And how much yuri can this show cram in?
I have a friend who hasn’t been acting quite as excited for this season of Euphonium as most fans of the first season have been – although keep in mind he also thought the new Berserk was good, so it’s obvious we have different priorities. Haven’t checked if it’s a common reason amongst the fanbase, but apparently he has the same problem I have with the new Natsume in that while everything is well-executed for the most part, this new Eupho feels the same as the first season. And while I personally think it’s been an improvement for the most part since the characters have been using what they learned from last season to increase their training regimens while delving deeper into the motivations of the second/third-years (which I thought we only got one side of the story to), last week’s episode basically halted a lot of that potential before it could get fully developed and this latest episode made me go “wait a second, haven’t I seen this before?”, so it looks like I’m going to have to admit that Eupho’s return isn’t above a bit of recycling. Or to be more accurate, its separate arcs follow a strict formula that paid off well in the second half of the first season but faltered a bit when it came to the first “almost-half” of this one.
Now before I go on, I don’t want people to get the idea that just because I rag on a show means I automatically don’t like it (hi there Mob Psycho 100 review commenters). Sound Euphonium is a good anime. Much more watchable than practically every other show this season given how it’s the only one that seems to have substance (and of those, the only one that seems to know a thing or two about tone and momentum). Probably the best anime of the year, although we’ll have to see what the future brings to be sure. But I’m not going to turn a blind eye to a show’s faults just because I enjoy it. There are plenty of other bloggers that already do that or just give ’em a token acknowledgment when they happen like how Bobduh dedicates only one or two sentences to March Comes Like a Lion’s distracting humor unless it really annoys him like it did last Saturday (personally I thought it was better than Episode 2, but that’s neither here nor there). If that’s the only kind of anime writing you enjoy, then you’re at the wrong web address.
So let’s get the praise out of the way first. Yes, the latest episode got me fucking excited. Thanks to following these characters and the long hours they put into getting read for the Kanto competition, I enjoyed seeing their preparations, I enjoyed seeing their eight-minute long performance, I enjoyed seeing their happy faces when they ended up qualifying for the Nationals, and I kinda laughed at the huge amount of yuri that was on display in the last minute or so before this week’s episode left everyone speechless. The production put into this thing was beautiful and consistent, a stark contrast to the latest Yuri on Ice!! episode which in addition to its usual mode of not shutting up while characters are performing, went through a bunch of derpy faces and choppy transitions during the qualifying rounds. I thought Mappa anime go through noticeable production issues during the downtime segments of their shows. Not the moments that actually matter.
Now here comes the negatives: as beautiful as this episode was, there’s no getting around the fact that this is the same performance as last season’s finale only longer, more detail put into portraying the character’s actions, and with barely any interruptions from other characters overhearing their performance outside the concert hall (and no internal monologues, but there weren’t any in the first season’s performance either). The only real difference is that this time, some of the characters flashback to the people who motivate them to succeed whilst performing. It’s the same music, the same characters playing the same instruments except I actually notice Mizore this time, and I’m pretty sure they reused some of the same scenes from last season’s concert (and if they didn’t, they’re too similar to the point that I couldn’t tell). Yes it makes sense that that would be the case because orchestras don’t change the pieces they do in-between competitions, let alone in a matter of months, and one of the big points of the last few episodes was how hard the characters worked to make sure that they put on a performance good enough to have Kitauji represent the Kanto region in the Nationals. But obviously, you can’t just put realism in your story and expect it to carry the entire thing by itself unless your name is Richard Linklater, so you got to have something else to alleviate the repetition. As such, Euphonium needs to rely on its character drama, but as we established last week, it dropped the ball at a critical moment. Thus whilst I was soaking myself in the atmosphere, I kept thinking “man, I’d enjoy this episode a lot more if the preceding drama had actually stuck the landing”.
When Mizore showed up at the end of this episode in order to conclude her “arc”, some of my excitement dropped off instantly. Seriously, all that talk about why competitions exist and she suddenly turns around after making up with her friend helping her school get into the big leagues? As I said before, why did we end this arc on fucking Mizore? Last I checked, the show started off with Nozumi and spent most of the behind-the-scenes drama on why she couldn’t come back. Mizore barely showed up until the very end, when the creators revealed she was the main reason why Nozumi’s return was impossible, as well as became confused regarding who the focus character was supposed to be. And to top it all off, the lesson that Mizore learns from all this isn’t very interesting.
Oh it’s possible to make “play for yourself above all else” interesting, but the show neither went with my scenario or came up with a direction that was as equally compelling. You know what made Kumiko’s discovery that you can get emotional over music even if there’s nothing life-changing at stake intriguing to watch in the first season’s penultimate episode? It was because she slowly came to that realization by observing way more interesting characters go through their own arcs regarding what music means to them, and how weak she was in comparison. That she wants to get better due to her own personal greed, and that it’s okay to feel said greed because everybody has it when it comes to the activities they do. The only spice Mizore got was her friendship with Yuko (which we saw no evidence of beforehand, causing it to ring a bit shallow) and that twist regarding how she didn’t notice that Nozumi had left until it was too late because of how busy she was combined with how many friends Nozumi has in general. That may seem stupid, but trust me when I say that’s an actual thing that happens. Unfortunately, Euphonium spent like a minute on that angle before saying everything was alright, so nuts to that.
Basically, Mizore has officially replaced Hazuki as worst girl of this series, so ending an arc on her was pretty goddamn lame. At least Hazuki’s mini-arc regarding her crush on Kumiko’s childhood friend that no one remembers the name of was executed well (and the bonus OVA was of similar quality).
Now that that complaint is out of the way, let’s look at the bigger picture we have to consider as we move forward. While it’s questionable how their Nationals debut will turn out, there was absolutely no way Kitauji High School wouldn’t be going at this point in the story, so there’s a limit to how much tension I could actually feel for their Kanto Regionals performance. Also, now that the show has done the beautifully animated, no-dialogue, meticulously detailed concert scene climax twice with the second one achieving near perfection, there’s not a whole lot higher you go when it comes time for the grand finale, especially not with the same music. I’ve been to my brother’s concerts and I remember that they played more than just that Pirates of the Caribbean theme in each one. You could at least fit in one new musical piece between now and the finale, assuming that’s what the show ends on.
Also, I’m pretty sure that after the third time this has happen, we’re used to Euphonium’s arc-based structure by now. The band improves through Taki-sensei’s rigorous drills whilst using the personal drama from one or several band members as a crux in order to elevate the material above just cute girls getting good whilst acknowledging how tough the going will be. Because whilst it’s nice to see a show depict all the sweat put into this club activity as well as the greed these girls have in terms of climbing to the very top, that’s going to mean jack if the characters don’t face adversity that’s personal to them in the process. The first arc suffered a bit in that regards because it was setting the stage for what was to come and was more focused on the band as a whole rather than individual characters. The second arc was when individual band members started splitting into their own groups and the show got alot better because of it. This third arc does the same and maintained good quality throughout, but it ended up sidewinding itself at the last minute. And of course, Kumiko is mostly just an observer to what’s happening rather than an actual participant. She’s like a female Nick Carraway, although don’t ask me who her Jordan Baker would be.
It’s obvious that the next arc or two will follow the same formula and whether it succeeds or not depends on the quality of the drama. Also, it’s clear that both Taki-sensei and Asuka will be the focus from here on out, and whilst that’s promising given that they’re two of the more interesting characters, that doesn’t automatically mean their stories will be good. First off, I don’t want them to prove my friend right and just rehash the same conflicts that the last few arcs had. Nothing hurts a show more than disinterest because you’re giving nothing new, which even the best of anime can’t avoid (Mushishi for instance), so Eupho runs that risks as well. But at the same time, I don’t want them to lose what I love the most about this show’s drama: the compromising. The hard choices the characters have to make between their own pride and what’s right for everyone else, although something tells me in Asuka’s case, it’s going to be a little more complicated than that. Either way, I’ll leave it up to the producers to decide how they want to go about it because an anime is only really good at the end of the day when it gives you something you didn’t know you wanted. Just hope this latest arc wasn’t a sign that it’s all downhill from here.
Finally, whilst I could care less about the other two supposed leads, Kumiko and Reina are going to have to take the spotlight again sometime. I understand the show doesn’t have enough material to pull off their good moments constantly and they’re learning lessons through the others’ experiences, but if Euphonium waits too long, we’re going to have another Mizore-like situation with them when they’re expected to close this installment’s run, and one is bad enough. This anime really started off with a bang far beyond my expectations when it came back. And there’s nothing more disappointing than finding out that bang was actually the show peaking way too early.
- Knowing this show, Kumiko and Reina will probably get focus tomorrow before we switch to another character.
- Since I’m pretty much blogging this show episodically, I might as well just go with a more formal title for the few people who still use Anime Nano.
- So between this show and Yuri on Ice!!, which is gayer?