Hibike! Euphonium 2’s fourth episode is its best yet as it brings a close to the issue around Nozomi; we all discover Yoroizuka’s true feelings in an intense, beautifully directed episode.
The Kansai contest is approaching; everyone’s spirits are high, except Kumiko’s who’re brought down by her inability to approach Yoroizuka about what Asuka told her. Yet she can’t avoid it for too long: as the contest is approaching, Nozomi decides to put her push for her return on hold, but is determined to see her friend Mizore one last time while she has the opportunity.
Kumiko is confronted with this one sunny morning; there’s a striking moment where she’s in the dark while Nozomi is in a sunny spot; she’s blissfully unaware of the truth, of why Mizore keeps getting told she needs to put more feeling in her performance, while Kumiko’s mind is clouded by her knowledge of the truth. This kind of play on lighting is common throughout the episode.
Kumiko tries to stop Nozomi, but is unable: instead she spends time thinking about ways to prevent the incident… when it happens. Nozomi tries a simple, lighthearted approach; Mizore runs away instantly, with Yuuko, Asuka, Kumiko and Natsuki all witnesses. The directing is intense: Yuuko rushes to Kumiko and tells her to look for Mizore. As she does, hallways are made to look like lead into oblivion, camera angles are unstable, and pieces of memories with Yoroizuka inarticulately show up on screen. We visualize the mess Kumiko’s mind is at that time, which makes the experience thoroughly engaging.
She then finds Yoroizuka, rolled up behind the darkness provided by a desk, sobbing. Being an introvert who has a hard time expressing what’s on her mind, their exchange is awkward; yet soon the words slowly but surely come out of her mouth. This is a noteworthy but of voice acting: it can’t be easy to go through such a monologue which requires both strength of feeling and reservation.
Returning to the story, the reason for her problem with Nozomi is no hatred or bitterness: in fact, she’s blaming herself. To her, Nozomi was special: the only one who would be friends with someone like her. But to Nozomi herself, Mizore was just one friend more, or so Yoroizuka thinks. When Nozomi quit the club, she never told Mizore: she’d always interpreted that as the sign that she never meant much to Nozomi.
She has no idea why she’s still in this competitive club; she’s only playing because her instrument is her last connection left to her special friend. All this time, she’s been playing for Nozomi.
Here is the reason why she doesn’t want to talk to Nozomi: she doesn’t want to face the truth that her feelings aren’t reciprocal.
That’s when Yuuko barges in: what about her? Is she not her friend? Yoroizuka thinks she just stuck with her out of pity. She still thinks of herself as alone. How foolish, cries Yuuko! And when they won the competition: did she not feel anything? Was it all empty, was it all meaningless because Nozomi wasn’t there? Of course it wasn’t; Yuuko helps her accept that, accept her joy.
And with all this, the time for Nozomi to appear has come. She approaches, so does Mizore: she comes out of the darkness, and the two of them are apparently protected by the light of the sun which announces the heartwarming conclusion to come.
They settle their score once and for all: the only reason Nozomi kept quiet about her quitting the band is because she never could’ve encouraged someone who was working as hard as Mizore to do the same. Hearing the truth, she can’t help but cry of relief: she’d always meant something to Nozomi! She proves this by directing gentle words at her: she says she’s always loved her oboe playing, that she loved her solo at the last contest, and wants to hear her playing. She returns the beautiful smile of happiness to Yoroizuka’s face. They reconcile, and Mizore gives her most beautiful performance just for Nozomi.
Hearing this, Natsuki and Yuuko have a little fun as the former tries to console the latter of the jealousy welling up in her as she realizes she indeed cannot compete with Nozomi when it comes to Mizore’s heart. She really was playing for Nozomi.
But Asuka, the usual joker, adds a dark contrast to this otherwise joyful situation when she describes Yuuko as Mizore’s “insurance”; to her, people are calculating, and Mizore used Yuuko to make sure she would avoid loneliness – her greatest fear – even while Nozomi was gone. Notice how the sunset appears of a much colder color than it was during the preceding scene: it effectively conveys the change in atmosphere. Kumiko herself feels estranged: just when is Asuka speaking what’s on her mind? It’s impossible to tell the difference from when she’s simply putting up a front, making the thought of what her mind truly is like a somewhat spooky thing.
This makes Kumiko wonder: does her best friend, Reina, have someone she plays for? She’s never thought about it… but if she had to say, she probably plays for herself. How very Reina! claims Kumiko, ending the episode on fun and a reminder than Reina’s character is always there, central to the series.
What a great episode this was. While previous entries were nice in their subtle introspectiveness, this one took things to a new level. The talent of KyoAni’s staff (including their director Yamada) shines through here, with many striking moments that display a fluidity and artistry which elevate the already intense drama on display. Every emotion, every movement finds its echo in the show’s animation. And thanks to that, we get a wondrous conclusion. A sunny morning filled with a cold atmosphere ends with a beautiful twilight accompanied by more warmth than the morning sun brought, and every color is expressed in between. Furthermore, Asuka’s curious reminder of human darkness contrasts the story in ways that, while they may never be explored further, make Hibike! Euphonium, even in its most powerful and heartening moments, an enjoyably down-to-earth show.
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