Sound! Euphonium
Episode 8

by Nick Creamer,

“Why are you being so aggressive about this?” asks Hazuki. “Well, because all music begins with love!” Midori replies. Apparently Midori's got the right of it, because before we could move to the musical dramatics of the final audition, we had to spend a little time following our heroes through all manner of love-struck adventures. Big loves, small loves, unrequited loves, and even self-love were all on display this week, as the members of the orchestra club chose who would join them at the upcoming Agata Festival.

Reviewing an episode of Euphonium is always an exercise in subtraction; each episode is incredibly dense with small moments worth exploring, and I can only cover so much. For one thing, this episode's body language might have been the best the show's ever demonstrated, starting off right at the beginning, as Hazuki steepled her fingers and crossed her toes and generally dithered about regarding her feelings for Shuichi. Midori wasn't letting anyone get away with keeping their feelings locked up, though, as her rundown of the bass section's festival plans ended up also revealing that Riko and Goto really are dating. When asked about her own plans, Kumiko made the classic Kumiko move of listing reasons why she really shouldn't bother attending the festival, but sadly, her usual noncommittal attitude was not to be.

After school, in a scene that was perfectly set through natural sound effects and the absence of music, Shuichi finally mustered his courage and asked Kumiko to join him. Her response was perfectly Kumiko (“Huh? Why?”), and her later breakdown of the impromptu love triangle even better. To Kumiko, all of this is just an emotional hassle - she doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but she also just doesn't give a crap, and so when Shuichi once again broaches the topic, she deflects by saying she was planning to go with the nearest arm she can find - an arm that happens to belong to Reina Kousaka.

That sets up the actual dates for the second half, as Hazuki prepares for a date with Shuichi, Riko and Goto share an adorable moment, Kumiko lugs her euphonium towards the festival grounds, and the rest of our ensemble all enjoy the sights of the summer festival. We start off with a wonderful scene between Hazuki, Midori, and Midori's sister, one that really demonstrates this show's gift for naturalistic conversation. Hazuki is worried, and Midori is worried for her, but they chat as normal and Midori's sister helps give Hazuki the encouragement she needs. The friendships all feel real in this show, as do the characters. There's enough weight to their presence that even an isolated early scene of Asuka making a big theatrical display now carries significant baggage - because of last episode's events, we can no longer see her character the same way. People don't necessarily change in the big, flashing lights-styled Character Development Ahoy way, but as they come to know each other, we come to see the layers that make up their surface selves.

That unpacking was cast in full view in the second half's setpiece, as Kousaka and Kumiko enjoyed a not-quite-date wandering their way up the nearby mountainside. The subtlety of relational shifts across this whole sequence was a wonder to behold, as the two of them slowly became more and more comfortable communicating in sequences that went beyond even this show's usual high standard of dialogue and shot framing. The awkward half-flirting intensified (“I was just stunned by how cute you look,” “You know how you have a terrible personality?”), as Kumiko continued to drop her natural deadpan truths and Kousaka began to counter-fire with jabs about what she's already come to see about Kumiko's personality. The direction continued to alternately convey the distance and intimacy of their experience, with emotional shifts clear in shaking hands, averted eyes, and the space between them. And through Kousaka's rambling monologues, we learned a great deal more about her own character - that her passion isn't specifically for trumpet, but to be special in some way. That she sometimes thinks about just dumping her life and getting on a train, a variation on Euphonium's “make the most of each moment” theme that I doubt Taki-sensei would approve of. That she's definitely pretty vain, and that she knows this is a quality that she shares to some extent with Kumiko, because she's much better at watching people than actually talking to them.

Kousaka came to life in this sequence, and through her banter she brought Kumiko even further into the spotlight with her. Kumiko's snark is light and practical, Kousaka's pointed and proud, but in concert they play off each other beautifully. “This must be how it feels to lose your life, drawn to a beautiful thing despite your fears,” Kumiko thinks. As the purr of the fireflies dwindled into a swelling piano-and-string track, and the city lights spread out beneath them, that seemed almost like a choice worth making.

The ending was one of those magic moments worth building a whole series around. Having admitted all her dark secrets, that she really did think Kumiko was a jerk for her statement in middle school, that she's fascinated by her regardless, and that she thinks Kumiko can appreciate the selfishness in herself, Kousaka turns back to Kumiko, pressing a finger to her forehead. “Reina,” she says, and the wind takes her words. She drags her finger down Kumiko's lip, one more electrified gift of animation. “I want to become special. That's why I play the trumpet.” And so, as Hazuki holds strong until she can finally cry in Midori's arms, as the orchestra club enjoy the last fleeting moments of one more so-brief festival, the two of them play, retreading a piece heavy with old memories while creating a new one. Bright moments don't last forever. You have to hold them while you can.

Rating: A+

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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