Hibike! Euphonium Episode 13 [Final Impression]
“Are you ready to amaze the audience?”
I… I don’t even know where to start. I’m in tears.
This was one heck of a finale. It was wonderfully crafted – from the pre-performance tension to the ultimate reveal. All the band members gave encouragement to each other, none more so than the wonderful sports of ‘Team Monaca’. And of course, the performance itself had me fixated to the screen, watching with rapt attention. I cried at the Reina solo. It was beautiful. I was already feeling pretty emotional, but that was what set me off – and we had proper closure to it all with a close-up of a warm and yet bitter-sweet smile from Kaori. I’ve actually replayed it so many times whilst writing this paragraph, and it’s still so beautiful every time – I don’t know how it is technically as I’m not a trumpet player, but to me it was captivating. If you were watching closely, you could even catch many small references to past events – Taki-sensei smiled slightly when Shuichi pulled off his difficult trombone part, and Kumiko and Asuka gave each other passing glances throughout. It really felt like it was all coming to an end, just as Asuka said – but it’s the other side of the hill, and this performance was the product of everyone’s cumulative hard work and effort.
At the start of the series, I remember saying that Kitauji might improve, but still wouldn’t win – with ‘win’ being defined as a real gold, one that would take them to the Nationals. I’m glad I was wrong, and as the series progressed I started wanting to be wrong, too. But up until it was revealed, I honestly couldn’t tell at all – Kitauji is now almost unrecognisable from the way it was back then, but that’s not a guaranteed indicator of success. And we’ve had little to no opportunity to size up the competition in the form of big-name schools like Rikka, with only the convictions of Taki-sensei and the likelihood that Reina was fabulous to go on. In fact, when other schools started cheering, Asuka closed her eyes and the strict teacher started shedding tears, I assumed the worst. It was all almost identical to the way it was in middle school too – Kumiko brought back her ponytail and Reina was looking at her with teary eyes. But they won. Even if Kumiko revived her ponytail, what they were trying to get at was that the Kumiko back then was a different person – this Kumiko honestly wanted to succeed. In its realistic portrayal of success and failure, I had ground to entertain the notion that Kitauji would lose – and if we’re going to delve into clichés, the protagonist school of a tournament series usually never wins their first year of competition, no matter how sad that might be for Kaori. So I would have been fully understanding if they hadn’t won – but here, their hard work paid off, and I’m happy it did. I’m happy for them all, even Ribbon-chan and her new ribbon.
Hang on, of course she found success. She had Natsuki-senpai’s love, what more could you want?
Speaking of Natsuki-senpai, I’m really pleased that none of the supporting characters
apart from Shuichi got the shaft, all the way up to the actual concert – and hopefully beyond. It especially applies to the unfortunate audition rejects, whom I especially feared would stray from the spotlight. But it wasn’t really an issue, especially with Natsuki-senpai – in fact, her scenes with Hazuki were just as powerful as the performance itself. Senpai shushed her, but you could tell what Hazuki wanted to say – that it hurt to watch from the sidelines, and that she wanted to be up on stage performing with the rest of them, too. I love how they’re even more motivated than before, instead of being disgruntled – and they’re such great sports. It’s like the third time I’m saying this, but seriously! They spent their spare time creating personalised good luck charms for the rest of the band!
‘A second K-ON!‘ is probably what most people would assume of Hibike! Euphonium. I don’t blame them, but nothing could be further from the truth. I love K-ON! too, but they’re simply two different things with a small overlap in premise – the former is about cute girls doing cute things, and the latter is about cute girls working hard and giving it their all to achieve their goal of getting to the Nationals, with lots of tension and drama intertwined in it all. The former is also wildly popular, whilst I think the latter is a bit under-appreciated – since it’s turned out as what I believe to be one of, if not the best series of the season.
In terms of stuff like animation and lighting, it definitely was. In terms of character development, it’s also pretty high up there – even without mentioning Kumiko, we had a rag-tag group of unmotivated and conflicted people transform into a band who played well enough to win gold at the preliminaries. I really liked how almost no background character was generically portrayed – there was a proper design for all of them, and some were certainly of enough quality to have been protagonists in another series. If there’s anything I’m undoubtedly unsatisfied about, it would be the copious amount of yuri bait, but I’ll continue believing despite the murky uncertainty.
And so, their piece goes on, spurred by success, motivation and tight hand-holding between Kumiko and Reina. I would love a second season – even though I’ve heard it hasn’t attracted the best sales so far, with the pre-order graph rising and falling in line with the amount of yuri. As a series about music, an anime adaptation is the perfect way to give more life to the original novels – an example of how effective that can be is Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, although I’m referring to that in conceptual terms with no reference to the quality of that show itself. But given the budget for this, KyoAni is clearly sitting on a massive pile of money anyway. So now that they have the resources to, it’s time for them to think with their hearts, and not with their bank account. And maybe with their yuri goggles.