Hibike! Euphonium S2 – 12 Review
This series is obsessed with mentioning other schools and describing how successful they’ve been in the past. For a series, that’s supposedly all about the “trying hard is enough”-mentality, it’s strange just how often it can’t help itself but make it a status thing when characters mention other schools.
Hibike! Euphonium S2 12: As they say, it’s all about the journey and not the destination… even if during the journey all everybody could think about was to finally get to a destination. And I guess, usually the saying also implies that you actually got where you wanted to go. But let’s not dwell on that! Everything’s fine – no matter what the actual results are!
But on the bright side of things: Asuka’s dad still knew what his daughter looked like and Kumiko’s sister was there (who has been less of an asshole since she had confessed her problems to Kumiko).
And Reina confessed! The event so many people didn’t really wait for and that predictably didn’t go anywhere either…
See, this totally explains why they only got Bronze! They just didn’t try hard enough! And watching this series, I assume, everyone in the audience noticed that as well.
For a series that professes to be about sentimentality, passionate music-playing and the idea that you should make the most out of your youth, it’s strange to see its second season end with a whimper. Surprisingly anti-climactic does the series end with the ensemble reaching the Nationals – only to get Bronze. And the result is a small bit of disappointment followed by everyone happily agreeing that next year they definitely have to win gold. “Wait, that’s it?”, you may ask and yes, that’s it. I’m sure Sissyphus would be proud of them.
But even before that I already grew tired of this episode. After all, at this point, we’ve seen the setting of this big competition already two or three times as far as I remember. Each time the series tried to convince the audience how important the whole thing was supposed to be. This is their path to the Nationals! They’re getting closer! Look at the dazzling visuals and listen to the great music! All their effort has been worth it! And we get to this episode…? Where’s the passion now? Where are the stakes that show us what the consequences of failure are? What happens if someone doesn’t get what he or she wants? Nothing. What do we get instead? Business as usual.
The biggest change between season 01 and season 02 has been what music represents. In the first season, there was a direct correlation between practice, attitude and talent. And when the ensemble succeeded at the end, you could buy it as it nicely concluded Kumiko’s arc as a musician. During the second season, this idea changed. Starting with Mizore, the series started to look at music as a metaphor for the character’s emotional purity. But purity in this sense isn’t about the character’s ability to fit into society as a whole. Rather it’s about fitting into the ensemble. That passionate professionalism which governs the actions of all the characters is an ideal in this series and whoever doesn’t meet its standards has a problem. And with season 02 that ideal wasn’t even tied to practice anymore. Mizore, Asuka and Reina all evolved as musicians because of their cathartic confrontation with whatever troubled them.
Another decision led to the disappointment that this episode was: The second season’s decision to constantly show the ensemble ending practice with Taki saying some vague, general things about how they weren’t good enough yet (and whoever had an emotional problem became the worst musician ever – or was simply absent, in the case of Asuka). But it never felt like the audience was part of this rigorous practice. Rather than inviting the audience to empathize with the ensemble’s life, these scenes simply created a sense of monotonous banality. Practicing had become something perfunctory in the second season.
If wishes were gold medals, I’m pretty sure, this ensemble would already be drowning in them…
With this presentation, the fact that the series didn’t end on a high note was doubly confusing. Although, there was one character who was the voice of reason in the oftentimes overly emotional scenes of this series: Shuu. Both the scene between Shuu and Mamiko a couple episodes ago and this episode’s scene between Kumiko and Shuu clearly show a character who SHOULD be a lead-character of the series. Whereas Kumiko offers curiosity and a strong yearning for the aforementioned purity, Shuu offers insight and a more rational perspective. Of course, both characters come with their own set of bullshit-ticks and the series does little to get you past those. Kumiko remains a naïve doofus who tries hard and Shuu remains a smartass who’s too much of a chickenshit when it counts (it also doesn’t help that the series has trouble remembering that he exists). But in scenes like these, it’s noticeable how it’s Shuu who points out truths the other characters haven’t accepted yet.
It really fits this episode to finally get a scene between Kumiko and Shuu, only for it to be one of the most laconic scenes imaginable. I mean, if I didn’t know what had happened in the first episode of this season, I wouldn’t believe for a second that they’re anything but childhood-friends. There’s no chemistry between them except for the fact that they seem to know each other very well. You also would be excused for not noticing one of the more important remarks in this dialogue. In a very casual “By the way…”-tone of voice, Shuu mentions the fact that he worries the ensemble won’t succeed (which turns out to be true). But what does he base that on? Where’s his evidence? When did he become such a great musician? And how does Kumiko react to that? With disinterest. The protagonist hears that the ensemble she practiced SO hard for won’t succeed and she doesn’t seem to care that much!
Then again, that loudmouthed man-child of a “teacher” had announced beforehand that this isn’t about winning, it’s about trying hard. So, if that wasn’t the point, what was? And in this regard, this episode shows much more care. Both Mizore’s relationship with Nozomi and Asuka’s relationship with her father get resolved in this episode – and they both seem to thank Kumiko for this. Mizore seemingly has regained her place as Nozomi’s friend #1 and she thanks Kumiko by fistbumping. Yes, just as Shuu last season! It really isn’t worth doing that twice, I would say.
The way Asuka’s daddy-issues get resolved is much more infuriating, though. First of all, I’m pretty sure there’s a slight ethical issue here where the father of one of the contestants shouldn’t be a judge, I would say. But hey, I guess, it’s completely fine for this dude to keep his child a secret… or not. After all, he has this totally-not-obvious short conversation with Taki. And the series acts like Asuka has won some sort of victory with this. But isn’t this behavior just the worst? He hasn’t seen his daughter for years and then suddenly he sees her in a competition playing the instrument he gave her as a present (for some selfish reason) and he… gives her teacher a short message? That’s supposed to be good enough…?
If you think it couldn’t get worse, it actually does. Everything about Reina in this episode makes me think that she’s nothing like this self-confident weirdo from season 01. She’s just this shallow girl who takes herself way too serious and who’s madly in love with her teacher. That’s how she has come across in season 02. Only occasionally did we see that other Reina here. And the series was poorer than that. Setting the yuri-shenanigans aside, the relationship between Kumiko and Reina in season 01 actually had an arc. Watching Kumiko agonize over Mizore’s problems and despair over Asuka’s cynicism wasn’t nearly as compelling.
What I have lamented time and time again in these reviews was the utter incapability of the writers to give Kumiko anything of note to do. She really was just an observer for most of this season. And so, it’s no wonder that the series gets to this point without having found anything to say. Nothing of note, nothing of impact: Only the pretense of sort-of offering some small sense of closure. Of course, you shouldn’t think too much about how “complete” Asuka’s daddy-issues, Reina’s insane love, Kumiko’s sis-con-tendencies and Mizore’s jealousy-issues really feel in a narrative sense.
But there’s always next year, right?
- I hope this won’t be the end of the anime-series. That would be one hell of a disappointing ending to a 20+-episodes-run. There’s nothing conclusive about this episode as far as endings are concerned. Although, I guess, since the third-years will go, that message from Asuka’s dad counted as a conclusion…?
- Speaking of Asuka: Now what the hell was that about?! I assume the novels cover this in more detail but I guess, the mother is the bad guy…? Is she at fault for keeping her daughter away from her father for so long?
- The Mamiko-Kumiko-scene was emotional but… narratively it felt perfunctory. After all, the audience was already very much aware of Kumiko’s true feelings and Mamiko had confessed everything to Kumiko.
- I think the biggest difference between S1-Reina and S2-Reina was that the former seemed like a kid with some very weird ideas on what being an adult is about while the latter pretty much was your typical childish teenager trying really hard to grow up as fast as possible (and failing). S1-Reina is similar to Asuka in that regard. Both are charming because they are clinging to some very individualistic ideas of who they are and who they want to be. And that’s what makes them so interesting. Judged under the harsh light of reality this may make them fundamentally flawed as a person but that’s where the drama comes from and why you can relate to them so well. These two characters acted like they’re already the “finished” adult-version of themselves when in truth they still had as much growing up to do as everybody else. But with Asuka they made her WAY too smart, to the point where her only problem was her defeatist attitude. And with Reina they took the weirdness away that had resulted in the yuri-bait from the first season. They refocused on her love for Taki and made her a child who hopelessly chased after something she couldn’t possibly get a hold of. When this episode showed Reina surrounded by other girls comforting her (because Taki had acted like a responsible adult), she seemed somewhat “small”. Compare that to the Reina in all the Kumiko-Reina-scenes from the first season and you get a very different character (or remember, for example, how Reina offhandedly dissed Shuu in the first episode?).
- Let’s hope this series has never to make a case for why Kumiko and Shuu are in love with each other. I know, both characters are pretty low-energy but come on! Maybe the novels get away with it by having a little more narration from Kumiko’s perspective but as a scene in an anime, it was simply boring!
- What I have to say, though: This episode does something the entire series should’ve done more often! It offered multiple perspectives so that you could get a better sense of what the ensemble is up to instead of focusing on one or two characters. The first season certainly took that to an extreme where it sometimes really felt like Hibike! Euphonium was the Kumiko-Reina-show. The second season went into the right direction there but it still wasn’t enough. Maybe the fact that the third-years would’ve to leave after this episode would’ve had more of an impact if the audience had been made to care about the characters as an ensemble instead of just focusing on certain characters here and there…
- I can’t help but think of 3-gatsu no Lion while watching this. Now that’s a series that has something to say about professionalism.
- Also, I hope that everybody enjoyed the holidays 😉 . Tomorrow I will post my final review for Shuumatsu no Izetta and by next week I will have my thoughts gathered to talk about Flip Flappers (and what I think it’s about). Also, I haven’t looked at what’s coming out in the next season. But if something seems interesting, I will review it.