by Nick Creamer,
“You sound great,” Yuuko tells her senpai Kaori. “Like the sound could resonate forever.” Very loaded words in the context of Euphonium, and particularly the context of this episode, the leadup to Kousaka and Kaori's repeat audition. In a show that consistently emphasizes how quickly time passes, how little we have, Kaori is fighting for her last chance to take the solo. Kousaka, on the other hand, is fighting to become special as quickly as possible, and because her pride can't allow anything less. And in between them, we have Yuuko and Kumiko, Asuka and Haruka, all with their own perspectives and roles to fulfill. This was a very good and very focused episode, and considering its tightly reined subject matter, it seems like it'd be best to take it a side at a time.
Kaori's position is more complex, given that not only is she being strung between two priorities (her personal desire to succeed and overriding loyalty to the band), she also has three separate “friends” vaguely supporting her. Yuuko essentially represents everything selfish in Kaori, as Yuuko herself possesses a “selfish selflessness.” Yuuko was initially inspired by how much Kaori sacrificed of herself for the band - as she tells Kousaka in a (successful) bid to shake her, Kaori's chances have been lost because she worked too hard to keep the band together, and was passed over for arbitrary reasons. But instead of respecting that selflessness, Yuuko takes it as a kind of “payment” that she should now be paid back for, in getting the solo she deserves. This lack of awareness and selfishness (not to harp too hard on Yuuko - she gets the ugly role here, but she's still a very understandable person) was made even more clear when contrasted against Natsuki. When Natsuki correctly diagnoses the problem, and tells her that her actions are only hurting Kaori and the band, Yuuko counters with “you didn't even make the audition” - a line that's a lot less cutting than Yuuko might hope, given that all it really demonstrates is that Natsuki is willing to help the band even when she doesn't directly benefit, and even when it isn't related to her own friends.
Asuka maintains her own kind of selfishness this episode, as she once again avoids actually committing to any allegiance, or making any personal sacrifice. Asuka will do the work, and she wants the band to succeed, but her loyalties essentially end there. She strikes me as the kind of person who has no close friends and no regrets about it; she has her work, that's enough. Her lack of support leaves the job of truly rooting for Kaori in Haruka's hands, as it's always been. I've mentioned before how much I like the friendship between these two, and their lines this episode demonstrated once again what a great pair they make. Haruka's advice to Kaori is “I hope you'll be satisfied” - not “I hope you win,” because both of them are too selfless and grounded for that, but rather “I hope you can leave this stage with no regrets.” That's the best any of them can truly hope for, and likely the advice that makes Kaori's final choice the easiest.
On Kousaka's side, her sole ally remains Kumiko, as always. Their scenes this week are ridiculously charged, to the point where it seems impossible to avoid addressing the elephant in the room - these scenes are framed as romance, not friendship, and they basically always have been. Kumiko's final pep talk to Reina, where she essentially demands Reina win and tells her she'd support her in exile (a need that clearly separates Reina from Asuka), is more emotionally charged than anything I've seen in this season's actual romances. And exchanges like “you won't abandon me?” “If I do, you can kill me.” “I'll actually kill you.” “This is a confession of love, after all.” don't really leave that much room for ambiguity. Yes, that calls back to Reina's line from episode eight, but that doesn't change the fact that this relationship is being consistently, deliberately framed in terms of passion and romantic love, not just camaraderie. Kyoto Animation are intentionally playing in romantic space here, and considering anime's overall lousy track record with gay romance ("we'll bait it, but always return to the status quo"), it seems like a dangerous game. If they're simply framing this material this way to make the fans go wild, they're only hurting their own story and characters.
Either way, Kumiko's declaration of loyalty gave Kousaka the encouragement she needed, and the competition played out as you'd expect. Kaori had a fine performance, Kousaka had a terrific one, and after the actual band refused to make a clear call, Taki made the obvious choice - letting Kaori decide. Knowing the band overall weren't supportive of Kousaka, he let Kaori's higher standard of loyalty prove itself one more time, in giving Kousaka the solo. Hopefully Kaori can leave the stage satisfied with that.
Beyond the great character work, this episode was also terrific in its visual execution. Wonderful use of light and shadow, some gorgeous outdoor scenes that made great use of a long sunset, more scenes that captured characters divided physically and emotionally in frame, more stellar animation and purposeful shot framing. Sound! Euphonium enters its final episodes having made virtually no missteps so far, and is currently one of the finest anime dramas I've seen. I hope it can stick the landing.
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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