by Nick Creamer,
Can you give of yourself for the good of the band? Who are you actually playing for? If it came to your own comfort and glory or your friends' happiness, what choice would you make?
Much of the band was forced to reckon with their fundamental nature this week, as the group fell into squabbling in the wake of last week's auditions. We opened with a scene that offered a fine preview of the drama to come, as Kumiko finally revealed the entirety of her painful middle school flashback. Apparently, one of her old bandmates blamed Kumiko for her own failure to get into the concert group, saying that “if you weren't here, I could have played at the competition.” This moment offered new insight into Kumiko's actions; it's clear that she was shaken by this confrontation, and that in its aftermath, she'd likely have felt insecure about striving for her own personal success if it meant stepping over others. Kumiko's insecurities make her even more of a well-chosen viewpoint character for this show; as she struggles to both realize and pursue what she really wants, all of those around her slowly reveal their own answers to that same question.
Natsuki's answer came in the next sequence, as she took Kumiko out for smoothies and bluntly admitted, “man, I bombed the audition.” Seeing Kumiko start at this, she prodded her until Kumiko admitted to feeling awkward about beating her after she tried so hard. “You won because you're capable, Oumae-san,” Natsuki insisted. Then she asked for Kumiko's sheet music, writing a few words of encouragement and an upbeat “let's play together next year!” In contrast to the more solo-oriented characters, Natsuki here was pure friendly selflessness, lifting Kumiko up even though she herself doesn't get to share in their victory. The execution was as good as the message, with Natsuki being brought to life through wonderfully acute character animation and the cuts to Kumiko's final breakdown being evocatively portrayed through alternate shots of Natsuki looking away and increasing closeups on Kumiko's tears. This scene was utterly charming.
The opposite was true of the next sequence, as Yuuko began to play out her vendetta against Kousaka. In a scene deliberately framed as an inversion of the last, Yuuko challenged Kaori on what she really wanted, expressing a love for her classmate that clearly wasn't intended to help the group overall. In spite of Kaori telling her that they all had to work together, Yuuko dropped a bombshell at the next practice, revealing that Kousaka had known Taki-sensei since middle school, and thus her results in the audition were suspect. After holding briefly holding her peace, Kousaka snapped back at Yuuko, saying that “you know why I was chosen. It's because I'm better than Kaori-senpai. If you're going to complain, do it when you've surpassed me.”
Kousaka comes off as haughty and proud because she retains her distance from the other students, but the real truth is… that everyone's actually right about her. She is haughty and proud. She does think she's better than everyone. She's full of self-confidence and determined to prove herself; her attitude puts her closest to Asuka of all the students, but unlike Asuka, she can't pretend to be friendly, and so she simply bottles her true self up. That true self came roaring back in the next scene, as Kumiko followed her out of the classroom and Kousaka finally let herself rage about how much she hates Yuuko. The Kousaka we got to see in episode eight is a compelling character, but not a particularly nice once, and far from a team player. She's an angry, arrogant teenager. She wants the solo part. She wants Taki-sensei. She wants to win.
The rest of the episode essentially shook the characters' shoulders, demanding each of them say what they want as well. The natural stressing of characters we've already come to know offered resonant elaboration of that central debate, pitting the self against the group in all of the band's leaders. Asuka wants the band to play, but isn't so strong that she's willing to fight for it, or move outside of herself. Kaori wants the solo part, even if she's not willing to admit that to herself. And Haruka…
Haruka's tired of this. This job is stressful, and she's not the right person for it, but somebody needs to do something. Haruka swallows her anxieties, steps in front of the band, and lays it all out. “If you still have a problem, don't whisper it behind our backs,” she says. She puts the band's feelings to a vote, and when Taki-sensei returns, he echoes her blunt approach, saying that anyone who wants a second audition can get one - but this time, the whole band will be watching. They work together, they fight together, they decide together; and that's apparently fine with Kaori, who volunteers to fight for her solo once more. Kousaka's words were proud and unfair, but they were also a little true; you can get away with a little selfishness, as long as you're the best. Fortunately for these selfish girls, the rest of the band has enough real strength to hold together with them.
Sound! Euphonium is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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