Sound of Love (Part 4) – On Unity
In his book, The Anatomy of Story, John Truby identifies a character archetype/event model he calls the “fake-ally”. The fake-ally joins or interacts with the protagonist under the guise of assistance, but in reality is working for the goals of the antagonist. Truby’s fake-ally is less a character and more a tool used to obstruct the path of the hero. Via the reveal of the fake-ally’s motives and true allegiance, the audience can be thrown for a loop, but, more importantly, the hero can learn something about themselves or their quest—typically something the fake-ally represents or makes clear.
To take an incredibly simple example (spoilers incoming for Frozen, the Disney film), Hans from Frozen betrays Anna by not kissing her to cure her frozen heart. Hans is a fake-ally who intends to take over Arandelle and only pretended to love Anna as part of his plan. Without getting too deep into it, Hans’ fakeness causes Anna to realize what true love is and where she found hers. In an easy reveal, the hero can experience a revelation and the story can deliver some kind of message to the audience, as well as swing the plot. Disney and Pixar love using fake-allies. A bit too much, honestly…
But what does any of this have to do with Hibike! Euphonium?
The fake-ally theory gives us a sturdy framework to explore the concept of a fake-enemy. In this case, Taki. Whereas the fake-ally is a barrier that appears to be a bridge, the fake-enemy is a bridge that appears to be a barrier. Like the fake-ally, the fake-enemy can spur character development or deliver messages to the audience. In Taki’s case, those two results are one and the same.
Taki appears to be, and really is, the antagonist of the first four episodes. He scolds the band and rejects their (lack of) effort, oftentimes in a patronizing manner. When Kumiko and Hazuki spy on his meeting with the woodwinds, he calls a senior girl’s past three years “a real waste of time” and makes her cry. That’s brutal. Although we may not dislike him for it (after all, we witnessed these sections slacking off the past three episodes), we certainly share Kumiko and Hazuki’s fear of him and his wrath. He seems to be the opponent of our protagonist, so we’re weary when he comes to critique the bass section. This is the opposite of the fake-ally, who would be portrayed such that we and the protagonist are more likely to trust them.
I mentioned that we may not dislike Taki’s brutal honesty because it is, at the end of the day, honesty. He’s not as clearly evil or unaligned with our protagonist as a typical antagonist. This gray alignment is necessary for the successful portrayal of the fake-ally or fake-enemy. We later see Taki being very teacher-like and gentle to the bass section. Barring the times he’s disappointed, he addresses the band with open arms and a smile. We’re made to feel uneasy about Taki’s methodology, but we never have enough evidence to damn his motives or alignment.
The most important and confusing evidence comes in the form of Reina’s support of Taki. Reina herself is something of an antagonist force at this point, at least in Kumiko’s mind. One gray character vehemently vouches for another gray character, and we’re not quite sure what to feel. Reina has shown a lot of commitment to the band, yet she’s not truly a part of it (she’s friendless). Kumiko, whom we focalize around, is scared of and nervous around Reina, so Reina’s defense of Taki can come across as aggressive. Truly, the issue is that both Reina and Taki are characters distant from the rest of the cast.
And that’s what’s important—the distance. At the start of Episode 4, the band is unified in a sense: they’re unified against Taki and Reina. Taki and Reina’s ideals don’t align with the band’s, and Reina and Kumiko cannot yet connect or converse.
Never are we told that the members of the band have no talent individually. In fact, we’re led to believe otherwise, given that they complain about the simplicity of the ensemble piece Taki assigns. If nothing else, they have experience. What we are told is that the band sucks at playing together. Their ensemble, their unity, is a failure. Just like Kumiko cannot yet connect to Reina to explain her feelings, the band sections cannot yet connect with each other to play in ensemble.
Keeping that in mind, let’s observe the turning points for both of our fake-enemies—Reina and Taki.
Reina calls Kumiko out to apologize for the way she defended Taki the day before. Kumiko worries, half seriously, whether Reina will kill her, before realizing that Reina only meant to make amends for her outburst. This, combined with some development from prior episodes, spurs Kumiko to finally connect with Reina. Kumiko has a connection with Reina, as we saw in last episode’s Dvorak scene, but now she finally begins to acknowledge it. In this scene, Kumiko says what’s on her mind—whether it’s smart or stupid, right or wrong—and begins to act on her emotions. This is the moment Reina begins to reveal herself as a fake-enemy and true ally.
This shift from enemy to ally causes Kumiko to realize that the world and people around her can change if she acts on her desires. I wrote a long, long essay on Kumiko’s indifference, and this is when she first sheds that indifference. The very next scene, Kumiko reaches out to Natsuki to get the whole bass section to play together. She acts on her passion and emotion and desire, thereby unifying the bass section.
Speaking of unity, that’s the same development Taki sparks, only he does so on a larger scale. By appearing to be an enemy that the band had to overcome, he forces the band members to act on their goal. He spurs them to practice. Kumiko describes this for me at the end of the episode, explaining how Taki “rejected everything about how [the band] used to do things,” causing “dissatisfaction” among the band members. Very antagonist-esque. However, as Kumiko points out, “that energy became a unifying force for the band members.”
This, and the band’s successful ensemble performance, are the reveal that Taki is indeed and 100% a true ally. The tension he brought to the show vanishes as he declares that Episode 4’s performance “was an ensemble.” For that performance, Kitauji was a unified band. Taking action, allowing passion and emotion to drive them—that’s what allowed Kitauji to achieve success and unity. That is what Taki represents as a fake-enemy and what he delivers to Kumiko and the audience.
You could say Episode 4 is an episode all about connections and passion. You could say all of Hibike is about the same. However, we shouldn’t say any more until the next piece begins.