Hibike! Euphonium S2 – 10 Review
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?!
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.
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.
- 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.