Sound! Euphonium 2
by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Sound! Euphonium 2 ?
After last episode's finale at regionals, the Kitauji band deserved at least a brief vacation. This episode's first half provided that, as Kumiko and Reina spent lazy minutes wandering through their school's bustling festival. It was an abrupt shift from the show's alternately pensive and cathartic earlier material, and its existence mostly made sense only in pragmatic production terms. Last episode represented the end of the second Sound! Euphonium novel - here at the introduction to the third and final book, the drama received a soft reset in preparation for its second half.
That pragmatic rationale explained but didn't necessarily justify this episode's significant lack of cohesion. On a more immediate level, this was essentially two half-episodes sandwiched together. The first half was a goofy cooldown at the school festival, and the second half was a melancholy seed-sowing of dramatic conflicts to come. On a general level, this episode reflected Sound! Euphonium 2's largest flaw: its lack of dramatic and thematic focus.
Sound! Euphonium's first season was at least as strong as the second when it came to character drama, but it married that character drama to an extremely focused narrative with clear goals and thematic through-lines. Kumiko's relationship with Reina was key to articulating the show's central obsession with self-expression and the desire to become a special person, and all of the side characters echoed those concepts in their own ways. But stories demand conflict, and this second season has essentially scrambled around for purpose, first finding some of it in the conflict between Yoroizuka and Nozomi, and now drawing Taki-sensei in with his pursuit of his wife's final dream. But because these are the conflicts necessitated by a second and third volume, they don't feel like an extension of the first season's characters or themes. Sound! Euphonium is in some ways a victim of its own success: just like how light novel-based shows often run out of gas after their first arc, Euphonium largely said what it wanted to say in the first season, and it's now inventing conflicts that don't naturally extend from the show's initial variables.
That said, Euphonium's execution is so good that it still generally manages to sell these minor dramas. I was perfectly comfortable seeing the main cast all goof around at the festival, which seemed like as an excuse to put Asuka, Kaori, and the rest in a variety of silly costumes. The only elements that didn't really work for me were the allusions to both Kumiko and Reina's ostensible love interests. On Kumiko's side, Shuichi has basically never been treated as a full character, so his minor moments seem more intended to stir up Reina's jealousy than introduce a meaningful dramatic thread. And on Reina's side, her schoolgirl crush on Taki-sensei remains as superficial as ever, making for a weird disconnect in her conversations with Kumiko. Reina and Kumiko's scenes together exude a chemistry and thoughtfulness of character acting that makes the inclusion of these other romantic non-starters seem as insincere as they are unnecessary.
This episode's utterly self-contained second half made for a sharp contrast with the first, as another argument between Kumiko and her sister led to Kumiko storming out and unexpectedly learning some key facts about Taki's wife. Kumiko's scenes with her sister have always managed to draw great emotional resonance out of very little material, and this one was no exception. Kumiko's anger at her sister dropping out of college was palpable; not only have we seen the imposing presence Kumiko's sister has always presented in her life, but with the regional victory behind her, it's easy to see how Kumiko would be confident in condemning her sister with Reina-style put-downs. Kumiko's relationship with Reina has changed her, but we don't always change in wholly positive ways. Reina is arrogant and quick to dismiss others, and it's understandable that Kumiko would wrap up her underlying insecurities in the proud confidence of the girl she admires.
The final material with Taki-sensei was reasonable enough, but again suffered from the more general issue of this show's adaptive structure. Taki's wife hasn't been an important figure for a season and a half, and introducing her final wish now felt like a very abrupt injection of bonus drama. Sound! Euphonium is an impressive production in many ways, but it can't escape the speed bumps inherent in its adaptive nature.
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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