More than the music itself, the performers’ feelings in their great performances shine in Hibike! Euphonium’s penultimate episode, making it one of simple beauty.
We, in fact, see nothing of Kitauji’s performance. We know they get a bronze medal, but that’s about it; the announcement of their result isn’t even shown, despite the show building tension to it.
The episode’s opening scene already says much of its focus: it’s a flashback focused on Mamiko and Kumiko’s dynamic. The beauty of it comes from the fact that the ending moments resolve their conflict. After coming so far, and getting into many arguments with her, our heroine can finally say it: she loves her and how she’s influenced her. The distance between them is kept with Mamiko ahead, speaking of the difference in their positions and of a certain reserve; the unstable camera indicates the emotional intensity of the instant, the bright streetlights its happiness; it’s another beautiful moment in Euphonium.
Now let’s look at what happens in between. Everyone is tense before the big moment; but Mizore, who seems to the most peaceful of all, gently fist bumps Kumiko, a wide smile on her face. For our heroine and Asuka the stakes are different; they both have relatives watching them and are shown to take it as a very personal challenge, beyond what medal the band may earn.
it shows the importance of these personal elements that it is only after much anguish that Asuka gets a message of praise from her father via Taki-sensei. While she expressed her great frustration over the result and essentially ordered the second years to lead Kitauji to Gold, this doesn’t keep her from being overjoyed when hearing her father’s kind words.
Oh, and do you know who also gets screentime? Shuichi! But it’s not time for him to confess to Kumiko; instead, he just gives her his birthday present in a lovably awkward scene that also serves as the first hint that Kumiko may not hate her childhood friend’s guts, after all.
And then… there’s Reina. When everyone had forgotten to thank their conductor, she’s the one to stand up and say she loves him. While no one understands the true meaning of these words then, she confirms to Taki himself that she’s in love with him. The man, smooth as ever, thanks her with a sincere smile. Her disappointment is obvious, but her attempt to keep her head high feels very in-character. Seeing her confess then has definite value: the atmosphere intensifies the characters’ feelings and pushes them to put these on the line; it was thus a great time to confess.
The subtle displays of the character’s mannerisms are another great feature of this episode. We get the shy Mizore twitching her feet as a display of contained joy; we see Reina making little movements while sat in a park, which indicates her impatience to hear the results… this is especially important in an episode where the characters’ emotions are put to the test.
It was interesting seeing that the final performance wasn’t really about the music itself, but rather about how people live through these momentous experiences. The little habits of everyone; their varied behaviors in the face of such a challenge; their many ever-convincing facial expressions; how they react to sometimes disappointing results… thanks to KyoAni’s work, it all feels bright and alive. Only one episode is left, but after all these excellent moments and only one subpar episode to its name, Hibike Euphonium’s second season is a resounding success.
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