important to the characters is tied to the series definition of regret. In the very first episode of the series when Kumiko watched the fireworks with Reina she pretty much summarized it. There she was getting melancholic about the finiteness of the joy she’s currently experiencing. Getting back to what I said at the beginning of this review, this is the very definition of looking at childhood as a refuge from adulthood. The reason the characters are such try-hards about the whole ensemble-thing is because with adulthood they fear they will lose that. Therefore, not getting everything you can out of this precious childhood is seen as a waste. Of course, this still doesn’t explain why the ensemble is the thing Kumiko wants to utilize for that besides a shallow “Well, what can you do? These kids just love music.” but it explains where the passion is coming from.

As a story about adolescence, it is more about wish-fulfilment than realism. A kid advocating for the greatness of childhood that needs to be fully enjoyed doesn’t ring true. It comes off as a nostalgic adult point-of-view instead of a realistic one. What the series believes in is an idyllic childhood where you have good friends, ambitions, and wishes that can come true if you try hard enough and you have a rewarding hobby that offers you praise and support from other people. Think of how Asuka managed to get back into the ensemble: She got into the national Top 30 of a mock-exam and used that as leverage against her mother. It makes it seem like doing well in school has given her full control of her life again (which she had previously lost when she wasn’t doing well in school). Life rarely is THAT easy.

This episode also frustrated me with its frankness. On one hand, I applaud it for that but on the other hand, I can’t help but feel that this is too little, too late. I mean, now that Kumiko has realized that she still has some growing up to do is she suddenly gonna become a better person in the next two episodes? Or is the episode looking at Kumiko’s emotional answer as the perfect counterargument against Asuka’s cynicism? Is the greatness of childhood and a willingness to enjoy it a sufficient excuse for character-flaws? With two episodes left to go (that apparently deal with Reina), it will be interesting to see if the show finds some way to come back to its beginnings where Kumiko talked about her fears of losing all the joys of childhood.

Episode-Rating: 7/10

Random Thoughts:

  • Visually the episode has been mostly uninteresting and really missed some important narrative beats here and there. Case in point: The train-scene. It’s the next morning after Kumiko had an important conversation with Mamiko. At one point, Mamiko asked Kumiko if she’s sad that she’s leaving and she admitted why she was jealous of her while also acknowledging her performance and her goal to reach the Nationals. Kumiko didn’t get to say goodbye to Mamiko and now she’s on her way to school. She’s on the train looking out the window absentmindedly. Then the flashbacks start highlighting the good and the bad (but mostly the good) of her experiences with Mamiko. It ends on a flashback where Kumiko told her sister that she wants to play music with her together. In the present, she starts to cry and hides her face. An older man and an older girl together with a little girl notice her. And the scene ends with Kumiko admitting to herself that she actually is sad that her sister is leaving. In terms of editing the scene is very unimaginative. It’s like someone set up a line of dominos and you’re watching the subtext as a chain-reaction. The scene goes from Kumiko being absentminded to flashbacks. Those are already a boring highlight-reel á la “Hey, remember the stuff from two episodes ago and… well, a couple minutes ago?”. It’s just exposition as a reminder, nothing more. Then Kumiko starts to cry. Shuu had already mentioned the fact that Kumiko actually looks up to Mamiko and the flashbacks cover that as well (of course, in the series itself we haven’t seen anything of that sort before this arc). So, the tears tell you what an impact the conversation had on Kumiko. After that, as she continues to cry some people look at her. The guy… who cares, I mean, it’s nice to know that the series isn’t trying to turn this into a statement about a faceless society not giving a shit about a girl crying in their midst. What’s important, though, is directly opposite from Kumiko you can see an older girl and a younger one who are seemingly the same age as the Kumiko and Mamiko from the “happy flashbacks”. It’s obvious that you have a visual hook for Kumiko’s inner world with this pair of sisters – and it’s just thrown in there at the end of the scene. Instead of utilizing the setting of the scene, they just become the wallpaper of an empty room so-to-speak. I imagine someone who has worked on this episode has thought of that as well because there’s a reason why they drew these two characters specifically. Following that, though, Kumiko is looking down and has turned away from them, just saying something like “I’m really sad.”. Composition-wise the train and its passengers don’t matter. Molepeople could stand there and it wouldn’t make a difference. The scene only happens internally for Kumiko. But that distance to the outside-world isn’t communicated either. The train looks completely mundane and Kumiko crying has no impact on it. Bad editing, bad cinematography, bad direction: Everything that could go wrong with the visuals aside from sheer incompetence goes wrong here. This doesn’t mean that the scene’s bad but it looks boring and bland because of that.
  • Things you shouldn’t do in a story: A narration saying “At that point, I didn’t give a shit about this other character and didn’t think anything of the fact that they kind-of had disappeared from my life suddenly.”. Again, you’re going to the same frigging school! If Reina behaves strangely, talk to her! But hey, good thing the series made Kumiko the protagonist, right? It’s really great to follow a character who doesn’t think she should be doing something when her friend suddenly distances herself from her. *sigh* Why did it take this series SO long to finally tell Kumiko that she can’t continue doing this…?
  • Another thing this episode did much better script-wise: It showed off most of the ensemble reacting to Asuka’s troubles instead of just sticking to Kumiko’s perspective.
  • In that scene where the third-years are talking in the class-room, it’s mentioned that they’ve tried many times already to talk Asuke out of it and failed. Later when Asuka criticizes Kumiko for believing in the third-years and that everyone in the ensemble wants her to return, Asuka claims that Kumiko doesn’t know them at all. Where Asuka may have a point is that the classroom-scene does indicate that during the last episode when Natsuki gave Kumiko her “mission”, the third-years and second-years hadn’t really put their faith in Kumiko. Unbeknownst to Kumiko they had talked to Asuka many times already. The conclusion you can draw from that may not be as pessimistic Asuka’s but she does have a point in saying that Kumiko has no idea what the older students in the ensemble are doing and want to do.

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on December 8, 2016, in Anime, Hibike! Euphonium, Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I enjoyed this episode. There was a good link between the problem with Mamiko and the one with Asuka. I didn’t expect to see Kumiko cry and get angry like that, but I’m glad to see that she is being honest and that she has evolved. I agree that Kumiko and Asuka too have flaws but they are interesting characters and got a good development in this episode.
    I didn’t really care about the visuals, because the story has to be good too and it was the case here. And finally we got an episode without that yuri-bait.

    “Things you shouldn’t do in a story: A narration saying “At that point, I didn’t give a shit about this other character and didn’t think anything of the fact that they kind-of had disappeared from my life suddenly.” (Kumiko talking about Reina).

    I was actually glad that for once Kumiko does not care about Reina since her problems with her sister and Asuka are way more important that Reina’s love for Taki. We don’t really know why Reina ignored her (but I suppose it is linked to Taki). I hope they won’t do a stupid drama with Reina, it will ruin the show since Asuka and Mamiko’s arc were interesting and ended in a good way.

    “Another thing this episode did much better script-wise: It showed off most of the ensemble reacting to Asuka’s troubles instead of just sticking to Kumiko’s perspective.”

    I totally agree with you !

    And also: Shuuichi, Hazuki and Sapphire got more screetime than Reina in this episode! Hurray! =)

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    • “I agree that Kumiko and Asuka too have flaws but they are interesting characters and got a good development in this episode.”

      But the thing with that is that the flaws only become interesting once you drag them into the open like this episode does. This doesn’t mean it always has to start with a confrontation (as is the case with Asuka) or a confession (as is the case with Mamiko). It could come from self-reflection (like if Kumiko herself would’ve evaluated her role in the Mizore-arc) or simple happenstance (if Asuka had indeed relied on Kumiko to convince her to come back and Kumiko is put into a situation she doesn’t want to be in). And using the “show, don’t tell”-rule there’s a lot you can do visually to communicate characterization.

      The point of dragging it into the open is that the series knows what’s going on and shares that with the audience. What I don’t like is when it feels like the series doesn’t think the audience knows what’s going on. One part of not getting it wrong is knowing who you want the audience of your show to be and these days I would argue another part is to not think that the audience is dumb and/or uninformed. Because even if you have an audience-member who maybe doesn’t know why Asuka’s acting the way she is in this episode, that person can simply go online and read this review or others explaining what is going on. In this internet-age you always have to assume that the internet is several steps ahead of the narrative (unless the series is some mysterybox that wants to drag out the mystery as long as possible).

      So, me for example, I looked at Kumiko’s role in the Mizore-arc and I was like “She’s terrible! She didn’t do anything!”. And this episode works even better because it gives me the satisfaction that the series kinda knows that I know how flawed Kumiko is as a protagonist.

      “There was a good link between the problem with Mamiko and the one with Asuka.”

      Granted I had realized that almost immediately once they had introduced the problems these two were facing. So, personally, I was just waiting to see how they would make use of that connection. What I think made it work in the end was how this arc has ended up being less about Asuka and Mamiko and more abour Kumiko. The character who has changed the most in this arc is Kumiko and not Mamiko or Asuka. Those two just had to realize that their dreams are worth following.

      “I didn’t really care about the visuals, because the story has to be good too and it was the case here.”

      Hmm, it’s certainly true that every viewer has different priorities when it comes to stuff like that. One person may respond well to a certain trope while another couldn’t care less when that trope gets used in a story. Or you can have a ranking about how important visuals, direction, editing, writing etc. for you are and that list can be wildly different depending on who you ask.

      In this case, though, I would argue that visuals matter because this series does have really great visuals and direction sometimes (last week’s episode for example). Even if just on the level of consistency, it’s noteworthy when such a series employs these great visuals and when it doesn’t.

      “I was actually glad that for once Kumiko does not care about Reina since her problems with her sister and Asuka are way more important that Reina’s love for Taki.”

      True but you gotta admit: It’s a shitty thing to say about someone you’re close to. It isn’t really a sign of a good friend when the friendship falls under the “Out of sight, out of mind”-rule. I understand why she isn’t dealing with Reina in this episode from a storytelling perspective but as a character reaction it makes Kumiko look like a really terrible friend.

      “I totally agree with you !”

      Yeah, that scene with the third-years is SO much more believable than that scene with Natsuki and Kumiko last week.

      Like

  2. With the proviso that I detest this show with every fiber of my being and largely agree with your ongoing criticisms of it, I think you’re dead wrong that its producers are in any way trying to criticize how Kumiko has acted.

    There’s utterly no nuance to anything in this soul-deadening work – heck, it spent the last few episodes with everyone in sight declaring her to be the superhero the band needed, so it seems pretty clear to me that Kumiko’s “we’re still just kids” outburst is meant to be a defining moment and declaration of the show’s underlying theme that kids need to do what they love in pursuing their dreams (paralleling Kumiko’s grossly underdeveloped sister’s story).

    Admittedly, this is largely undermined by the military-style drilling and training of the band, but I’ve already said this show is a story-telling nightmare. (Yes, I agree with you that Kumiko is supposed to fully realize she still has growing up to do, but that makes perfect sense in the context of her “I’m just a kid” mindset. It’s not meant in any way to be a criticism of her actions.)

    My assumption is that the final arc of this navel-gazing, mind-bogglingly dull show will have Kumiko save the day for Reina, but undoubtedly I will end up further disappointed when the resolution involves neither Kumiko x Reina nor Reina x Taki hookups, because either would be far too subversive for the thin, dull, completely conventional gruel this series has been feeding us but for that single transcendent episode in the first season.

    Like

    • “I think you’re dead wrong that its producers are in any way trying to criticize how Kumiko has acted.”

      I would say it falls into the same category as the series pretending there’s nothing yuri about the intimacy between Kumiko and Reina they’re constantly pushing. I mean, wouldn’t you agree that Asuka’s criticisms are a truthful takedown of the idea that Kumiko is “the hero the ensemble needs”? Just as with the intimacy, the series is certainly overshooting its goal here. Asuka probably was supposed to look like a cynical smartass that tried to distract from her unhappiness by being an asshole. But the way the dialogue concludes, it does make Kumiko look immature and desperate.

      Of course, I have my doubts if any upcoming episodes will see it the same way. This show certainly hasn’t shown enough self-awareness in the past to realize when it goes way further into a certain direction than necessary with its narrative. Maybe it’s that the creative team behind the series has VERY different ideas of what this show is about and that’s why we get these weird moments. Just comparing this episode to the previous one, you see two VERY different portrayals of what role Kumiko is playing in the narrative. In one week, she’s the only one who can save the day by convincing an upperclassman with a difficult problem to not quit the ensemble. She knows what she wants to do and she knows she’s right. Then in this episode, we look at Kumiko as this weak individual who’s utterly lost when confronted with the truth and all she has left is to despair and more or less beg for that upperclassman to listen to her.

      “Admittedly, this is largely undermined by the military-style drilling and training of the band, but I’ve already said this show is a story-telling nightmare.”

      I think the two biggest ideas of the series are one, adulthood is a sad and difficult thing and two, only as a kid you can do everything you want. Especially the second point relies on this idea of regret that permeates the entire series. But it’s regret tinged with nostalgic wish-fulfilment. It isn’t the regret of a teenager but the regret of an adult looking back on childhood saying “This precious period of life should be enjoyed to the fullest!”. And the idea of “joy” in that context is similarly adult in origin because it’s this “passionate professionalism” that supposedly ensures the ensemble’s happiness. That has little to do with what being a teenager is actually like. The series doesn’t give a shit about the struggles of teenagers. Despite what the creators of this show say, this isn’t about realism AT ALL.

      Like

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