Sound of Love (Part 5) – On Steps
Episode 5 provides the perfect opportunity to discuss one of Hibike Euphonium’s most prominent motifs: steps. Steps and feet. Although we never see or hear of marching band again after this episode, the importance of steps and feet only builds throughout the series. We should establish some background on the topic, and there’s no better place to do so than an episode about marching band—an activity based on steps. Moving forward, let’s figure out what movement can convey in Episode 5 of Hibike Euphonium.
As the band practices marching together, the camera shoots from a low angle where the band members’ feet constantly pass through the foreground. This draws our attention to two ideas: one that enhances our understanding of marching band, and one that hones the focus of the episode as a whole. The ever-passing feet, combined with Kumiko’s explanation of marching, inform us that the focus of marching band is ultimately on the feet. For the band to stay coordinated and in line, they must match each other’s feet. Additionally, or by proxy, this focuses the episode as a whole on feet and steps.
Hazuki attempting to unravel the mystery steps is the first instance of the aforementioned motif. Only members who won’t be playing instruments at SunFes will need to learn the mystery steps, so this is the first indication of Hazuki’s support role—both in the band and in romance (essay on Hazuki and tubas forthcoming…). Hazuki has trouble learning the steps, showing she’s a novice yet to fully find her place in this band. However, we’ll later see Hazuki has figured out the steps, so we can rest assured she’ll be okay in the long run.
Maybe I’m reading too far into this, but it’s no coincidence that Kumiko shows us how tired she is after practice by kicking off her shoes and stretching her feet. The obvious connection is that she’s been marching and walking all day and her feet hurt. So is this just an obvious method for Hibike to show Kumiko’s fatigue, or is it yet more development of the motif of feet? In the end, that answer probably comes down to how much credit you’re willing to give me for thinking of this, but let me try to convince you how important feet are, narratively speaking…
We reach an important scene, Reina’s smiling scene. Early on, we’re shown a shot of Reina’s feet, pointed inward—meaning she’s closed off from Kumiko and possibly nervous. Kumiko attempts to walk quicker to catch up to Reina, bringing up different topics of small talk with each attempt. She winds up falling behind each time, unable to breach the wall of ice around Reina. After Kumiko’s failed attempts at bridging the gap, Reina puts her feet firmly and steadily on the ground, building resolve to ask Kumiko about the sensitive topic of Taki.
Having entered such a sensitive topic—at least, considering Kumiko’s fear of Reina—Kumiko runs ahead to distance herself from Reina physically and emotionally. But the crosswalk light remains green and Reina closes that gap once more. Reina’s ‘budget smile’ is her revealing herself to Kumiko, opening up to the one person she’s found she can connect to. She shows Kumiko a beautiful and kind side of herself, a side that Kumiko didn’t think existed. Having discovered this new Reina, Kumiko turns around with a determined hop. And how did we arrive at such an important moment for these two characters? With a series of steps, of course.
I don’t want to beat this concept to death, but there’s one more vital scene to discuss. Kumiko meets up with a friend from middle school at SunFes and the two begin to talk about their new high schools. This isn’t the first time Kumiko’s encountered someone from her past (Shuichi and Aoi came first), but her reaction this time sets this scene apart.
By the power of KyoAni, we’re greeted with yet another close up of feet/steps. When Kumiko’s friend wants to run off to meet with the rest of their middle school class, Kumiko begins to follow, but suddenly stops still. For a moment, Kumiko returns to going with the flow. Unlike the past, however, she thinks of whether she got the fresh start she was hoping for at Kitauji. She thinks of the childhood friend she’s starting to talk to more; she thinks of her new friends she’s experiencing new adventures with; and she thinks of Reina, whom Kumiko is finally connecting with. Kumiko realizes that she did indeed find a fresh start, and that her choice of high school had nothing to do with it. Changing old relationships and building new ones, and developing as a person—Kumiko accomplished all of that by stepping towards the future, by taking action. This is a crucial moment for Kumiko to shed her indifference, and she does so by stepping towards her bandmates.
Kumiko’s journey, as well as the development of this motif, is far from over. There are still moonlight hikes to walk, confessions of love to make, and music to play. Yet, being that this is a turning point episode, we can carry on with confidence that Kumiko will continue to step forward. We’ll see where those steps take her when the next piece begins.