Sound! Euphonium 2
by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Sound! Euphonium 2 ?
Sound! Euphonium 2 has largely been a somber production so far, at least relative to its predecessor. We've had four slow episodes of melancholy band drama, where the central focus began with discovering the rifts lying beneath the band, and then turned to repairing broken friendships. There were certainly climactic moments throughout, but the overall tone has been reflective and inward-facing most of the time.
This week, all of that changed. With Yoroizuka and Nozomi's conflict largely settled, we jumped swiftly forward to the Kansai Competition. Even the very first shots of this episode demonstrated this tonal shift, with a series of playful wipe transitions conveying Taki's various instructions to the band members. There's a reason you generally don't see wipe transitions outside of stuff like Star Wars - they're goofy and intrusive, evoking a kind of energy that naturally verges on camp. But for an episode like this, which casually jumped out of that scene into “a month later, it was time for the competition,” that kind of energy is perfectly appropriate.
The next major sequence was equally dedicated to building up the tension of the moment, as Hazuki said goodbye to her friends on the train. Ostensibly a minor exchange, this sequence was given great importance through the restless direction and animation. Shots focusing on Hazuki's hands and feet emphasized her nervous energy and the fact that she was acting positive for the sake of her friends. By the time we got back to Kumiko's house, a TV screening of the bands they'd be going up against almost pushed Kumiko out of the frame entirely.
All of this frantic movement was ideal for an episode predicated on evoking pre-performance jitters. There was no escape from Kitauji's emotions here - whether through Kumiko's commentary or the direction itself, their nervous headspace was inescapable. As the performance approached, the show's focus on specific moments got even more precise, like the excellent sequence where Taki's pre-show breathing exercises were captured in full. The various characters all handled the stress and anticipation in their own ways - Asuka finally embraced the leadership role she'd always shied away from, and Kumiko and Reina engaged in some egregious flirting to lighten the mood. As the performance arrived, we were led directly onto the stage by Nozomi, emphasizing our complicity in this competition for one last time.
The performance itself was frankly beyond my ability to describe. You should watch it, if you haven't already. My notes on the first half of this episode cover a couple pages - for the second, my words trail off into “wow” and “her solo, my god.” Kyoto Animation have a history of depicting impressive musical performances, from way back in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya through K-On! and beyond, but this was still a jaw-dropping feat of technical and dramatic invention. Fluidly animating even a few cuts of character motion generally marks a show as possessing “solid animation” - this was a ten minute performance featuring dozens of individual characters, ridiculous 2D mechanical work, and constant cuts between a wide array of specific actors.
Sequences like this simply don't exist in television anime. Shows generally avoid animation-intensive performance arts, because they're so difficult to consistently animate. Even this season's Yuri!!! On ICE demonstrates that problem, already relying heavily on repeated cuts of skating to leapfrog that fundamental issue. Other shows simply present still frames or manage a balance of slight animation cuts and commentary from side characters. The audience member who breathlessly describes an impressive performance or match has become a cliche for this exact reason. It's impossible for a television anime to outright show how impressive a legendary performance is, so it must be told through an onlooker (or a friendly narrator like in Hunter x Hunter) for the audience to understand what they're supposed to be feeling.
This episode did none of that. This was a fully animated performance demonstrating exactly how much work and passion all of these characters have put into their practice. Reina's solo was transcendent, the lightness of her fingerwork matching the beautiful tone of her music, all framed as a reflection on her relationship with Kumiko. Asuka's desperate hunger, Taki's imposing presence, Midori's battered fingers - all of these things were clear to us in a visceral sense, conveyed through more of those relentless quick cuts and the show's absurdly fluid motion. Shots that moved away from the band to depict the audience were purposeful choices rather than shortcuts - in fact, the brief shots of Hazuki hugging her legs and listening, too nervous to even watch them play, were some of my favorite moments of the episode. Kitauji's triumph wasn't an assumed fact, it was a lived experience, one of the most powerfully moving feats of animation I've seen.
Kitauji earned their gold, as we knew they would. There was no way they wouldn't win this competition and move forward in a narrative sense - and yet, in spite of it being absolutely predictable, there were still tears in my eyes at the conclusion. Narratives don't have to surprise you to make you feel things - they simply have to make you experience the feelings of the characters as your own. That's not an easy trick, but when you're blessed with a production that can truly bring a performance like this to life, miracles can happen. This performance was one of the most aesthetically striking and emotionally charged events I've seen in quite a while. Euphonium has outdone itself yet again.
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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