Hibike! Euphonium’s tenth episode is a thoroughly impressive run through two parallel stories: the first being Mamiko’s, and the second Asuka’s.
The thread that connects everything is our very own Kumiko. There is a lot to be said of her character and how it evolves through the stories.
The Observer, as we like to call her, obviously tries to remain distant even where her sister is concerned… but fails to do so. Mamiko tells Kumiko of her resolve to lead the life she wants, even as it means leaving the house. The little sister replies “I see”, before the elder uses the same line seconds after. On paper this doesn’t appear noteworthy, but the voice acting gives the reuse of the same phrase all its meaning: while Kumiko says it in a very reserved, nearly pouting voice, Mamiko sounds full of confidence and liberated from any inhibition.
This tells us that while one has truly found her calling in life, the other is yet bound to her role as an Observer and everything that used to be between her and her sister. But Kumiko is keenly aware of this truth, and of her true feelings.
That is why, on the next day, she cries on the train. This scene must be applauded for its mood and sensitivity. Kumiko is being bathed in a warm morning light – while her emotions are sadness and loneliness, there are the positive aspects of a sincerity she’d never afforded herself and her sister finally striking it on her own. Furthermore, many frames are focused on her surroundings – at her home, the unchanging decorations even when Mamiko’s gone represent the continuing of life for everyone, and in the train, the surprised onlookers. Within the everyday, they found a unique sight: they look at Kumiko with shocked, interrogative eyes, reminding us that crying in public is a rare thing… yet one that Kumiko, of all people, needed to do.
It is this peculiar sight that shows how far she’s come, and provides a lead into the second half of the episode. This one concerns Asuka, who’s apparently given up on playing at the Nationals, something Kumiko won’t stand for. And this time our heroine’s expression shine. When she first decides to talk to Asuka, her visage shows a slight amount of determination, but she isn’t frowning in the way someone who’s decided to invest themselves into something fully does – it’s a lighter frowning, one that foreshadows she’ll crumble. And she indeed does. Asuka has a sharp wit, filled with that venom they call cynicism. If someone tells her “everyone wants her back”, she’ll just reply they’re saying it out of convenience and that there’s no proof they truly think so. And what can one reply?
But, and this is where the first part is so important, Kumiko has seen things – she’s seen someone decide to carve her own path in life, she’s felt the tears run down her cheeks… and she knows that all Asuka is doing is gaining a futile sense of self-satisfaction by pretending she’s mature for discarding her own desires. This is the ultimate argument that gives Asuka the relief she’d always needed. She wanted someone to tell her this… and our detached protagonist was the one to do it. Ultimately this is brilliant collaboration – Asuka forced Kumiko to take off her Observer costume, and Kumiko allowed Asuka to express herself.
However, let us mention that Reina’s absence is another thread that runs through the episode. Surely, she’ll be central to the coming episode.
Once again there is much to love about Hibike in another emotionally charged delivery. The way two different stories are connected with the help of Kumiko’s character was certainly a good bit of writing. Furthermore, each individual scene was handled perfectly: the layouts were beautifully put to use, and there’s lovely sensitivity to the way the characters’ faces are drawn. It’s very hard to criticize much about this show now: even scenes the author Takeda admitted to having a hard time writing were handled nearly perfectly in the anime, with this episode in particular feeling a satisfying high point to the issues surrounding Kumiko and the slow evolution she herself had been going through. Mamiko’s problem was meaningful, especially in the context of Asian family, and felt like it deserved more time; Asuka’s, meanwhile, was not dissimilar, and under the light of Mamiko’s resolve, the way it evolved made all the more sense. Mamiko is, after all, the only adult in these stories.
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