The Power of the Ponytail:
Last week may have been the ‘Kumiko Episode’, but if you look at the subtle details you can really see how much she’s changed over these thirteen episodes. There were a few callbacks to her earlier scenes, making everything feel like it’s come full circle. First off, the ponytail is back! I wrote about that lovely ponytail in my post for the very first episode, and how it was symbolic for Kumiko trying to ‘change’ once she entered high school. It didn’t work back then, because as nice as it looked on her, once she let her hair down – kinks and all – it felt like she was no longer trying to be someone different.
This time around, however, her ponytail is presumably for practical purposes, and she’s past the point of trying to pretend she’s someone else. Just like her rolling down her skirt (when she rolled it up in the very first episode – because that’s what all the girls were doing), it was a nice touch, reaffirming that Kumiko doesn’t need to be anyone another than her true self.
The final interaction between Kumiko and her sister was a simple one, without any drama on the surface, but I’m sure whenever Kumiko sees her sister she’s reminded of her giving up on her playing. All show, no tell – just how it should be with these sorts of interactions. Equally enjoyable – albeit completely different in tone – is Kumiko and Reina nudging each other on the train. I was a bit worried when I saw them both with their unmoving expressions, barely acknowledging each other; thankfully, their interactions never fail to entertain me.
I think it’s worth mentioning that I write this post in the middle of a heatwave. All day I’ve been sweating and fanning myself, so I had a little laugh when the band members were experiencing similar summer heats. It actually helped me relate to their stress even more – the whole situation is undoubtably a nerve-wracking one, but add on blistering heats and your mind is bound to go dizzy with all sorts of emotions. But Team Monaca brought some effective support to ease the tension and prepare the band for the competition.
From then on we see them tuning their instruments in a hurry, with Taki-sensei giving a short but inspiring speech. Reina asks Kumiko to tie her ponytail, which is a very sensual and personal moment between the two (add it to list of many at this point). But Shuuichi fans need not complain! Kumiko had a charming exchange with him as well: Shuuichi whispering in her ear, Kumiko blushing and giving him a nudge, before fist-bumping with him. It was awkward and endearing, and if I didn’t already think Kumiko and Reina were the better pair, I might be rooting for this relationship as well.
But potential relationships aside, this episode was about the performance to get them to nationals. After building it up for the first half of the episode, I was praying that the payoff would be worth it. And boy, it was. As expected, it was a beautifully animated, and sounded glorious. Their performance was powerful, and you could see the effort they were all putting into their parts. But still, I was waiting for something to go wrong (thankfully nothing went awry). I was practically like Hazuki throughout the whole thing, expect getting to watch them give it their all was an experience of itself. I can’t begin to fault those five minutes of heaven.
From the Sidelines – Hazuki & Natzuki:
When these two didn’t make the auditions, I was prepared to be furious whenever the camera panned to them, unable to directly contribute to the band. Thankfully, I’ve never had to feel that way, because even if they haven’t been the focus of the series in the past few episodes, their scenes this episode gave me hope for them going forward. Hazuki in particular was so enthralled about the performance that I think it’d give her the push to try harder next time. Natsuki’s journey has already been shown, but I’m rooting for this seriously cool senpai to get her chance on the euphonium. Watching from the sidelines isn’t enough for these two. If we ever see them in this situation again, I hope they’re on the stage next time around.
The final minutes of this episode had me on the very edge of my seat – literally. We finished like we started, with Kumiko and Reina awaiting the result of their competition, but this time around everything was different. I mentioned it last week, but we really have gone on a journey with Kumiko as she’s come to love her instrument, and genuinely strive for her goal. She didn’t care all that much at the end of middle school, but now she has something to aim for. Like us, she’s invested in this competition – in everything she and her bandmates have put into this.
And it pays off. Reina cries again, everyone hugs, and it’s emotional. Even I was cheering when their school was announced. I was so happy that they got to where they all wanted to be. There was no fake, forced drama; it wouldn’t have made sense for them to lose after playing so wonderfully. They got gold, and they deserved it. It was a perfect finish, if you ask me, made better by the final shot of Kumiko and Reina’s genuine embrace after getting to where they wanted to be.
Overview – Final Impressions:
I have to start off my saying thank you to everyone who has followed my posts. They may have bordered on fanatic at times, but that’s because I genuinely enjoyed it that much. I’m often very critical of shows (even when I like them) and manage to find something to pick apart. But not with Hibike! Euphonium. All I have is sincere affection for this series, for its characters, and its splendid animation. It’s been a treat every week, and I think my posts reflect that. So I must give a massive thank you to those who read what I had to say, even if you didn’t love it as much as I did. If you did, then all the better!
There are so many highlights when I think about Hibike! Euphonium as a whole. It’s easiest to say that its biggest feat is how it looks and sounds. Simply put, it’s perfectly animated, and has fantastic attention to detail. I can’t think of many anime that outdo what KyoAni have done with this one – there were even animators from other studios talking about how blown away they were by last episode. Episode 8 and 12 in particular were packed with one ‘Wow’ moment after another. It’s series like Hibike! Euphonium that reaffirm my love for animation, and how effective it can be as a storytelling medium. I can’t think of any better way to experience this story than through animation, though I’ll assume the novel is just as good or even better, since it is the source material.
But no matter how gorgeous it looked, the animation was still not the highlight for me. It was the characters – mainly Kumiko and Reina. I’m not going to delve into what their relationship truly is, because I think everyone has their own thoughts on the matter, and they’re unlikely to change at this point. But as individuals, these two are superb characters. I never expected to like Reina at all, since she wasn’t focused on much in the earlier episodes, and felt a little too emotionless for my liking. But I was proven wrong by episode 8, when she warmed to Kumiko and showed her true self. She’s an oddball, but believable in her ambitions. I was rooting for her all the way, even if she came across as arrogant at some points.
Kumiko, however, was the absolute star of the show. Just read my posts for episode 1 and episode 12 to get a full understanding of how much I love her as a character. For me, she’s the most believable anime character in years. She’s authentic in all her quirks, thoughts, and feelings. She went on a journey of self-discovering, accompanied by Reina and her euphonium. She’s an understated main character who didn’t always stand out when the drama got heavy. But she observed, and the series itself was seen through her lens. Particularly in the opening episodes, when the shots and depiction of the characters were aligned with what Kumiko was seeing and thinking. But she grew to love being in that band, and was inspired to succeed. From the very first scene to the very last, she never stopped developing. She was wonderful.
Aside from the leads, the side characters also surprised me. I never even remembered most of their names in the first couple of episodes. In fact, I felt most of them were flat as pancakes, and I didn’t care much for them at all. But just like Kumiko, my thoughts on those band members changed as I got to know them better. By the end, they all stood out as individuals with a different place in the band. Through all the politics and drama that got us to this point, we saw so many of these girls (and boys, but mainly girls), in their peaks and lows. By the end, I have a liking for all of them and think any would be a sore miss if they weren’t part of the journey.
Asuka in particular is an interesting one. She was declared ‘Best Girl’ from her introduction, and I could understand why. She was funny and easy to like. But that was all I thought she was, until her mask began to crack and we saw that she’s not as confident and outgoing and happy-go-lucky as she appears. The final episode showed her accepting that they’d already lost, that she wished this summer could last forever. It was arguably her most sincere scene to date, and the closest to who she truly is. It’s sad to think about what might be causing her to act so different around her classmates, but she certainly has piqued my curiosity. I have to admit, she was one of the best characters of the show by the end.
The art, the animation, the characters, the journey to Nationals… I couldn’t have asked for more. Hibike! Euphonium has ended up my favourite anime of the year so far, and landed a place in my top 5 anime of all time. Yep, I enjoyed it that much. This is a total return to form for Kyoto Animation, and I can only hope they make more series like this from now on. Hopefully we’ll get a second season or a movie sequel announced at some point. KyoAni’s 30th anniversary is coming up next week, so they’re bound to make some big announcements on their future projects. We’ve seen hints in this episode – from Taki’s picture, to the focus on some still to be introduced characters who will have more importance down the line – that there’s still more to come.
Thankfully, Kumiko’s final words give me hope.