Sound of Love (Part 1) – On Beginnings
With Season 2 of Hibike Euphonium just a few months away, and given my infatuation with the show, I’ll be writing through every episode of the first season. This will be different from my Owarimonogatari series in that each essay most likely won’t focus on a single particular topic. I’ll just be detailing whatever stands out to me in the directing, animation, story, or sound as I watch, and trying to expand upon my earlier essays on this show. I’ll being referencing and linking to those essays a lot. By going episode by episode, I can point to details that didn’t fit in the original essays, as well as moments that are worth talking about, but don’t warrant an entire essay.
So although this series will be rather analytical in nature, it’s really more of a confession of love. Hibike is a masterpiece in so many ways, and hopefully throughout this series I can share with you some of what makes it so special to me. This first post will be on the shorter side since the first episode can only do so much, but there’s still plenty to talk about. On that note, it’s only right to start the same way as always: let’s figure out Episode 1 of Hibike Euphonium.
Whatever your opinion of the show as a whole, you cannot deny the beauty in Hibike’s sound design, especially the voice acting. KyoAni devotes K-On levels of care to everything we hear this season, and even found a hidden gem of an actress in Tomoyo Kurosawa (whose biggest role before Kumiko was Itsuki from Yuuki Yuuna—a funny realization if you know anything about that character). That care pays off in subtle—but bountiful—ways.
In the prelude of Episode 1, Kurosawa (Kumiko) and Chika Anzai (Reina) establish junior high school voices for their characters, which will later contrast with their high school counterparts. Kumiko talks to Reina in a high, light voice that sounds like it’s tiptoeing through a room. Crying Reina’s voice flails about wildly. It’s scratchy, it changes pitch, and Reina lets out whatever sounds her voice wants to make.
By comparison, Kumiko’s high school voice is mellow and just kind of slouches around instead of tip-toeing. The only time we hear any interesting acting is during her involuntary reactions or in her thoughts. At home, she’s completely boring and, uh, teenagery. Older Reina changes as well, by gaining complete control of her voice. She speaks with prepared poise, but that’s all. Nothing else escapes.
Kumiko and Reina stand out since so many other major characters are not only expressive, but hyper-expressive. Hazuki tries to be energetic and cheerful about everything. Midori doesn’t hide any of her embarrassment or excitement. I don’t need to explain what’s so wild about Asuka and her trilingual escapades.
These characters aren’t just expressive in their voices but their movements, too. Kumiko is always slumped over or lazy looking (half asleep on her desk or face-planting on her bed), and Reina is stiff as a board. But Midori throws her arms up and squats down to show the size of a contrabass. Asuka…well, she does all sorts of weird things. Hibike does whatever it can to establish Kumiko and Reina’s flawed personalities (P.S. read these essays on that if you haven’t yet).
I hesitate to give too much credit to Hazuki and Midori as smart choices for Kumiko’s ‘friend characters’, since they fall into some tropey patterns, but they do work well as motivators for Kumiko’s growth. Hazuki’s earnest energy pulls Kumiko out of her shell bit by bit, such as when Kumiko teaches her how to blow through the mouthpiece at the end of the episode (I’ve discussed this in other essays). Midori works as a sort of ‘in-crowd’ for Kumiko to relax around because they both have experience in concert band, which helps further reveal Kumiko’s true character. So although it’s tropey to have the genki friend and the friend who convinces the protagonist to join a club, Hibike capitalizes on those characters rather than simply using them to fill a gap in the cast.
Speaking of characters, I’ve called the band a character itself in the past. Allow me to obsess over how brilliantly we’re introduced to the band in Episode 1. The only two band members we actually meet at first are Asuka and Haruka, who have a very simple relationship at first. Asuka is the free spirited vice president, while Haruka is the more practical president that reins her in. This is an extremely simple dynamic, but it allows for a lot of development as we progress in the story. Haruka appears to only have so much control over Asuka, and Asuka gives some orders as well. As viewers, we can understand the basic band dynamic, but we don’t yet have any clue as to its depth.
From there, we see a bunch of shots of the band practicing. Very few members are actually playing their instruments. Some are just joking around, others are playing rock-paper-scissors, and Natsuki is sleeping. That, combined with all the talk about how much the band sucks, gives us a sense of how the band functions (as well as establishes parts of the living environment I talk about in this essay, like the shot of the trumpets all following Kaori’s lead because this show shoves amazing details everywhere).
There’s one shot we can’t fully understand until we rewatch the series, however. We see a lone chair with water nearby, which we will later learn represents the desire of a few individuals in the band to achieve something great. In hindsight, we can assume this chair belongs to one of the few band members who takes the club seriously.
To wrap up this episode discussion and our introduction to the band, we meet Taki. He’s shown as cool and knowledgeable, yet somewhat mysterious. He offers information to the couple at the shrine, but they’re slightly turned off by his intensity. We see him listening to junior high school bands with an expression that’s difficult to read. If we’re on our toes, we can put two and two together and realize he’ll be the force that drives the band forward. Most likely, we don’t realize that and just get a strange and intoxicating vibe from him. Once we learn he’s the new band instructor in future episodes, then we take that vibe and make predictions about his ability and methods. He’s the most subtly-established character, and also one of the most interesting. We’ll talk more about this in future episodes, so keep in mind how he’s portrayed in Episode 1: mysterious, intense, focused.
Anyway, there’s a whole bunch of gears in place for Episode 2: a core group of friends we understand well, a quasi-antagonist in Reina, the band as a dynamic character, and Taki as a mysterious, impending instructor. If anything, we lack a concrete conflict. A first time watcher would only really recognize Kumiko’s fear of Reina as a conflict, since it’s made so obvious and the episode ends with Kumiko approaching Reina. The challenge of improving the band and dealing with Taki’s guidance has been set up, but not in a way you could notice on your first watch. The heart of the story has yet to be found. So where does Hibike go from here? We’ll find out when the next piece begins.