Granted it’s not painted as idealistically as this show does it, but no fictional product can truly capture real life, now can it?
Just so you know, I’m not going to give Euphonium 2 a full review because I think I’ve pretty much covered everything I liked and didn’t like about its return through all the posts I wrote on it, and trying to sum it all up in 1500-2000 words just leaves me with a lot of disjointed tangents. The series as a whole has been good, but like pretty much every anime sequel ever (Haikyuu, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Shokugeki no Soma have also recently suffered from similar problems when they returned just this year), it lacks the freshness of the original, and its attempts to continue from what was ultimately a self-contained story has caused the steam that initially propelled the anime to run low. Nothing on Psycho-Pass’s level of course, but let’s just say I’d rather KyoAni move on to that sure-to-be awful dragon show next Winter than try to adapt any of those spinoff novels that recently got published. Because the quickest way to spoil your appetite is to continue eating the same thing with a new coat of paint every year, and I have it on good authority that paint can actually poison the human body.
But I digress. I got to rewatching my Euphonium S1 blu-rays prior to the finale being released and while I think S2’s execution has been better overall due to its constant dramatic tone and quick introduction of hooks – whereas the first season made you slog through the girls getting excited about music for two-and-a-half episodes before they started making the whole “let’s go to the Nationals” deal feel important, and it wasn’t until the second half when the consequences of the characters’ choices started truly hitting – there’s no getting around the fact that when S1 did dip into dramatic territory, it was of higher quality than most of S2’s arcs. Part of that has to do with how a lot of S2’s drama is mostly an extension of stuff that the first season has covered, but my main problem with it has been how quick and easy the resolutions tended to be after some generally strong buildup. I mean a simple miscommunication revolving around a character that barely had any focus until the revelation? Asuka already having a plan to rejoin the club beforehand without us actually seeing how her mother felt about it? Yeah, that’s just anticlimactic to me.
Fortunately, these last three episodes did bring back the bittersweet compromises/resolutions that I loved so much about the first season’s drama, although not without some contingencies of their own. I mean one of the main reasons I stopped blogging Euphonium weekly starting on Episode 11 – besides real life getting in the way of course – was because I didn’t really have much to say about it besides “Reina gets resolve that goes beyond her crush”. That itself was nice to see, and it was also cool to see the characters acknowledging what they’ve learned from the previous arcs, but my main problem with the episode was that it was mostly just resolving loose threads before the final play at the Nationals without pushing much forward. One other problem with Euphonium’s drama is that it’s mostly just a series of events loosely tied by the characters wanting to do well in the Nationals and Kumiko just being there – which the show does eventually acknowledge, but that doesn’t really change how the main narrative propelling these events could have been better. Whenever I write about something, I prefer to pick one main focus and build off from there, and Episode 11 didn’t really give me too much of that in either a good or a bad way.
Thankfully, Episode 12 was pretty good in a way I could have written about if it wasn’t for the holiday season. I liked how it skipped the band playing in the Nationals since at this point in Euphonium’s lifetime there’s not really any need to show that, and I liked how it ended with Kitauji winning the bronze rather than silver or gold. This show isn’t Ping Pong: The Animation or anything, but I enjoy when these sort of competition anime understand the meaning of restraint and that every other school in Japan probably went through the same, if not harsher, training to impress the judges. After all, it’s supposed to be the actual journey and what these girls (and technically the guys) have learned from it. Asuka learning that people will support her even through her selfishness, Haruka moving out of Asuka’s shadow, Yuko learning to be less of a bitch, Mizore…actually she didn’t really learn anything important so fuck her, and the band as a whole learning that they have the potential to make it truly big, but it’s going to be a hard road, and you’re competing with a bunch of other potentials in the process. This what really matters in a competition narrative, and after a few missed opportunities, it’s good to see Euphonium bring back the bittersweetness at its most important moment.
Plus, I think the fallout after such results is a better main thread to build all the happier resolutions around like Kumiko’s older sister going to the nationals, Reina once again failing to get her feelings out, and Asuka getting acknowledged by her father. It would have been near perfect for a finale if it wasn’t for how there’s still one more episode left, and that winter scene from the first episode hadn’t been addressed yet. So did the actual finale end the show on a strong note?
Surprisingly yes. The episode’s title billed itself as an epilogue, so I thought we were going to some Return of the King-style ending with one last performance thrown in to make up for how Episode 12 didn’t have one. And while it started off that way what with the new officers being chosen and Kumiko basically talking to her friends in order to reaffirm the future, the finale ended up being even stronger than the first season’s thanks in part to two major things: the performances meant to send off the third-years as they head for college (complete with finally incorporating the music from the first trailer into the show), and the decision to end Kumiko’s story by reflecting on her relationship with Asuka. The former, in addition to being just good music in general, was a clever way to reflect on everything that happened to the band this year and how they’ve grown up – even if the large number of flashbacks to shortcut the actual playing can be a little distracting. And the latter was basically the show ending on its strongest plot point – or to be more accurate, the only subplot that felt like it could be enjoyed by regular adults in addition to anime fans who “get it”.
It’s kind of funny how the characters in this show seem to dislike Asuka for the same reason a lot of anime fans do. Actually, if I didn’t know about the general production schedule for shows like this, I’d think this season had been listening to fan complaints as it went along due to the amount of self-awareness Euphonium has over its major criticisms. Y’know, how there’s nothing truly at stake in regards to these girls winning, but they want to win anyways because that’s just how kids are? How Kumiko has mostly just been an observer that influences less than your average visual novel protagonist, only for Asuka to confront her over it? And now Kumiko herself confronting Asuka regarding how she didn’t like her difficult personality at first. The show doesn’t exactly utilize its self-awareness as plot points in the best of ways, but it’s always natural about it at the very least, whereas even meta-anime stuff that I enjoy isn’t subtle in the least with regards to poking fun at the audience.
And while the context may have been different than I imagined, I totally called Asuka being the one that Kumiko was saying goodbye to at the beginning of the season. It was cute to see the show agreeing with me that this was the relationship to pay attention to given how Kumiko x Reina sort of ran its course last season, and I like the overall takeaway regarding how it’s time for Asuka to search for a new dream whilst Kumiko will have to carry on without her until one day when she’ll be forced to look for a new dream as well. It’s good mature writing regarding the school life that escapes banality whilst not overplaying it, and the fact that the show ends right at that strong point without any more epilogue in sight really goes a long way in exemplifying how well-constructed Euphonium is as a show, as well as why almost every other ending this season falters by comparison. The emotional payoff was wonderful whilst making you not wish for a sequel, and that’s the highest praise you can give to an ending in my eye.
Before we end this series of posts, I want to get into some true complaints besides the whole “better execution, weaker narrative” deal, I really wish this show had focused on the whole “unlike soccer, band performances are based more on personal opinion rather than fact” angle that was mostly brought up in the first arc and then kinda tied up with a pretty ribbon afterwards. That’s actually something I haven’t seen before in a competition story – mostly because a lot of competition stories are focused on sports where there’s not much room to argue about. I’m also not big on how none of the male characters got any sort of development. Taki is the only one who sorta has an arc, but it ended up just being a plot device to make Reina go through her emotional change, as our Cillian Murphy lookalike has already come to terms with his wife’s death before the first season even aired. Shuuichi is about as lively as dry paste, and I think Gotou had even less screen time here than either Sapphire or Hazuki. Incidentally, I’m sure some people are complaining about that, but thank god they barely showed up despite the opening, ending, and promotional material highlighting them as main characters. They didn’t really add much in the first season, and their characters are overall too bubbly to really take seriously.
Anyways, Euphonium 2 was a good show and it could be argued that it’s an overall improvement on the first one, but it wasn’t a major one, and my “no sequel unless it’s a major improvement/change on the original” rule prevents it from getting on my top list. Which I’ll put out sometime before New Years.
- My god, the fans who didn’t like these last few episodes are shallow. What exactly would they have done?
- This show has some really good visual humor, doesn’t it? This pose that Natsuki does and Yuko’s reaction to it cracked me up.