“Welcome Back, Audition”
And like clockwork, Kyoto Animation delivers another fantastically tense, emotional, and rewarding episode of Hibike! Euphonium. It’s scary how easy they make this look. At this point, Hibike! Euphonium is my favourite Kyoto Animation anime. Of course, there are still two episodes left to change my mind, but based on what I’ve seen week-in week-out, I have no doubts that the last two episodes will be anything less than near-perfect. This one didn’t quite top episode 8 – not many anime episodes ever well, for me at least – but this was a showstopper that delivered from start to end. It had me rooting for everyone, even if only one of them could get that solo.
Team Kaori – Yuuko, Asuka, Haruka:
The second auditions may have been a chance for Kaori to prove herself, but there was a bias here and all because Reina was blamed for a non-issue. Still, I sympathise with Kaori’s position. I got a warm feeling from seeing her friends gather around her throughout the episode to try and encourage her. She’s popular, but she’s a solid trumpet player as well. In a way she deserves this opportunity, so I can see where Yuuko is coming from.
Powerful words to start the episode off. Yuuko’s adoration for Kaori is impressive, and even though she’s probably the least popular character with viewers, I can’t bring myself to hate her. Her reasons may seem petty, and she already seems to know that she’s fighting a losing battle… yet I can’t help but feel for this girl. It’s not like she’s doing this to spite Reina, she’s just doing it because she feel this should be Kaori’s time to shine, having lost the chance to prove herself in previous years due to band drama that she even tried to fix. Yuuko cares for Kaori – that’s clear from watching them together. But Yuuko knows that Reina is better, she just won’t say it. She wants her friend to get that solo at all costs, no matter who stands in their way, no matter how good they are.
Speaking of selfish, Asuka showed more of her true self this episode. I say selfish not to slander her, but just as a simple fact – that’s what she is. She’s Kaori’s friend and acts as her support, but she refuses to give her real opinion on what she really thinks. She’s increasingly difficult to read, but I’m liking this Asuka the more we see of her; it’s rare to see a character so firmly rooted in their opinions with no inkling to change them, yet shows no signs of those opinions in the first place. Her stubbornness makes her all the more interesting, and she’s still funny when she needs to be.
Haruka is the last to give Kaori the push she needs. Throughout the episode there are perfect examples of how the space between the characters sets the tone of the moment. These two, however, are pressing shoulders and joined at the hip. Haruka may have her duty as the de-facto leader of the band, but that doesn’t mean she can’t want her friend to get the solo spot. It seems like this episode was less about Kaori herself, instead focusing on the relationships with her friends and how they are put to the test in this re-audition. As it turns out, Kaori has three strong, dedicated friends who each give her a different sort of support.
Team Reina – Kumiko:
In contrast, Reina only has one true fan: Kumiko. Reina is all she can think about, and Hazuki and Midori can see that. Reina is certainly not popular right now, correctly labelling herself as the villain in this situation. Stealing the seat of the prima donna of the band isn’t going to make you many friends… but she doesn’t need anymore than Kumiko, if you ask me. Kumiko is not a particularly proactive or violent person, yet when Reina asks her how she would react if her solo was taken from her, Kumiko doesn’t think twice before going off an emotionally-charged speech about how Reina’s deserves that solo. Which leads to the highlight of the episode…
Confession of Love:
I thought I wouldn’t have to talk about Kumiko and Reina’s romantic relationship after last week’s confirmation. At this point, I already know that these girls aren’t destined to be together (unless KyoAni changes that). Yet here we are, with another show-stealing interaction between the two. Kumiko may have been watching Shinichi practice in the distance, and hummed his tune the next day at school, but that will never be enough to prove he’s a better love interest than Reina. The boy with barely 10 minutes of screentime (if even that) or the girl who has constantly inspired Kumiko, and has always been on her mind? Reina wins hands down, even if she doesn’t win in the end. Death threats and love confessions have never been so romantically intertwined.
The Audition, the Applause, the Result:
The audition itself was simple. Kaori was nervous (her lips quivering before she blew the first note) but managed to deliver a solid performance. However, Reina was not nervous, and she didn’t just deliver the notes. She did the exact same part as Kaori, yet it sounded so much more alive, and everyone knew it. Kaori’s was nice to listen to with closed eyes, but Reina’s notes were crisp and powerful, demanding attention.
The decision by applause turned out less dramatic than I expected. In fact, it brings the band back to the first episodes when Taki-sensei gave them a chance to raise their hand if they didn’t wish to aim for nationals. In that moment everyone (apart from Aoi) was silent, even if they didn’t believe in what they were agreeing with. The same thing happens here, when only the dedicated few applaud for their victor. The vast majority don’t even bother to clap – too afraid to make a decision in case it backfires. Part of me wants to shout at them, to make them all grow some spines, yet another part of me understands them holding back in this tense situation. In the end, however, Kaori gives up her popular vote in what was a predictable move. She knew Reina was better, Yuuko knew she was better, as did Kumiko and Asuka and near enough everyone else. It was the best thing to do, because if Kaori got the solo through this one-sided re-audition, I don’t think she’d ever feel like she earned the victory.
Overview – What’s Next?:
Not only did this episode have strong character moments – balancing all sides of the band drama without a single cringeworthy moment or inserted cliche to throw us off – but it looked gorgeous. That should be no surprise, but the use of composition, lighting, and tense closeups were all achieved with greatness. It baffles me that this episode was drawn by five key animators. FIVE! Five people drew all these cuts, all those fluid moments, all those stunning long shots. FIVE PEOPLE! You may love or hate them, but you have to admit that no one else makes anime like Kyoto Animation. I, for one, love them. They make me love the animated art form more than I thought I possibly could.
Full-length images: 31.