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Sound! Euphonium 3
Episode 12

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 12 of
Sound! Euphonium 3 (TV 3) ?
Community score: 4.5

You didn't think it would be that easy, did you? This penultimate episode of Sound! Euphonium 3, indulges in one last set of those drama-wringing auditions, and by god, they will get the absolute most out of them. The revelation that Kumiko and Kuroe have both been chosen, necessitating a bonus tiebreaker round, comes so quickly in the announcements that it's as effectively chaotic for the audience taking it in as the band members in-story. It's an emotional whirlwind, and it sets the stage for these soloists and what might be the best episode of the season, possibly of the series, yet.

I have not read the original Sound! Euphonium novels, however, I have been aware that this anime season has been deviating from the source material in different ways. This episode represents the greatest instance of that, in Kumiko and Kuroe's extra audition round and its outcome. And it's amazing how natural the anime and its adaptational sensibilities make it feel to arrive at this newly arranged instance. If you'd asked me a few weeks ago, unaware of any differences here between the novel and anime, I'd have told you that this felt like the only place the story could arrive at, thematically. It's a closed circle of conceptual and characterful storytelling that goes back to the first season of Sound! Euphonium.

The extra bandmate-voted audition between Kumiko and Kuroe is naturally a return to the defining round that Reina won back in the first season. That's one thing that makes it so surprising to know as an anime-original invention since this is the kind of bookend it would feel the entire story is leading up to. But it's also natural as a creation for the animated, visual medium on account of its conditions. Kumiko requests a setup so that nobody can see who is playing between the two auditions, judging her and Kuroe by their sound alone. It's a tight enforcement of Kumiko's steadfast devotion to Kitauji as a meritocracy, but it's also a concept with layers of devious engagement for the anime to afford viewers. That is, the audience watching the show is also not told who is playing between each of the two audition performances. Here the anime drive dares viewers to not only consider who the better performer is based on ability but also to suss out who is who based only on the instrumental audio.

The writing lays this all out in the final conversational confrontation between Kumiko and Kuroe before they go on stage. Kumiko, thanks to Kanade's intervention, has finally come to understand what Kuroe's been trying to do this whole time and calls her rival out for succumbing to the same pitiable pratfalls other players have throughout the series. Kuroe, for her part, relates her backstory of previous audition trauma, and how her approach to dealing with it was defined by losing a friend in the affair compared to Kumiko's reconnection with Reina that was her difference-maker. Kuroe is just Nemesis Kumiko, it's an outlandish dramatic indulgence for a show about high school band competitions, and I wouldn't have it any other way. In this sharp call-out, Kumiko can draw some genuine emotional reactions out of Kuroe for once and notes the way her honesty is apparent when she's performing.

That sets the obscured stage for picking out who's who in the audition. The writing has laid bare the kinds of people that Kumiko and Kuroe are, and that should be apparent in their music alone—and it is. The second performer, to me, was recognizable as Kumiko when contrasted with Kuroe's opening performance. The anime, to its credit, makes that understandable even for those not well-versed in musical technicality itself. By hearing the auditioners perform alongside Reina, listeners can grasp just how much richer the conversation between her and the second performer—Kumiko—is than the first. Perhaps that initial Kuroe performance is of higher technical merit, but that just sets the contrasting clash for the fallout of the results.

Sound! Euphonium's direction is brutally effective this week in how it teases and toys with the multiple results announcements that drive this episode's drama. Yes, it's easy to guess that even the crowd-sourced class voting will come down to a Reina tiebreaker, but each second leading up to that decision feels like a calculated eternity. When she chooses the first performer, it's crushing at first because the viewers have correctly called that that's Kuroe, yet the pregnant pause before she steps forward feels like a moment of hope anyway. It makes the audience question if they misheard or misunderstood the performance itself. Would that be preferable to Kumiko losing? It's a conflict embodied in-character, in how Kanade is seen to vote for who she knows is Kumiko, disregarding her feelings on actual performance quality.

But of course, it's Reina's vote that the decision comes down to. It's the fulcrum that this adapted version of the story shatters around. It's a method of bringing everything back to Kumiko and Reina's promise from the first season, with Reina actually (metaphorically) having to call Kumiko's execution as a manner of moving forward. It's vicious, it's genius, and the string of incredulous expletives I let loose when she chose Kuroe needed to be heard to be believed. It's a gut-punch in the moment, but a moment after that it calcifies as the only clear choice, and even rings as an ultimate victory for Kumiko anyway, after a fashion. She ultimately didn't give into Kuroe's emotional manipulations, beating her at her own game by forcing her to win. Apart from musical ability, Kumiko proves herself a true leader in this instance, standing by her meritocratic decisions, and declaring that to the rest of the band to the end. Maybe she has finally grown up.

Of course, it still couldn't be that easy. Sound! Euphonium still has room for more full-circle feelings, so after the audition, this episode also sees fit to recreate Reina and Kumiko's legendary date night from the first season's (in)famous eighth episode. Again, it's the sort of thing that feels like what this story was always leading up to. Reina has brutalized her own emotions with her decision, and dang if it doesn't work to get the audience choked up too. The reverberant irony then is that this all solidifies that Reina and Kumiko do have a bond beyond playing music together, which could only be confirmed when that latter aspect was so soundly shattered. Kumiko could hold her anguish together around everyone else she conversed with about the subject, even turning the tables on Reina's resilience for a moment. But her frustrations must come out, and just as her honesty could be heard in her audition performance alongside Reina, her ugly-crying regrets pour out atop the mountain with her. It's lavishly rendered by everyone from Kyoto Animation's artists to Tomoyo Kurosawa's vocal performance. It is exquisitely a climax of everything the Sound! Euphonium anime has been building to and deserved the deviations it took from the source novels in getting there. It couldn't, and shouldn't, have turned out any other way.


Sound! Euphonium 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Chris was in drama rather than band in high school, but he presumes the dynamics were similar. You can catch what he's conducting over on Twitter, or push your way into the orchestra pit that is his blog.

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