Ensemble in the Background

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.

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Reina’s Loneliness

Reina’s Loneliness – A Hibike! Euphonium Analysis

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of character analyses for Hibike! Euphonium. The majority of Hibike’s drama comes from different character’s conflicting desires, or from characters fighting against external pressures. However, the show also dives deep into the internal and psychological struggles of these characters (including several minor characters), especially in its second half. Reina’s psychological struggle is perhaps the most masterfully executed of all the characters’.

Before we look into what Reina struggles with in the main story of Hibike, we have to understand who this high-school-aged Reina is, and where she came from. This opening scene tells us all we need to know. Kumiko enters the concert hall late and sits in an empty space between Reina and another girl. Later shots show us that no one was sitting near Reina’s other side, either. No one, other than Kumiko, even looks at Reina as she cries. Already we can tell that Reina is isolated from everyone else, and, specifically, everyone is avoiding her (not the other way around).

 

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To Take the Painful Path

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).

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