Sound of Love (Part 13) – On Endings
Way back at the start of this series, I described the many gears Hibike! established in order to keep the story moving in an entertaining and meaningful way. Now we’ve reached the end of that story (sort of…) and can see where those gears have led us. As we take a look at the end of Season 1, we’ll see how Hibike! resolves (most of) its remaining conflicts and shuts the door on a successful season.
Naturally, the entirety of Episode 13 is a build-up to the band’s performance and consequential success or failure. I think Hibike! spent the whole season getting us invested in its characters and this performance, but the show goes the extra mile to ensure we’re glued to the edges of our seats. How does it do so? By removing the very subject of our anticipation: sound and music.
Kumiko quickly shuts off her alarm clock and then reviews her sheet music. The only noise we hear is her mouthing of the music, which triggers a memory of the sequence we heard her practice all of last episode. Note that all of this happens without us actually hearing the sound of a euphonium. We then see her on the train practicing the fingerings for that same sequence. This again causes us to recall the music itself. The show is teasing us.
This teasing becomes itchier as it continues. We’re allowed to hear Asuka’s inhalation, but the camera cuts outside of the classroom and prevents us from hearing her actually play. While following Haruka and Kaori, we briefly hear a faint melody that the pair remark on, but the music itself is mostly indistinguishable. We see Kumiko practicing fingerings a second time, as well as Midori wrapping tape on her fingers. The past few episodes were filled with the band playing its pieces and specific characters playing their sequences and solos, but now all of that is being hoarded away for the final performance. Admittedly, this is most noticeable on rewatching, but it excels at building anticipation.
We finally get to hear the band play their instruments to tune, which is a great place to take a break from discussing the absence of sound. We’ll return to that point, but let’s see what happens when we do hear music (or tuning) first. At first, the band is all out of tune and panicky—much like the moment before their performance at SunFes. The sounds we hear are a cacophony, a worrying sign for what’s supposed to be an ensemble. However, Taki soon assumes his role as conductor and unifier by putting an end to the chaos. He calls for a tuning note which the band then harmonizes with. Taki, together with the will of the band, has tidied the frantic mess of sound into one strong note. The connection to the story at large is simple.
Taki gives a speech that reminds us of how far the band has progressed, which calls to mind the conflicts Kumiko and Reina faced along the way. Hibike! spends a moment addressing each important character in Kumiko’s development before the performance. She waves to Azusa from Rikka, effectively a confirmation of Kumiko moving forward. As mentioned back at Episode 5, Azusa is Kumiko’s connection to the past (and her indifference/distance) and, by saying goodbye to Azusa at SunFes, Kumiko took a step towards her future.
As you’d expect, Kumiko spends quite the long moment addressing her connection to Reina. She helps Reina tie up her hair, which is a straightforward acknowledgement of their newfound connection. Remember that Reina tied up her own hair on their moonlight hike. Now, when it’s time for Reina to get serious—to enter battle, so to speak—she prepares together with her friend. As this is all happening, Natsuki approaches Kumiko for a fist bump. This reaffirms that Natsuki is satisfied with Kumiko taking her spot, but it also shows that Kumiko has accepted herself. In the spirit of accepting herself, Kumiko offers her own fist bump to Shuichi. A few episodes prior, Kumiko remarked how she couldn’t speak to Shuichi, so this fist bump is a step towards friendliness.
Reina’s conflicts are wrapped up during the performance, given that her only lingering struggle is the dispute over the solo. Reina doesn’t do anything herself this episode (though she did last episode by apologizing to Kaori), but Hibike! still confirms that all is well. As Reina plays her solo, Kaori listens with a satisfied smile, knowing that the one who deserved the solo most got to play it. In the end, Kaori’s main goal was to do right by the band—to make up for the opportunities she couldn’t give last year’s first-years. Kaori wanted the band to succeed and work together, and she accomplished just that.
Though, if we’re discussing conflicts, we can’t forget the conflict of the show as a whole. I did spend the beginning of this essay saying how the show was building anticipation for the performance, after all. The performance itself is as mystical and beautiful as we’d expect, with the exception of one monumentally important shot. As the band finishes their piece, we’re shown Taki’s final moments of conduction. Sweat drips down his face and flies off him from the force of his movement. He breathes like a runner at the end of a race.
Taki is our evidence of the effort required to perform this piece. The shots of the band are too sparkly and magical to give a sense of struggle. That fits the tone of the piece and the Romantic style of the show, but it lacks the visceral intensity of a match from a sports anime. And Hibike! is, in a way, a sports anime. We want to see the hard work of the ‘players’ in the final ‘match’. Taki provides that for us. His exhaustion makes the performance fulfilling and concludes a season’s worth of struggle. If this shot was left out, we perhaps wouldn’t feel the urgency of the band having to perform well on this day, in this moment. The shot reinforces the idea that the band was always practicing for this specific moment.
I promised we’d look at the absence of sound again and, since we’ve reached a shot of Taki again, this seems like the perfect time to switch back. After several minutes of concert, when does the sound cut out? Right when the announcer lists off the bands who made Nationals, of course! We’re left to interpret the facial expressions of the band members and the mood of the background music. Some characters actually throw us for a loop, such as Asuka and her defeated look and the assistant advisor who cries. As the music continues and we see more and more elated band members, we know for sure that Kitauji made Nationals.
Witnessing the raw emotions of these characters is possibly the best way to conclude the season. The announcer is hilariously dull, but even if he’d been lively, nothing could replace the direct reactions of characters who’ve been working for 13 episodes to arrive at this point. To be woefully cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words.
We only need to see her face to realize how much Kumiko has grown this season.
We only need to see Reina’s clenched hands and buried face to understand how invested she is in this moment.
We only need to see Kumiko and Reina’s embrace to feel the connection between these characters.
You could say that the entire season was working simply to bring these few seconds to fruition. Every shot and every scene, from start to finish, was necessary to allow us to receive those thousand words from these pictures. Slowly, but surely, Hibike! banked away meaning and emotion so that it could cash out all at once in the final moments of Episode 13. At the end of the journey, we can release our emotions just like the characters on-screen.
But to conclude these 13 weeks of saving, growing, and working, we’ll require one last piece.