Every new episode is a surprise. Euphonium’s penultimate showing is as on-point as ever on the narrative front, but it even manages to outdo its prior self with the aesthetic production. This episode was an exercise in audiovisual acuity. In prior episodics, while there was a focus on visuals, I talked a lot about the writing. I feel what I said about episode 11 in particular informs a lot of what goes on in this episode. For that reason, I’ll be mainly taking the route of a visual breakdown this week, but pausing to elucidate some of the key points.
01:46-2:39 — “It’s sunny outside, you kids should be outdoors!”
As with last week, we are once again introduced back into the show with the bright blue sky, clean white clouds, and of course the relentless blaring of cicadas. Sports clubs are in their height of activity, we see baseball team, track team and joggers.
Yet the band are cooped up indoors all day, their instruments providing a soundtrack for the rest of the school. Taki-sensei interrupts the play abruptly, singling out the euphoniums. As Kumiko struggles to read the sheet music, her vision starts slipping away from her. The hard work and practise, combined with the heat haze have left her overworked and dehydrated. This sets up the theme for the ensuing episode.
2:40-4:31 — “The wise are only far too aware of their own inadequacy”
As we return to the bass section practising alone in the classroom, the show continues to hammer in the heat. While I won’t continue to point this out every single time as it continues throughout the episode, notice how through showing Goto washing his face, the loud noise of the cicada’s even indoors, and the light shining off the instruments and Asuka’s face the effect of heat is heightened during moments of pressure for Kumiko.
Kumiko’s sample is much worse than Asuka’s just by listening, but as the latter plays, we focus solely on her, her initial and final breaths highlighted, and a closeup of her instrument, everyone else solidly captured by her sound. In contrast, when Kumiko plays, we get her strained face, clumsy fingers, and shots of everyone looking away uncomfortably, not wanting to point out the obvious.
They don’t need to say it, Kumiko is more than well aware of it, and between the cut of her going out to practise alone, a shot of solely of a cicada.
4:32-7:02 — “Strength forged from blood, sweat and tears”
As I described at length before, (for the sake of avoiding redundancy), Kumiko has grown to want to emulate Reina’s way of being. That thread has been what the show has been building towards from the start, and we see it made explicit here “I want to be special like you”.
When Reina comes to support Kumiko, kindly but briskly letting her know she currently isn’t good enough, the heat haze is in full swing, now it not only represents the looming competition, but Kumiko is now feverishly in admiration for the other girl. However, as we have learnt time and again with the prior stories of Hazuki, Midori, Haruka and Kaori, it’s not easy to put up a brave face and engage in this pursuit without enduring a lot of pain.
The sweat that fell onto her skirt is now joined by blood. It’s only a matter of time till tears join that sickly sweet pool as well.
- The scene of the trio in the nurse’s office is great, little jokes like the bloody tissue flying out of Kumiko’s nose, and Midori’s overenthusiastic support handily dispel some tension.
- “Lately, you’re pretty intense”, “You’re, like, reaching for the moon now”, “I don’t even know how I used to be before”. Kumiko, you may not know, but the people around you do, and so do we, the viewers who have been following along with you throughout the series. We only get a short glimpse at their day-to-day lives, but months have passed, the change has been gradually elaborated.
- After the nosebleed, tension is somewhat relieved, and that’s matched by the cooler colour palette as Kumiko practises by the riverside.
7:03-9:12 — “Life is full of difficult choices”
As Kumiko’s monologue ends, we get a slow fade/dissolve effect into the next scene. This signals some time has passed, and it’s also quite a calm-feeling transition. The episode will later on utilise different styles of these “windows movie maker effects” (not an insult, that’s just how I describe ’em!) in very overt ways, to create specific moods.
The sudden sound of a trombone alerts Kumiko to Shuuichi’s presence. Across the river, framed between the trees, they share a tranquil moment of practise together as a train on a bridge rolls past. It’s a bit difficult to tell, but I think the train is travelling from Shuuchi’s side of the bridge to Kumiko’s, take that how you will.
Cicadas change to crickets, as we see a street-lamp framed against the night sky. This scene possesses an ever darker, more mellow colour than before, as Aoi and Kumiko come across each other on a lit stone path. They meet in the centre, bathed by the warm yellow light. While her presence in the show has been dramatically lessened since her departure, we’ve felt the empty space left by Aoi, especially for Haruka. She seems to be fine with her decision to quit the band, prioritising exams and her future instead, a different path from Kumiko. This is likely the last time we will see her, she is moving on to new things, and we cut away from her just as she is about to walk under the gaze of another, different spotlight.
- A short confrontation and flashback with Kumiko’s sister. Quitting euphonium because of exams, echoes Aoi’s choice.
- Kumiko’s defiant smirk was great.
9:13-13:36 — “Never letting up, never backing down”
The next morning. Students are shown just walking into the school, which we are shown is empty. Yet the concert band are already present and playing. A strict schedule. A lot of strained, tired faces. “If you can’t do it in practise, you’ll never do it in a performance”. Wisely chosen, calm but biting words, Taki-sensei as usual, and we’ll continually seeing him stopping the ensemble to correct things, noticing mistakes immediately, none can escape his keen ears. Whiplash comes to mind.
Just as with Shuuichi (and also Aoi in episode 7), Kumiko is called out next. “you’ll be causing trouble for everyone.” That hurts. Kumiko is shaken, but still announces her intention to have it ready come performance time. Back in her spot, she doubles down, intensely focused. I have a feeling the Kumiko of past would have given up at this point, conceding she was not skilled or talented enough.
Reina is there this time, handing her a water bottle. Wordlessly showing her concern, not allowing Kumiko to practise in the heat alone and get dehydrated like last time. As they play together, Reina’s surefire trumpet playing is contrasted with Kumiko’s euphonium, she seems to be almost falling over herself, playing too fast, as if to mirror her flustered heart. A shot angled downwards that highlights their closeness is perfect, because it encases them both in a small area of shadow, of cool, surrounded by the oppressive school building on one side, and the encroaching green trees on the other, Summer incarnate. Reina is on the left, shielding Kumiko from it, a fantastic way to elaborate her support.
- Kumiko is already practising by the time students arrive next morning, and she’s gotten much better
- Skipping past the little conversation between Reina and Kaori, about Asuka. There’s a great moment with Natsuki and Yuko, but this bit mostly exists to give closure to some threads from prior episodes.
- More urgently, competition in ten days, it’s crunch time.
13:37-15:45 — “[Insert Linkin Park lyrics here]”
Episode 7 used a lot of repetition to evoke the monotony of practise, and that occurs again here. In addition to repeating the pattern of the prior scene when Taki-sensei interrupted the ensemble, we get a montage of five such scenes, each one transitioning with a snappy left-right wipe effect. This gives us the feeling time is passing, time blurring, the continual practise and pressure keeping everyone on edge.
The rhythm is halted, we hear the performance continue for a while longer, before being stopped again. “I’d like Tanaka-san to play this part alone” spontaneously, and without chance for rebuttal, Taki-sensei excludes Kumiko, I get the feeling he had been giving her many chances up till now, but eventually took this path, letting her down in the kindest way he could. We see shots of her friends startled reactions and a very slow pan from Asuka to her, complete with sound effect, to drive the realisation in. Despite how hard she’s worked and as long as she’s tried, in the end, it doesn’t even matter.
- Kumiko so preoccupied she left her phone behind. She sat there the whole time and has been bottling it all in.
- Hazuki and Midori trying to support her like before, this time with food, but it’s not working.
- Melonpan-moon transition was cute.
15:46-??? — “I want to improve!”
Kumiko alone. Framed isolated in the darkness, we first start with her far away from the camera, but each cut brings us closer, letting us see her expression. We see her dwelling on the time she’s put in, as she reflects, the images are overlaid on the frame, bringing us into her mind. The third cut is the hyper-close-up of her face, but the fourth is especially great, for focusing on her arm — and most importantly, her watch, representing the time she has spent, that she feels has been wasted. Fifth cut is of her eye, and we see the quivering of her tears about to well up.
Far away from her again, we see her stop. This time people are all around her, walking about, but they are phased out, the viewer’s eye is drawn to Kumiko by the bus stop and the light surrounding her. The bystanders are acknowledged, but they are not important. As she begins to walk again, this time faster, a short shot of her feet, and then her face, the music has been slowly building this entire time.
The next scene is absolutely heart-wrenching, everything’s been constructed to lead to this moment. As Kumiko repeats the mantra in her head, she breaks out into run, and into tears. The people around her are ignored as she tears around the corner, camera following along in pursuit, all leading into a lateral tracking shot as she runs. This moment is a tour-de-force of animation and voice acting, an experience. I’ll admit, I got pretty darn emotional over it myself, just thinking about it even.
Just as he was across the river before, Shuuichi is now across the road from Kumiko. As cars rush between them, they scream out their intentions unabashedly. Another stunning animation highlight as Kumiko is unable to finish her sentence and breaks down in tears again, face against the wall. The next moment’s timing and execution can only be called a stroke of true genius. Upon the words “I’m so upset, I could die.”, Kumiko stops as she finally realizes. The glorious fanfare begins. The motif of life and death exemplified by Reina’s way of living has been fully embraced by Kumiko, she now understands exactly what it means to “want to become special”, she comprehends the sheer magnitude of her chosen path, and just how much it hurts.
To me, this scene, this episode, this show, has been such an incredibly personal, strongly-affecting and nigh-perfectly executed dramatic and thematic statement such that Kumiko’s character moment here has pretty much unequivocally landed Hibike! Euphonium as one of my all-time favourite shows. This moment, from the way it’s framed, to the finality with which the crescendo of the triumphant music lands, feels like a conclusion.
I’ve mentioned in prior posts how many moments have felt like a culmination of everything that came before, and while that’s true for many stand-out scenes in the show, this isn’t just another of those, it feels like the
last, final climax. The capstone to the theme of the show that’s been front and centre since minute one of episode one, and the closure to this stage of Kumiko’s journey. I would honestly be quite fine with the show ending right here, it has said all it needed to say.
P.S. – There’s a good reason why I’m not covering the end of this episode now, not because of laziness, or because the post is too long, but because it feels like the beginning of the next episode.
P.P.S – So there’s a good chance my writeup for the final episode will begin with those scenes.