After a hiatus from writing about anime, I figured I could simultaneously celebrate my birthday and ease myself back into the process by writing about my five favorite anime episodes. Picking a top five or top ten series list is difficult because of the endless criteria I could use to rank shows. However, when it comes to individual episodes, it’s a lot easier to break the content down and compare my feelings of each option.
Although I still can’t provide a specific order for these five episodes, they are still my overall top five favorites. Spoilers for each show, of course!
Chihayafuru Season 2, Episode 24
While the entire series is a beautiful exploration of both niche passions and competition, this episode stands out as the most romantic. And romantic is the most appropriate word to use here. Chihayafuru features a love triangle, and although it seems to be the show’s main draw at first, it becomes more like a representation of how romantic each character’s feelings towards karuta are. In competition, a “love” of the game is always mentioned, but Chihayafuru expands that feeling to encompass all meanings of “love.”
Chihayafuru is so successful at this because of how it blends shoujo/josei stylistic elements with the rich cultural context of karuta as a sport, but also for how it treats its competitor characters and their skills. Chihayafuru does not feature the kinds of brutal physical advantages you might find in a show like Haikyuu!!. There are no characters who are so tall, so strong, so naturally imposing that other characters fear them. Characters are instead described as having “studied”. They’re hyped up on the basis of their composure or mental fitness more than their speed or strength (though speed is still a major highlight).Read More »
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.Read More »
When you decide to write 13 essays in 13 weeks about the same show, limiting yourself to an episode per essay, you inevitably ask yourself: “Are you stupid?” You then realize that question leads nowhere so you switch to: “Why are you so stupid?” That question hurts a bit more, but the path is supposed to be a painful one, isn’t it?
I’ve endured this method of writing once before with Owarimonogatari. However, -monogatari (Bake and Owari especially) is aggressively interesting. The series attacks you with unusual shots and editing and drowns you in labyrinthine dialogue. Sure, some of it is just artistic flexing, but you can’t help but want to think about it. Hibike! is not aggressively interesting. It’s fun and gorgeous and moving, but it does not command you to think about it. Yet, it did always encourage me to fawn over it. That fawning—I think—is the reason I made it out of this process with my brain and fingers intact.Read More »
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.Read More »
While I don’t have any arguments I want to “correct” from my original analysis of Kumiko, I do have a lot to expand upon. In particular, we can take a deeper look at Kumiko’s first experience with true failure. This is the most pivotal moment for Kumiko’s development in Season 1, and Hibike puts maximum effort into growing its previously passive protagonist. Let’s take a look at all the elements that come together to create the emotional climax of Season 1.
Thus far, light has always been a motif for characters to strive after. Light is where passion and love lie and where characters move forward. We’ve always wanted characters to embrace the light. We might even assume light is purely benevolent, but this is not the case. Light is where passion lies, but—for Kumiko—that is exactly the problem. The new sequence that Taki asks the euphoniums to play is dizzyingly difficult for Kumiko, and the first challenge since her hike with Reina that she struggles to overcome. The old, detached Kumiko might avoid facing this challenge, but the Kumiko who wishes to become special must attack it head-on.Read More »
In my character analysis of Reina, I painted her as an actively manipulative person. While I don’t believe that analysis is entirely wrong, I do think it is an unfair interpretation that misses out on a few key details of her character. These misinterpretations are centered around Episode 11, so this is the perfect opportunity to revise some arguments made in that original essay. This essay (combined with the original character analysis) will provide a much more accurate and nuanced understanding of Reina. Or so I hope.
Rather than actively manipulating Kumiko for self-satisfaction, Reina is seeking support without the emotional toolkit to effectively do so. In the previous episode, Reina declares she’d “double down” on her trumpet solo. She absolutely won’t give up what she worked so hard for, regardless of what she has to endure. But if she declares her determination so clearly, then why does she show moments of insecurity to Kumiko—her letting it slip that Kaori being a “good person” makes taking the solo “a bit hard”, for example? Reina gives us a hint on the night of the festival: she doesn’t get close to most people. She builds walls around herself.Read More »
We can attack Episode 10 from a few different angles. Characters like Asuka and Kaori get some needed development; a new conflict for the band is born; some interesting directing stuff is going on. But as interesting a topic of Asuka is at this point, I still don’t feel like there’s enough evidence to properly analyze her/her actions (especially considering how large a role she’ll play in Season 2). I also feel that any analysis of other specific topics would be redundant at this point. Instead, Episode 10 is best investigated as a figurative mirror of past conflicts and drama.
This mirror is most apparent in the main conflict of the episode: the band’s suspicion that Taki played favorites in the audition for the trumpet solo. Back when Taki threatened to keep the band out of SunFes, the band reached an impasse where practice halted and the section leaders met to plan their course of action. The band (with a few exceptions) unified against Taki until the conflict was resolved. In Episode 10, the band has likewise reached an impasse and has returned to playing in sectionals. What is different from last time is that a band member (Reina) is also a target for the band’s animosity. Additionally, Taki was in control of the band at the start of the season, but has lost control of the audition situation.Read More »
An underlying and unspoken message drove my analyses of Kumiko and Reina to their conclusion. Last week, we began to tie together some themes from earlier episodes by investigating the idea of “abandon”. In Episode 9, we can further unify all of my previous essays into one web created by that underlying message. Hibike has something to say about the themes it deals with—the path to specialness and the abandon required to walk that path. We saw glimpses of this message back when Taki unified the band and when Aoi quit the band, but now we can give it our direct attention.
No one can walk the painful path alone, no matter how special they wish to be or how high they aspire to reach. This was where Reina’s social troubles stem from: she winds up isolating herself by her attempts to achieve specialness. I ended my analysis of Reina by saying she can become special not by pushing other people away, but by reaching out to them. That is the core of Hibike’s message. Let’s see if Episode 9 can clarify what I mean.Read More »
Although Episode 8 begins to connect all the motifs and themes we’ve been looking at so far, there’s still a key ingredient missing before we should tie all those ideas together. I’ve alluded to it when discussing Romanticism and light and several characters, so now is the perfect time to flesh out the idea of “abandon”. Taki stops practice in order to demonstrate the “abandon and shamelessness” that the band should play the “Moon Crescent Dance” with. Perhaps you can already see the connections to what we’ve discussed before: the pursuit of passion requires reckless abandon. From Kumiko to Hazuki to Aoi, Hibike suggests that a solution to their troubles is to act with abandon.
Even Goto and Riko come to illustrate this idea. We saw before that Goto was reserved when talking about why he loved tuba—a fact we can infer is related to his shyness about dating Riko. This shyness pops up again in Episode 8 when the duo gets embarrassed over their “secret” relationship being talked about publicly. Goto gets slightly distressed when Riko tries to hide the fact they’re dating and—though I wouldn’t call this a strain on their relationship, considering they seem equally shy about it—they misunderstand each other. This is obviously the tiniest of tiny romantic subplots, so it gets a tiny resolution when the pair attends the festival together and Goto acts with a bit of abandon by straightforwardly complimenting Riko. The look on her face tells us this is the first time Goto has been so straightforward, and thus it’s a special progression in their relationship.Read More »
In my character analysis of Reina, I spent a few paragraphs dissecting lighting in the moments before the audition for the trumpet solo. I explained light as representative of “being special”, which is admittedly a simplification of the truth, and relies on an understanding that Reina views band as a path towards specialness. In this essay, I’d like to begin to refine that idea, focusing primarily on Aoi and her decisions in Episode 7. We’ll revisit some concepts we establish this week in future essays with the assistance of other characters. Therefore: what does light mean in Hibike Euphonium?
Hidden beneath the surface of that first question is a second one: what does lighting accomplish in Episode 7? We interpret symbols and motifs by assigning meaning to them (answering Question #1), but that meaning is meaningless without effect (what we look for in Question #2). If a symbol can’t be logically connected to a consistent idea throughout the story, or if a symbol connects to an idea irrelevant to the story, then it enhances nothing for the audience (regardless of whether the audience is viewing for entertainment or analysis). In rough analogy: if the hammer strikes the nail at random angles, or doesn’t strike the nail at all, why bother with the hammer?Read More »