「はるさきエピローグ」 (Harusaki Epirogu)
My last post sure attracted a lot of attention, didn’t it? I wasn’t surprised, as I was expressing a negative view of a show that I otherwise loved. I wish I could say I was shocked at the vitriol in the comments section, but it’s to be expected when people disagree with your impressions (because these posts are impressions, not soulless synopses). Going into this finale I was apprehensive given what had just occurred, but also saddened that this was going to be the last episode. Now… I’ve always been a firm believer that a good ending can save a series, and a bad ending can ruin an otherwise good one. Thankfully, this was a great finale – the sendoff that the fans and characters deserved.
That doesn’t mean I feel any differently about last week’s affair, though there was a chance that I could have had my expectations flipped and changed my perspective. That’s not the case, but I’m happy to say that I loved this finale. Even though it was largely anime-original (from what I have heard), it felt like the fitting end to see many of these characters’ stories – the loose ends were tied up nicely, and we got a few last minutes surprises to leave us on a positive note.
After missing out on the performance last week, we got two emotional ones this week, while not extremely technically impressive, served as a nice conclusion to the band’s development and an oppertunity to insert some fond memories. They played their hearts out, and there were connections shown between these characters (like Kumiko and Asuka), while reminding us about the dramatic highs from last season (with Kaori and Reina). It served as a nice finisher, especially now that Yuuko is the new president. It’s a given that she’d take the role, and makes total sense. Even though she came off a bit of a brat in the first season, she never came from a place of malice; she believed what she believed because she was fiercly loyal to her friends, and now that she’s grown up and faced the facts, she’ll be able to be more rational when leading the band forward. I reckon she’ll make a good leader, and Natsuki by her side is sure to be ever-entertaining. I’ve seen plenty of people saying if there was a spin-off to be made, they’d like it to focus on these two next year. And honestly, that sounds like a good idea – just don’t get your hopes up yet.
Kumiko became our primary point of view once again, and it felt great being inside her headspace and following her experiences with moving on from the third years. While Kumiko and Reina dominated last year, this was certainly the season of Kumiko and Asuka. Hell, I did not expect Kumiko to confess her love for Asuka… though there has been talk of love between Kumiko and Reina before that amounted to anything. I don’t take it as anything serious, but I enjoy that Kumiko’s perspective on Asuka has mirrored mine. I think what makes Hibike! Euphonium so smart – especially in the first season – is that we see the band drama through Kumiko’s eyes, and so those moments where Asuka was clearly putting on an act and wasn’t showing her true colours was what Kumiko felt. She admitted she didn’t like her at first, and now she loves her. Well, I feel the exact same. I didn’t trust that happy-go-lucky senpai when everyone else was shouting: “Best Girl!” after episode 1. I knew something was up, because the show telegraphed that through Kumiko’s snarky and occasionally bleak point of view, and as she spent more time with her, she – and we, the audience – got to know the real Asuka, and the end result came together organically.
The final moments in the snow are in fact the very beginning of the second season, as I expected. But the context makes it oh so emotional, with Asuka refusing to say goodbye after Kumiko starts crying and is given her dad’s music. And then we have those final moments that fit so perfectly with the series: The name drop! I didn’t think “Sound! Euphonium” meant anything other than being a catchy title, but seeing that it was the name of that beloved piece makes for a perfect conclusion. The third years have graduated. There’s early spring snows. And while this is the end of this story, it feels like the characters journeys are far from over. It’s the Goldilocks of endings, reaching that happy medium of optimism, while delivering on the strong character arcs webbed over two seasons. I couldn’t be happier with this finish.
This second season has flown by, and it hasn’t really sunk in that this is the end of one of my favourite shows of the past few years. I’m glad we got this much-needed continuation, but I’d be lying if I thought this second season was perfect, or that it even matched with the highs of the first. The best of the Asuka episodes almost reached that level, but it was too few to make a lasting impression before we took a nosedive in the following few episodes. Overall, this second season delivered on the stories of the side characters (new and old) that deserved the spotlight. They were stories that deserved to be told, and they were handled well.
Hibike! Euphonium 2 stumbled in trying to re-capture the magic of Kumiko and Reina that the first season possessed. This could be blamed on the second and third novels just not being as good, or that KyoAni inflated our expectations before bringing us back to the ground without time to properly land. I’d say it’s a bit of both. At the end of it all, however, this season didn’t feel as cohesive as the first, it didn’t have the emotional highs, the stellar performances that blew us away the first time around. There was a shift in strength and weaknesses, but I still think Hibike! Euphonium is a great show overall (not brilliant), and still ranks as one of my top school dramas in anime. Very few shows manage to create such human characters, paired with production of this caliber. It’s a match made in heaven, and I think anyone who disputes that is stuck in their dislike for the studio above anything else, which is a conversation I’d rather not get into.
The music, the visuals, and the characters – those were the highlights of Hibike! Euphonium for me. There was a real sense of ambience in the sound present, whether just in normal dialogue or emotional performances. And no other anime captures the effect of being filmed on camera quite like Hibike! Euphonium. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a brilliant feat that few could successfully accomplish, and Kyoto Animation deliver with ease. They never disappoint in that regard, and I don’t think they ever will from here on out. But it’s the characters who got their own arcs and development that will stick with me, especially Kumiko. She was my pick for Best Character of 2015, and I stand by that. She’s the most realistic depiction of a high school girl I’ve seen in anime of this decade (perhaps century), and the details put into her characterisation are evident from the get-go. Her journey has been a blessing to watch and she is up there as one of the best protagonists in modern anime – especially in any high school anime.
But not every character got the story they deserved. Reina was a standout in the first season, but wandered without much purpose the second time around until she got an episode dedicated to her and it proved to be an over-extended mistake. Kazuki and Midori ended up useless in the end, even though they are technically part of the main character group. And Shuuichi. Poor Shuuichi. I swear I don’t hate the kid, but he was pretty pointless, wasn’t he? He’s comparable to the third girl introduced in a harem series. You know that girl has no chance in hell at winning in the end. She isn’t going to get the characterisation that the others before her (or even after – when the author writes another character, this time with quirks that they personally enjoy). Shuuichi was stagnant, and even though the romance played out differently in the novels, I’m glad the anime adaptation went for an alternate route. Hell, Kumiko confessed her love to both Reina and Asuka throughout the course of this adaptation. But her supposed (and expected) love interest had no such luxury. Just weird noises, looks of annoyance when he appeared near her, and a friendly thank you at the very end.
But I don’t want to dwell on the negatives. Sure, this second season is likely to bring Hibike! Euphonium down a few levels on my personal rankings, but it’s still one of the best anime I’ve watched in years. I’ve had a blast blogging it, and I appreciate those who contributed to discussions in a sensible and fair manner whenever things got intense and opinions were expressed. This was a great ending for a great show, deservedly so.