Sound of Love (Part 3) – On Romance
Come Episode 3, we can finally begin to explore some of Hibike’s more interesting and intricate qualities. Primarily, this episode reveals the series to be a Romantic one (as in my Spice and Wolf essay, this is not necessarily lower-case romance—though we’ll get to that…) and crafts some complexity into Kumiko and Reina. The overarching conflict of the season is finally explained, and with perfect timing considering how the tone of the show begins to shift this episode. Let’s figure out how exactly these changes in story and statement work together.
Hibike’s Romantic side first shows in its background music. In particular, the track “Sprouting of Senses” accompanies any moment Kumiko and the viewer contemplate what concert band and playing an instrument means for a high schooler. We hear this track in Episode 1 when Kumiko thinks back on Reina’s middle school frustration. Kumiko acts out a conversation between her and Reina, wherein she attempts to explain her feelings about band. In Episode 3, the song plays again as Kumiko and friends pick out their instruments. The three first years see themselves in their instruments—quite literally, they see their reflections—and their instruments look back at them.
“Sprouting of Senses” is a mystical and otherworldly track and, if you’ve seen the show before, undoubtedly connected to Kumiko and Reina’s moonlight hike in your mind. The track feels like moonlight. Listening to the song is like taking a moonlit stroll in that nothing is extraordinary about the experience, yet you can’t help but feel like something magical is about to happen. “Sprouting of Senses” is a simple song and walking is a simple activity, but the aesthetic and emotional quality of both experiences overrides any logic that recognizes that simplicity (at least, if those experiences activate your raw/primal emotions). Ignoring aspects like politics and setting, this is perhaps the essence of Romanticism—the concession of logic to emotion.
Following that thought, let’s see how exactly Kumiko and friends choose their instruments. The process is very much ‘love at first sight’ or Cinderella-esque. Kumiko’s euphonium fits perfectly in her arms and the mouthpiece would reach right up to her lips, making that particular euphonium seem destined for her. Don’t forget that Hazuki wound up playing tuba because of a straightforward Cinderella reference in the first place. What’s more, the characters talk as to personify their instruments. Hazuki and Midori name theirs. Midori’s contrabass “locked eyes” with her. Asuka establishes a backstory for Kumiko’s euph, saying it’s “dying to be played” and even assigning it a voice with an accent. As Asuka says herself, it’s all for the “mental picture/image”.
Although naming your instrument is certainly a representation of what band kids actually do, it’s nonetheless Romantic. Should we really be surprised that a bunch of middle/high schoolers who choose to play classical music afterschool have some Romantic blood in them? Probably not. But anyway, the whole instrument selection process operates based off emotion and intuition, rather than logic. “Sprouting of Senses” is the perfect piece to play during such a scene.
We can’t be fully convinced a story is Romantic until we see some reverence or connection to nature. Though emotion is the tonal essence of Romanticism, nature is the environmental/topical essence. Luckily, Hibike doesn’t let us down. Recall my beloved scene of Kumiko blowing away the sakura petals. The first display of Kumiko’s love for band (and the breath control required to play, as we learn all too well this episode) comes in the form of an interaction with nature. Furthermore, many of Hibike’s most important scenes occur outdoors in very natural settings. Kumiko’s earlier conversation with Aoi takes place beside a stream in an area lush with flora. To no one’s surprise, they’re discussing band and its meaning. Later on, the oh-so-important hike will obviously occur outdoors. In Episode 3, Reina’s screaming trumpet solo is set in a very natural location.
Let’s take a look at that scene to begin honing in on the point of all this Romanticism.
Reina plays Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9/From the New World”, specifically the second movement, Largo, as Kumiko informs us. Though the symphony was composed after what would be considered the peak of the Romantic movement, the piece can still be considered Romantic in its emotion and inspiration. The sequence Reina plays is hauntingly in tune with her anxiety and frustration, primal emotions that Romanticism values. The symphony itself was inspired—to some extent—by folk songs of the Native American tribes Dvorak observed during his stay in America. Romanticism values a mystical past, and many Native American tribes hold nature in reverence, so “From the New World” arguably has a place in Romantic canon (Dvorak himself is typically considered a late-Romantic composer). Thus, Reina (Kyoto Animation, I should say) perhaps chose this piece for more than the “barren, brand new world” it depicts.
That was a longer sidetrack than I’d hoped, so what about the scene itself? Reina is isolated from the other students, playing alone on a hill like a spirit. She’s surrounded by trees and flowers, just embracing her emotions and releasing them through art. Indeed, she resembles the ‘genius artist’ that Romanticism is so infatuated with—the artist that forces their emotions out in creativity, without regard for society’s perception. She screams. She’s spontaneous in her release, acting off pure intuition and emotion. From her isolation in nature, she gains insight to the script of her heart. She is truly the epitome of a Romantic artist.
This scene is not only about Reina, however. Kumiko mostly stayed out of Hazuki and Midori’s conversation until she heard Reina playing. Suddenly, her eyes light up and she smiles as she explains perfectly, albeit subtly, Reina’s emotions. She is connected to Reina in this moment, whether she knows it or not. This moment is a hint towards Kumiko’s first large step as a character, as she begins to embrace her own emotions and listen to her own intuition, rather than overthink and over-rationalize the world around her. You could say this is Kumiko’s first step towards becoming a Romantic herself.
But what about the conflict? And is this all just for the sake of tone and character, or is there a reason certain characters are connected through Romanticism?
As far as conflict goes, we can’t discuss too much at this point into the series. The discussion about the passionate second year students that quit helps to establish that much of the current band is decidedly un-Romantic. The band’s failure to impress Taki confirms this. The current band is uninspired and lacks both motivation and emotion. Most students are in the club to pass time rather than chase dreams, express themselves, or experience magical moments. All except a few, that is. As we’ll learn, Kumiko and Reina are as Romantic as they come.
Clearly, Kumiko’s infatuation with and fear of Reina go hand-in-hand with their connection as Romantic characters. In Reina’s most emotional moment thus far—her playing “From the New World”—Kumiko is the one character who can identify and understand Reina’s feelings. What we have yet to learn is how Reina will cause Kumiko to develop via their connection. There are hints of that development in this episode—namely the moments when Kumiko sees her reflection in her euphonium and when Kumiko brings her euphonium home. Reina sees band/her instrument as a tool to “become special”—to stand out as an individual (not unlike the genius artist Romanticism obsesses over). Kumiko sees herself in her instrument because that instrument will come to represent her individuality. She brings it home to clean it because she cares for it emotionally. There are many euphoniums like it, but this one is hers—to put it one way.
Romanticism, and Romantic characters like Reina, will reveal to Kumiko the truth she hides from. As for what that truth is, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is a good place to leave off as we wait for the next piece to begin.