「とまどいフルート」 (Tomadoi Furuuto)
It’s a pool episode! Except it’s not your typical pool episode, because it’s all about band drama. This was another solid set-up episode that focused on the drama bubbling beneath the surface, using Kumiko’s absence of knowledge to get to the bottom of this mystery. I’ve said it many times before, but I just have to highlight how damn good Kumiko is; she’s such a well fleshed out character who feels like a real teenage girl. She gets lost in her own train of thought, she’s learned to stand up for herself over the course of the first season, but she still has the cynical inner voice that creeps back every now and then. Her encounter with Nozomi couldn’t have played out any better for her. When challenged on why the senpai isn’t the one part of the competition group, I was practically screaming “Tell her! Tell her!”, and then just like that, she took a deep gulp and said that the best deserved to be on top, which is exactly what happened. She won the audition fair and square and she shouldn’t have to feel bad in explaining that just because she’s the younger of the two.
Thankfully, Kumiko and Nozomi got on swell after that point as she explained the whole situation that has been left a mystery for quite some time – both to us, and to Kumiko. It’s a smart move to have us be brought up to speed at the same time as our lead, and evokes that feeling of discomfort when you know something is going on around you but you don’t know the full details to comment or enquire further on it. As it goes, Nozomi was one of the ones who wanted to practice hard and do well in the competitions last year, but as we know the third years from before didn’t share her opinion, which is what caused the team to not do very well during that time. Knowing that she struggled so hard to get the team to where it is now is painful, especially since she’s not getting Asuka’s support to rejoin them.
I can see both perspectives: Nozomi sees that the team is in a good place right now, and she wants to be part of the environment that she fought for but couldn’t attain as quickly as she liked, whereas Asuka, who tried to convince her not to leave, isn’t willing to bring her in perhaps due to her loud attitude and that she quit before the game got hard. If she stuck around for the rest of the year and sat idly by, then there wouldn’t be any of this drama, but I sympathise more with Nozomi on this. She did well in middle school and obviously wanted to replicate that in high school, but her obnoxious seniors didn’t care for her passion and so she gave up in the fury of it all. Honestly, if there was something I was that determined about and I felt I was one of the few who really cared about doing well, I probably would just leave such a toxic environment as well.
Now, Asuka. Asuka, Asuka, Asuka… what are we to make of you? I never bought your happy-go-lucky routine from early in the first season when everyone labelled you “best girl”, and now I can see you aren’t really that girl at all. Maybe she wants to be that positive senpai, but right now she’s toeing the line between lacking empathy for her juniors and just not caring much about anything. What hints we’ve seen of her true self aren’t yet enough to build the bigger picture, but it makes the inevitable reveal even more exciting. Kumiko confronting her is just what we need, but I suspect this won’t get to the bottom of everything. This arc feels like it’s going to go on for a little longer, especially once you factor in Mizore and her confusion as to why she’s still part of the band when she loathes competitions so much. There’s a lot of tension that needs to be resolved if Kumiko and her bandmates are to take practice seriously, so even if it means less show stopping performances, I’m all aboard for these quieter, character-focused episodes that delve into the thinking of these previously undeveloped characters.
P.S. Just to bring it back to this being a pool episode, I appreciate that KyoAni didn’t feel the need to be gratuitous with the scenes when they had ample oppertunity. Kumiko’s fascination with Reina’s growing breasts was amusing (and not exactly typical heterosexual behaviour) and worked in the moment. I also have to hand it to them for actually understanding the anatomy of how straps and boobs work together. Not every anime girl has to have silicon balloons that defy physics, so that’s a refreshing change. The little details matter.