by Nick Creamer,
I wasn't expecting to like this episode as much as I did. Instead of another ensemble piece, it was a very focused “character episode,” with Hazuki being the momentary star. And instead of leaning on Euphonium's gift for atmosphere, it was based heavily in KyoAni's classic comedy. And yet, in spite of leaning on totally different strengths and adopting a more traditional episodic frame, this one totally won me over. It was funny, endearing, full of nice character moments, and still firmly tied to Euphonium's ever-present themes.
We opened this week with Taki-sensei announcing that for the upcoming prefectural tournament, participation will be decided by auditions. No longer will the third-year students get to compete purely by seniority - Taki-sensei's aiming for nationals, and only the best will be riding with him. This isn't too much of an issue for Midori, who has no competition on contrabass, or Kumiko, who's been playing for seven years, but Hazuki's another story. Having only picked up the tuba at the beginning of the school year, she's still no more than a beginner, and as furious practice turns to frustration, the rest of this episode becomes a quest to keep Hazuki's spirits high as she fights her own musical failings.
Most of this episode was consumed by a lot of small sequences around the practice room, all of which had their own little gifts. Though I wasn't a big fan of Hazuki's fantasy of losing her spot to new color-coded Midoris, I liked how Asuka's manipulation once again worked on Hazuki, and particularly liked how true-to-life Hazuki attempting to rush through her practice part felt. There were many other great offhand gags here, from “Tubacabra: The Dismembering” through Nagase's not-so-inspiring blurbs on what makes the tuba so compelling. And the episode's best joke was easily the whole ridiculous Tuba-kun sequence, which made great use of both Kumiko's sarcasm and Midori's long-established love affair with the big tuba. All these jokes were fitting for an episode focused on one of Euphonium's sillier characters, and the show almost uniformly nailed the execution.
That's not to say everything in this episode was about Hazuki, though. One of the episode's most rewarding scenes focused on Kumiko and Kousaka, as Kumiko checked in to get Hazuki permission to borrow a soft instrument case. As Kousaka diligently marked down the checkout, Kumiko returned her “that's just like you” comment from the last week. “Payback?” Kousaka asked, and Kumiko replied with a “maybe” and one of the most shyly flirtatious looks any person could ever send another human being. The way anime often baits gay romance only to keep it at “just friends” makes me hesitant to assume these two will actually end up together, but the tonal writing is just absolutely on the wall at this point. And the animation seems to be rooting for them as much as anyone - Kumiko's look was one of the most fluidly executed pieces of movement so far, once again demonstrating that Kyoto Animation know when to lean entirely on the visual storytelling.
But let's get back to Hazuki. Beyond the jokes and classic “we need to inspire our friend!” structure, this episode also ended up reflecting sharply on the themes Euphonium keeps digging into. Asuka's suggestion this week to give Hazuki a simple piece to master rang directly back to last week's reflections on how people are inspired to try harder when they see results from their effort. And Hazuki made this point clear as she bitterly reflected on her past tennis failures, announcing how she wanted tuba to be the thing she was actually, meaningfully good at. People want to feel their time hasn't been wasted, and though sometimes this just comes down to heeding Taki-sensei's advice to put out an effort, sometimes effort also just isn't enough. Which brought the episode right to its conclusion, as Gotou finally gave voice to the truly important advice. “I've never liked playing tuba alone. But when we play together, in an ensemble, it becomes music. It becomes harmony. I can really tell I'm carrying the piece.” Just like how the second episode's stragglers made the characters feel like their time was being wasted, so too can camaraderie make your time feel like it was meaningful. Euphonium is an ensemble story, and it preaches ensemble action. And so the episode ends with our three friends playing together, practice and fellow dedication coming together to prove their time wasn't wasted, that they made something worth creating.
I don't think this episode was quite as visually compelling as the show's best, and I doubt every joke here will work for every viewer (at least one or two fell a little flat for me), but it was still a strong episode of an excellent show. Here at the halfway point, Euphonium continues to impress.
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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