by Nick Creamer,
SunFes is approaching, and the Kitauji band will have to get in marching shape if they want to avoid embarrassing themselves. This episode returned to the narrow focus and consistent moods of the first several, while still building off the ensemble storytelling the show has been carefully nurturing throughout. If one of fiction's greatest strengths is in transporting you to another world, then Kyoto Animation are clearly performing some noble work here - even when it comes to a simple fantasy like the experience of preparing for band performance, this studio always excels in the set design.
The first half of this episode built slowly through a long day of practice, shifting in tones and moods through music, pacing, and excellent shot framing. We began with some silly school-hour gags during the casts' routine health exams, where Kumiko once again fretted over her boobs while Hazuki got in some great faces showing off her lung capacity. Boob jokes couldn't be more stale, but even though these gags weren't great, they fit for Kumiko - she can often be somewhat shallow and insecure, and compares herself to those around her in all kinds of ways.
That segued into the band getting a lucky opportunity to practice on the school fields, which showed off Euphonium's purposeful framing on both the micro and macro levels. I've said before that Kyoto Animation excel in capturing tiny moments, and that was strongly on display here, with excellent character animation and body language demonstrating great personality in all the characters. Asuka in particular is one of the most visually expressive characters I've seen; even when she isn't actually speaking, her confident array of relaxed postures and dramatic gestures give her a very unique voice. The show's energetic shot transitions also kept energy high here, with quick cuts across the band helping to provide context and inherent humor to Kumiko's explanation of marching band logistics.
As practice wound to a close, the tone shifted, with a warm harmonica track offering an appropriate backing as the jokes and energy of the day faded into the sleepy goodbyes of early evening. The lighting really helped emphasize the emotional shifts of this transition - the heat of the afternoon was made tangible both by the character animation and the blurred light of the track, which made the shift to burnt orange and purple sky hit that much harder. And the transition to full night, as the girls sped home on their trains and said goodbye at their turnstiles, felt like a lived-in trudge home from a long day. The distant shots emphasized the sense of place, and the cut to Kumiko sighing so deeply she dropped her shoes helped to firmly anchor us in her sleepy but satisfied headspace.
Those shoes served as a kind of tonal transition, as Kumiko's relaxed slump was interrupted by the realization she was sharing the train with Kousaka. Their exit together once again emphasized the strength of KyoAni's quick cuts - though they're often used for humor, they were equally effective here, in offering a series of quick transitions that emphasized how aware Kumiko was of every step they shared in silence. As she attempted to broach conversation with Kousaka, the suburban background faded to an evocative blur, keeping the viewer's focus squarely on the distance between these two, emphasizing how their world had dwindled to just their shared walk. Kousaka finally broke through Kumiko's halting conversation with another tone-shift cut to a stomping shoe, asking what Kumiko thought of Taki-sensei - and though Kumiko thought she flubbed her response, Kousaka smiled and laughed, offering the episode's clear animation highlight. Conveying how one character can be truly dazzled by another often requires narration overtly explaining what a character feels, but when you have animation and shot framing this good, you can simply make the audience feel the moment. Kumiko was struck silent by Kousaka's laugh, but who wouldn't be?
From there, we jumped to the day of SunFes, with a transition from Kumiko's alarm to the grey near-dawn of morning setting the mood of the leadup to an early performance. Waiting for their turn to march on some distant track, the Kitauji team fretted over their competition, and Kumiko found herself talking with an old friend from middle school. Initially hesitant to say why she chose Kitauji, Kumiko was almost dragged into greeting all the rest of her old bandmates, before she finally put her foot down with a look back at Kousaka. Kumiko still has trouble expressing herself, but she's gaining strength from her new friends, and from Kousaka's strange, not-quite-understood approval. All Euphonium's minor characters got a moment or two in the lead-up to their march, which was announced by the one-two punch of Kousaka clearing the air with her horn and Taki-sensei getting in one final, inspiring speech. And then the students had their march, showing all the spectators what Kitauji are truly made of.
This episode was easily up to the standard of Euphonium's best, conveying more through transitions and framing than it did in overt dialogue and narration. There's a constant, powerful sense of tone and place in this show, with the mix of distant but richly detailed location shots and sharply observed body language consistently placing the viewer in the world. It's like a kind of music.
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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