I have a feeling that most people will be talking about one particular scene, when there’s so many more important, character-defining moments that deserve equal attention. I’m going to get what is probably the big issue out of the way: Reina loves Taki-sensei. Honestly, who didn’t see that coming? Due to all those familiar with the source material who couldn’t keep their lips sealed, I’m sure plenty of us have been spoiled so that they could point and laugh at us for believing otherwise. My reaction to all of this simply: so what? Reina likes Taki-sensei, but honestly, nothing is going to come from it. Her feelings may never change, but this isn’t a series that’s going to dip its toe into student-teacher relationships, just as much as it’s not going to completely embrace a same-sex relationship between the two main characters.
One thing that annoys me is that because Reina has now confirmed her obvious liking for Taki-sensei, that everything between her and Kumiko apparently means nothing. Honestly, that’s nonsense. Clearly, Kyoto Animation knew what they were doing here – they knew they were appealing to their target demographic by dangling the yuri-hints in front of us, because that’s what they do. They did it with Chuunibyou, and on they did the same with the opposite gender in Free!. While it annoys me that they’re not sticking with what they were teasing us with, I’m not surprised in the slightest. The fact still remains that Kumiko and Reina have the best chemistry of any two characters in the show, and their scenes are what have people talking about 90% of the time. KyoAni played to the strengths of these two characters, whilst ultimately sticking to the romantic outcomes from the novels. It’s not disappointing for me, because my expectations were aligned with what the series was always intending, but that will never change the fact that, on a personal level, I think Kumiko and Reina would make a more interesting couple than anything else there is to offer.
From this point on I’ll continue to interpret their bond as more than just friendship, even if the series has no intention of taking it in that direction. I’ve seen enough to believe that at the very least, these two girls have an interest in one another that would pin them both as bisexual. That’s my own interpretation. You can say it’s just yuri-baiting on Kyoto Animation’s part, and that I (and many others) have fallen for it, but as someone who isn’t heterosexual, I always seek out relationships in media that go beyond the typical boy-girl romance that we’ve seen done to death. This could have been that opportunity – like with Chuunibyou and Free! – especially since it was the most dedicated to that possibility without treating it like comedy. Maybe some day we’ll get that KyoAni series where two characters of the same gender can be together without it having to define the series as ‘yuri’ or ‘yaoi’ and cause an irrelevant uproar in the anime community. It doesn’t even have to be KyoAni, but it would be nice for them to take that final step. Hibike! Euphonium wasn’t going to be that final step, unfortunately, and that’s all I’ve got to say on the matter at the moment.
Now, onto the parts of the episode that I considered to be more interesting and important. First off, we finally see the full encounter between Kumiko and an unknown senior in middle school. We’ve got shots of this moment throughout the previous episodes, but seeing it unfold for real this time made me realise why it was being brought up in the first place, and why it’s relevant to this episode in particular. Kumiko is very good at the Euphonium, and this isn’t the first time she’s earned her place in the band at the expense of someone older than her, and clearly she feels guilty. I don’t know what her relationship was with that girl from middle school, but clearly what went down has affected Kumiko. She’s still my favourite character, even as everyone else grows and develops and proves they aren’t just stereotypical side characters – but Kumiko’s feelings and reactions to what happens to her (and how that shapes her actions) always seem very real, more so than most characters do in modern anime. She may be a rather passive, introverted, and snaky protagonist, but that only helps her come across like a real person, as opposed to an lab-invented anime character made purely to satisfy a certain audience with her cute faces and fanservice opportunities.
That ties in nicely to the scenes between Kumiko and Natsuki. Last week, I was most affected by Natsuki not getting her seat, but my anger has been quelled after seeing her reaction to it all. The buildup was very effective, showing her sly smiles and being dedicated to talking to Kumiko one-on-one. It could have turned out to be a horrible moment, but it was a wonderful one, with Natsuki proving herself as nuanced, interesting character. Her position of only playing for a year but now practicing to try and rival Kumiko makes her easy to root for, but clearly it wasn’t enough for her to succeed. I’m glad she doesn’t blame Kumiko for being better than her, even if Kumiko lacks the self-confidence to realise how her years of experience have made her a noteworthy euphonium player. By the end when Kumiko is crying for what I’d interpret as relief and happiness, I had a smile on my face. I don’t know if we’ll ever get more seasons after this one (I sure hope so), but if it focuses on next year, then I’d love to see Natsuki get a second shot at earning that spot.
However, Kaori doesn’t have that second shot, and that’s what made her scenes arguably the most gripping. Up until this week, she’s been a fairly passable character who I’ve enjoyed seeing on screen, but have never particularly rooted for. Last week, it didn’t even bother me when she she didn’t get the solo part. To me, it seemed she was destined to lose, and that would be that, but now that the spotlight has shone on her after the event, it makes me re-evaluate my opinion on the matter, especially after we learned that Reina and Taki-sensei knew each other prior to the band (which explains her reason for joining the school).
Honestly, I’m totally behind Kaori right now. This episode really brought the side characters to the front line and showed that they should have just as much of a chance at getting recognition. Yuuko has always seemed like the most cartoonish (funnily enough, considering it’s anime) character of the band, but I even appreciated her moments this episode. Clearly, she doesn’t like Reina (and Reina doesn’t like her), and she feels that Kaori has been unfairly robbed of her spot. Now, if I’m to make a prediction, I think Reina will still get that trumpet solo, and this second audition will only make that fact more painful. But I’m ready to see if Kaori will try and beat all the odds, or crumble under the pressure. But KyoAni clearly have affection for Reina’s character, with all the extra attention they’ve given her, so I’m going for the safe bet on this one.
Finally, I want to touch on Asuka. To me, Asuka has never been one of my favourites – not even close to it, honestly. She’s funny, and that’s been it. But the past few weeks have shown a different side to her, as she tries not to get involved in all the drama, whether it be regarding the band or the romance between the bandmates. Kumiko notes how thick Asuka’s mask is, and I honestly feel the same way. The more that goofy mask peels away, and the more we see of this girl’s true personality, the better. She’s shown to be someone who doesn’t want to lead, even if it seems like she’d be good at it. However, when things aren’t adequate, she hasn’t held back either, which may cause bandmates to turn on her. And now that she has confirmed that she honestly doesn’t care who gets the solos, it has me questioning everything about her. Was she lying to Kumiko? Does she want Kaori to get that trumpet solo? She did smile when the second audition was announced, but Asuka’s smiles say almost nothing about her true character. She could very well become one of my favourites if we spend more time on what she really thinks, and not on this class clown act that she’s managed to keep up for so long.
Overview – What’s Next?:
So it turns out there was a lot more to this episode that Reina liking Taki-sensei. I’ve said all I can say on the matter until they explore it in future episodes. But we could only be in for two or three more (I’m not sure if it’s been confirmed yet). Regardless, I’ve got high expectations for what’s to come. After these second auditions, we’ll likely dive into their all important ensemble performance. I have every faith that things will play out at the same quality that they have up until this point. After all, I think it’s safe to say that Hibike! Euphonium is Kyoto Animation’s best anime in years.