Saturday, October 1, 2016

Hibike! Euphonium episode 8 - Festival Triangle (おまつりトライアングル) - Part Two

It has now been 198 days since I first saw this episode

(part one)

Part of me would like to say that I have maintained the faith and continued watching it daily or multiple times per day since then, but another part of me recognizes that the memetic appeal of saying something like that isn't as valuable as the 2.65 days I would have lost to such an endeavor. And writing 20000+ words about a single episode of anime isn't as valuable as anything else. So what are we doing here? The initial period of obsession has long passed. The series has ended and a sequel has been announced. There is no demand for this, no relevance. No imaginable audience reading these words. There was a point where this could have been a brief, informative write up on why I and many other people reacted so strongly to this episode, but that point was many months and thousands of words ago.

But here we are. Here we are attempting to break this episode down to the level of frame, syllable, and thought. And then to find in each a microcosm of the beauty expressed in the whole. It is a daunting project, but it was never one I could abandon. The goals I had are still relevant to me. There is still something I want to achieve with this, something perhaps no one else can understand, and thus is even more important to me. And then there is the episode. There is still the feeling that something must be said about it, that it cannot be allowed to fade into memory without some indication of its significance made to last. That is, although one day we might forget the exact sequence of sights and sounds that constitute the episode itself, all we need to do is remember just the existence of this document to know that there was at least this magnitude of feelings around it, that it provoked this reaction, a reaction that might be incomprehensible at times, might seem unwarranted, but nevertheless exists, exists to this extent.

So let's continue.

Scene 15: You know how you have a terrible personality?

Back to Reina and Kumiko's adventures on Yuri Mountain, where we see Reina... explaining a flashlight app to Kumiko? It's a major step down from the intense emotions of the previous scene, or even the friendly banter they had the last time we checked in with them. There's a few nuances to the scene, though... Reina, ever proactive, explains both the app and her motivation without really being asked, and Kumiko, fairly exhausted, provokes Reina's explanation and responds to it entirely sub-lingualy, but still makes the effort to acknowledge positively Reina's efforts. In this brief exchange I see a sort of prototype to a common scenario in their further relationships... like an archetypal version, one that could occur under many circumstances:
-Reina does something proactive
-Kumiko notices it without really making a big deal out of it
-Reina explains the thing
-Kumiko acknowledges the effort without effort of her own
It's the sort of thing that could happen on a daily basis; the throwaway dialogues of a relationship that, although meaningless individually, form the most vital and substantial parts when summed. Consider how this could have gone badly: if Reina had expected more of a thorough appreciation from Kumiko, then Kumiko would either leave Reina dissatisfied or she would feel uncomfortable forcing herself to present a false interest. However, we can reasonably assume that if Kumiko gave absolutely no reaction, either to the flashlight or the explanation, then Reina might be disappointed - it's clear (to me, at least) that Reina is the type of person who enjoys being able to reveal the extent of their foresight, not because of a hope for reimbursement or even praise, but for the proper-feeling of everything going acknowledged.

You might think I'm making a lot of this tiny scene (ha ha haaaa) but this is something I'm always looking for in stories about relationships: depicting the meaningless minutia of daily co-existence in a way that feels honest and fulfilling. I want to see that it works, not just in the grand romantic gestures, but in the boring times, the awkward times, the stuff that would happen after the "happy ending". It's there that we can really see the unique aspects of the characters' personalities exert themselves, that we can really test the validity of them as a couple. Like honestly it's to the extent where if they don't show us enough scenes like this, even if it ends in wedding bells or whatever I'll still think "geez, but are they really gonna make it??" and be a little worried, lol.

But here they do! They show a typical boring exchange, and they show it works. It isn't just for that, though, or possibly for that at all, lol. Really, I think it's just to give some tension to Reina's next topic of conversation. See, through all the fate-driven wackiness of their sudden date, we haven't really addressed the question... why did Reina want to do this with Kumiko? She has her own reasons for climbing a mountain on festival night, sure. And Kumiko's been pretty honest about her own reasons for following, as well as she's able to articulate them. But why did Reina plan this in the first place? It's one of those questions that nags at you fainter and fainter as the episode progresses, but here, in this quiet moment, you might remember it.

"I've been wanting to hang out with you" is how FFF translates it, and I'm too lazy to explore it further, but I feel like the two key pieces of the message are pretty assuredly faithful: that she's been wanting to come up with some way of spending time with Kumiko, like, that this wasn't just a spur of the moment thing when Kumiko grabbed her; and the non-committal, slang-esque term of "hang out", like, the "lightness" of it, it feels somewhat out of character for Reina. I don't want to read into this too much, with the language barrier and all, and the fact that as soon as you enter "they said this somewhat weird thing because they actually wanted to say this thing that exactly fits my overall theory" territory you go in alone and you never come back. I just think that it's strange that this larger plan she had for spending out with Kumiko, and her reason for it (which comes right after), is summarized with such a meaningless phrase.

And then THE BOMBSHELL: "You know how you have a terrible personality?". ha ha OH MAN this line is so killer. That little pause beforehand is golden. I feel like... Reina has probably imagined having this conversation with Kumiko many times before, probably going all the way back to the day in middle school. And in this last second, when she actually gets the chance to say it in real life, after she's said it in her head so many times that it started to lose meaning, she's considering whether this is actually okay, whether this is the right thing to say.

But like I said before, she seems like the type of person who appreciates openness, the feeling of everyone being on the same page, of not mincing words or beating around the bush, or using euphemisms, for that matter. So boom, there it is: you have a terrible personality. Not "I think you have a terrible personality" or "Did you know you have a terrible personality". Actually, not even "you have a terrible personality", as that still leaves open the possibility for Kumiko's ignorance. It's "you know how you have a terrible personality": that is, "the following statement is predicated on the assumed, even obvious, mutually understood fact of your terrible personality".

How is Kumiko supposed to take that? How is anyone supposed to take that? When was the last time you were insulted like that, directly to your face? It just doesn't happen in polite society, and for good reason. That's what makes it polite society, or maybe even what makes it society at all. But in this transgression is the spirit of beyond, a world of possibilities.

But it's... a compliment? Without explaining herself, Reina moves into her evidence, finally referencing the initial comment Kumiko made (if you've forgotten, because you watched this show two seasons ago like a reasonable person, at their final middle school concert, when it was announced that they had won gold but would not be advancing to nationals, Kumiko bluntly asks a crying Reina if she really thought they'd make nationals). Reina's argument here is weirdly roundabout... she makes her accusation first, then labels it a compliment, then gives the evidence that motivated her. Is she trying to downplay the incident or make it the focal point? Is she trying to mislead Kumiko or does she hope Kumiko is able to immediately understand her? The end result is that everything seems to be on the table at once: the accusation, the relabelling, and the incident, and Kumiko is left frantically trying to address them all at once.

And I love here that Kumiko DOESN'T APOLOGIZE. In earlier episodes, she had made this clear - she didn't really feel like she had said anything wrong to Reina, like, she still believes that it was silly to really believe they'd make finals (and overcoming this attitude is what the show is all about! Wait, what is this show actually about? Lesbian mountain climbing?). But even now, in this moment, when she's just been told she has a "terrible personality", she doesn't do the simple thing I think 95% of us would have done already: apologized for making an insensitive remark that upset someone! It isn't about the truth of the comment or the delusions of the recipient: when you say something that upsets someone, you should apologize! You can explain why you said it and work to some understanding, yeah, but you have to start by apologizing, by making it clear that you didn't actively want to upset them, and that you regret not proceeding in a way that would have been more sensitive. That's something I really firmly believe.

But, at the same time, I acknowledge that there's people for whom this line of thinking isn't natural, and who might be bothered by such a thing. And I hope that those people form close friendships and relationships where this is mutually understood and that everyone is comfortable with them not forcing themselves to act this way. Like uh this one. This refusal to apologize, this steadfastness, is exactly the "terrible personality" that Reina refers to. It's something that Reina probably recognized even after the first time, when Kumiko made that statement. And how does she feel about it?

"It's a confession of love"

...... what come on

Are you SERIOUS with this right now, Kyoani?

I would have thought it was just a fansubber joke but no I can understand this much at least and yes she is actually saying those words.

If I hadn't seen this show and was just reading this blog for some reason
(i have no idea what reason)
I would at this point say:
"okaaaaaaay i get it i get it, the author has lost his mind
and is now just writing about
what he wished had happened
instead of what actually happens"

but NO


she actually says this.

And then Kumiko says "There's no way you're serious"

which after deep neural network analysis I have confirmed is actually the optimal response of all responses, using a genetic algorithm that looks for future relationship length and depth as its "fitness"

somehow 2nd place was "What's your favorite Swans album?"

it really is perfect though. it occupies the absolute sweet spot of a complex multidimensional matrix of appreciation/closeness/reservedness/tenderness.

Alright so now we get a shot of Reina walking away as she breaks down exactly what she means by "Kumiko's terrible personality", the side of her that's always interested her. But first I want to look at something REALLY INSIGNIFICANT but also REALLY COOL IMO but maybe also TOTALLY MADE UP. Okay so... up until the shot where Reina "confesses her love", the camera has never shown anything that could be either character's actual perspective or focus. It's always been shots further ahead or behind both of them, getting both of them in the shot, or profile shots of each of them. But then, at that shot, we suddenly see what Kumiko could be seeing, and then, in the cut to Kumiko's reaction, what Reina could be seeing. Then a shot of Reina walking away. NOW: we could think they did this just because they didn't want to spend the time animating her mouth again. Sure. But they did go to all the effort to draw her hair swaying and such, so idk. I think, though, that we're supposed to still be thinking that it's Kumiko's perspective here, and that this new, non-functional, vantage is supposed to reinforce that.

Why does that matter? Cause it explains this shot in a super cool way:

Which is just a typical sort of quick pan over a scenery shot, could be explained by like, a million things... saving time, saving money, reinforcing the setting, using up leftover concept art, etc etc. BUT, BUT: we could also think of this as Kumiko's perspective, too! And that, right as Reina starts to articulate this stuff, Kumiko looks away from her, Kumiko feels maybe uncomfortable? Is it the same sort of distance that she treats everything with? The same ability to remove herself from the situation, to not prioritize her own feelings or relationships? Or idk maybe it's just a random scenery shot.

And this next shot, by showing Reina first and then Kumiko emerging from the viewer's "perspective", does a good job of "exiting" us from Kumiko's point of view, but idk, it's just a nice shot anyways. Maybe I am straying too far into what I called "representational analysis" in part one. There is still a lot to discuss here.

Like first off, as soon as Reina says "That side of you always interested me", I can distinctly remember flipping out... cause that side of her interested me, too! Sure, there was the incident in middle school, and the subsequent refusal to apologize, those were fairly major, but they only really indicated a greater personality through several, much-smaller hints that were scattered through the previous episodes. I won't enumerate all of them - if we open the scope of this to the show thus far... uhh, it wouldn't end well, or at all - but probably the most explicit one we'd gotten was earlier this episode, where Kumiko complains about the festival and her senpai calls her out.

It was an aspect to her character that I found really intriguing, but I wasn't sure if it was ever going to be an explicit focus of the show. Same with the relationship between Kumiko and Reina. Like, I figured it would be acknowledged at some point, or maybe "used" to some greater end, but I never would have dared guess that it would receive so much of the spotlight. But here it was! Exactly what I wanted to happen was happening, for the exact reasons I wanted. Like at this point it could have been done. It could have cut to a blank screen saying "OKAY THERE ARE YOU HAPPY" and then turned my computer off and I would have said "yes." and then went and had a fulfilling rest of my life. But no. It keeps going.

Rip the good girl disguise right off you??? Oh gosh. That's... pretty provocative, no? Like, doubly so... the thing she's actually threatening to do - force Kumiko to voice her true feelings of distance and disinterest instead of keeping up a facade of interest and happiness - is aggressive itself, a major overstepping of polite conversation, but then she chooses a euphemism that's even more suggestive? You get the sense that she's going "all-out" here, but this is really just a warm up...

Kumiko is justifiably confused, defensive... I mean, they've been joking around a bit, definitely reaching new heights of friendship and comfort, but ever since Reina insulted her she's been a little disoriented. I feel like Reina is deliberately keeping Kumiko confused, teasing her a bit... it's like, she knows that eventually she'll explain herself better, she'll soon get everyone on the same page, so she's having some fun just harmlessly messing with her first. It's very cute. It reminds me of uhhh... when a new arc starts in One Piece, and there's like fifty new characters and ten new plot elements thrown at you, and you're just reeling, but you know eventually Oda's gonna work through it all to super satisfying ends. How's that for an analogy? Terrible? Ah, well.

Reina's doubling down with "don't you understand my love?" is sick too... Like, she's not letting up on this, she's not letting it fade from meaning, but she's also joking around, too, right? There's an internal "memeing" of their previous conversation already, it's already become an "inside joke". There's a lot you can read from this, I think. She's trying to make what she's saying clear, but also trying to lighten the mood a bit, maybe out of a bit of nervousness? The technique of saying something you really do mean so often it becomes a joke, but still saying it... it feels real, all too real. It's an acknowledgment of the fact that she's being really forward and cryptic, too, which Kumiko bluntly points out, calling her a weirdo. It's the duality of... having something you really want to say, just for the satisfaction of having said it, just for yourself, but then also having to mitigate it through social contracts such that your saying it doesn't wholly undo whatever ends you could possibly hope from it. So why say it at all? Is personal satisfaction that important? Well, we'll see...

Scene 16: It's like a sea of stars!

We're entering the final major sequence of the episode. Are you ready? I better be ready, because I really want to finish this by the end of the year and we're running out of time. As the scenes become more and more intimate, it feels more and more inappropriate to try to dissect it line by line. And yet, at the same time, these are the most important scenes, the ones that mean the most to me, the ones that most motivated me to want to write this (ridiculous) thing.

Kumiko's reaction to seeing the city is so wonderful... the way she asks Reina if this is what she wanted to see is really nice, it's like, she immediately understands. She had been confused all this time, almost adversarial in her confusion, but seeing this, she understands. Isn't that nice? But even nicer than that, she wants to engage Reina in a conversation about how nice it is... she's that excited, and she's excited to make it clear that she's that excited. So nice!

It's understandable, right? That's a really beautiful sight! Kumiko's description of it being a "sea of stars" is appropriate, and reflects and eagerness on her part that we rarely see. Maaaaaybe in her narration, but actually saying it out loud? To another person? It's pretty unprecedented! She's just so caught up in the beauty of seeing the city... it really is a wonderful sensation.

Oh, but there's something else to the "sea of stars", right? What about the real stars? What's up with those two prominent stars? We'll seeeeeeeee...

Even Reina says it's pretty! Kirei~! Oh I'm kinda addressing these in the wrong order. Whatever. This is where things start to blur a bit... like, there's no real conflict between them anymore. Kumiko feels like it's been worth it, that whatever strange impulse made her come along and bring her heavy euph has paid off. They're both wholly on the same page. And thus we're more in a mode of... a radiant blur of feelings, rather than a linear journey or conversation.

And maybe a literal blurring too? Ahh, nice bokeh, eh? I just learned that word a few days ago. It's a good thing I procrastinated on this so long then hahahaahaahaahaaahahahaha. "I simply wanted to do something that others wouldn't". This statement is the first clear thesis of what emerges as the major philosophical lesson of these last scenes. It sounds a bit... immature, at first? Like the sort of childish contrarianism that you start to get in high school. And it is, kinda. But there's more.

But before we get to the true heart of the episode, we have one little thing to deal with first. This exchange is SUPER CRITICAL. As far as I can tell, there's basically two ways to interpret how Kumiko and Reina act, and basically everything hinges on which one you buy into. Everything. The entire Reina vs. Tsukamoto war that this episode spurred. The ur-war of hetero vs yuri that this war was just one facet of. The ur-ur-war of progressiveness vs traditionalism that the previous war could be aligned with. The course of humanity is riding on this. Are you ready? Let's break it down:

-Kumiko asks if she's seeing the festival lights (oh YEAH, the festival, do you remember that? That's what this episode is about!)

-Reina asks if she's asking that because she's thinking about Tsukamoto. NOW. Here's where things begin to diverge. Is Reina a) trying to tease Kumiko because she believes Kumiko has a crush on Tsukamoto, or, b) genuinely asking because she doesn't know what Kumiko's feelings are about Tsukamoto. Like, when Kumiko grabbed her arm the day before, she could have worked out exactly what was going on, but she wouldn't really know for sure. It could also be that Kumiko actually had a lot of feelings for him, but was too nervous and overwhelmed to respond properly.

-Kumiko is surprised and flustered, and stammers out a total denial, and, elaborating, makes sure that Reina knows there's absolutely nothing between them. Now is this a) shock at having her true feelings so quickly exposed, and lying to avoid a confrontation, or b) shock at being asked this yet again, and confused as to where it's coming from, and generally getting sick of the whole thing.

-Reina confirms that yeah, it isn't like that, and SMILES which is imo key. But is she a) smiling because she's sure Kumiko has just exposed her actual love of Tsukamoto and finds her denial endearing or b) genuinely relieved because she wasn't sure, and she believes Kumiko.

Now, to ME, just within the context of this scene, route b) is obviously the truth. Just knowing the characters... like, does it really seem like Kumiko would make the effort to conceal her feelings like this? When she's been so blunt with Reina before? And Reina herself, does it seem like she'd be the type to buy into this whole rhetoric of "secret crushes" and play along with Kumiko's deception? Like, if it is deception, it's really clumsy deception, intolerably clumsy deception, one that Reina wouldn't really put up with, right? And like, SHE SMILES

look at that smile!!!!

look at it!!!!!

you think that's a "ha ha silly girl acting like she doesnt have a crush, good thing i took her on this romantic excursion to find out!!" smile??

or a "oh thank god, i was pretty sure but now i know, the girl i like doesnt have a crush on stupid boner-kun yay" smile??

Given everything you know about these characters.
Given everything you've seen in the episode so far.
Come on.
Come onnnnnnn.

(honestly though i did see people argue the exact opposite of this on /a/
like people who were arguing for Tsukamoto x Kumiko
they used this scene as proof that Kumiko actually liked him
seriously augh)

And beyond that, I think Reina's behavior past this scene makes it pretty clear that she took Kumiko's reaction as like, a "green light". Past this I think we enter the "seduction" phase. I will be so bold to say that word. The fully understanding and harmonizing phase. You ready?

Reina points out that no one else would come up here today, i.e. like not Tsukamoto. She acknowledges that it's crazy, but there they are, they did it.

And Kumiko's response?

She thinks it through, she wonders about it a bit, she gives a distant, halfhearted "I guess", but then she smiles!!!


This is it, the heart of the episode. I'll just quote her entire speech, as FFF translated it:
"I had a feeling you'd understand. I don't try to get close to people who don't interest me. Being relieved to know you're the same as someone else is stupid. Becoming a faceless member of a crowd is something I want to avoid. Sometimes it's unavoidable, but... You kind of get it, right? That sort of crazy feeling?"

This is accompanied by perfect little illustrations of this sort of "fitting in", ones that Kyoani put just an absolutely absurd amount of love into. Seriously just look at them it's absurd. And it's like, a HUGE diegetic break for the show. Like we got Kumiko's imagination of the breakdown of the love triangle, sure, but this feels different. It feels like the director really wanted to make sure we understood this, understood exactly what Reina meant. It's a balanced image. The people are faceless, sure, but does it not seem like they're having a good time?

It's a strange balance. The desaturation gives it a dreamlike, distant quality, but it is one that is not necessarily judgmental. This is the most important aspect to the whole philosophical core of the episode: Reina is not necessarily happy. In fact, she always seems sort of frustrated, distant... in my favorite scene of the series before this episode, she screams after practicing alone during a time of turmoil in the band... like, the very isolation that she seeks comes at the price of... isolation.

And are these Reina's, or Kumiko's imaginings? Is Kumiko, to some extent, not the same? The distance, the disinterest, the skepticism... judging the band harshly when she first hears them, thinking making nationals is ridiculous, she's just unwilling to go along with the group. Such a thing has no appeal for her. It's actually the major theme behind the band drama plot... people voted to aim for nationals because they felt like they ought to go with the flow, and then tension is created when these insincere beliefs go up against the ambitions of their teacher. He actually spells it out pretty explicitly: you can have a good time with your friends, or we can work hard for nationals. But no one wants to defy the collective myth that they can make nationals because they want to have a good time with their friends. They don't want to be like Kumiko was to Reina that time in middle school.

It really isn't about that, though. It's about Kumiko's reaction:

"I get it"


Now by studying this page I find it interesting that Kumiko isn't saying "I understand", that is, "I'm understanding [it/you]" but "it is understandable", speaking not about her or Reina or the relationship between them, but solely about the feeling that Reina described, making FFF's translation of "I get it" pretty appropriate. I think there's something important here. Kumiko isn't the type to lie to spare someone's feelings. Previously she had been more reserved with these sorts of statements, e.g. "that's a pretty big compromise" from earlier. But here she is addressing directly the things Reina said and saying unequivocally that she understands.

And through that, we understand too. One of my absolute favorite feelings in fictional works is when you encounter a character that feels like... a little incomplete. Like not unrealistically so, not to the extent that they couldn't be a "real person" and make it through the myriad of social challenges of daily life, but just a little... off. And you wonder why, you wonder what the final piece is that will explain this character, what incident or trait or hidden desire. That longing is a good feeling, but when you see the piece, it can be good, like, very very satisfying. If it's done well. If it feels contrived or unrealistic or lame or over-the-top, it can be so much worse than if they hadn't done anything at all.

But here it's good. Deep down, Kumiko wanted to be special. Maybe so deep down she didn't even know. That's why she doesn't care about what others think or do. That's why she's so distant. Maybe she'd been convinced at some point that it was impossible. We don't have the complete story. But we understand so much more now. It's so beautiful. It's like, my absolute favorite thing.

NO WAIT. that's a lie. If you've seen the show you know that's a lie. You know that what's coming up next is the really important part. But I can't even screencap the next few shots. How would I start to try to capture it in still images? All I can say is that it's perfect. Her repetition of the name... the way the wind blows... the swell of the soundtrack... the "thing", which is basically the greatest achievement of interpersonal relationships... it's all perfect, absolutely perfect. Like I legitimately think it would be stupid to take screenshots and go like "hey remember this part?". It's so good that the appeal is obvious, there's nothing more to say about it. We'll address some more subtle things.

HEY! It's those stars again! And this time it seems PRETTY IMPORTANT. The framing of this shot is weird as heck. It's clearly supposed to be Kumiko's perspective as she looks up at Reina, right? So why is she looking at those stars? They framed it like this to preserve the proper positioning of the stars relative to the horizon. Why is it so important? Let's go alllllllll the way back to when Hazuki was looking up at the sky. The festival was because of this myth, right? The lovers who are fated to meet on this day, which, according to the myth, became the stars Altair and Vega. Heyyy, guess what those stars are??

I mean seriously now. How could anyone, anyone, still deny that this is meant to be a romantic story? That this isn't supposed to be a representation of their feelings of love for each other. And Kumiko says that she's "getting pulled in" and "wouldn't mind being her victim" (in FFF's translations) or that she was "about to get sucked in" and "wouldn't mind losing her life"(in CrunchyRoll's)... I'm too lazy to figure out the original wording and work it out myself, but it seems pretty clear that there's two things going on in here: Kumiko is beginning to believe Reina, that becoming truly special is indeed possible, and possible through playing an instrument; and that Kumiko is like full-on swooning in love.

But can you really become special just through playing the trumpet? Kumiko has to ask, and it seems fair... does that really make sense? It's the last vestige of Kumiko's natural blunt skepticism. But Reina remains firm: becoming good at the trumpet will make her special, truly special. And she laughs, laughs at Kumiko's bluntness, and just how serious the whole situation had become, and how much Kumiko was exactly how she was hoping. See, this is the miracle of the scene. After we learn just how these characters have made themselves alone through their ambitions, and knowing that their coping methods haven't been able to overcome that loneliness, they find out that... they aren't actually alone anymore. It's so beautiful. It really really is beautiful to me. Like I don't even care about the yuri factor anymore. Even if this was just the blossoming of a friendship I would be satisfied.

nah jk dw we'll get DEEP into the yuri stuff later.

haha. did you think this was over? no, no. we're just getting warmed up.

And now we see the purpose of them bringing their instruments all the way up here. They're going to play a song together. The appearance of the credits was exquisitely bittersweet when I first saw it: the twin realization of "oh thank god they're actually going to show this complete song scene over the credits" and "oh no oh no the episode is ending, this was the greatest thing I ever witnessed and nothing can ever come close to this again oh my god what am I supposed to do now?"

Seriously though what am I supposed to do now?

I started writing this well over a year ago, I can hardly remember why. Well, I can remember the reasons, but the emotions that drove me are alien to me now. I worked on it pretty solidly for a week or two, then a bit during last December, then a bit in June, and now, in the middle of September. Season 2 is starting and I still haven't seen anything past episode 8 of season 1, and it's because I still haven't finished this post.

I think one of the main goals I had with this was that... whenever I'm watching something I really like, or listening or reading something, part of me wants to break it down to the most elementary aspects, dissecting and commenting on it shot-by-shot, line-by-line, even frame-by-frame, word-by-word. In my manga videos, I get to do this to some extent, but because its material that's fresh to me, I don't feel as much responsibility to really get at the essence and meaning of each and every panel. Same w/ live reviews of albums and such. But I had never actually broken down something I knew very well to the extent that I felt would be possible, even easy.

Wow though it turns out it wasn't, it wasn't easy at all, and it's debatable whether or not it was actually possible, or if the preceding words are mostly just feverish ranting. See, I think the feeling of being able to talk about everything is actually just sort of an illusion, sustained in that anything you could think that you'd have to talk about, you feel ready to talk about... you can't really ask yourself questions you can't answer, you actually have to use some other system to prompt you. When I was actually confronted with everything on this shot by shot basis, I found myself coming up blank way more often than I expected.

And this level of overanalysis also started to take on a vaguely "creepy" feeling, almost voyeuristic. I had to skip a significant sequence (one of the most important ones, too) because I couldn't overcome the feeling that, by writing extensively about the intimacy, I was foregrounding this external observation and ruining any possible sense of intimacy. Beyond just the most romantic scenes, there was a lot of subtle things in the animation or the voice acting that, when I pointed it out, I felt like I had overexposed it, made too much of it, and forced it into some place of meaning and analysis when really it was nothing more than a tiny addition, made out of a simple love, a little gift... I run into this problem a lot when I'm doing yuri series in manga videos, too.

So the "elemental breakdown of beloved art" dream is kinda dead, sure. My other major goal was to make something absurdly long, something that was so much longer than it needed to be that it became a joke in and of itself, where its very existence, the fact that it actually contained so many words over something so foolish, and that all those words were actually written by one person, was inherently noteworthy (even if the note was only "too long"). It would also reinforce just how great I thought the episode was, that I thought it really did require it. I still think it deserved "something", something maybe more than what this ends up being, even if less than what it initially aspired to be. And throughout writing it and especially at the end I would refer to it as "my masterpiece" or "my greatest achievement" with the fun of thick irony but a tender inner core of sincerity. But since I started this project, in another book, I did all that. I don't really see the need to do it again. Not yet, at least.

What about the content of it, beyond the scene-by-scene analysis, which was supposed to just be "part 1"? This was honestly pretty secondary to the length and thoroughness of its presentation. I had a bunch of essays I planned on including but I didn't want to start writing them until I finished the scene-by-scene analysis, and uhh... I think I forgot most of it. Near the start, these subjects were always on my mind, I was mentally writing about them in all such downtime - showers, busrides, in bed before sleeping... it seemed like I would be able to effortlessly dump these ideas onto the page, and they would total the thousands and thousands of words I felt they must require. For all I know, that would have been the case if I had written them then. But as the tedium of the scene-by-scene analysis set in, and my lifestyle changed, my thoughts began to drift from these subjects, and other writing projects took the place in those moments of contemplation. I feel a bit bad about it, but this is what happens, this is always what will happen.

So I think what I'll do is summarize what I can remember planning on writing for each topic. This is a compromise, this feels like failure. But it is better than nothing, infinitely better than nothing. And I need to do something with this before season 2 comes out, and ideally far enough ahead of s2 that I can watch the rest of s1 first lol. To be completely honest I'm also OK with this compromise because I'm super confident that s2 will have an EVEN BETTER episode and I'll be able to write something suitably long and comprehensive and insightful about THAT episode ha aha hahaahahahaaaaaaa.

Praising the Quality of the Episode

Not only did I want to tell you everything about this episode, I wanted to convince you that this was actually the greatest episode of anything ever, better than episode 8 of Nisemonogatari, even better than episode 23 of Shirobako. I was going to talk about the idea of it "sprouting out" of the series as it had been this far, comparing it to Sun Kil Moon's Universal Themes, which I was listening to a lot at the time... basically, if Benji was analogous to Kyoani shows thus far, then in "The Possum"/the first 7 episodes of Hibike, they proved that they also knew what I considered the best aspects of their work so far. But even in that there was a lot of directions they could possibly go, and it wasn't until "Birds of Film"/episode 8 that it was revealed, in joyful blooming excellence, that their love and your love were perfectly aligned. This made more sense to me at the time.

Basically it was just the miraculous feeling of watching something, and having some aspect of it that you especially liked, but not feeling that that aspect was maybe particularly important to the show overall, and then seeing that exact thing take the spotlight in a much more wonderful way than you'd ever dare hope.

And then I was gonna talk about how they obviously understood the quality and importance of this plotline by making everything else excellent too, from the great sequence-based direction, the introduction of Midori's sister, the multitude of subplots, the emotional range, the smorgasbord of different visuals - the classroom, the rehearsal, the festival, the river, the mountain - each presented with Kyoani's signature naturalistic love at its top tier.

Thematic Connection between Love, Fate, Astrology, and Music

Next I would transition between praising the episode for having subtle but meaningful underlying themes, and then get into exactly what those themes are and how they're linked.

First is fate and love: Midori claims that because Hazuki happened to meet Tsukamoto's eyes in class, it has to be love. Here "fate" is a sort of synchronicity, a seeming coincidence that is actually not a coincidence at all, but a guaranteed meaningful encounter. Now, we know that this isn't actually the situation she thinks it is - Tsukamoto was actually trying to look at Kumiko. And we know that it doesn't end up being love, either, so really, Midori's hypothesis of fate = love could still be valid. And where do we actually see a fateful encounter in the episode? That's right: when Kumiko randomly grabs Reina's arm. And was that also love? Well, of course.

Fate also governs the movements of the celestial bodies, and I think it's in connections to the firmament that we can understand the duality of fate among earthy bodies being both happenstance and inevitable... consider the central myth of the festival, or Asuka's explanation of their piece's meaning: both personify cosmic entities and ascribe human decisions to their movements and relative positions. From the perspective of these entities, these might feel like choices they make, opportunities, miraculous coincidences. But from the perspective of an astrologist, these movements are all predictable, guided by simple and reliable laws. This consistency isn't unromantic, in fact, it's to be celebrated, literally, through festival and song. And so it is with our human characters: we, the viewer, know they are bound by the destiny the writers have imparted onto them, and that nothing is chance, that there was no other arm she could have grabbed besides Reina's as much as there was no other day that Vega and Altair could reunite. That is fate.

Asuka's explanation of the piece also suggests that music, and the meaning of music, will play a big role in the episode. Wow who would have guessed it??? And it's music's connection to love that gets Midori so excited in the first place, saying that love is at the root of every piece's genesis. Well, love and death, but uhhh I hope that doesn't come into play any time soon. There's also a pretty interesting scene where Asuka says praying for success in music isn't worth it, because music is up to you, and how that relates to love and fate and stuff... it's complicated, and I can remember that I was thinking about it a lot a year ago but I can't really remember what I was thinking. The important point, though, is that the piece Reina and Kumiko play at the end is called "The Place We Found Love", and I don't think there's really anything else that needs to be said about that.

Philosophy of "Ability" and Being "Special"

But there was gonna be some transition into this, the hidden theme of the episode, maybe the whole series, something that I found incredibly important back then. As simply as possible: the most important thing in life is gaining the ability to do things, and the most important feeling in life is the specialness that comes from knowing you can do extraordinary things. It felt like an articulation of something I had always believed on some level, but only as a collection of fragmented anecdotes... I can remember my high school English teacher telling me something like this while showing us how to do stained glass, that it was important to have things you can do. I remember thinking that this was the key behind the best mentalities of Smash players, and Mario Kart players, and even Tetris or rhythm action game players... not my own mentality, which is more just a shameful connection between winning and popularity, but the mentality of the players much better than me: they seemed to be motivated most by simply improving their ability to play the game, expanding the number of things they can do, and proving that to the world, but most of all themselves, by taking records, by beating people, by making nationals.

It wasn't something I'd focused on specifically before. All the questions I had asked at the start of my Ping Pong writeup were answered by it. It became the central argument of some short stories I was writing at the time. Most of them were never finished. And I don't think I was able to ever articulate to myself why I found this philosophy so compelling... I can remember thinking about it, but not really getting anywhere, and assuming that maybe I would by the time I got here. Well, now I'm here, and ???? 

Really though, beyond any specific message, it's the way the message is communicated to me that matters more. There's a sort of intimacy around expressing yourself to this extent, and feeling confident in being understood, and then having that confidence rewarded. Or having someone else speak to you like that, and recognizing their confidence in you, and understanding them. I felt like the show itself was having this sort of moment with me, having gone so far in this plotline, having so much faith in my ability to understand it, to empathize, to relate... But, even more importantly, is the moment the two of them are sharing. Which is my transition into:

Argument that Reina and Kumiko are Falling in Love

Do I really have to do this? Haven't I already said enough? Haven't I said, in fact, way too much? I think initially the plan here was to summarize the evidence presented thus far, and again suggest that this ought to be enough, but then present almost twice as much additional evidence. Stuff like... looking through all the previous evidence for key things that happened between them, looking at canonical yuri couples in other series and comparing the relationships, I can remember mentally chronicling a lot of this stuff, but where it is now? I was gonna do like, thought experiments where I suggested people picture this episode as a hetero couple... I was gonna address the scene in the light novel where Kumiko does admit she likes Tsukamoto by going into how much Kyoani has changed between LNs and anime before (it's a lot). I was gonna look at the specific differences between the LN and the anime in this scene specifically and extrapolate from those the intended changes for their overall relationship. And if we're going to look at authorial intent, does the fact that the author herself posted that Reina is Kumiko's "special person" not completely close the book there? I think I had even more tactics, too. The idea was to provide such an overwhelming quantity of evidence that even if someone wasn't convinced, they would be exhausted, and, either way, there would be no more dissent.

Breakdown of Cultural War on /a/ etc between Yuri Fans and Hetero Fans

Because, y'know, there actually was quite a bit of dissent when this aired. People were actually getting worked up, threads were getting maxed out, shitposting was getting aggressive. To really explain this phenomenon, I was gonna try to explain what I see as the fundamental energy behind posting on 4chan, which is this sort of... barely-stable duality between desiring attention and ostracizing the "other". I still find this concept really interesting and I want to write an article or something about it, which would probably be a better use of my time than whatever this is, but...

So 4chan has /u/, a board specifically for yuri, which at first seems sorta accomidating, but then does that make /a/ basically /het/? Sometimes it feels like it. I think giving minority perspective a voice in these spaces of assumed heteronormativity is important, even a space as irreverent as 4chan. I don't think the straightwashing of shows should be tolerated. Prolly actually convincing anyone that this is actually worthwhile, arguing on 4chan about the sexual orientation of fictional characters, is impossible. The goal would be more to conflate it with a broader issue that I assume, through basic empathy, that people can see the importance of, and to show the level of passion that I have for the issue in the metric of sheer word count. It is an OK metric.

Appeal of Yuri

But of course the heart of the issue is the appeal of yuri itself. This is clearly the most important section. When I did the big anime list, one of the most common criticisms is that I included Sakura Trick, not a very critically respected show, to say the least, all on the strength of its yuri content. In the writeup, I didn't really say much about why I liked yuri a lot, just that I did. My plan then was that I would cover it in the Hidamari writeup at the end, but I went totally off the rails with stuff about aesthetic union etc etc. So actually drilling into the appeal of yuri, why I like it as much as I do, what aspects of it I like, that was something I wanted to accomplish in this project.

And since then I've actually made some headway into the subject, mostly on my manga reading channel. In this video specifically I was finally able to articulate clearly the magnitude of my feelings around yuri, and its significance in my life. But the actual content that inspires these feelings is another matter, and one probably beyond the scope of the fully expanded ideal version of this essay, let alone this last minute super compromised version. I first wanted to make a substantial disclaimer that I don't think those aspects should be prescriptive or limiting, but rather common observed tropes and elements that I happen to enjoy, and that these elements need not be limited to yuri, but could be found and applied to heterosexual relationships. They just typically aren't. There would be subheadings like "smooth transition from friendship to romance" and "twin innocence of expectations" and "triumphant feeling of a fragile flower blooming in adverse conditions" and "permeation of blissful contentedness instead of standard romantic arcs", all of which would have extended explanations, examples, and praise. This was going to be by far the longest section, but I never felt intimidated by writing it... I felt like if I just wrote unabashedly "from the heart", as I did in the "appeal of moe" section in the anime list, it would be easy, but I think I forgot how hard it was to write that section lol.

Debate Around "Should I Continue Watching?"

And then after all that I'd address perhaps the most absurd facet of the whole mess, which was that I was refusing to watch any more of the show past that point. At first the argument was that I should finish writing this first, cause I didn't want perception of future episodes to spoil it. But then as it seemed more and more likely that this was gonna get abandoned, it felt like I didn't deserve to continue watching the series, having failed to complete this veneration of it. But then that started to seem ridiculous and yet I still couldn't bring myself to continue. There was lots of stuff I assumed would happen that I wanted to see... Asuka's backstory, tryouts, nationals?? Even more yuri stuff, too... It's not like I expected that would totally disappear after this episode, but at the same time... it felt like sort of a no-win situation. There was no way they could escalate it past that point without it turning into just an actual yuri series, which, as good as that would be, seems very unlikely. And any sort of deescalation seems painful... even just maintaining this level of intimacy would be underwhelming, compared to the extent of this advancement... And then, if you know it couldn't get better, why not end it there? Why not leave it as a perfect truncated package, instead of needlessly running the risk that something could spoil it? It was an idea I made peace with, even as I continued to neglect writing in this...

As soon as they announced season 2, though, I was done with this whole line of thinking lol. Like depriving myself of 5 episodes is whatever, but a whole other season? A season that could actually contain yuri incidents beyond my wildest dreams? Or at least the opportunity to be disappointed anew at a lack of them?? Thus I had to come up with some new thesis that would justify moving forward, even in the face of potential disappointment... I think I did have something in mind, but I forget it now.

Man, who knows, what can I even say? Should I even post this? I'm just sick of thinking about it, tbh, or feeling guilty about not thinking about it. I want to move on. So... here it is. My masterpiece LOL. Season 2 is starting in 3 (THREE) days so... gotta do something!

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