Sound of Love (Part 2) – On Laughs
Episode 2 of Hibike Euphonium sets the plot ball rolling a bit, while also improving upon some of the cool details we discussed in Episode 1. Once again, I have to admit that a hypothetical first time viewer wouldn’t quite understand the full scope of the season’s conflict, although a lot is done in Episode 2 to build credibility and emotional stakes for later. But we’ll get to that. Let’s start by appreciating some comedy and directing.
All the effort put into the voice acting and animation that I pointed out last episode really comes in handy when trying to fill realistic, grounded high school scenes with comedy. If we take a look at the opening scene, Kumiko’s chipper fantasy plays out nothing like reality—her awkward battle pose and cracking voice fail to gain Reina’s attention entirely, nevermind inciting a hug. Immediately after, the main cast shows off their acting snuff. Hazuki’s catchy and alliterated (in Japanese) “Go, Kumiko!”—with even the effort of her push accented with a “ka” sound—segues perfectly into the sound of Kumiko sliding across the floor and Reina’s sensitive “What’s wrong?” That is then played for laughs via Kumiko’s ridiculously awkward “I’m okay” that grows even funnier the second time she says it.
It’s something difficult to explain in just words, but try watching the scene again and following along with the flow I describe. Hibike entertains our ears as much as our eyes, an effect that, in my opinion, is amplified by being a foreign viewer—seeing as how foreigners are more focused on the pure sonic quality of a word rather than its connotation and pronunciation.
The directing itself contributes to comedy as well, utilizing some simple eye tracing to help hit the quickest possible timing for comedic cuts. Vice advisor lady starts to scold a character off-screen who is apparently dressing inappropriately, and turns to glare at that character. We can’t help but begin to move our eyes to where she’s looking…
…and see the hands of a girl start to unroll her skirt. In a Yuru Yuri essay, I explained how cuts can skip over non-essential details to get straight to the punchline. While no details are cut out in this Hibike example, the directing still leads us straight to the joke. The shots are lined up in such a way that our eyes don’t waste any time looking for what the vice advisor is talking about—just, bam, the joke.
In these early episodes, Hibike actually seems to put more effort into being a comedy than a drama. Later on, we’ll talk about some gorgeous shot compositions (or, if you’re eager, check out my first ever essay that focuses on the show’s drama), but Hibike’s first episodes frame shots almost like we’re watching from a surveillance camera. This is almost always used for the sake of comedy. An extreme long shot is used when Kumiko falls into the hall in front of Reina, increasing the awkwardness of the scene. When the vice advisor leaves the music room, we watch through a window, where we can see the door slide close and the band members sigh in relief at the exact moment it shuts.
Speaking of comedy, there’s Asuka…but I have a feeling I’ll be writing about her a lot in Season 2, so let’s put that off for now. I’d rather talk about some juicy themes.
Hibike begins to establish a high school band culture, one that encourages members to take pride in their instrument of choice. We see this when Kumiko and friends talk about what instrument they’ll play—Midori is dedicated to contrabass, Hazuki wants to be the one trumpeter of the group, and Kumiko wants to ditch her role as a euphonium player. Kumiko, of course, is the odd one out for not loving her instrument. The sequence of section leaders explaining what’s so great about their particular instrument also lends itself towards creating a sense of instrument-as-identity.
However, the unity that members of the same section feel creates a division of the band as a whole. Kumiko and friends are split up for the first time since the show began as they each go to try out for their preferred section. Inevitably, they all wind up back together, but it’s our first glimpse into the politics at play in Kitauji’s band. It adds a bit of meaning to last episode’s shots of practice, too. Each section practiced with a different intensity, and now we begin to understand that there are independent factions within this band.
Aoi foreshadows a lot of the pain I discuss in my first analysis of Hibike at the end of Episode 2. She says that the school, band, and band members are all hiding their true feelings to some extent because otherwise they would all “butt heads and hurt each other.” As we’ll learn, Reina does not abide by this mindset. She wants to become special, and that’s why her path is the painful one. Kumiko, too, struggles with accepting this mindset. She can’t decide what to raise her hand for during the band’s vote, since she’s too scared of hurting both Reina and herself. Attempting to live by Aoi’s mindset has left Kumiko indecisive and insincere.
The most important effects of this can’t be appreciated until later, during the drama with Aoi leaving and the conflict over Reina’s trumpet solo. Still, Episode 2 makes two things very clear: some band members truly love their instruments, and the band will not necessarily be united through thick and thin.
In fact, just about everyone seems to love their instrument except for Kumiko. Just as Kumiko begins to walk away from the euphonium (an instrument she feels roped into and passionless about), Reina’s trumpet blasts through the room. The background vanishes, replaced by a blinding white light as Kumiko’s hair is blown by a nonexistent wind. This sound is Reina declaring her love for the trumpet. Kumiko, a girl about to abandon her instrument, is so shocked by this display of affection that the show replays her turning to face Reina twice.
In the end, Kumiko sticks with euphonium, but not because of any burning passion. Just as in middle school (and even elementary school), Kumiko tries her best to go with the flow, while Reina puts her heart into everything. This is the beginning of the path Kumiko takes towards finding her passion and becoming special, and it’s a beautiful way to begin that journey. Like before, we’ll see how Kumiko moves forward once the next piece begins.