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Hibike! Euphonium delivered a strong, but definitely open, ending. I would really like a season 2 of this show to be announced. Anytime now would be good.

Entrance Exams

The story arc for episodes 7 Crybaby Saxophone to 13 Goodbye Competition is the continuing drive for Kitauji to qualify for the national band competition. For a band that was identified by Kumiko as dreadful in episode 1 Welcome to High School this is going to be tough. Even with the dramatic[1] improvement shown in episode 5 Festival Time, there is still a long way to go.

It isn’t something that Taki-sensei is going to let them slide on either. This is something that the club voted on at the start of the year, but the pressure forces unexpected changes throughout the band.

First up, and particularly in Crybaby Saxophone, is the tension between academic success and other goals. Aoi, one of the seniors, didn’t actually want to go to Kitauji as her high school, but missed out on the entrance exams for the school she did want.

So for three years Aoi has been living with that failure as another round of entrance exams, this time for college, is looming. Add in the higher intensity of the band practice, and something had to give.

It’s worth remembering that this is not the first time this issue has been seen in anime. Maison Ikkoku was more or less built on the trope of failing entrance exams, and the pressure of dealing with them was central to resolving the romantic triangle in the Kimagure Orange Road movie I Want To Return To That Day.

So although it shocked several of the characters, Aoi dropping out of the band after getting a part wrong and being asked “when will you be better” made perfect sense to me.

Auditions, Status, and Entitlement

As I mentioned in my first thoughts, the Kitauji Concert Band has a troubled past. Problems in previous years destroyed any chance of success, and so this is the last chance of the third year students for a successful year.

This is the matrix into which Taki-sensei drops auditions rather than simply selecting the senior students. To be honest, as a new teacher, Taki-sensei handles some of this arc fairly badly.

Both issues combine to cause some strife, particularly when first year Reina wins the part of the trumpet solos over the third year Kaori. There’s an interesting examination of the social order here, an expectation in places that Reina should give way in the interests of social harmony, and it’s interesting that Reina stands so firmly against that.

The resolution in episode 11 Welcome Back, Audition is satisfying and frustrating in equal measures. By not making the repeat audition “blind”[2], Reina had to openly fight the social harmony issues ably discussed by Karice here[3]. The “draw” in the vote reflected hardcore loyalists on both sides, with most of the band remaining silent because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Reina even though she was clearly superior.

That said, what Taki-sensei did do well was how he resolved the impasse. He respected Kaori’s status by offering her a choice to play, but simply ordered Reina to play when Kaori declined.

Festival Triangle

Like Karice in the previously linked post, I’m not going to dwell on the shipping of Kumiko with Reina. Yes, there’s an enormous level of emotional intimacy achieved between these two, with episode 8 Festival Triangle kicking off a lot of the fuss.

Focussing on it detracts from many more interesting things that have been going on in Hibike! Euphonium.

For a start it misses the hilariously funny setup to That Scene in Festival Triangle. Basically there’s an incipient romantic triangle being set up, and Kumiko proves to be Genre Savvy enough to spot it. Her reaction when she does work it out is one of the better Oh Crap moments I’ve seen in anime for a while. Even better is how her panicked reaction when she needs to get out of the triangle drops her into that date with Reina.

I do sometimes get tired of the same old tropes, particularly some of the romantic tropes, and seeing them played with like that was hilarious. Besides, you don’t often see people be that Genre Savvy, and that was fun as well.

My Euphonium and Goodbye Competition

Focussing on the relationship between Kumiko and Reina also means missing out on Kumiko’s growth as a person. In episode 12 My Euphonium Kumiko’s confidence in her music is hammered hard, and getting past that is a real challenge.

That the almost detached Kumiko of episode 1 Welcome to High School would even try would not be believable. For that character it would utterly shatter my willing suspension of disbelief.

That the Kumiko of My Euphonium, particularly after Welcome Back, Audition, would not only try, but succeed is believable. By then I even expected it, and was pleased to see it happen.

In Welcome to High School Kumiko pulls her hair back in an attempt to look different, to get a new start[4].

It isn’t natural, it doesn’t work, and her sister calls her on it almost immediately.

Conversely in Goodbye Competition, Kumiko ties her hair back for the second time in the series. Only this time it is purely, and simply to keep it out of the way whilst she plays.

It’s natural, it works, and her sister lets it go.

Because Kumiko has changed, she’s now fully invested in succeeding with the band, and this moment perfectly shows it. As I said earlier this morning, sometimes you don’t need dialogue, and this the moment that sets up the finale to flow as well as it does.

From this moment, this one moment that wouldn’t let go of me as I was walking to work, that I had to write about on the bus, the finale flows naturally and beautifully to a strong ending.

The Verdict

Hibike! Euphonium is a much stronger show than I ever expected it to be.

Wisely, the scriptwriters chose to end this season with only the preliminary to the Nationals. This leaves plenty of story to be told in a second season now that the Kitauji Concert Band is a strong team.

It does mean that I really want that second season, and I hope that Hibike! Euphonium has been selling well enough to justify it.

Recommended, and easily the best show of the three I was watching this season.

Oh, and since there has been a lot of commentary out there about the relationship between Kumiko and Reina, here’s the ED Tutti[5] with that Red String of Fate

[1] And clearly surprising to many.

[2] A significant error on Taki-sensei’s part IMO, and I wasn’t the only one to express that opinion on twitter.

[3] Which is doubly impressive given that this post only covered up to episode 9 Please, Audition.

[4] This you may recall was a major theme of my First Thoughts on Hibike! Euphonium.

[5] Tutti is the musical term for “all together” just in case the visuals weren’t blatant enough for you.