Sound! Euphonium 2: Episode 9 — Kumiko The Visual Novel Protagonist

Don’t you love how someone can do so little and yet be involved in so much thanks to saying the exact right thing at the exact right time? Clearly I’m doing something wrong in my life.

When I finished Euphonium 2’s ninth episode, I realized that it was mostly just little girls conversing with each other for half an hour, and yet I was never bored the entire way through. Why is that? Well dialogue is a pretty subjective thing, but if I had to summarize what I consider to be good writing, it would be words that actually push things forward whilst fitting the goals of the story. Oh, and said goals have to at least be satisfactorily ambitious, which is pretty much the difference between Pixar and almost every other western animated studio out there, even if you exclude all the Dreamworks films that are layered with cynical pop culture references. That’s actually a pretty important rule that supersedes the quality of the actual lines when writing fiction. Yes, Euphonium’s dialogue is naturalistic with almost no attempts to be cutesy (although the yuri-ish dialogue that Reina spouts in regards to Kumiko borders on pretentiously theatrical) or meta like the majority of today’s anime, and it helps that when the characters are stuck in a crap situation, they have enough self-awareness to recognize it whilst acknowledging their limits. But that doesn’t automatically make it good. John Hughes made a living in the 80s representing the youth of that decade in his films, and his dialogue is stuff an adult looking back on his teens would say rather than an actual teen would say.

No, what makes Euphonium’s dialogue engaging is that everything from the actual writing to the framing when said dialogue is delivered is still focused on Asuka’s dramatic storyline of being unable to stay in band and the fallout that’s occurred from it, whilst pushing forward a few less pressing subplots in the process (seriously, does anyone really care about Reina’s crush on Taki-sensei at this point?). Even when the girls talk about everyday stuff like their shoes and what kind of mood that Asuka’s mother likes, there’s a constant sense of depression hanging over these shenanigans that gives them a certain sense of weight. It’s obviously not on the level of when Haibane Renmei does the whole “girls talking” thing because most people would agree that religious metaphors triumph over uncertain family issues that threaten a school club’s performance, but my point is that even when it seems to be indulging in the mundane, Euphonium actually understands the importance behind words. Time, place, tone, moment…these are all very important factors to take into consideration when judging the stuff, and I think a lot of people misunderstand the art when they praise it, let alone criticize it.

Take for example, the discussion Kumiko had with her bandmates this week regarding how she’s always the catalyst in regards to solving all the dramatic problems that seem to crop up, even though she contributes just as much as (and arguably even less than) your average visual novel protagonist. Kumiko herself seems to share my opinion that she doesn’t really do jack, only just being there by very circumstantial situations, and at most only functioning as a convenient outlet for people to pour their problems on rather than an actual participant. I mean how can she be an actual participant in all this drama when she wasn’t even around when the characters were going through the harsh shit that originally formed it, y’know? What prevents this exchange from being obnoxiously meta or falling into that “yes we know we suck, and that automatically excuses us” bullshit philosophy is that rather than cry about her position in life or react to it like she’s on a Japanese game show, Kumiko shares my view in a mild confrontational way, only for the other characters to respond in a soft confrontational way how that’s not strictly true. Even if I don’t quite agree with the latter, the fact of the matter is that Asuka’s best friend as of this point is Kumiko, and not just because they both play the euphonium. The way the characters point out these simple facts to support their opinion without turning it into a joke AND making it relevant to the upcoming Asuka drama is definitely one of the show’s best usage of character interactions.

There is humor thrown into these conversations so that they’re not completely “serious business”, but it’s always appropriate given the situation and – most important of all – doesn’t get in the way of the story. One of the reasons why I can’t take March Comes Like a Lion seriously is that it’s always unsure whether it wants to be grounded ala this show or theatrically off-the-wall ala Yuri on Ice, causing me to think that I’m watching two different shows to the point of whiplash. I mean how does comical dialogue regarding how hot a guy is fit in a show about a guy who monologues about how sucky life can be? Whenever Euphonium throws in humor, it’s always low-key so as to not take away from the fact that I’m still watching something that’s ultimately a drama. Like when this week had Natsuki avoid Kumiko’s eyes when telling her what to do with “confidence”. Or when Asuka makes another one of her wisecracks to avoid having to reveal how she truly feels about her situation. Or Kumiko’s reaction when she’s told some shocking news. Even if you don’t think they’re funny, the jokes have enough purpose behind them so you’re not frustrated. At least, not moreso than with Kumiko’s narration, which is a bit too iffy to really discuss in writing alone, but I think it’s mostly worked fine since the beginning of this series.

But where the show truly understands the importance of dialogue is when it knows to have no dialogue at all. The episode ends with Asuka playing her euphonium over the end credits with no voiceovers whatsoever for the remaining two minutes. In other words, it understands there’s a time and place for talking, unlike a certain show that people praise for its direction despite me thinking it’s nauseating. It was a beautiful scene too.

As for the actual plot movement that all this “good dialogue” is working towards, we finally learn why Asuka is so determined to stay in band this week, and while it’s not the most original of reasons, it’s a pretty solid one all things considering. Turns out her father – whom she never met given how her parents divorced when she was only two years old – is a famous euphonist who wrote a beginner’s music book that Kumiko has also read. Not only that, but he’s actually going to be a judge in the Nationals, and Asuka really wants to see what he thinks of her own skills that she’s been polishing since she was in the first grade. Unfortunately, her mother has never approved of Asuka indulging in the same activities as her ex-husband, and now that all this playing is (presumably) getting in the way of Asuka’s grades, she’s putting her foot down in regards to her daughter’s future. Kinda reminds me of the abusive mother in ERASED except toned down and easier to take seriously.

But as much as we want to say the mother is evil – not helped by the fact that Asuka appears to loathe her for her actions – there’s no getting around the fact that Asuka’s mother is the one in charge of her, and there’s also no getting around the fact how important an education actually is in Japan. There aren’t exactly as many second-chances as there are in America in terms of starting anew after being thrown off a high ledge, and very few of us can build back our lives the way Shun Akiyama did in those Yakuza games. Plus, whilst the father angle brings a great deal of weight that we need to sympathize with Asuka’s plight in regards to favoring music over studies, any sane person would still pick the latter in the end because there are other options/opportunities Asuka can use right now, let alone in the future, in regards to bonding with the dad she never knew. Yeah they won’t be as impactful or convenient as introducing yourself to him in a National competition, but we can’t always get what we want, and no good father would want their child to jeopardize their future in order to meet them as is.

It would really be powerful if Asuka ended up not going to the Nationals in the end, surrendering her spotlight to Natsuki or whoever whilst finding another less impressive way to show her father what’s what. After all this is Euphonium, a show that shines best when you can only do what you can, even if it’s not necessarily what you want. That’s still a very strong message to teach kids and adults, plus it allows both parties to grow without damaging them for life, giving us all that character development you guys love in a way that I love. But who knows if this arc will lead to that or whether it’ll even have time to develop that conclusion properly given how we still have to deal with Kumiko’s sister and such in the meantime? I haven’t exactly forgotten how the last arc kind of deflated at the home stretch, guys.

Well either way, I’ll definitely be sticking around to find out.

Minor Quips

  • So glad the Winter uniforms are back. Personally, I think its makes the girls look more mature.
  • How many of you guys can identify what I’m referencing with the subtitle this week?
  • Feel free to debate whether dialogue and all the elements I ascribe to its importance like tone and such are mutually exclusive.

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