Review/discussion about: Hibike! Euphonium 2
Recently, I have started to learn how to play the guitar. Sort of.
I haven’t purchased the instrument yet; I’m still deciding on the brand and the amp. However, I know what I want to play: heavy metal. It’s my jam, and, after listening to so much of it now, I told myself, “I want to melt faces with my solos like the best of them.” Okay, I’ll probably never be that good, but I do like the idea of expanding my skillset.
But it’s tough. I have never officially played an instrument, so even the notes of the strings are confusing me. Then there’s palm muting. Power chords. Tab sheets. Tremolo picking. Finger placement. A lot to take in for a musical beginner like myself.
After finishing Hibike! Euphonium 2, it made me realize, even with my minimal foray thus far into the world of guitar, that there’s a whole lot more to playing an instrument than just hearing a couple of notes.
Euphonium continues where the first season left off. Kumiko, Reina, and the other members of their band have won first place at the Kyoto competition. Nationals now set in their sights, they start to train ever harder to win it all on the biggest stage available. However, per usual, drama looms right around the tuba.
An important distinction exists between the first season and the second season of Euphonium. In the first season, Kumiko is directly attached to the events at hand. It’s a story as much about her finding her passion as it is the band shaping up into a musically strong group. In the second season, what happens is no longer about Kumiko. Instead, each arc and subplot centers on a specific character or set of characters, exploring their conflicts instead.
This shift in importance, where the main protagonist becomes a side character of sorts, is, well, important. For it drastically changes how events not only play out but also how they feel.
Unfortunately, neither the playing nor the feeling turn out for the better.
Analogously, Euphonum’s second season devolves into The Late-Night Show with Kumiko Oumae. The narrative gives her a guest (e.g., Mizore, Taki-sensei), and she plays the part of host, quietly sitting beside or across from him or her, asking questions or listening intently to what they wish to say. And her timeslot runs for a long while. Nearly every conversation Kumiko finds herself a part of takes the same interviewer-interviewee form, turning the narrative into a barrage of repetitive events that provide the audience with something to watch but lacking in substance.
Her show sees its lowest ratings during Asuka’s arc which comprises roughly the third quarter of the season (episodes seven through ten). The number of times that Asuka is either pulled away from where she’s at or bumped into randomly (be it with Kumiko or otherwise) is uncanny. The anime just cannot stop itself from making each of Asuka’s plot points a one-on-one. Seriously. There’s only so many times somebody can be cornered or dragged away to a secluded spot to talk about the same conversations ad nausea.
Almost all anime do something similar. Same for films and books and Western shows. After all, a conversation is nothing more than two people exchanging words. But, to reiterate, these conversations are not strictly for Kumiko. The drama simply isn’t meaningful to her, making her individual interactions with everyone unnatural. Possibly forced.
That’s why some of the anime’s best story moments either do involve Kumiko to a noticeable degree or remove her completely. For example, Kumiko’s silent weeping on the train to school is a wonderful, emotional reaction. Elicited from her sister moving forward with her life and the two removing the walls they put up between each other.
To clarify, this inspection is not arguing that the first season didn’t have similar content. Reina’s talk atop the mountain pass is a prime example of a moment where Kumiko is a listener rather than a participant. Yet, comparing this talk with the one they hold in the same spot during this season highlights the discussed difference. That is, Reina’s then words of wanting to be “special” influenced Kumiko whereas Reina’s frustration now with herself at her own “weakness” only matters to her and not Kumiko.
Euphonium attempts to justify itself in episode nine. Reina tells Kumiko, “There’s something about you. You act normal, but I feel you see through people. You act like you don’t notice things, but you do.” Then, “And when it matters most, you always have the right words.”
Fair enough. The anime, as plain as possible, declares that Kumiko landed her job as talk-show host because she’s good at it (without her really knowing). The trouble is deciding whether this reasoning is strong enough to supplant her main-protagonist role with that of little more than an audience’s lens.
To this point, and like any notable late-night talk show, Euphonium fills its space with more material than just rapport between Kumiko and someone else. Often, these segments stand stronger than anything else in the anime.
Take their Kansai Concert Band Competition, a culmination of the effort they put into the training camp and themselves. One can hear the passion in their playing and the sounds of their souls as their instruments ring out – and it’s not even Nationals.
It has its comedy. Reina’s dead-eye stare says more than words ever could about how she’s feeling when any other girls are too buddy-buddy with Taki-sensei. And one cannot help but laugh at Yuuko and Natsuki’s head-butting relationship. With a leaning cake here and a curtsy there, the two (infrequently) provide relief from the drumming drama.
It also follows through on many of the first season’s open-ended conflicts. The departure of the former band members. Taki-sensei’s wife and reasons for taking up the conductor mantle once more. Asuka’s strange behavior. Kumiko’s older sister’s tension. Nationals. All told, Euphonium accomplished quite a lot in just a single cour, keeping most (if not all) of its promises from the previous season.
And the anime has its fair share of writing chops. The seeds of drama in the second half’s arcs – Asuka’s, Mamiko’s, and Reina’s – are planted carefully during the first season’s arc – Mizore and Nozomi’s misunderstanding. The latter three arcs share many a parallel, such as the withholding of information between key characters and the pursuit of their passion. The anime even reveals why it titles itself “Sound! Euphonium”: Asuka’s titular euphonium piece (which was written by and received from her father).
Again, one must first sit through Kumiko’s awkward television show to see these stronger elements. In total, the anime doesn’t justify its narrative structure without fail, but it at least presented enough elsewhere to alleviate the strangeness.
Not a whole lot to write about when it comes to Euphonium’s visuals this second season. The attention to their instrument playing persists. Character designs are detailed and attractive. Backgrounds are realistic and therefore more engaging. In short, they have the KyoAni polish that the community has come to know and love.
Much like the first season, too, the anime once again knows how to set up its mood well. Deft use of shadow to highlight Mizore’s shift in perspective. Focusing on Reina’s feet and legs as she playfully backs away. A rotating camera to make Kumiko’s conversation with Asuka all the more disorienting.
And just for good measure, extra techniques aid the delivery of some Euphonium’s scenes.
Some are minor, like when hearts appear in Yoko’s eyes when commenting on Kaori’s bathing suit. Some are major, like when the camera pulls away from Reina as she screams out her frustrations to the world. Some are even hard to spot, like when Mamiko’s scrubbing and rinsing of the pot she stained acts as a metaphor for the “cleaning” she is doing for herself and, more importantly, for her relationship with Kumiko.
No matter the case, these extra details and cinematic choices no doubt boost the execution of the art and the animation with ease.
Despite the one-cour status of Euphonium’s second season, it focuses on five different people: Mizore, Asuka, Mamiko, Reina, and, of course, Kumiko.
When investigating their characters individually, nothing overly impressive stands out. Mizore gets sick when she even hears Nozomi play. Asuka’s mother slaps her in front of a sizeable crowd. Mamiko lashes out against her parents. Reina gives Kumiko the cold shoulder and screams at the top of her lungs.
At times, these moments get a bit heavy-handed (perhaps doubly so in Asuka’s case), making it hard to take their drama seriously. After all, when it’s put into perspective, Mizore’s conflict was just a misunderstanding, and Asuka literally refused to accept help from anyone.
Even so, they go through their own personal development. Mizore amends her connection with Nozomi. Asuka stops pretending to be mature and starts acting mature. Mamiko finally decides what she wants to do with her life. And Reina visits Taki-sensei’s wife’s grave to pay her respects and reaffirm that his wish (and his wife’s wish) comes first before whatever sincere feelings she may hold.
Again, on an individual basis, they do not demonstrate anything extravagant. Not that their arcs are bad, but they aren’t exactly as “musical” as the instruments that they play. However, and appropriately enough given the definition of a band, something interesting reveals itself when they are looked at collectively.
It’s hinted at with Mizore’s arc. Summarily, her conflict revolves around Nozomi and the pain she felt from her quitting band. More accurately, it’s about Mizore’s love for Nozomi, the best friend she felt she lost amidst the band’s turmoil.
The keyword there is love. Love is this wonderful feeling, a concept that captures hearts and fills people with happiness. It’s simultaneously real and intangible, understood and unknown. Love gives everyone the means to connect, to prosper, and to live. Without it, people just aren’t the same.
Thus, Euphonium targets love as its main theme for each of its characters and their arcs. For Asuka, a love she holds for a father that she no longer has. For Mamiko, a love she lost somewhere along the way. For Reina, a love she fights for with Taki-sensei despite the troubles therein.
Interestingly, the anime’s theme on love goes beyond just having it as a part of their characters. In each case, and as can be seen through the descriptions above, love is explored differently. Mizore’s is love between friends. Asuka’s is love between a parent and child. Mamiko’s is love between siblings. Reina’s is love between lovers. Through diversifying the connections where love appears, Euphonium improves its thematic exploration, arguing that love takes many forms between and for those held dear.
It goes deeper, for each instance of love also has a similarity: distance. Nozomi resigned from band, causing the tear in her relationship with Mizore. Asuka’s mother and father divorced, leaving her in an unsupportive household. Mamiko regrets her post-high-school choices, forcing her away from home. Reina has fallen for a man who most likely will never reciprocate her feelings.
These parallels and these layers culminate into one unified message. A message that isn’t made clear until later. Much later. But it’s subtle.
The whole season, Euphonium arguably builds towards a singular plot point: their performance at Nationals. They desperately want to win gold for a myriad of reasons. To prove their worth. To go out with one last hurrah. To do it for someone else. And, given everything that has happened up, including the first season, one would think they would win it all, right?
Wrong. They don’t. In fact, the anime doesn’t even showcase their performance. At first, that seems almost unfair. They did show their performance to get into Nationals, but the Nationals performance is the most important, so why not show it as well?
After venting some frustration, the first conclusion is that Euphonium wishes to save it for later. I.e., it’s better narratively to show the performance that wins them the gold when it’s the be-all-end-all moment rather than “wasting” it on a loss. Makes sense.
However, that doesn’t sit well. What was the point of going through all this drama – just to have them come up short when it mattered most? Euphonium answers this question, too, with the theme that it has rooted in its characters: love.
This performance, whether it was shown or not, highlights love’s immeasurable power. That, optimistically, distance matters not to love. For, in every instance, love triumphs regardless of how far it must travel. Mizore and Nozomi, moving forward, will finally get to play together like before. Asuka’s playing reaches the ears of her father, earning her the words she most wanted to hear. Mamiko receives fond words, too. From her younger sister and biggest fan. And Reina confesses her feelings to Taki-sensei loud and proud and for all to hear.
And so the message manifests: Who needs gold when one has love?
This all leaves Kumiko. Her role as host unfortunately leaves her without much direction. Again, since each character’s conflict doesn’t strictly pertain to Kumiko (which includes Mamiko’s since it’s about her college and life problems), she is not as integral to the proceedings and thus doesn’t benefit as much as them in the long run.
However, her hosting doesn’t mean she goes unaffected by what she has seen and heard. Mizore and the other band members force her to think more about herself. After learning about who Asuka truly is as a person, she becomes fearful of being alone as the senior euphonium player, who she once hated and now admires, moves on. As her older sister makes tough decisions, choosing the life she wishes to live, memories of Mamiko – her own playing and time spent together – reminds her of why she picked up an instrument in the first place. And while Reina chases after Taki-sensei, Kumiko gets (however unwanted they are) flashes of romance herself thanks to Shuuichi’s sporadic kindness.
In the end, Kumiko experiences the effects of love just as much as everyone else. It may not mean as much for her on a narrative or character level at this point. But, as she goes through love’s different forms, crosses the distances it bears, and finds it waiting for her all around, she, like a euphonium in an orchestra, fits right in with the others.
As a music-centric anime, Euphonium needs a bit more oomph to its songs’ selections and purposes – and it understands this sentiment.
Starting with the opening track, its empowering tone and hopeful drive fills the audience with optimism in the form of a forceful, passionate piece. An orchestral accompaniment backs the strong vocal performance, bringing both flourishes and shines in its dips, shifting beats, wide range of instruments, and catchiness. It fights back against the ensuing drama, declaring that its music will not go unheard.
Taking up the middle section, the original soundtrack from the first season returns, and it’s just as strong as remembered. A delicate piano daintily glides into a relief of violins as waves of happiness wash over the band on their major win. An echoing, space-like piece harbors mystery as Kumiko asks Asuka questions. And a couple of bongos and a flute create a tropical feel for their poolside outing.
In-between most of the content and the other music, Euphonium fills its spaces with extra goodness. Transitions offer short bursts of the different characters playing their instrument (to the same few notes). Asuka plays a sincere, beautiful piece on her euphonium, and Haruka jams out a groovy solo with her saxophone. And it even provides nearly seven full minutes of Kitauji playing the piece that won them the spot at Nationals.
When the characters aren’t using their instruments, they are speaking. Once again, this second season continues following the first season’s chord, presenting nice voice-acting performances for a good handful of its characters. Chika Anzai as Reina still has her maturity, Tomoyo Kurosawa as Kumiko still gasps in various ways, and the two’s chitchats bring out even more emotion from them. Minako Kotobuki as Asuka also deserves a shout-out for the playful spirit she often injects into her speech.
Rounding out the musical score, the ending track sweetens the end of each episode with a bout of wonderful singing. Switching the vocals between Kumiko, Reina, Hazuki, and Sapphire keeps the ED lighthearted. Their mirrored lyrics in the middle add balance. And the final segment is surprisingly catchy thanks to their choice of beat. The instruments do their job, but the singing overshadows them to quite the surprising extent.
I found myself more emotional this time around. Mizore’s plight was perhaps a bit too blown out of proportion, but Yuuko’s support pulled at a couple of my heartstrings. And Kumiko finally telling her older sister Mamiko how she was the one to inspire her to play euphonium in the first place made a lump in my throat.
The most moving to me, though, was their mid-season performance. Knowing about how much they have put in to get to that point, both individually and as a group, made me more invested than I thought I would be. Not to mention, the music itself was rousing and passionate and strong. Like I wrote earlier, I’m a metal fan (thrash specifically) first and foremost, but their sweeping orchestral charge makes it easy for me to appreciate such sounds, such talent.
I also liked Natsuki and Yuuko. Their bickering (“Ew, Natsuki’s being nice to me!”) was too much fun and usually got me laughing. And I cannot forget about the yuri between Kumiko and Reina. From them holding hands at the festival to Reina saying she would play her solo (and better than anyone else) for Kumiko had me cheering.
Which is (obviously) why I wasn’t a fan of the show trying to push the romance between Kumiko and Shuuichi. Kumiko is clearly not interested. Especially since her potential yuri relationship with Reina is not only heavily implied but also a heck of a lot more interesting (bias or otherwise).
Much of the drama was also not too engaging to me. Nozomi was annoying, Asuka’s went on for longer than needed, and Reina’s was obvious and unnecessary. The only conflict that I found worthwhile was Mamiko’s. Both because Kumiko finally mattered and because having siblings of my own made it more relatable.
Altogether, this season ends up roughly in the same spot as the previous for myself: I can’t call myself a fan, but it is still a well-executed anime regardless.
Hibike! Euphonium 2 lowers its volume slightly thanks mostly to the poor framing of its narrative. But that doesn’t stop it from keeping its decibels up elsewhere. A thematically strong cast, polished visuals, and smart musical choices keep the show in contention for those highly sought-after medals. With a film on the way to potentially wrap up the tale, this second performance may not earn them gold, but it at least demonstrates they don’t have too much more to learn.
Story: Fine, while The Late-Night Show with Kumiko Oumae creates an odd, unnatural structure for the events, the narrative still presents powerful moments, follows through on its promises, and contains thoughtful writing on occasion
Animation: Great, as with the first season, strong artistry, mood-setting delivery, and extra techniques of the detailed and cinematic variety present sharp, impressive visuals
Characters: Great, Mizore, Asuka, Mamiko, Reina, and Kumiko explore love through paralleled differences, layered similarities, and an overall message on true “gold”
Sound: Great, good OP, good ED, good OST, good VA performances, and extra musical arrangements
Enjoyment: Fine, still not largely taken by the drama, many of its characters, and Shuuichi’s lame romance, but fun and emotion and yuri and appreciation exist nonetheless
Final Score: 8/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3