There are only 3 episodes of Euphonium left. How on earth can I survive without this show?
Not only does it consistently further its compelling dramatic and thematic arcs while emotional stakes rise at a steady pace, but it continually delivers on the visual side of things too. Every episode is aesthetically impressive and inventive, rewarding us with great shots and sequences time and time again.
01:46-03:21 — A sunny afternoon
I’ve mentioned in previous posts how the very first shot or scene we open with is important, as it sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Here we open with the beating sun shining through a window as Kaori plays. Yuko offers words of encouragement, this dynamic they have has been present since the start, but especially pronounced in the last few episodes. It’s worth talking more about Yuko, as her methods are definitely quite underhanded, but they come from a very understandable place. We start here because her loyalty to Kaori is the crux of this episode. “Like the sound could resonate forever” – a focus on leaving a mark behind, Kaori’s last year.
The second most important thing is the distinct focus on the summer heat, I’ll talk more about this later as it continues throughout the episode. Previous eps of Euphonium have been sunny, but not anything quite like this, the noise of cicadas is the first bit of ambient diegetic noise we hear, along with Kaori’s trumpet.
(Note: Bullet points designate short asides, a new thing for these posts!)
- Yuko has been getting a lot of hate the past few episodes, it’s true she is selfish and not self-aware of how her methods are burdening the people around her, but I think she is a well-characterised person, even going back as far as episode 5.
- When we saw the shot from outside the music room, all the shoes were out, blankets still present.
- Worth noting how the closeups on the characters playing were angled. Looking up at Reina, looking down on Yuko.
- Shuichi is still shaken by what’s happened with Kumiko, his play is suffering.
03:22-08:20 — Everyone’s emotional reality
The next scene with Midori and Hazuki mostly exists to show us Kumiko’s preoccupation with thoughts of Reina. She seems embarrassed whenever Kousaka-san is brought up, she is still a bit uncomfortable with her churned up feelings. However, as she keenly runs up the steps, she is more than happy to hear Reina’s passionate trumpet-playing, a sound she can easily recognise, a familiar one that gives her solace.
Yuko is listening in too, and when she grabs Kumiko’s hand and questions her, the camera jumps abruptly around with her, emphasising the sudden intrusion into Kumiko’s personal space. Of course, Kumiko pretty much falls over herself in praise for Reina’s playing, it’s not just that she is skilled, Kumiko is totally on her side. “How could a first-year sound like that? It isn’t fair.” Yuko can’t help but be in concurrence, however, Reina’s talent speaks for itself.
The next few scenes are good, but mostly self-explanatory. Reina expresses her conflicted position, Asuka sucks, Natsuki is great.
- Desaturated colours, plus the “pillar” inbetween them, while both are polite towards the other, the relationship between Kaori and Kousaka is strictly business.
- Asuka’s demeanour is pretty much antithetic to having sincere conversations.
- They have used a match cut twice specifically for Yuko’s memories as to what happened last year with Kaori. Her sacrifice for the band has made a large impression on Yuko.
- Quick cut to Yuko’s hands for only 6 frames. These are both powerful techniques that fully make use of this being animation.
08:21-09-14 — That’s kind of hot.
The whole episode has been emphasising heat, as I mentioned at the start. That manifests with the pervasive sound of cicadas in every outdoor scene, the prevalence of vibrant greens, and the constant use of light reflecting off surfaces and the girls hair. The effect created by the scene in the train, as light flickered on and off through the rumbling train window as the camera shook had me in disbelief, the filmic, precise and detailed nature of this show reminds me of a Makoto Shinkai or Shinichiro Watanabe production.
This all has a purpose. Summer represents the upcoming Kyoto Competition, every year at this time, the competition, the pressure and the potential heartbreak looms. Reina and Kaori have their solo audition, but for everyone else, it’s time to get focused and think ahead. How appropriate that the most summery shots of all are at Shuichi’s scene, he’s feeling the pressure the most.
- It’s all so…. pretty
- Nice to know that Hazuki and Natsuki still have something to do, while the rest of the band doubles down on preparations.
- Shuichi’s dedication inspires Kumiko, and we see her humming the tune the next day, hard at practice?
09:15-11:30 — Digging heels into the ground
Reina and Yuko in the empty classroom. Its indoors and the cicadas are still crying, singing birds fly past, emphasising their distance and further hammering in Summer. Holy shit.
There’s a huge focus on the moment Yuko bows her head, that action is infused with a whole lot of meaning, it puts Reina in a very difficult situation. This isn’t really fair to her, taking the solo part is equally important to her too. Though, she quickly regains her composure, and replies in a way only Kousaka would: “Kaori merely has to play better than I do at the audition”. This last year may be important to Kaori, but every moment is important to Reina, she can’t wait a year, she won’t let anything come in the way of her desire to become special.
12:15-16:56 — Be still, my heart
Before I can talk about the next scene, it’s time to take a bit of a detour and confront the elephant in the room — Episode 8. Bear with me, this is still relevant to this week’s episode.
Some readers may be wondering why I didn’t do a post for that episode, like I did for previous highs like episode 5 and episode 7. Was it because I wasn’t impressed by it or something? It’s to the total contrary actually. I found episode 8 of Euphonium absolutely spectacular, it was one of the most tightly composed and emotionally affecting anime episodes in recent memory and definitely the height of what this show, and Kyoto Animation are capable of. You’ve all seen the episode too, it has been met with almost ubiquitous praise and approval by viewers, but with it comes some problems…
The online discourse surrounding Euphonium has become dominated by talk about whether or not Kumiko and Reina are in love with each other. The keywords there are “or not” — my problem is not with people shipping the characters romantically, or reading their relationship as platonic, but the fact that the central fulcrum of discussion has become solely focused on this axis. Whether or not, the degree their relationship will possibly amount to, and what that means for the overall quality of the show. This is concerning to me, people are banking their opinion of the show on whether or not it will follow through on this romance, and if it doesn’t, these scenes will be written off as cynical yuri-baiting.
I think that is a reductive angle to take when evaluating this work. Even before we get into personal interpretations of these scenes (of which I will be sharing my own), the show’s main focus is not on romance in the first place and I don’t expect it to suddenly change tones that way.
So, what do I think these scenes convey, and what does that tell us about Oumae Kumiko and Kousaka Reina?
Reina is young, passionate and the kind of person who lives life completely in the moment. She’s a candle burning on both ends. Think back to the very first episode, we were introduced to her in a state where she could not control her emotions, she wears her heart on her sleeve and is not embarrassed about it. Reina is hard to approach, aloof, prideful, she does not care what others think, she barely even talks to her peers, appearing to be antisocial from initial glance. However, she does approach Kumiko, and likewise, our initially lethargic protagonist has been on a collision course with her from the very beginning.
The night-time walk they share possesses a peculiarly charged quality. I am in total agreement with the sentiment expressed by drcakey in this post, regardless of intention there is a palpable romantic and sexual tension to the interactions that take place, the dialogue and actions of Reina are about as aggressive as flirting gets. She wore that dress, those heels, and told Kumiko to bring her instrument for a reason. Reina wants to capture her gaze. Kumiko has sparked her curiosity, someone she considers interesting and meaningful to interact with, someone she wants to see the true side of, that is usually kept hidden under her façade.
By sharing her own personal outlook on life, and being so brazen in announcing her pursuit of wanting to be special, she has Kumiko utterly and unequivocally enthralled. This is the girl who wasn’t ready to commit herself to the band, who wasn’t willing to handle responsibilities, who wanted to coast through high school life, when met with a force of nature like Reina, it’s only natural she would be in awe. Reina’s state of being is one Kumiko deeply wants to emulate, one she sees value in.
Reina’s words in episode 10 do not seem strange to me in the slightest. She is the kind of person who views material possessions very frivolously, she would pack up and leave her daily routine behind on a whim, even. What she truly values is not possessions, but the inherent qualities that people possess, she saw that in Kumiko, and the same was true for her younger self looking up in admiration of the skilful and wise musical instructor, Taki-sensei.
For all the jokes made about episode title “Straight Trumpet” (which I personally read as being in reference to both Kaori and Reina’s straightforward nature), Kousaka Reina does not view herself as “in love with a man” or “in love with a woman”, she is just in love. She doesn’t see her love of Kumiko as strange, and the same is true for her feelings towards Taki-sensei, this is perfectly natural to her, this is how she views love and admiration. It’s all she knows, she is ruled by her passions, and continuing an obsession she’s had since childhood is not odd for her, that is why she plays the trumpet, after all. Becoming special in her mind is to feel acceptance from those she truly respects. The instrument she uses to express her emotions perfectly suits her personality.
So, that brings us to the current episode, at this point, Kumiko and Reina have built an incredibly strong rapport and emotional connection. Their reliance on each other for moral support is the beating core of this narrative. We have seen them approaching the other in moments of weakness in the past two episodes. Firstly when Kumiko became unsure in herself after seeing Natsuki’s hard practice before her audition, and secondly when Reina felt insecure after the validity of her audition results was brought into question by Yuko.
Kumiko was not able to articulate her feelings openly towards Reina in episode 8, we, the viewer only heard it internally. Here she finally lets her thoughts flow out: “You’re going to become special aren’t you. You’re different from the others, you can’t let yourself be influenced by others.” Her total admiration of Reina, and her mindset is made apparent to the other party, finally. For Reina to become hesitant is something that deeply frightens Kumiko, she had found strength in Reina’s iron resolve, it has shown her that trying hard and putting yourself on the line is rewarding, life is worth running at.
We echo the lines from before, just as with “That sounds like something you would say”, “It’s a confession of love”. Kumiko shows her love for Reina, and her total unwavering support for her, speaking in terms of life and death again, she is totally prepared to never abandon her, even at the cost of death. The camera even shakes to simulate their thundering hearts as their faces come close. The brilliant thing about this scene is that the weight of burden and vulnerability is not only on Kumiko, because Reina gives away that she has been truly afraid of loneliness all this time, she’s scared of being cast as a villain and being shunned by the band, when she asks Kumiko to never abandon her, that’s her cry for connection, for understanding, she doesn’t want to be left isolated.
In short, people are complicated and cannot be defined in terms of relationship titles. I do not think the resonance of the scenes between Kumiko and Reina will be lost if an explicit relationship is not borne out of it, they remain extremely emotional, beautiful moments of human connection, intimacy and sincerity. And there’s really no price you can put on that.
(Note: Sucks that I have to limit my thoughts on the Kaori/Haruka scene and the rematch to asides, but this post is getting LONG)
- Asuka stomps over Haruka like it’s nothing, she will take over control superficially in order to avoid an even larger responsibility, Kaori.
- Tracking shot of Yuko’s feet as she tries to keep her composure but then breaks into a run is too good.
- Haruka’s “pep talk” mirrors the upcoming scene with Kumiko and Reina, but is decidedly on the other end of the spectrum. “Are you nervous?”, “I’ll hope you’ll be satisfied”. Her words are calmly chosen, she understands her friend perfectly, but she isn’t going to tell her to win, or that she’s better, only to accept the result and play her heart out.
- Kaori’s admiration for Asuka continues the thematic refrain we already see embodied with Kumiko and Reina. Kaori was enthralled by someone who could see right through her, and wants to impress that person, surprise and surpass her expectations.
- If you listen closely, you can hear a couple of mistakes in Kaori’s performance, Reina’s is also noticeably more louder and refined.
- But, the difference isn’t only sold by the audio and the crowd’s faces, look at how these shots that start on the players face and pan back to reveal the crowd differ. It wordlessly shows how Reina’s playing is far more confident, resonating much further back into the venue.
- Kumiko and Yuko getting up first to clap each time! YES
- Needless to say, Taki-sensei asking Kaori whether she will play the audition is incisive. Not only will the band be content with her decision, but it also shows he knew that she was doing this to come to peace with it, to be satisfied. In the end, she cares about the band, she can’t in good conscience allow the position to not go to someone better because she wants to play the solo on her last year, even when she lost the opportunity unfairly in the past.
- Yuko’s crying really got to me. Really now, Ribbons-chan is a great character!
And that’s just about ties it up! I hope you enjoyed reading this post, I intend to do posts for the next two episodes of Euphonium too, so I’m looking for feedback. Would you like to be as thorough as in this one, or more concise for easier reading?
As always, any discussion of the show itself is welcome in the comments below.