Hibike! Euphonium returns as if it had never left. We may see new characters, but it’s still the same Hibike of old, with its many strengths and few flaws.
We actually pick up right where we had left our cast. They celebrate their win and progression to the next stage, but the reintroduction is smooth: we soon see them in the same environment as always, practicing as hard as they can under an ever-demanding Taki-sensei.
And by harder, we mean there’s more character drama in store, of course! Many members quit just a year ago, and now one of them named Nozomi wants to come back. What’s more, she wants Asuka to approve! The problem is that the scars of last year’s incident remains, and the generally lively vice-president takes on a stern air to reject Nozomi.
This episode also adds Yoroizuka, a girl who apparently vomits whenever she hears Nozomi’s flute. They were both from the same middle school, and they thought they’d progress together, but one quit, leaving the other’s aspirations broken. The situation is complex, and as we mainly see things through the eyes of Kumiko and other such outsiders, we only get a glimpse of how deep the problems run. At any rate, they affect everyone, and Nozomi’s insistence doesn’t help.
Hibike always had a vast cast, and now it’s even larger. It’s always posed questions: how can it handle so many characters at once? And, in fact, it can’t develop everyone to the same extent. Kumiko, Reina and Asuka are all absolutely subtle characters, but that doesn’t apply to most. However, the show saves itself by focusing a lot on what a large group goes through. Most other anime have much smaller casts and as such develop everyone individually, but Hibike gives relevance even to minor characters by integrating them as part of the group’s dynamics. We may not know much about Nozomi, but she’s immediately of interest for how she is part of a background story which has always been a great source of questions and worries.
But, going back to the subtle characters, we still have the good dynamics of old, mainly the one between Reina and Kumiko. It’s a strange relationship they share: their mutual attraction is clear, and KyoAni’s sensitive directing brings it out very well, but there’s still a sense of distance. Maybe they don’t really know themselves: part of Kumiko’s affection for Reina is due to her strength of character, but her concept of “becoming special” remains very vague as Kumiko herself says. What’s more, she still has Taki-sensei in her heart. That they’re close is clear as day, but the true nature of their relationship is mysterious.
But, at the very least, they allow Hibike to display the full extent of its quality. Ultimately, what makes it good is its sensitivity. Even with few words, we can get a sense of the dynamic that exists between Reina and Kumiko.
This is in no small part thanks to KyoAni’s work, who have an undeniable knack for subtle character acting that makes all the difference. Whether it’s a small movement or close-up on a character’s eyes at the right moment, the show is always able to make sure the mood is established, and that we understand the characters as we should.
To that one can add a generally reflective mood. Kumiko’s monologues are concise but regular, and she makes sure to bring out Reina’s evolution in how she approaches others. She’s still awkward, but more honest, and above all more approachable.
Finally, we should note how careful the series’ approach is. It renders the instruments faithfully and goes as far as explaining how some of them work. Training sessions are treated with the same attention: characters talk about when they should breathe, for instance. This is a rare element, and one to be praised.
However, even amid this “realism”, the show remains idealistic. The yukata dancing together in a midsummer festival around the theme of Hikaru Genji’s eternal romance provide a definitely romantic imagery supported by Kumiko’s closing monologue about the transience of what she’s living through. To add to that, we see her and Reina sharing a very intimate moment as they watch the ever-sublime fireworks. All of these idealized images, as well as the theme of wanting to achieve one’s goals within a limited timeframe, this desire to become “special”, all make Hibike an idealistic series.
All these elements come together and give the comforting feeling that this really is Hibike through and through. It’s been some time since the first season, but it hasn’t changed at all: its strengths are the same, and while some may feel it lacks in colorfulness (or at least that some of the cast does), its strengths more than make up for it.
Ultimately this is what Hibike has always been and is still about: subtle, sensitive character-driven drama. It’s calm, introspective, “realistic” even while integrating a certain idealism. It may not be mind-blowing in any shape or way, but it promises to be just as solid as the first season, which seems to be a theme this season. This should raise very few objections, especially given the greatest part of the adventure remains ahead of this club.
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