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12 days of anime #4 – Only now does she understand [Hibike Euphonium]

22.12.2015

HE 12 - to the moon

I haven’t done with Hibike Euphonium yet. This spring season I diligently wrote episodic reviews for the series. The main character Kumiko was listed as my favourite anime character of all time. Then this title was mentioned again a few days ago in another 12 days of anime post. I can’t help blabbering about Hibike Euphonium. I love it.

Compared to Shirobako, although not as relatable now due to its school setting, and not as accessible due to parts of its music edutainment, Hibike Euphonium sets off a relationship that melts my heart. Not only do Reina and Kumiko have good chemistry, the development of their connection determines the development of their characters, particularly Kumiko. Ever since the beginning, a string of fate has continuously drawn Kumiko to Reina – the source of attraction: Kumiko’s trying to apologize for something trivial back in middle school, awkwardly striking up a conversation, looking up to Reina, sticking with Reina, supporting Reina even if that means she has to pull herself away from the good old comfort zone, etc. until that one moment on the bridge where Kumiko bursts out into tears. The moment is spectacular in the respects of animation, emotion and thematic development.

HE 12 - bridge scene

Though many other bloggers have sung the praises this “bridge scene” deserves, there’s one aspect I want to reiterate: more than conveying the anguish of being weak and insufficient, the brief moment brings Kumiko even closer to Reina and raises her to a higher stage of acceptance. The tears serve as an anchor for Kumiko to realise that, this is the answer she’s been seeking all along, ever since that time she infuriated Reina in middle school. The answer to that burning question: Why did Reina cry?

I myself am too familiar with this. A lot of my high school time was spent being in awe of talented kids around my age. I tried to gather as much information about them, went as far as clicking through their blogs or forum posts and furtively observing them in class (if they were classmates). Their world was mysterious. What possible force had motivated them to be so sensitive about pursuing a habit, an aim or a dream? Why all the fuss about angst? What was even the point?

I was curious about these kinds of people. Certainly I had things that I liked, but being a normal person, a face in the crowd, was much more tempting. I wanted security, but still I couldn’t help peeping at my friends’ misery. I was like Kumiko. In fact, should I line up all my favourite characters to evaluate how much I resonate with them, I would point to Kumiko and say “this is me”.

HE 01 - dumb kumiko

The above picture of the middle-school Kumiko speaks for her dumbness and nonchalance, almost without empathy for the crying friend standing next to her, but you know what, her eyes were fixated on Reina. Why should people cry because they can’t win? What meaning do they assign to such a prize? In Hibike Euphonium, Kumiko started out cool and detached – as Hazuki puts it. Or as another comment from Reina, Kumiko has a good-girl face. With all the nice traits including being quiet, sociable and sensible, she blends in perfectly with the crowd, knowing clearly what stands out and trying to stay away from it.

But then there’s the undeniable attraction to Reina that keeps Kumiko lingering at the boundary of her comfort. When episode 8 magically gives those two a chance to talk and make a short trip together, the situation takes a new turn. Little by little, she adjusts herself in order to be on par with her new dear friend, thereby that distant skin is slowly peeled off.

It is not all joyful and fun. To the contrary, it is painful, for Kumiko has kept a blind eye for so long. For years, this girl has practiced the euphonium half-heartedly due to the decision not to take sides, whether it is to study industriously for university and give up music, or give no damn about people’s opinions and learn music like crazy. She wants it balanced, even if that means to be dull.

The balanced and dull life has been okay thus far. Then the time comes and that same person wants to be committed in something. Commitment is accompanied by consciousness afterwards. Kumiko realises she is incredibly flawed, limited, inadequate, mediocre, naïve. It never mattered before. Now it hurts.

HE 12 - Kumiko best girl

Suddenly her mind was brought back to the scene with Reina just one year ago. Is that it? Is that how it felt like? Are these the mysterious tears Kumiko has long wondered?

The relationship between Kumiko and Reina is not only about talking, touching or hugging , it also concerns their ceaseless search for the feelings and thinking of the other. In that moment of realisation, Kumiko gradually lifts her heart, tears still falling down her cheeks. Realisation doesn’t erase the self-hatred. The feeling is tormenting, yet it is what she wants, what she seeks and what she earns.

With that powerful moment, the distance between Kumiko and Reina is bridged even more. But perhaps it was not close enough so Kyoto Animation decides to fix their mistakes by producing another season of Hibike Euphonium. Though I do wonder if these two girls can get any closer, I happily awaits the studio next effort in powering up their yuri level.

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