Perfect. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think about this episode. I’ve been open and honest on how I feel about Kyoto Animation: I love them. They are my favourite studio, even if some of their works in the past few years haven’t been their best, I always watch them and always get some degree of enjoyment out of them. I have massive appreciation for their artistic ability and attention to detail, and I think no other studio compares to them in that regard. Some may dislike their aesthetic, and that’s entirely fair – your own taste is subjective, after all. But when you have an episode with scenes like these, drawn by the hands of only seven key animators (and several inbetweeners, of course), then I think it’s impossible to say this wasn’t one of Kyoto Animation’s finest works to date.
Even if you have immense dislike for the studio – as some pride themselves for having – I honestly cannot see how you could possibly hate this episode. I’ll admit that I tend to give KyoAni the benefit of the doubt, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that this is their best TV episode to date. Of course, that’s just my opinion, but I have no qualms in admitting how perfect I thought this was. There were a few episodes of Clannad that are distinctively memorable, and the first season of Suzumiya Haruhi is immensely popular for very good reasons. I would also argue that the episode of Tamako Market focusing on Tamako’s dad was one of their best as well. This one, however, was Kyoto Animation’s finest; from the backgrounds to the closeups, the long pauses that kept you on the edge to quick cuts that flashed by, and the immersive music to the love confessions, to top it all off.
Confessions & Relationships:
Up until last week, we hadn’t focused too heavily on the romantic relationships between the characters, even if it always seemed like that time would eventually come around. Hazuki really has kicked off a chain of events that tie several characters together – who likes who, who wants to go to the festival with who, and who is already in a relationship. First off, I’m over the moon that Gotou and Riko are already dating. It was obvious that they had a connection since their introduction together, with all those side glances and awkward silences, but I never expected them to already be together at this point. It’s a cute little moment when Riko comes up to Gotou with her golden yukata. It’s good to know that even the side characters in Hibike! Euphonium get their fair share of development and screentime. It’s also nice to see two characters together who aren’t the epitome of bishounen/bishoujo. Riko is short and doesn’t have a perfect size 0 figure, whereas Gotou is a towering guy with muscles and specs. I’m just very happy that these two are together already, and I hope to see more of them. Maybe we’ll even get some handholding before we’re finished with them.
I expected the focus on the love triangle to be much more dramatic that it ended up being. Of course, it’s not necessarily over yet. Kumiko didn’t accept Shuuichi’s offer to go to festival with him, and likewise, he rejected Hazuki’s confession. Maybe I’m so used to dramatics in anime, but I expected some screaming and shouting, and maybe some tears and a tantrum or two to keep us going into next week. What we got instead was much more grounded, a little sudden, but felt very real. Both Hazuki and Shuuichi’s nerves in their respective moments made me feel for them. It seems they’re not destined for one another, but it was cute while it lasted – short as it may have been.
What I am interested in now is where Shuuichi goes from here. Out of the main cast I find myself less invested in his side of things, and I just can’t see him and Kumiko together. It seems like it they should be destined for each other in the end, but there has never been any sign that Kumiko gives him a second thought when it comes to romance. Heck, she hardly notices him when they walk past one another in the street. Kumiko just doesn’t seem interested in him, and I don’t know if I would believe that changing any time soon, especially after what happened this episode.
Several Dozen at the Festival:
There wasn’t much band practice this week, but I think a break from the classroom drama was much needed. Last week’s episode was dark and gloomy in both its atmosphere and its visuals, so having something that had more vibrant colours and bright lights was much appreciated. Midori’s doppelgänger little sister was cute, even if I’ve never been too keen on Midori herself. The cutaways to the many side characters were also well-handed. It’s a hard act to balance the screentime of several dozen bandmates, but so far it has been very well done. We’re getting less Asuka as of late, but I never found her to be the “best girl” like many others think. She’s an easy one to like and laugh at, but there are so many more interesting characters that deserve the increased focus they are getting.
Reina & Kumiko:
And Reina is one of those characters; I’m calling her Reina from now on – since so much of the series is through Kumiko’s point of view, it never felt right to call her anything but Kousaka. But she is Kousaka no longer, not to us, and certainly not to Kumiko. What can I say about their scenes this episode? Well, they were fantastic. Truly beautiful, poetic, and their compatibility is through the roof. Who would have thought a few episodes ago these two couldn’t even say a single word to one another without it ending in an awkward silence? How things have changed.
I’ve already watched their scenes several times over, and it’s only been a few hours since I watched the episode. I can’t get over how gorgeous they look and how easily their conversation flows, even when Reina starts to get poetic with her words. The first thing worth talking about is that this is romantic territory we’re getting into. There have been hints of their attraction to one another, but there are too many moments in this episode for it to feel like nothing. Reina, with her snow-white one piece and her blistered heels proves how dedicated she is in whatever she strives for (though we knew that already when it came to playing the trumpet). I wasn’t sold on her character in the very beginning, but she’s fascinating to watch now. I can’t keep my eyes off her every motion.
But Kumiko saying ‘that’s kinda hot’ when Reina doesn’t flinch from the pain in her heels… well… there’s certainly some sexual tension between these girls. It may just be jokes, like when Reina refers to their previous conversation as a ‘love confession’. But for Reina to insist Kumiko use her first name, and then run her fingers down her lips, it is simply too much to brush off. Maybe it’s baiting; maybe nothing will come of it, but I think denying the attraction these characters have for each other is redundant. Kumiko simply didn’t understand why Shuuichi would ask her out, but when she’s with Reina she is constantly attentive and absorbed by her words. And her words were powerful. So much so that when Reina declares that she doesn’t want to be like anyone else, and instead strive to be special, Kumiko says:
Those are some strong words. No matter what happens from here on out, the fact shall remain that what Reina said had such a drastic effect on Kumiko, and no one else could make her feel the way she did in that moment.
Overview – What’s Next?:
I could write even more about this episode and how much I loved every inch of it, but I’ll stop myself from rambling before it’s too late. However, I’ll reiterate: There’s no doubt that this was my favourite KyoAni episode to date. I’ll probably re-watch it at some later date to experience it all over again, but for now I’m still floored by everything that happened, and by how stunning it was. Kumiko and Reina playing their junior high band song as the credits rolled was a lovely note to end on. It was also hard to see Hazuki finally break down, but I hope she manages to move on from this. This could very well become one of Kyoto Animation’s best series, so long as this quality is sustained – and I’m very hopefull it will. Next week the auditions are coming, so I expect the drama to be high, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Taki-sensei makes some controversial cuts to shake things up. Next Tuesday can’t come any sooner.
Full-length images: 19.