Character Acting in Hibike! Euphonium
Somehow I went nine weeks into the season without talking about Hibike! Euphonium. Obviously that has to change, and luckily Episode 9 gave me a great example to wrap up an idea I had been working on. The second season of Hibike! Euphonium relies primarily on character acting—as opposed to actions of consequence or dialogue—to portray character growth. Since I like to keep Extra Minutes short, this essay will only focus on Reina, but you can see this technique (though to a lesser degree) used to signal Kumiko’s and Asuka’s growth, too.
This isn’t groundbreaking, nor is it even all that different from the norm. However, this is a small change from the first season, where we primarily trace character growth via the revelations characters experience or the words they use to describe each other. If you check out my character analyses of Kumiko and Reina, you will see that the best evidence of growth comes from larger, thematically relevant actions or decisions, and less so the way those moments are acted and animated.
There are two main situations in which Reina’s acting has changed since Season 1: when she is around a group of people, and when she is alone with Kumiko. Near the end of Episode 6, Kumiko, Reina, Midori, and Mizore start talking about new students who will join band at the end of the year. Reina says Taki will attract good students, to which Kumiko jokes, “Good students like you?” Reina plays along in her own reserved way, saying she “won’t deny it.” It’s not much, but it is evidence of Reina’s newfound social comfort. She gets a laugh out of the group and smiles, accepting this friendly conversation.
This is a subtle change from Episode 1 when Kumiko, Reina, Midori, and Hazuki walk home together. Reina communicates at more of a difference in this scene. She doesn’t make anyone laugh, and Midori and Hazuki have to drive the conversation to get any kind of social advance from Reina. Kumiko even confesses she thought Reina “might not like” going home with other people. By Episode 6, Reina’s acting suggests that she does enjoy other people’s company now. She’s part of the group. This development might have been displayed in a more dramatic or direct fashion in Season 1, such as Kumiko pointing out that Reina is comfortable around her new friends. Instead, now you can watch Reina and interpret her attitude yourself.
As for her interactions with Kumiko, Reina has grown fierier. I’d almost say competitive. Kind of an Iceman x Maverick deal, except Reina flaunts her femininity rather than her masculinity. But, uh…without going down that rabbit hole, let’s just look at Episode 9. Reina starts talking about how she understands why the upperclassmen want Kumiko to confront Asuka. All the while, she backs away from Kumiko in schoolgirly manner. As she refers back to the good girl skin she wants to “peel away” from Kumiko, Reina can’t hold back a very knowing grin. She acts as if this is like a game she plays with Kumiko.
This transitions into her actually mimicking Kumiko’s words from middle school, with Reina’s own interpretation of their delivery (meta-acting, if you want to sound cool). Finally, she invades Kumiko’s personal space and teases/eggs her on, again flashing that knowing grin. The animation and voice acting here is so detailed and nuanced that Reina is aggressive, flirtatious, possessive, challenging, vulnerable, and intimate all at once. It’s a 30-second clip you could spend hours studying.
How does this scene compare to Season 1’s festival hike, though? True, Reina was intimate with Kumiko then, but you can still feel a distance between them. Watching that scene after Season 2, the difference in passion is quite striking. Reina only smiles once the entire hike, and it is a simple smile (literally simple—just one or two lines of drawing) that she wears for a split second and doesn’t show Kumiko. Compared to her variety of expressions in Episode 9’s scene, and her inability to contain those expressions, Season 1’s Reina is robotic. This comparison highlights just how much Reina has grown socially and emotionally.
In its second season, Hibike! has utilized character acting to its fullest potential. Viewers are allowed to notice character developments on their own, which makes watching every episode a fulfilling experience. The world grows even more lifelike, and we feel more like a part of that world. It is common in anime to indirectly address a character’s emotional state with acting (the twisted face and clenched fist are two behemoth tropes), but few shows fill every scene with so much enriching detail. These moments of detailed acting don’t simply showcase emotions, but also changes within character personalities themselves. Season 2 of Hibike! Euphonium gives us yet another reason to consider it a truly special anime.
My favorite “interview” (round table) with some of the Eupho staff and Ayano Takeda. Under the subtitle “Wanting to depict fellowship greater than love”, there is discussion tangentially related to the development I talk about here. It’s cool to see how the ideas of the creators translate into specific moments within the series. I recommend checking the article out.