「なやめるノクターン」 (Nayameru Nokutan)
I find it hard to believe that even the staunchest Kyoto Animation hater wouldn’t be impressed by this episode.
In saying that, I’m likely to invite those who can claim otherwise, but then again if you’re a KyoAni hater and are still watching Hibike! Euphonium in its second season, I question just what you’re doing here. So chances are those individuals aren’t ever going to watch this episode, but I’d like to imagine they’d be impressed by the natural ebbs and flow of this continuing drama as we jump across the cast from familiar favourites, to previously underdeveloped characters, to new faces introduced this second season; everyone is getting their fair share of screen-time (unless you’re Shuuichi), backing up the confidence of the production that I mentioned in my premiere post. Of course, I’m biased in the fact that I have affection for the Kyoto Animation touch where others find it comparable to the downfall of modern anime. It’s a tricky topic where everyone has already made their mind up, so perhaps I’m thinking too positively of this episode to think it would change stubborn minds.
But this was, in my fair opinion, a damn good episode. The best of this new season, and up there with some of the better ones last season. This didn’t have a singular dramatic moment that’s going to get everyone buzzing, but rather continues unravelling the mystery of last year’s band drama from the perspective of a newcomer first-year who is finding out what really happened bit-by-bit, character-by-character. We’re seeing biases come through, and proof that there’s always more than one side to a story. Nozomi got her chance to explain her perspective last week – that she left the band last year due to unsavoury third years and wanted to actually do well in the competitions, which was impossible in the current state of the band, and now she wants back in to experience what she wanted in the first place. From her point of view, Asuka seemed cold-hearted and unwilling to compromise, but after Kumiko musters up the courage to question her for more information, and the result is surprising to say the least.
I thought this was going to be something more personal to Asuka, as she was acting so guarded in the recent episodes; I was expecting her to flat-out tell Kumiko: “I don’t like Nozomi”, which would be selfish, but believable if given the opportunity to flesh out their relationship more. Up until now, it’s been near impossible to get into Asuka’s head and understand what she really thinks about the band drama or whether she really cares at all. She’s an enigma, and seeing her forcefully keep up that fun-loving senpai mask up until Kumiko demands answers was refreshing. In the end, nobody comes out of this looking like a villain, which I appreciate. Poor Mizore is the cause of all this concern and she isn’t even aware of the effect it’s having on our fellow bandmates. Kumiko uncovering the truth is going to change everything going forward, and Nozomi and Natsuki have no idea that Mizore has this personal trauma. The fact that Asuka is just looking out for her only oboe player both makes sense and shows she has some empathy, but at the same time it doesn’t resolve the problems going on.
Nozomi isn’t going to give up, Kumiko won’t be able to keep quiet about this new information, Reina is going to keep on making advancements on Taki-sensei (who we learned was married and is now widowed), and Mizore is going to have to balance this interpersonal drama with the fact that she needs to find passion in her oboe playing. She’s coming off as an emotionally vulnerable robot, and by the looks of it things are going to erupt before too long. This episode even gave Ribbon-chan, who I liked quite a bit in the first season, some opportunity to reflect and defend her friend in what comes off as admirable despite her familiar outbursts. In comparison, Kumiko’s blunt way of saying “I don’t really like you,” is different from what I’d expect from the potentially hardened Asuka, but it makes her the brilliant character she is, and the best possible lead for this story as we uncover these band secrets along with her, every step of the way.