Another brilliant episode of Euphonium, this show never ceases to impress me, it’s been consistent and on the ball throughout, but when the time comes for an important juncture, things are ramped up even further.
I hear that this episode was handled by the Hyouka team from KyoAni, and it certainly shows! I went a bit overboard with imgur links last time, for which I apologise. This time I’ve only kept in a few embedded links.
Establishing the conflict — 01:46-05:11
From that image, we are treated to a few interior shots of the school as we hear the band playing, it’s like a completely different place. Muted, cold colours and clean level shots give a clinical and oppressive feeling. As we are reintroduced to the band in ensemble, the first thing we see is Haruka’s finger tapping up and down in metronome timing. As a five minute break is announced, we get some nice moments of the band’s newfound discipline showing itself, everyone seems very orderly and self-motivated, all communicated through shots of members practising in their own time in the background, someone worrying about tuning, and another girl asking for a marker so she can jot down some notes on her music sheets.
We see Kumiko doing likewise, practising some finger movements as Aoi gets up and says she’s going to cram school again, this bit is very purposely framed from Kumiko’s perspective, even going as far as panning left and right to show the movement of her gaze to Haruka and back to Aoi as she leaves. Haruka clearly isn’t very happy with this situation, we see her dejected expression after Aoi is gone.
After the episode title “Crybaby Saxophone” we are once again treated to that distinct shot of the school I mentioned at the start of the post, instruments playing during. Repetition again, even with the focus on hands right before, but this time Taki-sensei is leading the band. I’ll skip past Yuuko’s jealousy towards Kousaka and her attitude towards Natsuki, what’s most important is that when Haruka walks past Kaori to leave the room, the moment is highlighted deliberately, complete with slow-motion and audio cue. Kaori ditches Yuuko to follow Haruka, and Kumiko later hears what they are talking about, Aoi has been considering quitting the club.
A rainy night — 05:12-06:39
I love this sequence. Before I get into that, I’ll mention how it was cool we first get the shot of the water falling into the basin (adding to the sounds of rain) before we got the rest of the shrine’s geography and Kumiko’s position within it, laid out in three quick shots that cut in timing with the music. Engaging audiovisual techniques that catch the viewers attention and bring them into the scene.
The conversation here is very naturalistic and self-explanatory, these quiet and laid-back moments between Kumiko and Shuuichi do so much to let us understand the many years they’ve known each other and the comfortability they have around the other. We get this locked shot on their feet as they talk, Aoi-senpai is brought up, and Kumiko steps in, giving away her investment in this, and then she steps back to her original position. The next shot does it again, in more elaborate fashion, this perspective creatively allows us full view of both Shuuichi’s reaction and Kumiko’s body language as she questions him. Great stuff.
The conversation continues over shots of the cram school and Aoi studying there, and then gives way to Kumiko’s monologue as she hopes to herself that Aoi won’t quit. During all this we continue watching Aoi, the placement of her alone in the centre of the frame drives in her isolation as she walks home in the dark, rainy night, pausing only to glance at a poster for the upcoming Kyoto Competition…
An expected departure — 06:40-12:10
It’s that shot again. Except this time even more grey and bleak, with the rain still pouring down. Today, Aoi’s less-than-desirable performance immediately catches the attention of Taki-sensei, and the following scene is absolutely painful to watch. There’s no background music here, only an uncomfortable silence as we hear Aoi’s hesitant playing and the nervous shifting of the people around her. As Taki-sensei gives his stern words, shots of everyone else’s faces look worriedly upon the situation. The direction is really hammering in these stares.
There are three individual shots focusing on the gleaming gold instrument in Aoi’s hands in this scene. Her distorted face reflected within it, that gold doesn’t just represent the competition, the burden, the unwanted responsibility that she owes to the band that she would rather spend focusing on her entrance exams, it’s a summation of all the time and effort she’s put into learning this instrument, the dedication that she is now weighing against other options. This confrontation gives her the opportunity to finally cut ties. With a calm breath, she makes her decision, she is going to quit the band.
Right on cue, we see Kumiko’s widened eyes first, Haruka is also visibly shaken, though we see the reactions of everyone else too as Aoi rattles off the evidently well-rehearsed reasons for her departure. The two girls follow along to try dissuade her, to no avail, Aoi is dead-set on leaving, she had her mind made up long ago. As president, Haruka can’t help but see this as a personal failing on her part. We once again go back to the thread from episode 5, of how the band members wanted to have Asuka as their leader, she’s confident, she’s upbeat, she’s imposing. As I thought, Haruka had to take the position in her stead.
Both Kumiko and Asuka’s words aren’t what Haruka needs at the moment, Kumiko simply isn’t as close with her as her other friend, Kaori, and Asuka proves to be insensitive, unable to look outside her own experiences and empathise with those who do not share her mindset.
Repetition and Isolation — 12:18-16:11
A quick series of cuts tell the story and sell the atmosphere far better than any words. Drab colours. Rain. Characters alone, looking forlorn, surrounded by emptiness. We abruptly cut to Aoi’s notice of withdrawal and Taki-sensei sitting alone in the staff room as the ambient sounds of rain are left to hang for a moment. Rough.
Haruka’s staying at home, it seems, but we are once again reintroduced to the school with that shot. Twice. The repetition of days of practice can be felt by the audience just as much as the characters living it. Kumiko is getting more and more distracted and unfocused, that little moment when her hand practices were being interrupted by watching Aoi get up to leave for cram school are now a reflection of reality. “You always have to play like you mean it.” Midori says, and yes, that is what singled out Aoi in the first place, her heart just wasn’t in it, and the same is true of Kumiko now, after her senpai has left, her own motivations to be in the band are waning.
The time is now for Natsuki, who has previously been seen only as unmotivated, to give some advice to Kumiko. She explains why she stuck it through with the band last year, even when there were still disagreements between students about how seriously they wanted to take it. Natsuki was stuck between two sides, unable to clearly state her intentions, deciding to go with the flow. This is not too different from Kumiko herself, who didn’t put up her hand for the voting back in episode 2. Just as Haruka and Kaori tried to stop band members leaving last year, they were unable to stop Aoi leaving this time. Conflicts of interest will always be present. The desire to shirk responsibility a constant.
A new beginning for Haruka — 16:23-22:07
Kaori once again leaves Yuuko behind to visit Haruka after school. She’s brought over some potatoes, meanwhile Kumiko and gang eat the fried variety at a fast food place — they’re all dwelling on the same things. Just as with the conversations between Kumiko and Shuuichi, we see here how Kaori understands Haruka and is simply being there for her, making smalltalk first and allowing her friend space. A homely scene. With a little teasing, Kaori arrives naturally at her words of support for Haruka, remarking on how it took real courage to take over the band in the state it was in, whereas Asuka must have thought it through and decided to leave the task to someone else.
Concerns with Asuka are also brought up by Shuuichi on the train, just as he spoke his mind to Kumiko about Taki-sensei before, he does the same here. This openness and trust between them is reflected with these intimate hyper close-ups, they are even boxed into what feels like a private space… just as they are once again intruded upon by Kousaka! KyoAni sure are getting a lot of mileage out of using parts of the train to accentuate characters, they did the same with Hazuki earlier, too.
The next day. Another practice session, yet another shot of the building. The rain has let up. This time things are different. The consistent use of this motif has paid off, it worked as a visual anchor that encapsulated the current mood of the episode, likewise here it helps sell the uplifting new resolve of the characters. Haruka has returned to lead the band and even while she feels the void left by Aoi, she resolves, as painful as it is, to let her go, reconcile with that and continue doing the best she can in her role as president. As the episode closes, we are left with the building in sunlight, hope is anew as the band makes a new start without Aoi, towards nationals … and is that love in the air?