Tangible Summer Heat:
Did anyone else feel sticky watching this episode? Okay, that sounds a little wrong, but you know what I mean. Many anime cover the season of summer at one point or another, with their cricketing cicadas, accompanied by a shot of the hazy sun in distance. It does a good job showing that it’s hot outside, but Kyoto Animation took it to another level with this one. The whole first half of the episode had me feeling like I was sitting there in some Japanese school in the middle of a heatwave. From the characters’ sweat, to the gulping of water, the raggedness of Kumiko breath in the outside scenes, and her sudden nosebleed – it all came together to effectively create an overwhelming sensation that I rarely get in anime.
Kumiko is a Fantastic Character:
Now, as excellent as the depiction of weather and temperature was in this episode, the highlight was undeniably Kumiko. I’ve said it from the start that she was my favourite, that she felt like a real person – cynical, yet conforming to expectations; introverted, yet capable of standing up for her beliefs when she feels she needs to. I knew from the beginning that I was going to love her story, because this isn’t the type of main character you often see in anime. Heck, this isn’t the sort of female character you see in anime very often.
What I mean by that is that she is not a walking trope. She is not created to pander to an otaku demographic (pardoning merchandise, which is often over-sexualised and out of character for the benefit of the buyer – but that has nothing to do with the Kumiko we see in the anime), with behaviour that can be boxed into one character archetype. She is contradictory, like any real person should be, and even though it hasn’t been too obvious with the massive cast of characters around her, she has developed in such a simple, yet believable manner. I could buy a real person saying the words she says and thinking the way she thinks. Her narrative voice has been prominent throughout, especially when it reflected how we saw the band in its early stages. But her opinions have shifted since then, as things have improved and she has had to keep up with the others, and prove herself against her newfound friends. Throw in the possibility of her ‘liking’ Reina (and a raging shipping war), and you’ve got a main character like no other.
This episode focused mainly on Kumiko’s relationship with her Euphonium. It’s been a part of her life for so long, and up until the start of the series she was ready to leave it behind and move on, hoping to forget her past, shed her skin, and blossom into an entirely different person. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and instead, as time has gone on, Kumiko has had more time to reflect on the past – on her own experiences with Reina, and her sister, and how that has affected and inspired her to become a better euphonium player. It all came together in this episode, and the waterworks were flowing. KyoAni loves to draw some ridiculously detailed waterfall-like tears, and this was no exception.
There’s one particular scene that stands out as ‘WOW moment’ – which I will talk about in a bit – but there were so many other weighty scenes that were building up to that moment at the end. Kumiko and Reina practicing together in the blistering heat; her sound connecting with Shuuichi’s from across the riverbank, even if she couldn’t see him; her frustrations with her sister and how it drives her to not become her; meeting with Aoi under the spotlights, catching up with her and confirming that some people really are better off living a different life. All while Kumiko is told multiple times that she has to improve on one particular part, and she can’t quite get it. It’s painful to listen to, because I’m rooting for her to succeed, but also it shouldn’t come so easy. And it doesn’t. Her exclusion from playing led to the most powerful moment of the episode…
That Bridge Scene:
I’m trying to think back, but I can’t come up with any scene from a KyoAni series that has ever looked this good. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful a moment it was – you have to watch it for yourself to appreciate animation like that. Say what you will about the studio, but no one does animation like Kyoto Animation. For me, they’re the best of the best, and it’s not even close. Of course, they’ve had their dips and often end up going for the easy route with some of their series, but Hibike! Euphonium is an exception. Kumiko running across that bridge, tears streaming down her cheeks, her hair bouncing in the wind, car headlights gliding past… it was simply gorgeous. I utterly believe her when she screams that she wants to improve. She says it over and over, and then repeats it to Shuuichi when he notices her on the other end. The crack in her voice when she does so is ever so subtle, but it’s the little moments like that that make Hibike! Euphonium so special.
Kumiko and Reina – Coming Full Circle:
I’ll hand it to those who are rooting for Kumiko and Shuuichi, I really liked their scenes this episode. Funnily enough, they never really interacted with one another. They were always distances apart, yet both are going through the same trials. I’m rooting for them both to get through this, but not to end up together. Though clearly, KyoAni doesn’t either.
Reina, like in the previous few episodes, has been stuck to Kumiko’s hip. Reina herself does something I didn’t expect: she apologises for her arrogance. I don’t think she had to, but it’s nice that she can reflect on her actions, and doesn’t constantly place herself above her peers. But when she’s with Kumiko, she comes across like a different person. And that’s why I love them together. I’m not even talking in a romantic sense when I say that – these two sharing a scene is enough for me to see how close their bond is. Every person acts different around someone else, because they might not know them as well, or they might not want to show their true selves, but when Reina and Kumiko are together, it feels like there are no walls keeping them apart. These two introverts open up and say the bluntest, weirdest things to one another. They’re so close at this point, and I hope that never changes.
But the most rewarding part of it all (apart from the fact that Reina called Kumiko several times during the few hours she lost her phone, and that Kumiko didn’t hesitate to instantly phone her back) is how Kumiko now understands what Reina was feeling back in Junior High. That tearful moment that started Hibike! Euphonium didn’t hit Kumiko back then, and neither did it with us, the audience. But we and Kumiko know better now, and it’s all come full circle, with Kumiko now saying the same words that Reina did that day. And it feels so rewarding. Kumiko’s development has been subtle over the series, and this episode cemented my love for her as a character.
Overview – What’s Next?:
Phew. What an episode. It actually stands close to episode 8, in my opinion. I don’t want to have to compare every episode that follows to that one, but it’s hard not to. Still, yet another outstanding addition to my favourite anime of the year so far. Everything has been building up to their performances in next week’s episode, and I can’t wait to see what happens. I don’t want to make any predictions. I just want to experience it when it comes. Still, I don’t want it to be over so soon…