Sound! Euphonium 2 Episode 13
by Nick Creamer, Dec 28th 2016
How would you rate episode 13 of
Sound! Euphonium 2 ?
With the perspective this episode offers, last week's choice to cut the concert entirely feels even more justified. Given a full twenty minutes to bid Euphonium goodbye, episode thirteen offered an endearing, funny, and often moving epilogue to two full seasons of triumph, friendship, and plentiful drama. Not every member of this band can leave with no regrets, but Kumiko at least can end her first year at Kitauji with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes.
We opened Eupho's final episode with the remaining band members electing their replacement officers, starting off with Yuuko as president and Natsuki as vice prez. Yuuko was of course furious about this turn of events, and the interactions between the two of them were as adorable as ever. But even though Yuuko and Natsuki's relationship is often played for laughs, their pairing as president/vice president actually felt sensible to me, as an intelligent response to the issues of prior leadership.
The problem with the seniors' leadership pairing was that Asuka and Haruka were each in the wrong role. The band needed a strong, dynamic leader to be president, and a more thoughtful but perhaps less charismatic figure to hold things together as vice president. Instead, because Asuka was never willing to take the spotlight, the band suffered. Yuuko as leader and Natsuki as vice president solves this problem - Yuuko has plenty of the drive and energy needed to push the band forward, while Natsuki is a far more even-handed and thoughtful figure. They also balance each other well - Natsuki can deflate Yuuko's more self-destructive tendencies, while Yuuko can push Natsuki to follow through on the ideas she'll think up but never put into practice. Even putting aside their strong adversarial friendship, the two of them probably will make for a very effective leadership team.
But the vast majority of this episode was dedicated to settling the relationship between Kumiko and Asuka. Kumiko expressed regrets early on about things “ending like this” with the seniors, regrets that seemed tied directly to her parting with Asuka. Their first meeting this episode took place a month after the concert, where the two of them met by chance during the evening. Once again, their dynamic proved to be one of the most lively and genuine rapports of anyone in this cast, as Asuka's needling Kumiko about romance and youth was met with a blunt “you never stop talking out of your ass.”
Kumiko and Reina have a relationship built largely on difference. Kumiko was initially intrigued by Reina both because she didn't understand her and because she felt that lack of understanding represented some more fundamental lack in her own personality. That fear ultimately proved itself true - Reina possessed a drive to succeed that Kumiko initially didn't, and drawing closer to Reina allowed Kumiko to embrace ambition and even ego. But while Reina was an inspirational figure for Kumiko, the two ultimately don't have all that much in common, outside of a certain nastiness in how they view other people.
By contrast, Kumiko and Asuka have a great deal in common. They're both fundamentally snarky people, they both hide their feelings from others, and they're both psychological schemers, always ready to assign motives to the people around them. They also both suffer from deep fundamental uncertainties about their own nature, not only because they're unsure about their goals, but because they also seem to have internalized that they're not very nice people. The two of them spar as near-equals, with the main difference between them being that Asuka is generally a little more of everything - more guarded, more cynical, more confident, more clever.
At first, Asuka's nature repelled Kumiko. Not only was Asuka not a particularly nice or sincere person, but all of her negative qualities reminded Kumiko of things she wasn't proud of in herself. Having all those negative feelings attached to someone who was just better than her - more pretty, more confident, more talented - only amplified those feelings. But after two seasons of coming to know the real Asuka, see her vulnerabilities, and be invited into her private world, Kumiko can only treat Asuka with a combination of affection and slight awe.
Because of this, when Asuka relents and says that she “really does love” Kumiko, Kumiko is actually touched by that gesture. The rest of the episode focuses closely on Kumiko's feelings, as the winter slowly passes and Asuka's graduation approaches. Practicing alone in the classroom, Kumiko finds herself thinking back over the memories they've shared and even tearing up. Asuka has become a dear friend and an icon of what Kumiko wants to achieve as a musician - just like Reina once inspired her to find a general drive to succeed, Asuka has inspired her to put her specific feelings into sound.
The graduation reunion scene stands as an aesthetic and emotional marvel, offering great character acting, clever tricks of direction, beautiful framing, and tidy resolution to all manner of arcs. As the first and second years play through their competition program, the camera pans sideways across the room, using layers of students to create a sensation of both depth and crowded intimacy. While Reina plays her solo, Kaori idly fingers the notes in air, subtly implying one bittersweet regret. And as their final achievement is layered over flashbacks to all of Euphonium's narrative turns, Kumiko stares straight forward, her eyes only on Asuka Tanaka.
Sound! Euphonium concludes outside in front of the school, where Kumiko first heard her upperclassman's voice. As snow falls on the steps where the band once played so horribly, Kumiko finally runs into Asuka and tells her the truth. Though Kumiko initially disliked and maybe even despised Asuka, she's come to love her. She wants to play music the way Asuka does. She doesn't want to let her go.
Asuka's response to this is characteristically her: “if you don't want to say goodbye, then I guess we won't.” Passing on her father's treasured song, she waves not a goodbye, but an 'until next time,' and then she's gone. The camera presses us close into Kumiko's perspective here; from tight closeups that capture Kumiko's breathless state and cold cheeks, we see Asuka leaving from a distance, her footsteps small and indistinct in the fresh snow. Kumiko stands in the cold, briefly alone, treasuring Asuka's gift and this one small moment. Then Reina calls her back, and she runs. Sentimentalism allows us only a brief respite, even in moments like this. We grow into ourselves in fleeting seconds, meetings and partings both precious and always almost gone.
In spite of some occasionally shaky narrative diversions, Sound! Euphonium 2 ultimately stands as a worthy successor to its remarkable first season. This finale was a terrific capstone to one of the most dramatically satisfying and possibly the most technically accomplished show of the past several years. I'll miss Euphonium, but like Kumiko, I'll appreciate its memory while wishing its staff great fortune in moving on to greater and grander things.
Sound! Euphonium 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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