Reina’s Loneliness – A Hibike! Euphonium Analysis
This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of character analyses for Hibike! Euphonium. The majority of Hibike’s drama comes from different character’s conflicting desires, or from characters fighting against external pressures. However, the show also dives deep into the internal and psychological struggles of these characters (including several minor characters), especially in its second half. Reina’s psychological struggle is perhaps the most masterfully executed of all the characters’.
Before we look into what Reina struggles with in the main story of Hibike, we have to understand who this high-school-aged Reina is, and where she came from. This opening scene tells us all we need to know. Kumiko enters the concert hall late and sits in an empty space between Reina and another girl. Later shots show us that no one was sitting near Reina’s other side, either. No one, other than Kumiko, even looks at Reina as she cries. Already we can tell that Reina is isolated from everyone else, and, specifically, everyone is avoiding her (not the other way around).
But in To Take the Painful Path, I said Reina wants to be special and separate? Yes, so let’s find out why. The subtleties of Reina’s dialogue clue us into how she thought she understood the rest of the band. “We were aiming for nationals.” At this point, Reina thinks everyone wanted to, and believed they could, achieve what she wanted to achieve. She’s not aware that her aims might be special. Actually, she discovers this in the next few seconds. “Aren’t you upset?” she asks. Isn’t this how everyone feels? She’s confused because she’s discovering she’s different, at least in her attitude. She stands up and declares she’s upset, even if no one else is. This is the birth of her obsession with being different and special.
Okay, this was a dramatic development for young Reina (she’s crying, after all), so who do we end up with in the main story of Hibike? Reina becomes self-centered, insensitive, and arrogant. We get our first clear glimpse of this when the band halts practice in order to deal with the internal issues about motivation. We learn the band is filled with “lazy second years” because of last year’s drama. However motivated Reina herself might be, she can’t practice because, as Hazuki tells us, “concert band isn’t an individual activity.”
Reina is pissed. She doesn’t want to work around other people’s feelings and problems. The politics behind this drama infuriate her. She doesn’t “give a damn about any of that nonsense.” To her, this band is just a “barren, brand-new world” without anyone who can help her become special besides Taki (and that relationship is a whole other essay…).
She releases all her frustrations in a scream. That scream, and playing ‘From the New World’ on the hill above everyone else, is self-centered. Hazuki tells us that everyone in the band needs to be one unit working together towards one goal, or else there’s no point in having a band. Reina doesn’t care about resolving group issues or understanding the feelings of others. She just throws a temper tantrum. As you might expect, the other band members start to dislike/resent Reina for her attitude. The difference between middle school and high school is only that Reina is actively and consciously ostracizing herself.
That is where Reina’s psychological struggle begins. Her conscious response to discovering she was different from other people was to obsess over her “specialness” and actively isolate herself. In doing so, she lies to herself about the pain she felt upon discovering she was alone in her desires. Remember, she gets so shocked in middle school when Kumiko asks if Reina “really thought they could make nationals” that she gasps and has to double check that the rest of the band didn’t feel the same way as her. Being different hurt Reina.
So she begins to act and speak somewhat two-sidedly. Reina goes through all of the trouble of leading Kumiko to a private spot to apologize to her after yelling the day before. Her actions tell us she really wants Kumiko’s forgiveness/acceptance. However, all she says is, “I think I said too much. That’s all.” Hardly an apology. Her obsession and her pain are two conflicting motivations, and the result is this inconsistency between Reina’s speech and actions.
Reina’s answer to this conflict is to find someone else special that she can stand with. Whether she picks Kumiko due to the fact that Kumiko was the one that showed her she was different, or because Kumiko is inherently special herself, I can’t say at this point. Whatever the case, Kumiko is the compromise Reina makes with herself. If someone becomes special like me, then I can remain special without having to endure this loneliness and isolation. Yeah, it’s a little twisted and unhealthy at this point.
Thus, the hike is obviously the turning point for Reina. I went pretty in-depth in the last essay, so I’ll be focusing only on details I didn’t cover or that are too important to not note. Like I mentioned, Reina constantly reaches out to Kumiko during the hike by asking if Kumiko “knows what [she] means.” Slowly, but surely, Reina is trying to let herself be the same as someone else. That seems like Reina is starting to resolve her conflict, but, as we’ll see, she actually still has a ways to go.
Reina is beginning to let go of her own obsession, but she’s also being manipulative. She employs a barrage of rhetoric to suck Kumiko in, to convince Kumiko to be special with her. Reina constantly asks Kumiko if she agrees, and also says she “thought [Kumiko] would understand.” She repeats and rephrases her desire to be special, almost fetishizing it. The whole speech is reminiscent of a presidential campaign speech. What’s more, Reina invades Kumiko’s personal space and forces them to a first name basis.
It’s aggressive, even though, in the end, Kumiko gets to decide whether or not she wants to walk the same path as Reina (a topic for Kumiko’s analysis). It’s not a healthy or reliable solution for Reina’s conflict. Reina wants to pull Kumiko away from the others, away from the festival, away from all the lights. She wants to pull Kumiko away into the sky so that she won’t be alone anymore. That isn’t a resolution.
And it doesn’t take long before we see how incomplete a resolution that was. When Yuko questions Reina’s specialness by revealing her connection to Taki, Reina explodes into her arrogant and self-centered attitude. She declares she’s “better than Kaori” in front of the whole band in the most insensitive way possible. Even when Kaori is on the verge of tears and trying to diffuse the argument, all Reina has to say is, “If you’re going to complain, do it when you’ve surpassed me.” Reina is part of a band, but she acts like her bandmates are all enemies or obstacles.
After that, I think Reina’s resolution actually gets worse before it gets better. Earlier, Reina tells Kumiko that she’ll “never” give up the solo. Then, she throws aside Yuko’s sob story with a “that doesn’t matter to me, does it?” Clearly, Reina is not affected by the emotional or social consequences of winning the solo over Kaori. So why does she act so insecure about the whole situation when talking with Kumiko? I believe our friends in lighting can help us figure that out.
“Would you be upset if I lost?” And “why” would you be upset if I lost? Reina asks these manipulative questions from the dark to Kumiko, who is brightly lit. Keep in mind that, for these two characters, light is heavily associated with being special. Anyway, Kumiko says exactly what the lonely Reina wants to hear. Kumiko will “be a villain with [Reina].” Kumiko will (probably) defend Reina’s specialness against the others. Literally and figuratively, Reina feels that she has pulled Kumiko away.
So she steps into the light, and the two girls share the light. She asks directly, twice, if Kumiko will stay with her. Kumiko goes a step further and returns the “confession of love” joke (a discussion for another time, as well…), which firmly establishes these two girls as different from everyone else. Reina feels at peace, and steps into a light so bright it turns her black hair white. “I never had any intention of losing in the first place,” she tells us herself. It was all an act, a manipulation.
As for the lights, notice that Reina always moves herself in and out of the light. She’s in control. She puts herself in darkness to test Kumiko, shares the light when she wants to feel she is no longer lonely, and then stands in the brightest of all light when she’s been satisfied and reverts to wanting to stand out. She’s still quite selfish.
She’s selfish, but, since Kumiko is now the key to Reina dealing with her loneliness, she begins to change. She brings Kumiko a water bottle, showing she is aware of Kumiko’s dehydration from the day before. It’s thoughtful—concerned, even. It’s both selfish and considerate. Reina cares about Kumiko because Kumiko is her solution to her loneliness, but she cares nonetheless. However, practicing with Kumiko isn’t selfish at all. This is the first time Reina puts in extra practice with another person. Before now, Reina only put in extra work alone. Now, band is beginning to be a group activity.
Which leads into a small, but vital, scene. Reina apologizes to Kaori and Yuko without ulterior motive, without her words betraying her actions, without selfishness. She doesn’t say she’ll stop being “smug” (and she doesn’t have to), but she displays some empathy and consideration. It’s a huge development hidden in a short scene. Through finding someone Reina can relate to and rely upon, she’s started to keep an eye on Kumiko’s feelings, which has begun to snowball into thinking about everyone else in the band. Or, you could look at it as ‘having a friend thawed her Ice Queen edge’.
Reina is starting to have such normal and healthy empathy that she looks at Kumiko while playing trumpet. Kumiko has just lost one of her footholds on becoming special by having to sit out of playing, and Reina focuses on Kumiko instead of her own playing. Think about that: Reina is more concerned with Kumiko’s feelings (which Reina can relate to) than she is about playing trumpet (her path towards becoming special). This is a new Reina.
When it comes time to perform, Reina has Kumiko help her tie back her hair. On their hike, Reina tied her hair herself. Not only is Reina now comfortable having someone else touch her hair (which is moderately intimate), but she’s also leaning on someone else. Because, really, they’re all in this together, aren’t they? Isn’t a band a group with one goal? Didn’t Hazuki tell us that band isn’t an individual activity? If you can play an incredible trumpet, but your band refuses to join you, aren’t you left screaming alone on a hill? I’ve been talking about it all along: Reina needs someone else besides herself.
But what about being special? What about standing out? The painful path? Do you find specialness in a solo? Can you be special without being self-centered? Without being alone?
I believe that Hibike shows us, and Reina learns, that being special is about being honest with yourself and reaching for your goal. Reina wants to be the best, whatever it takes—that is honest. Believing she must be alone and selfish to do so—that is dishonest. That is a defense mechanism, and the cause for much of Reina’s conflict in the series. Reina learns that there is a difference between being alone and being yourself. Reina learns that she can follow her own feelings without ignoring the feelings of others. Reina learns not to push other people away, but to reach out to them.
As for the rest of the cast? We’ll get to them :).