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?Read More »
Come Episode 3, we can finally begin to explore some of Hibike’s more interesting and intricate qualities. Primarily, this episode reveals the series to be a Romantic one (as in my Spice and Wolf essay, this is not necessarily lower-case romance—though we’ll get to that…) and crafts some complexity into Kumiko and Reina. The overarching conflict of the season is finally explained, and with perfect timing considering how the tone of the show begins to shift this episode. Let’s figure out how exactly these changes in story and statement work together.
Hibike’s Romantic side first shows in its background music. In particular, the track “Sprouting of Senses” accompanies any moment Kumiko and the viewer contemplate what concert band and playing an instrument means for a high schooler. We hear this track in Episode 1 when Kumiko thinks back on Reina’s middle school frustration. Kumiko acts out a conversation between her and Reina, wherein she attempts to explain her feelings about band. In Episode 3, the song plays again as Kumiko and friends pick out their instruments. The three first years see themselves in their instruments—quite literally, they see their reflections—and their instruments look back at them.Read More »
Episode 2 of Hibike Euphonium sets the plot ball rolling a bit, while also improving upon some of the cool details we discussed in Episode 1. Once again, I have to admit that a hypothetical first time viewer wouldn’t quite understand the full scope of the season’s conflict, although a lot is done in Episode 2 to build credibility and emotional stakes for later. But we’ll get to that. Let’s start by appreciating some comedy and directing.
All the effort put into the voice acting and animation that I pointed out last episode really comes in handy when trying to fill realistic, grounded high school scenes with comedy. If we take a look at the opening scene, Kumiko’s chipper fantasy plays out nothing like reality—her awkward battle pose and cracking voice fail to gain Reina’s attention entirely, nevermind inciting a hug. Immediately after, the main cast shows off their acting snuff. Hazuki’s catchy and alliterated (in Japanese) “Go, Kumiko!”—with even the effort of her push accented with a “ka” sound—segues perfectly into the sound of Kumiko sliding across the floor and Reina’s sensitive “What’s wrong?” That is then played for laughs via Kumiko’s ridiculously awkward “I’m okay” that grows even funnier the second time she says it.Read More »
With Season 2 of Hibike Euphonium just a few months away, and given my infatuation with the show, I’ll be writing through every episode of the first season. This will be different from my Owarimonogatari series in that each essay most likely won’t focus on a single particular topic. I’ll just be detailing whatever stands out to me in the directing, animation, story, or sound as I watch, and trying to expand upon my earlier essays on this show. I’ll being referencing and linking to those essays a lot. By going episode by episode, I can point to details that didn’t fit in the original essays, as well as moments that are worth talking about, but don’t warrant an entire essay.
So although this series will be rather analytical in nature, it’s really more of a confession of love. Hibike is a masterpiece in so many ways, and hopefully throughout this series I can share with you some of what makes it so special to me. This first post will be on the shorter side since the first episode can only do so much, but there’s still plenty to talk about. On that note, it’s only right to start the same way as always: let’s figure out Episode 1 of Hibike Euphonium.Read More »
Ensemble in the Background – A Hibike! Euphonium Analysis
With the announcement of a second season, I decided to return to Hibike! Euphonium essays early. An aspect of Hibike! that is often mentioned in passing, but rarely truly appreciated is the ‘ensemble’ cast of the background characters. The physical setting of the world is beautified by stunning backdrops, but the social setting is dressed with equally vibrant feathers. Kitauji’s band is not a ghost town.
Now, Hibike! doesn’t have an ensemble cast. The story is told from Kumiko’s perspective and she clearly dominates the screentime. However, the background characters (namely everyone populating the band) aren’t simply stamped with the ‘everyone else’ role. They have (relatively) unique character designs, a specific instrument that they play, and a personality they always abide by. The band is alive, and all the background characters form a sub-level ensemble where they all seem to matter more than background characters typically do.
Take Knuckles, for example. He has maybe a minute of screentime the entire show, but he has a nickname! He’s the percussion section leader, and he loves playing percussion. We hardly get to see him, but I can say (perhaps with more certainty than I can say anything else about this show) that Knuckles loves percussion. He hypes his section up when introducing it to the first years. He also always carries around a towel, presumably because he plays so intensely that he needs to wipe his sweat. He’s always ready to give his all.
Kumiko’s Indifference – A Hibike! Euphonium Analysis
After looking in-depth at Reina, it only makes sense to move to Kumiko next. Kumiko is Hibike’s true protagonist, and the only character whose thoughts we get to hear. I will say that there were several motifs and symbols that could be discussed when analyzing Kumiko, but (due to a gap between my understanding of these symbols and the cultural background of this story’s creators) I chose to focus on more universally understood details.
To no one’s surprise, we have to begin at the opening scene. We need to learn a history that leads into high-school-aged Kumiko. In middle school, Kumiko knows that the band set a goal to make Nationals, but she only puts one foot in the water. When the band gets dud gold, Kumiko has a moment of disappointment as she realizes they failed, only to hide from that feeling by shifting to her foot on dry land. Oh, we didn’t really stand a chance, so we can be proud of what we did accomplish, she thinks. She hides.
She is hiding from pain and passion. Reina’s reaction is everything that Kumiko hopes to avoid. Kumiko doesn’t want to cry or feel defeated because those feelings are scary. She won’t stay until the bitter end, she’d rather turn tail at the first sign of disappointment.
To Take the Painful Path – A Hibike! Euphonium Analysis
Hibike! Euphonium received a lot of early praise for its background art and character expressions. While the art and animation are top class, Hibike’s greatest strengths lie in its dialogue and cinematography. This analysis will focus on Kumiko and Reina’s hike from Episode 8, specifically an expansion of Reina’s character and a major development for Kumiko’s.
Let’s start at the start. The first time we see Reina, we get a panning shot of her white one-piece. Not a yukata, not some teenager’s casual-wear, but a formal, strapless dress. From earlier scenes of the night’s festival, we know everyone else is either wearing a traditional yukata or a casual outfit. If we don’t catch that ourselves, Kumiko points it out to us by saying Reina looks surprisingly cute, and then staring down at her own beaten sneakers. Right away, we are shown that Reina is different, special.
Now begins a series of symbolic visuals that will complement the girls’ hike, starting with the shot of bugs buzzing around a lamp. Just as Kumiko thinks about being “drawn to a beautiful thing”, we are shown the bugs drawn to the bright lamp. This parallels Reina and her white dress, bright against the night. This motif of Reina as shining light surrounded by darkness will play a major role throughout the episode (and the series as a whole).