A Different Perspective – Team Monaka:
Ah, it feels good to blog Hibike! Euphonium once again, even if it’s only one episode. It seems like forever ago when the first season came to an end in June. It’s December now – Christmas Eve as I write this – and yet I feel like I’ve been transported back to the blistering summer heat in a Japanese high school far, far away… and it feels great! It’s no secret how much I adored Hibike! Euphonium, so when this OVA was announced I was over the moon and ready for more. I didn’t expect anything dramatic and essential to the story, because the first season had already wrapped everything up nicely. What we got was pretty much what I was hoping for: a different perspective of the band drama, as Kitauji High School prepare for the Kyoto Concert Band Competition. And best of all, we got to see it from through the eyes of a character we didn’t get enough focus on in the first season, Katou Hazuki.
Hazuki’s Time to Shine:
Remember Team Monaka? They were formed from the rejects who never made the auditions, and appeared in the final episode to cheer on the band before they headed off to victory. This episode takes place between episodes 10-13, showing what happened with those girls, as everyone else was focused on practicing. Set after the festival, we dive back into that awkward time where Hazuki had not long confessed to Shuuichi. While their interactions were uncomfortable at first, I appreciated what was being done here. In the TV series, these two never had many scenes after Hazuki got rejected, up until the final episode when Shuuichi helped her lift the instruments into the van. Here, we fill in the gaps, witnessing their awkward encounters leading up to the concert. I’ve always stated that I preferred Hazuki/Shuiichi to Kumiko/Shuuichi, though it’s obvious which one is never likely to happen; but I loved the moments they shared onscreen here, from her conflicting expressions to their fingers barely touching as they lift tuba down the stairs. It’s those little moments that make Hibike! Euphonium so special and so real, and I’m glad that all carries over from the TV series.
Natsuki is another standout. Of all the side characters, she’s perhaps the most likeable, down-to-earth, and just… the coolest. She’s so cool; if I were in high school again I’d love to have her as a friend. She had some self-doubt and her own personal struggles in earlier episodes, but as this takes place after she receives that much-needed clarity, we see her at her brightest and most charming. She may have been destined to lose to Kumiko, but she’s still a great friend to have. We saw that after Kumiko felt guilty for taking her seat in the band, and here when Hazuki and Natsuki walked over that memorable bridge – the same bridge where, in my opinion, one of the best pieces of TV animation happened. It’s a gorgeous scene, beautifully shot, and Natsuki gives Hazuki that hug just when she needs it. She knows that she’ll never beat Kumiko when it comes to Shuuichi’s love, and her senpai is there to lend a shoulder. If there’s one thing these two have in common, it’s that they’ve both lost to Kumiko. However, while Natsuki has next year to try again for her seat on the band, Hazuki has no such luxury with Shuuichi. It’s a sad thing, especially when we cut to him opening up their (her) message, and he gives an embarrassed smile. Gah, Shuiichi! Forget Kumiko, go for Hazuki instead! She’s cute even with her bed hair, and Kumiko has another love interest anyhow…
Kyoto Animation’s Charm:
While this episode may have been light on content and drama, it made up for it in allowing us to spend some time with the character who arguably needed it the most. I’ve seen a bunch of negativity hurled towards Hazuki, as some thought she was pointless and annoying. I never felt that way, but it’s good that she gets her time to shine in this episode, as Kyoto Animation proceed to show off their animation chops and prove why they’re the best at what they do. This whole episode was wonderfully lit, showing a range of colours depending on the hour and the mood of the characters; whether a burnt orange sunset, evening blue skies, or the brightness of a Japanese summer, it all just works. I’m glad this OVA got just as much attention and effort put into it as the rest of the TV series; more often than not, you can see a difference in the quality of the artwork and storyboarding when it comes to these non-essential episodes. But with moments like these, you can’t help but wonder… is there anything Kyoto Animation can’t animate?
Overview – What’s Next?:
From the forced smiles and watered eyes of Hazuki, to the awesome seniority of Natsuki, to the ever gorgeous animation, and the sense that this world is truly lived in, this was just what I wanted. While not necessary to watch, this OVA is one I’d recommend to everyone who enjoyed the first season of Hibike! Euphonium, and is looking forward to the sequel next year (I know I am!). But I’d also tell those who weren’t keen on Hazuki to give this a shot; perhaps you’ll grow to like her a little bit more. But even if you don’t, you’re still in for a treat with this little side story. It’s light, airy, and transports you back to the blisteringly hot Kyoto streets, to memorable scenic locations, and the ever familiar sounds of euphoniums and trombones playing in the distance. I’ve never been to Kyoto before, yet returning there feels like coming home.