OP: 「Soundscape」 (サウンドスケープ) by TRUE
「まなつのファンファーレ」 (Manatsu no Fanfāre)
It’s back, it’s beautiful, and it’s more confident than ever. This double-length premiere sets Hibike! Euphonium apart from the crowd. While we’ve had plenty of good shows so far the past few days, it feels like the Fall 2016 anime season has truly begun now. It’s been a long time since Wednesdays have been my most anticipated day of the week, but with this and Yuri!!! on Ice airing beside one another, it’s hard not to appreciate the potential truly great anime can offer. I had the pleasure of blogging this show last year, and even though I gave SHIROBAKO the grand prize in the Best of 2015 post, make no mistake that Hibike! Euphonium was my personal favourite – it has a spot in my top 10 list, and is my favourite KyoAni TV series. Could this second season top that? It will be a difficult task, but I think there’s every change this could be just as great – if not, better – than the first season.
There’s so many key elements of Hibike! Euphonium’s success that shine through in this episode that deserve some discussion: pacing, animation, character relationships, and drama. First, the pacing. I’m happy we got a double-length episode to throw us back into the band drama and set-up for the season ahead. Had this episode ended mid-way through, I would have been content, but longing for more. Instead, these 48 minutes blended together seamlessly, and the second half delivered some seriously gorgeous moments; whether grandiose or subtle. If there’s one thing this episode had that exceeded the first season, it would be confidence in its own storytelling. The staff clearly know what they’re doing here, how they want to adapt these novels, and what original scenes they want to add in when they see fit. Kyoto Animation doesn’t adapt material panel-by-panel or word-by-word, which can be perceived as a negative by die-hard fans, but their identity and vision works best when they do what they want to do. As such, this episode blended from one scene to the next without the need for twists or cliffhangers. We’re past the point of being convinced to stick around, which resulted in a premiere that felt more like a short film more than a regular TV anime episode.
Of course, the animation is a glorious as ever. Just pick a random scene from the episode, pause, and it won’t be hard to appreciate the care that’s put into the details. The backgrounds and composition were especially impressive, with a nice mix of cluttered long-shots and extreme closeups. Whether it be Kumiko’s tense family relationship, Reina opening up to her one true friend, or the discomfort the second years have whenever that dreaded topic from the past comes up; this is Show Don’t Tell at its best. It helps to get some clarification every now and then, but this episode continued to prove that Hibike! Euphonium excels at the minute character animation, the slight expression changes, the subtle head tilts, the grip of fingers. It feels human in a way that many anime simply never manage. It could be due to budget, but rumours suggest that Kyoto Animation rarely gets more money for their production than your typical studio. What they do differently, however, is put their staff on salary, have regular bonding activities to keep spirits high, train upcoming animators to join their ranks, and ultimately, share a vision. A happy team with good forward planning and serious talent and well-regarded source material is sure to provide good content, and that’s exactly what we’re getting here.
Kumiko and Reina’s relationship is just as genuine as I recall, and once again takes centre stage for majority of this episode. Poor Shuuichi gets only a few seconds of screentime, and when he does appear it’s mainly to give us cute Kumiko squeals, or to prove how clueless she is to his advances on her. In comparison, the bond between Kumiko and Reina feels important – like they’ve opened up to each other in a way that goes beyond friendship. Perhaps it’s not romantic (though there is plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise), but their relationship is key to both of their individual developmentss, and every scene they share together is usually gorgeous. There’s plenty of pick from in this episode alone, and if the first season is anything to go by, I expect this second season to deliver an abundance of those memorable, fan-pleasing scenes once more.
Aside from our leads, we’re seeing hints of what drama is to come with various side characters. Going into this season, I knew the two novels this is due to adapt will focus on character who didn’t have the time to develop as much the first time around. The two newly introduced characters are classmates from the same junior high, Yoroizuka Mizore (Tanezaki Atsumi) and Kasaki Nozomi (Touyama Nao). Mizore has been hidden in plain sight during the first season, but has stayed out of the band drama and only now gets a formal introduction when it’s revealed that she practices earlier that Reina every morning. You would assume that’s because she loves playing the oboe – the most difficult wind instrument – but she seems passive in an Nagato sort of way that hints towards an arc of breaking out of her shell and learning to care once again. Nozomi is much more boisterous, and is one of the second years who left in the previous year, and seeks out Asuka’s approval to join once again.
Asuka is another one who is bound to get more development, as we get behind that comical mask she puts on and learn more about who she truly is. Is she really as friendly as she seems? Is she trying to put on an act to hide something darker? After telling Nozomi to leave, she refuses to give her the approval she desires, and comes off as the bad guy here. There’s more to this girl than meets the eye, and I’m eager to see what awaits with her arc. We’ve also got hints to Taki-sensei’s college days in the OP, as well as his college friend, Hashimoto Masahiro (Nakamura Yuuichi) acting as the new coach for future competitions. He’s a vibrant character, contrasting from Taki-sensei, and I’m keen on seeing what their scenes together are like.
Technically, we’re not supposed to reveal who’s blogging what for a few more weeks, but let’s keep it real for a second: There’s no way I would let this show go unblogged. So unless someone else really wants it, you can expect my weekly coverage of this highly anticipated sequel. It was a strong comeback, and has me excited for what awaits. I almost wish I could marathon it all in one go, but discussing the details of each episode on a weekly basis is even more fun. Let’s keep the shipping wars to a minimum, and hopefully we’ll be in for an impressive second season.
ED: 「Vivace!」 (ヴィヴァーチェ！) by Kitauji Quartet