Hibike! Euphonium S2 – 11 Review
Great job heckling the teenager who just has gone through a lot in her private life!
Hibike! Euphonium S2 11: The question you gotta ask yourself is: “Do characters in this show actually have a life when Kumiko isn’t around to just observe it?”
Not that Kumiko personally cares. But Reina’s such a drag, she just has to give a shit about that teacher she’s supposedly in love with! So high-maintenance, right?! When you have friends like that… and so on and so forth.
Funny she should say that… Kumiko had a freakout of her own as well very recently… but let’s not pretend like this is a real conversation and instead let us just show Kumiko silently listening to Reina making multiple speeches in one episode where she TELLS us what she feels (I guess, it would be too subtle to just show us how she freaked out and what this says about her).
One of the more surprising (or you could say, disappointing) elements of the second season has been its lack of change. More than ever, the second season has portrayed its story-arcs as little more than diversions from a rather perfunctory “Getting to the Nationals”-plot. Whereas the first season’s story-arcs had a profound impact on the characters and had led to consequences, the second season has been just as non-committal as its protagonist Kumiko. Conflicts magically resolved themselves before Kumiko’s eyes (in the Mizore-arc), a simple admission of helplessness changed someone’s attitude (in Asuka’s arc) and this episode deals with another story-arc this season had been pushing hard since its first episode: Reina’s crush on Taki.
Compared with the first season it was strange to see the series push for it so hard in this season. It did so mostly through lighthearted comedy-bits which certainly undermined the seriousness of the whole thing. Add to that the fact that the topic of a schoolgirl’s crush on a teacher isn’t exactly an easy topic to cover in an anime that doesn’t necessarily want to seem mature or depressing and the whole thing felt more like just another distraction you’re not supposed to think too much about. But the series equally set up this episode by giving Kumiko insight into Taki’s past, so it was only natural to let it all culminate with an episode like this one.
Starting out with the fact that Reina has been avoiding Kumiko, the latter is now finally prepared to find out what’s going on (now that the whole Asuka/Mamiko-thing has ended). After a few shenanigans involving Hazuki and Sapphire, Kumiko eventually gets to talk to Reina alone where she reveals what she has found out. That one, Taki has a wife and that two, Kumiko had known about it and hadn’t told her. But rather than a confrontation, Reina’s honestly admitting her fears to Kumiko and by relying on her support, she openly asks Taki about his wife. Later, she goes with Kumiko to the wife’s grave to pay respects and vows to make her wish come true for the sake of Taki.
As a character-study the episode couldn’t have felt less artificial. There are a few elements in the episode that demand your suspense of disbelief (like the fact that Reina supposedly has really just learnt of Taki’s dead wife or that no adult would worry about Reina’s motivation for getting so upset over Taki’s past) but what’s worse is that none of the character-interactions in this episode seem “real”. This isn’t to say that this episode needs to be realistic in a grim or pessimistic sense. What didn’t feel real were the depictions of what the characters are going through in this episode.
It’s interesting to note how the show’s best moments (the Reina/Kumiko-scenes from episode 08 or the dialogue between Kumiko and Asuka from the last episode) rely on an overly dramatic delivery combined with a very over-the-top tone. Because in the absence of “realness” what leaves an impression are the extreme moments. In those scenes where the series seems indeed grandiose in its tone and presentation, you can buy into the fake-world the series is presenting. But when the series is more muted and contemplative, the shallow characterization of the cast gets exposed.
The defining moment of the episode was Kumiko’s narration about how Reina asking Taki directly about his wife had changed her. In that moment, Reina accepts that Taki loves his dead wife and his motivation is to make her dream come true. Then Kumiko’s narration kicks in: “Reina has never brought it up again. She never made a face. She never lost her sound. In fact, she played stronger than ever.”
Once again, the series is going through the same procedure it has operated under since the beginning: A problem arises which distracts/disturbs a character A, her music gets worse, Kumiko takes an interest, she observes the problem, the problem gets confronted by character A and in the end, character A isn’t distracted or disturbed anymore. The second season even exacerbated this bad habit by freezing the ensemble-plot in a limbo of endless practice. Even if the story-arcs of the first season weren’t illuminating pieces of storytelling, they served a purpose. Each story-arc was in service of getting the ensemble closer to being good enough to compete in the Nationals. The second season doesn’t have that atmosphere anymore, though. The story-arcs are just these episodic little dramas that come up suddenly and resolve itself in a “way too neat to be believable” fashion.
Without the plot driving the drama, the series’ biggest problem becomes its essential meaninglessness. That isn’t to say the series has nothing to say but that what it has to say is neither compelling nor illuminating. Just take this season’s story-arc of the Reina-Taki-relationship for example. A big part of why this episode doesn’t work is that in the same way it’s hard for the audience to care about the relationship, the writers of the show seem to find it hard to say anything conclusive or illuminating about the relationship. What does the show think of Reina’s attitude that she wants to grow up faster, so that she can be with Taki?
And you can ask about the consequences of all the show’s story-arcs as they all reveal the same problem: Ultimately Hibike Euphonium is driven by its plot – despite its appearances. The only idea that truly unites all the story-beats of this series is the ensemble’s goal to win the Nationals. Everything is in service of that – or rather: everything that isn’t in service of that is a problem.
It’s very telling that the characters with the emotional stakes in this episode don’t end up showing a lot of emotions. Both Taki and Reina approach their emotional troubles with a certain sense of detachment while beneath the surface emotions are all that drive them supposedly. What we get is just a lot of exposition where both characters talk about how they feel. Again, just by being near Kumiko is privy to a lot of revealing comments and explanations. Reina’s distress over Taki’s wife is mostly just shown by Reina confessing everything to Kumiko (and Reina is very quick to forgive Kumiko for not telling her about Taki’s past). Taki talks about his grief very openly but without any rawness or vulnerability. And the character’s perspective we follow just thinks “Man, all this just isn’t worth the trouble. Let’s just move on.”.
And so the series just moves on.
- The best way to describe this episode’s storytelling-story is to call it “deescalation”. You’d think Kumiko keeping Taki’s past a secret would be a problem… It isn’t. You’d think Reina’s love for a teacher would be a problem… It isn’t. You’d think that Taki still not being over his wife’s death in the way he clings to her dream of going to the Nationals with a school-ensemble would be a problem… It isn’t. Everything you would consider inconvenient and a cause for drama simply gets explained away by characters just openly confessing everything.
- What exactly does Reina get out of trusting Kumiko and relying on her? The only person she’s confessing her feelings to is Kumiko who, by the way, has nothing to offer in return. In fact, if it were up to Kumiko Reina wouldn’t have even talked to Taki. It also goes right back into intimacy-territory the way the first dialogue between Reina and Kumiko unfolds. That deep connection you allude to in order to add intimacy is very present in the way Reina seems to understand Kumiko even without her saying much.
- A student being in love with a teacher is a weird thing to be noncommittal about. The first season was even vaguer with its idea of love (at least the second season has moments where Reina acts like she’s in love with Taki) but the series still doesn’t seem to have anything to say about what Reina’s love represents. What if it just seems to her like she’s romantically in love with Taki and instead it’s just her admiration for Taki as a musician and a person that she’s grappling with here? What if this love isn’t about her wanting to be with him but instead about her trying to become him? And if it’s genuine love, what does it say about her that she seems to have made it a life-goal for herself to be with him? There’s plenty of stuff the series could delve into here – and the series just doesn’t.
- It really does feel like the ensemble is full of professional music-robots. There’s this scene between Natsuki and Asuka where the former says that she’s never seen the latter so defenseless. And the latter replies that she should enjoy the view because tomorrow she will be her old self again. And then Reina also ends up returning to her original personality. Of course, the series acts that in the process of the story-arc these characters have become better musicians by having a short cathartic confrontation with whatever was plaguing them.
- Yuuko is a real tsundere, isn’t she?