Sound! Euphonium Episode 9
by Nick Creamer,
Things settled down a bit this episode, as in the aftermath of last week's emotional peaks the characters reaffirmed their existing friendships and prepared for auditions. This made for another somewhat less strong episode, as it was once again more a collection of scenes than a cohesive whole, but many of those scenes were very good. The episode was two halves swinging on a focus-dividing hinge, with each of those halves emphasizing one of Euphonium's twin priorities - friendly camaraderie and personal triumph.
In the first half, Midori was feeling down, blaming herself for getting Hazuki's romantic hopes up. This unhappiness reflected itself in her music, as the character emotions always do, and Asuka called her out on this. After requesting Midori leave the room, Asuka got the truth out of Hazuki and Kumiko, which caused her to declare “I don't have time to put up with kids who don't practice because they have issues” and stomp on out of the room. It was nice to see the personality issues that were alluded to in episode seven once more come into focus here. Though Asuka is a dynamic and capable person, she refuses to take any responsibility for the people she works with, making her a lousy leader and fair-weather friend. Euphonium is doing an excellent job of respecting the individual quirks of all of its characters, be they positive or negative ones.
In sharp contrast to Asuka, Hazuki proved herself an excellent friend this week, following up that scene with a plea for Midori to stop beating herself up. Friendship is a key refrain in this show, and this episode in particular emphasized the bonds between all these characters. Hazuki and Midori exchanging keychains, Kumiko attempting to provide emotional support for everyone, and, in the episode's best scene, Kaori and Haruka sharing thoughts on the contest to come.
That scene formed the centerpiece of this episode, as Haruka happened upon Kaori practicing in Kousaka's favored spot. Stopping to acknowledge her friend, Kaori reflected on how before now, she'd mainly been concerned with playing well enough to keep the group from falling apart. But now, in her third year, she wanted to play for herself - like Kousaka, she wanted to express herself through the solo. Smiling at this, Haruka replied that in that case, if Kaori lost, Haruka would buy her potatoes - so she better not lose. This scene held a perfect natural interplay of the desire to shine for yourself and the feeling of duty towards your teammates, which itself was really a reflection of personal friendship like Haruka's here. There's a tension between the selfish and selfless desires inherent in group performance, but your individual desire and your desire to help your friends also play off each other, and both raise you higher for it.
From there, the episode moved swiftly towards the auditions, as all the various characters got in some final practice before their evaluation. Kousaka attempting to force Kumiko into fighting shape in her own weird, demanding way was a nice scene, but the highlight here was the execution of Kumiko's performance. Shots were framed either from behind Kumiko's eyes, over her shoulders in a way that emphasized the vast, empty room, or tight on her face and fingers as she fought through the performance. Background music was absent, the only sounds being her short exchanges with Taki-sensei and the noise of her own euphonium. And then, after briefly panicking, Kumiko remembered Reina's encouragement. Her eyes softened, the camera pulled back, and a light piano track began as we viewed the audition from outside the window, as if Kumiko were peacefully watching herself go through the motions of her performance. An excellent portrayal of both the anxiety and freedom of performance.
The verdicts came down about as you'd expect, with Kumiko and Midori making it, Hazuki unsurprisingly failing, and Natsuki sadly not making the cut. As the final stinger, we learn Kousaka has earned the trumpet solo, earning herself even more dagger-stares from Kaori's admirers. Friendship is great and all, but Kousaka wants to be special.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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