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For the most part Hibike! Euphonium S2 has been a superb follow-up to season 1, with episodes 9 Hibike! Euphonium and 10 After-school Obbligato nailing the key themes of the show.

Alas, episode 11 First Love Trumpet is “only” a good episode, and felt like a disappointment in comparison.

That got me thinking, why was First Love Trumpet a disappointment given that it is still a good episode. So after rewatching the most recent 3 episodes, here’s my thoughts on that.

The Themes

Starting with the awkwardness of the Kitauji High School concert band club way back in season 1 through to the consequences of living with failure, Hibike! Euphonium has always had a strong emphasis on the price of social harmony.

Let’s not make any bones about this Hibike! Euphonium is in many ways a radically political piece: it openly questions the social adjustments made, and the masks people wear, to fit in with each other and within Japanese society.

The attitudes of the seniors nearly broke the club the year before Kumiko joined. The reconciliation between Mizore and Nozomi in the early episodes of S2 is only part of the fallout from that.

Aoi-chan lived with failing her entrance exams, and chose the college exams over the band.

Reina rebels against the social harmony to be picked for the trumpet solo on merit but ends up with it only because Kaori admits the truth when asked. That itself may be a reaction on Kaori’s part to the events of the previous year.

Kumiko’s older sister Mamiko was forced by their parents to give up the trombone to focus on college, and not become a beautician.

Asuka, well, that’s probably a spoiler too many, but Asuka is yet another variation on the theme.

At the centre of all of this is Kumiko who, whilst achieving her own personal growth, has to confront and internalise these stories as they happen before and around her.

In a sense these choices, these compromises for social harmony, aren’t things that Kumiko has had to face yet.

Yet.

I can’t help but think that Kumiko knows that these choices will be coming for her sooner or later, and that’s where the tears, frustration, and honesty that drives After-School Obbligato to be so powerful comes from.

And then we get First Love Trumpet. Sigh.

First Love Trumpet

As I said earlier First Love Trumpet is a good episode, it’s just not a great one. To put in the terms that the characters would use, the previous episodes were Golds, First Love Trumpet is a Silver or a dud Gold.

The core of the story revolves around Reina’s crush on Taki-Sensei, and her discovery of Taki-Sensei’s late wife.

There are several problems here. First is that romance of any sort really isn’t a key theme for Hibike! Euphonium, and doesn’t play nicely with the other story lines.

Second is the nature of the would-be[1] romance: the high school girl and the teacher at least 10 years older than she is. I know that this is a fairly common trope in anime[2], and has some basis in real life in Japanese society, but this is never going to play well with me.

Thirdly, this isn’t a story that’s going to affect Kumiko in any significant way. Yes, she’s going to continue to be a good friend to Reina, and support her but that’s about it.

It isn’t going to possibly strain a relationship with an old friend (Aoi-chan).

It isn’t going to force her to choose a friend over the social harmony of the concert band (the auditions).

It isn’t going to affect her role in the band with the Nationals coming up fast (Asuka).

It isn’t going to make living at home tense and uncomfortable as the relationships blow up there (Mamiko).

Fourthly, previous episodes have included flashbacks to the younger selves of Kumiko[3] and Asuka. These worked well, tied in tightly to the themes of social pressure, and weren’t hurt by all of them being adorable.

However the equivalent scene with Reina in First Love Trumpet only emphasises the dubious nature of the relationship, and seems weaker for repeating the technique for a third time.

The meetings between Reina and Kumiko are well scripted and shot, and the way the tension is resolved in the friendship works well enough. The same is true of Reina praying at the grave of Taki-Sensei’s wife, and then dedicating herself anew to winning gold at the Nationals.

So, despite First Love Trumpet being a beautifully constructed episode that handles Reina’s character well I just couldn’t connect to this episode the way I could to Hibike! Euphonium or After-school Obbligato.

It’s a good episode, it just doesn’t fit the series. Still, I’ve been enjoying S2 of Hibike! Euphonium a lot this season, and an occasional stumble isn’t enough to really affect that. I just wanted to analyse why I reacted to First Love Trumpet the way I did, and how it related (or didn’t) to the rest of the series.

And on that note, here’s the S2 OP which is growing on me but still isn’t as good as TRUE’s earlier Dream Solister:

I’m quite liking the new ED though, especially the implication that these girls are dedicated musicians who would rather have their instruments than cakes:

[1] It’s entirely one sided at the moment. There’s no sign that Taki-Sensei is even aware of Reina’s crush. Or if he is, he’s keeping very quiet about it.

[2] To start with, see the back stories for Maison Ikkoku  and Card Captor Sakura.

[3] By extension this necessarily included a younger Mamiko when she was playing the trombone, and adored by Kumiko for doing so.