「ひびけ！ユーフォニアム」 (Hibike! Yūfoniamu)
Whenever the title of the episode is the same as the series, you know you’re in for something special. And that’s exactly what this episode was. As I hoped, it was just what I wanted and what this second season needed. This is the only episode of this second run that matches with the highs of the first season. It took longer than I would have hoped – though in contrast, it only came a week early last year – but now I’m going to hope things stay of this quality like they did last time around. Before we had the perfect episode 8 that put Kumiko and Reina front and centre and showed just how electric their connection was; here we have that bond re-confirmed in the first half of the episode, while the rest of the episode finally cracks Asuka’s shell, and the contents of her true person spill before us with nothing for her to hide behind, and the result is wonderful.
First off, I’ll talk about Reina. She was arguably the star of the show last year (ignoring Kumiko, of course) but she seems to have faded into the background this time around. That works well for the other characters – old and new – who have gotten plenty of focus and development like Reina got last season, but it is disheartening to see her being put further down the ladder when she continues to fascinate even with her reduced screentime. I didn’t expect much of her this week, so I’m glad we got her and Kumiko’s best scene of the season in the hallway when all personal space was broken and she pointed out that Kumiko always knows more than she lets on.
These two knows each other so well, and their conversations flow without effort. Kumiko proves this week that she’s not good at keeping the conversation going when she’s with Asuka (and has shown this with many other characters too), but with Reina – who would likely be the hardest to get to know and talk with on a personal level – she’s an open book and doesn’t have to think twice before saying what she thinks. These two are a dream to watch on-screen, so it’s a real shame they haven’t had that same dramatic focus this second season. Here’s to hoping that corrects itself in the remaining episodes, though I suspect if drama is to return to their relationship it will come in the form of their potential romance/feelings for Shuuichi and Taki-sensei, which likely isn’t going to be much fun to watch.
Now, onto Asuka. Finally! We now know everything there is to know about Asuka – at least for the time being. There’s so much to discuss but I’ll focus on the major details: First, like Kumiko, Asuka pays attention and sees things that others don’t, and is able to make it seem like she is oblivious to what’s happening around her. But that mask drops several times in this episode, with the most startling being when Kaori bends down to tie her shoe lace. We get this grim and almost sinister shot of Asuka as she lets her true expression be shown when Kaori can’t see. She knows that her friends are trying to get involved in the drama with her mother, but she’s putting on that comedy act to make it seem like it doesn’t faze her. But Kumiko notices. If it were anyone else, perhaps they wouldn’t be so aware of the little moments were Asuka slips up – only to return to her smiles and cooky voice – but with these two that barrier is broken rather quickly.
We learn that Asuka’s father is actually a famous euphonium player who sent her that instrument one day in her youth. She doesn’t know much about her father, but it’s clear her mother doesn’t want her to, and is likely reminded of her ex-husband whenever she sees their daughter playing that instrument of his. I can see why she would be against her daughter playing for that reason, but that’s also a selfish reason that has hardened Asuka in a way she shouldn’t have to be. At least now we know that Asuka in fact wanted to succeed more than anyone else in that practice room. All those moments where I thought she didn’t care or just wasn’t as invested? Turns out I was wrong. Or at least, once she smelled the prize, all she could think about was winning, even if it meant cutting out those who weren’t right for the job, or giving out-of-character speeches. With her dad as a judge at nationals, I hope she is re-united with him, and after her scenes with Kumiko it seems likely that she’ll be re-invigorated to return to the band despite her mother’s wishes. It was amazing to watch Kumiko confront her senpai and have her admit that she does hate her mother. In a few seconds, the ever so smart Asuka let down her guard and said what was really on her mind, and from that moment onwards she was, like Kumiko said, a girl unlike her usual self.
That final scene with Asuka playing on the riverbanks was simply beautiful, and the closest equivalent to Reina playing at the episode of episode 8 last season. There’s many parallels with those two episodes in terms of their thematic importance and bringing two characters together (Kumiko and Reina, and now Kumiko and Asuka) in a way that’s sure to change everything going forward. I have my fingers crossed that the remaining four episodes will be of this calibre, because this was the best Hibike! Euphonium 2 has been, and I don’t want that to be a one-off occurrence.
On a final note, I’d like to point out that this episode was made by what is likely to be the main staff of Kyoto Animation’s upcoming anime, Violet Evergarden. It’s high-quality PV basically went viral when it was released, and if this episode is any indication, we’re in for some serious beauty with that upcoming project.