After all the dramatic intensity, Hibike introduces its latest arc in a rather smooth manner – we get the lighthearted culture festival before Mamiko and Taki-sensei’s issues are introduced.
The culture festival, on which we start the episode, is a much-appreciated opportunity. It opens with a performance from our main band. It’s a pleasant moment for its atmosphere: in stark contrast with the intense competitivity of the last episode, this one is relaxed. No one is trying to outdo themselves; there’s only casual concentration and a generally positive, appreciative mood as everyone revels in the quality of the band and their achievements. Then we have Asuka’s speech – and though she is generally positive about the group’s desire to move forward and bring more achievements home, a moment of hesitation (which the ever-inquisitive Kumiko picks up on) announces the ending of the episode, itself an announcement of the Asuka-centric drama to come. But the moments are tied to one another, giving the episode a sense of circularity. It is relevant when one thinks this entry is very much self-contained: unlike other episodes which are part of greater arcs, this one is a transitional story, standing on its own to bridge the gap between the last arc and the one to come.
In between, we have the usual school festival antics any anime viewer will be used to: maid cafés, haunted houses… and yet, there is something beautifully refreshing about the moment. One striking aspect is the environment itself: who recognizes this school? Yes it is the same Kitauji as always, but we’re always used to seeing the clubroom and its strained atmosphere, and see little of the school’s environment in general. Furthermore, there is always something dramatic going on in this series; even the fireworks scene between Kumiko and Reina is impregnated with a powerfully romantic atmosphere and colorfulness that makes it potent. However, this first half does away with all such things; even Asuka’s jokes lack the lurking sense that she means more than she’s willing to tell.
The scenes are perfectly lighthearted and in good fun; we even get Kumiko and Shuichi interacting as if they could actually get along! And as always, Reina has to get upset about Taki interacting with other students.
Yet, a typhoon is approaching; it blows the candidness away, giving a smooth yet apt transition into a much heavier second half.
The weather is restless, and so are the individual movements. Kumiko comes back to home to her sister, Mamiko, announcing she plans to quit university. It’s a sudden decision that no one understands; she only explains that she doesn’t want to go anymore. The sisters had always been shown to have a tumultuous relationship, probably out of seeing more common flaws in one another than they can withstand. Kumiko is very upset, and inquires why the person who told her to work to get into a good university is now abandoning all ambitions of degrees and good jobs. But Mamiko’s answer is categorical: it’s none of her sister’s concern. This leaves our heroine upset. It is in moments like these, rare but always interesting, that she leaves her role as an observer. She’s not close to her sister by any means, but she can’t stay indifferent, and is so affected the house’s mood that she decides to go for a walk in the middle of the typhoon. This aspect merits further exploration: beyond blood, just what links the two that would make Kumiko depart her usual part in this story? It must have some significance, which we’ll hopefully find out soon.
Walking outside, Kumiko runs into Taki stopping at a florist. He’s obviously buying flowers for his wife’s grave, and the younger Oumae sibling even notices Taki-sensei has put his wedding ring on. She intends to stay away from the details – but the weather isn’t so compliant, and a car ride back home gives Taki-sensei the opportunity to talk. Kumiko herself knows the information he gives is very partial. But she retains one thing: the death of his wife, who graduated from Kitauji (and never won gold there despite getting to the nationals) and was desperate to conduct her alma mater to victory, has given him a profound and unwavering resolve to go all the way with this current group.
Although she’s very much a listener, not involving herself with Taki-sensei further, she gains something very personal – a renewed determination for her and the band to earn gold at the nationals. On the next day (the first of training since the Kansai competition), she comes to school as early as Reina. Making their way to school, they spot Italian White flowers, the very same Taki had in his car the day before. Their meaning? “I will keep thinking of you”, according to Sapphire. Kumiko understands what they mean – though she keeps it to herself, and especially from Reina – but once again, she reaffirms her appreciation for Taki.
This is a good teacher-student moment. Though teachers keep a reserved attitude, they may sometimes half-open to the door to themselves, and this kind of timid yet very palpable moment of intimacy between a teacher and his students is inspiring to the latter, who feel renewed confidence in the teacher, and a subsequent heightened enthusiasm for their teachings. Kumiko may be detached, but these passages show how subtle the line is – she may not say anything, but she’s been affected by this moment in the Taki-sensei’s car in very concrete ways. In that moment they were sheltered from the rain, but the intense music and up-close shots created an emotionally powerful scene that was definitely in accordance with the weather.
Her realization that wishing to get good new members implies the retirement of the third years comes with the announcement of Asuka’s arc, effectively closing this episode which has introduced all the issues we can expect to deal with in the coming episodes.
This episode, for obvious reasons, did not reach the past heights. And yet it was quite appreciable nonetheless – whether with pleasant lighthearted moments giving us an additional perspective on the characters or more dramatic scenes setting up the second half’s focus and tone, the spectacle is a successful one. It’s well-constructed, full of short but intriguing moments, and entirely successful at doing what it means to. Now we can look forward to the drama to come, knowing what it will, and hoping it maintains the high standards of the last few episodes.
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