Neomo thought this week's Hibike! Euphonium was the best episode of this season, and had no choice but to give its own post.

Story wise…animation wise…emotion wise……the strongest and most substantial, plus it answers so many questions that were left unanswered way back in season 1. I’ve always been a sap for slice-of-life shows, and it’s like a bubble I can’t get out of. So now I just deny trying to escape it.

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And here was me (and us) thinking that this week’s episode would end this arc; instead it has kept us going on just a little bit more. It’s been the Asuka episode this week, and not actually touching on Mamiko…just yet. Here’s hoping that that will be resolved soon, as I’m starting to get a little impatient with her now.

Despite the chance to play in the Nationals, Natsuki accepts that Asuka is more valuable to the competition than she is, and thus begs Kumiko to get her to change her mind. With Haruka in the saxophone section and Kaori in the trumpet section, only Kumiko can do it: they are both in the bass section, and a good number of people in band see Kumiko as someone who can ‘see through people’, pick out their weaknesses and help them see the truth. Reina was the first to see this all the way back in season 1 (in the Snow White Princess episode), and as an self-confessed aloof smarty-pants, this was the main reason why she wanted to get so close to her…she wanted to see Kumiko as who she really was: someone who can help people and console them. Even if she doesn’t know Asuka that well, Reina gives Kumiko a major confidence boost, as she knows Asuka is crucial for the band to succeed in the Nationals, and thus has to come back.

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But she has a tough job on her hands, since Asuka is the most intelligent and most strategic out of everyone. Throughout the episode, a lot of truths come out…and nearly all of them nullify our initial thoughts on her being cold, cruel, unkind, and being neutral to everything and everyone.

  • Asuka’s biological father is a famous euphonium player. Her obsessive mother divorced him when she was 2, and thus sees playing music as a major barrier in her daughter’s life, since she believes she will only turn out like her ex-husband. Asuka is still angry with her mother, and appears to refer to her as ‘that woman’ a lot.
  • Even though she barely knows him, Asuka has been desperate for her father (who is to be a judge at the Nationals) to hear her play, and to be a part of a band who plays and wins. This in turn has led her to be selfish and uncompromising several times in both this season and the last one…for example when it came to rejecting Nozomi’s pleas to return to band, since she didn’t want anyone who could be considered as a liability. This could also explain why she chose not to accept presidency; she knows Haruka is kinder and more accepting, and that her own cold and harsh demeanour would only lower esteem and confidence in the rest of the band.
  • Kumiko later hears that her initial thoughts whilst in band were that she could even be happy if she played by herself. Asuka now sees this as some kind of punishment, with her mother acting like this now, and trying to make her see that entrance exams are more important than her music and her biological father.
  • Since her father is to be a judge, it may be a possibility that Asuka’s mother also knows this too, and has purposely used this chance to get her daughter out of the band so that she won’t get the chance to see him and let him hear her play. I mean she could have gotten her daughter out of the band anytime, so why now suddenly?

It’s clear to see that Asuka is still in two minds when it comes to returning; she maintained to the others that she would no longer cause any trouble to anyone (a rather ambiguous answer, not actually saying yes or no). This long progression to make it to the Nationals has changed her not just as a euphonium player, but as a person. This could be why she invited Kumiko over in the first place; Asuka knows both Haruka and Kaori inside out, and she knows that they’d only use the ‘same old lines’ of “Please come back to band.” But Kumiko is someone she knows less about, and she initially sees her as someone she can help with her grades and maybe have a little vent. But when Kumiko gets inside of Asuka’s head and lets her slip on how she truly feels about her mother, and on how she puts on a great facade in class, it bothers her…no…bother is the wrong word…more like Asuka has just been taken aback, at how a first-year can see through her so easily, when her fellow third-year friends can’t.

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Kumiko has been pressured by the others in the band to get Asuka to come back, and feels she is already treading on egg shells when she arrives at her house. However she knows directly begging her to come back won’t work. So by responding to Asuka’s comments about her parents and how she started playing the euphonium, she begins to sympathise and to dig deeper without offending her. She speaks to her upperclassman as if she were a close friend, even though she knows that they are not really that close.

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But Asuka knows that she still needs to keep a face for her kouhai. She wants Kumiko to look up to her and to be proud of her accomplishments before she graduates. This could be another reason why she invited her over; she wants to give the sense of “I’m-not-leaving-because-of-you-it’s-because-of-me-and-my-own-problems-so-don’t-worry”.

However I think Kumiko has an ulterior motive on wanting her to come back though, as well as seeing her beside her on stage. Maybe because her sister Mamiko quit and has shut down completely, she wants the “older-sister” character she sees in Asuka back. The only time she sees her is in band, so Kumiko’s may also be doing this for herself, and that she wants someone to love music just as she does…just like her sister used to. In her eyes, Mamiko has become a lost cause…quitting the trombone long ago for college, then suddenly quitting college to get into beauty school, and now withdrawing herself from Kumiko and her parents completely and threatening to leave home. She wants someone she can look up to back.

Knowing now (from her classmates and band colleagues) that she can ‘see through people’, she puts in more effort as she knows that Asuka is too smart.

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It’s as if Kumiko can do it without even noticing. It’s this special gift that Reina, Hazuki, Midori, Natsuki, Kaori and Ribbons talk about, yet she can’t see it herself.

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Asuka’s voice and mannerism begins to falter, and her facade crumbles. Her posture changes from being headstrong, shoulders raised high, and giving authority…to being stunned, shoulders slumped down and looking almost helpless. She’s no longer the bubbly hyperactive yuribait girl we all know; Kumiko has managed to get her to see what she’s really feeling…someone who desperately wants to return to band, play at the Nationals and has the opportunity for her biological father to hear her play, but doesn’t want to fight her over-bearing and obsessive mother anymore. It’s hard to see any middle-ground, and as this arc isn’t entirely over yet, maybe we’ll see some.

Watching Asuka play her father’s untitled piece is reminiscent of Reina’s playing in season 1, where she gets frustrated in the band’s initial performance and mood. Both want to succeed for their own reasons, and both are frustrated and upset in how things have turned out. While Reina was angry that some of her fellow colleagues did not take band as seriously as she did, Asuka has become upset that not only does her mother disapprove, but she may be denied the chance to see her father again.

This has been the best episode of this season, and of this year, both story-wise and visually. It’s an episode like this that has ‘auteur’ written all over it, and confirms that KyoAni have matured so much now then what they were 10 or so years ago. Akiko Takase’s debut as animation director has come to light here, with fluid character movements, background scenes, and high emotions clear to see. Silence has been purposely used to create mood and tension, especially in all of Kumiko and Asuka’s scenes. It is Asuka’s playing of her father’s piece at the end that makes the episode stand out. It sends shivers down the viewer’s spine and the very fact that the end credits roll while she is playing is testament on how central this arc is to the show. Perhaps I’m the only one who noticed it, but I could see Asuka was struggling playing it. She likes the piece, but as it reminds her of something she can’t have, it makes her feel emotional. I genuinely thought she was going to tear up while playing it.

If you haven’t been watching Hibike! Euphonium, then why the hell not?! Are Yuri!!!! On Ice and Flip Flappers that great?!