「はつこいトランペット」 (Hatsu Koi Toranpetto)
“First Love Trumpet”
Let’s get one thing out-of-the-way: This was a beautiful episode. Every episode of Hibike! Euphonium looks great, but every few weeks we get some standout scenes that stick in my mind hours (or days) after first watching them, and that’s very much the case here. That’s likely to do with Reina and Kumiko returning to that famous spot where their bond was cemented last season, which brings back a rush of happy memories. They say lightning doesn’t strike twice – but technically it can – so the question is whether this episode managed to live up to that legendary episode last season?
The short answer: No. The brutal answer: No, because it was the weakest episode of the entire series. The long answer: Well, there’s many things to point out here. Firstly, I’ll highlight is that this episode is apparently almost entirely anime-original. That’s not rare with Kyoto Animation productions – the first season had plenty of original content that worked to serve the source material – but I had that feeling while watching the episode, and so having it confirmed didn’t come as a surprise. The simple fact is this episode stretched out the idea of Reina’s love for Taki-sensei to the point where it became horribly uncomfortable to watch her and Kumiko to consider it A-okay. Not only is it a dodgy thing to endorse, but you’d think there would be some shift to the actual relationship that has largely made this show what it is: Kumiko and Reina.
I’m not a yuri fan by any measure. I’m a gay man after all, so I’d rather see what we’re getting in Yuri!!! on Ice rather than what was alluded to in Hibike! Euphonium’s first season. But this does feel like a kick to the shins. A reminder that our fantasies aren’t going to play out. I realised that all along, and was fine with Kumiko and Reina’s relationship simply being recognised as a powerful bond that proves they are soulmates, even if not in a romantic sense. But this episode, for the first time, actually regressed their relationship. Knowing this wasn’t stretched out like this in the novels, it hurts even more. We always knew that Reina was smitten with her teacher, but none of us really believed it would go anywhere… except this episode almost gives Reina hope that it could, and the worst of all: Kumiko supports it.
Kumiko has cheered on Reina’s crush for a while now, but it’s never felt that serious. Yet with a whole episode dedicated to Reina’s headspace, we’re stuck in an awkward place where Kumiko’s perspective doesn’t really matter. Other than her and Reina not talking because of the deal with his dead wife, she didn’t need to be in this episode. Kumiko serves only to pass information along, and then to support Reina in her continued quest for Taki-sensei’s love, which just isn’t fun to watch. As the main character, she’s had some relevance in everyone else’s stories up until now; her point of view is what binds it all together, and she’s always part of the drama in some shape or form. She is here, but when she could get a powerful and heartfelt moment with her best friend, it falls flat, and we’re instead subjected to Reina thinking about how much she loves Taki-sensei yet again.
I get that they wanted to expand this subplot, as Reina has pretty much been absent from the story since the first season. She’s not important anymore, and now that we’re getting that focus, I think her lack of screentime up until now may have been for the best. I’d rather not have the Kumiko and Reina’s relationship go backwards, even if it means seeing less of Reina. Sometimes we ask for something, then realise we’re not going to get it as we hoped. With two episodes left after this one, this doesn’t feel like what we should be focusing on. Especially since not much has really changed by the end scene. Sure, Kumiko and Reina are talking again, but that could have been resolved much easier and not have taken up an entire episode that gave Reina a pat on the back and justifying her feelings. Who knows, if she does a complete 180 next week then I may take back my critique. But for now I’m disappointed in what we were given here, which is a first for this show.
It was one of the most gorgeous episodes of the season, but that doesn’t mean it was anything to write home about. I do think it was the worst of the series, which still translates to a “very good”. This review may not sound that way, but I still got plenty of enjoyment from this episode and can appreciate the hard work put into it. But it’s nowhere near the level I expect from this series. This second season has given some appreciated stories about the characters that didn’t get the attention last time around, and that’s where it has excelled. But that’s not enough to match the expectations I had going into this season. I hope the remaining episodes turn back to the band as they prepare for nationals. With the little attention we’ve gotten to their playing these past few weeks, I don’t expect them to win. I just hope we are approaching a satisfying conclusion that doesn’t piss off its fans more than it should.