Sound! Euphonium 2
by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Sound! Euphonium 2 ?
“What do you think about competitions?” That's the question Kumiko poses this week, both to herself and those around her. It's a question taken from Yoroizuka's speech last episode, where she spoke of how painful she finds competitions in general. Yoroizuka's feelings are understandable; to her, competitions are a reminder of Nozomi, the friend who utterly abandoned her. Yoroizuka is not a person who can confidently articulate her feelings, so her resentment has stewed inside her and grown into a general distrust of her own musical passion. When she's confronted by the teachers on her robotic performance, she has no answer beyond “I'll do better.” Unlike Reina, Yoroizuka has nothing to prove with her oboe. She's just trying to get by.
Yoroizuka's feelings inform Asuka's explanation, when Kumiko finally gets to ask her about Nozomi's return. The framing of that conversation was one of the many highlights of this episode. With dinner concluded, the two met in the cleared cafeteria, warm oak colors and dim lighting creating a sense of intimate space. Kumiko initially comes off as confident in this encounter, having spent all of last episode gearing herself up - but Asuka's reasoning is so matter-of-fact and common-sense that it stops her short. Nozomi's presence sickens Yoroizuka, and Yoroizuka is far more important to the band. Given that, Asuka is happy to pretend it's her own feelings keeping Nozomi out. Less drama that way, even if she comes off as a monster. Asuka's “talent” for defusing drama works on Kumiko just as well, so her confident initial framing is reduced first to reflections in the window, and finally a melancholy face staring up from a teacup.
While Kumiko frets over Nozomi's feelings, Reina screws up her courage as well, ultimately asking Taki if he's dating Niiyama. This scene was one of the most overtly beautiful sequences of the episode, as the mix of nighttime lighting and fireworks made for a very colorful spectacle. As usual, the rapport between Kumiko and Reina was excellent. The two have become each other's rock, and though we generally see Kumiko gaining strength from Reina's resolve, this time it was Reina who needed confidence from Kumiko. Their banter and body language felt as superbly well-observed as ever.
But things soon returned to melancholy tones, as Kumiko met with Yuuko and once again posed that question about competitions. The entrance to their conversation was one of the only overt jokes of this episode, and it was a good one - Kumiko leaning into her dorkier tendencies is always pretty funny, and the unspoken joke of her just staring at the wall was a perfect punchline. But the conversation that followed was even more satisfying, answering one of my complaints from last week. While Yuuko was framed largely as an antagonist or comic relief character in the first season, her position in the narrative is a poignant one, and her perspective is perfectly valid. Seeing her trade barbs with Kumiko added some welcome texture to her character, and her honest thoughts were even more substantial.
Yuuko's request that Kumiko not tell Natsuki the truth ended up echoing Asuka's words. Before telling her the truth, Asuka warned Kumiko that it wouldn't make her happy - and here, Yuuko told Kumiko that Natsuki wouldn't know what to do with Asuka's answer. Both Yuuko and Asuka are hard-edged people, able to both make tough calls and brush off the feelings of others. But in this instance, that sharpness actually facilitates their fundamental kindness. Asuka is strong enough to be thought of as the villain, so she accepts that role. Yuuko knows Natsuki can't be as tough as her, so she considers it cruel to tell her the truth. Through their choices, Sound! Euphonium demonstrates the many valid approaches we can take to personal drama, and the complex reality of what it means to be kind.
On top of that, Yuuko's thoughts on the nature of competition were thoughtful and ambiguous, like it was something she'd really struggled with herself. Yuuko idolized Kaori for convincing her to stick with the band, but didn't begrudge anyone else their choice to leave during the awful previous year. Her feelings stood in sharp contrast to Reina, who ended up offering the most Reina possible answer to Kumiko's question: “the only thing you can really do is get good, plus we don't get many opportunities to show off our talent in front of lots of people.” Her words fell perfectly in line with Hashimoto's analysis of her play style as “someone shouting 'listen to me, I'm the best in the world!'”
There were many other excellent little moments scattered throughout this episode. The scene where Kumiko got the go-ahead to join Asuka on the difficult euphonium parts was one of my favorites; after an entire season constructed around Kumiko's feelings of disengagement and frustration, her victory ended up being a quiet smile shared between friends. Asuka's solo performance at the end was another favorite - lit by soft earth tones and narrated by Kumiko, the essence of her upbeat and proud but ultimately lonely performer's spirit was clear in her morning song. Tomoyo Kurosawa's performance as Kumiko continues to stun. The naturalism and personality of her takes, apparently urged on by sound director Yota Tsuruoka, imbue this show with a singular kind of truth in execution.
Overall, I have very little to complain about this week. Not only is the show already integrating the drama of the second- and third-years better, but the moment-to-moment execution of this episode was beautiful and purposeful throughout. The one shot I'd quibble with was a gazey pan of Reina in the changing room, something that added nothing to that encounter and didn't seem to reflect Kumiko's thoughts. Other than that, basically every scene did its best to naturally convey the drama and mind-states of its characters. Things have only begun to move in this drama, but the preamble is a beautiful thing.
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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