Which means episode 9 of Hibike! Euphonium is out there. But I'm not ready. I don't want to see it yet. I don't want to move on from episode 8. Not until I send it off right. I'm sort of moving on, in some ways, sure. Lately I've been mostly focused on Sun Kil Moon's Universal Themes, of which I wrote a super glowing review. I might have even watched some other shows (I finished season 6 of Community and got caught up on Silicon Valley). But to watch episode 9 of Euph... it's like... acknowledging that the story continues, that I want to see more things happen. But I really don't. It should have ended there. I could just watch it over and over again, that would be fine. That could have and perhaps should have been the absolute last episode of any anime ever.
If that sounds a little melodramatic or over the top, that's OK, that's part of the appeal too. The whole "fall in love with Euph 08 to a ridiculous degree" thing has become memetic to me, and exploring the full extent of that love is also funny to me. Like watching it over and over again: each time I watch it, it becomes a little more absurd that I'm actually watching it again. Or how I made a comic of the entire episode from memory. Or now this, which will be ridiculously long and in-depth. Like look at the scroll bar. That in itself is a joke. But there's also the genuine appeal. It's still appealing to me, more every time I see it. There's a lot of shows that I can watch an episode of any time and have it be a "comfort" to me, even some movies. But this is I think the first time it's happened with a single episode. Every time I see it, it's a little more relaxing, a bit more hypnotic. But the tension of certain scenes and moments increases a little each time, as I'm able to more precisely anticipate them, and more and more scenes carry meaning and weight, so I feel also more alert and engaged. I feel both that I am completing an understanding of it, which feels very fulfilling, but also that I'm becoming more and more aware of a secret meaning deep within it that I have yet to grasp, which fills me with longing.
So what makes it so special? What meaning lies within? Well, that's what we're here to find out! It feels like the very least I can do before I move on. This might get a little crazy, so settle in.
Scene-by-scene analysis: act I
Scene 1. Do you like Tsukomoto?
The episode starts immediately after episode 7 ends, and carries with it all the tension that had been building through that week. This scene was like... the generals of two armies meeting at last, and a treaty being drawn up between them. This analogy will make more sense later... maybe. The point is, at this time, we genuinely weren't sure if Kumiko actually did like Tsukomoto.
"Yokatta!"... although it may be for totally different reasons, Midori's relief here mirrors our own. Kumiko has no interest in Tsukomoto, and had genuinely never even considered him in that context. It takes her a couple seconds to even realize who Hazuki is talking about. Her accusatory tone when asking why Hazuki asks suggests that she's almost offended by this possibility. She walks home with him a lot, that's it... the pairing of this mention of walking with the shot of Hazuki's feet twisted up is nice too.
There's a nice sense of relaxed friendship and playfulness here. The way the light piano finishes off the dissolved tension makes it clear we're moving past any sense of ambiguity here. Also worth noting is the hierarchy of knowledge involved here. Hazuki has clearly admitted some aspect of her crush to Midori before, to get her opinion before asking Kumiko the critical question. This adds to the sense of "distancing" Kumiko that we get throughout the episode. But Midori doesn't know everything about Hazuki's crush, more clearly creating these tiers around the issue. This also suggests a certain distance between Hazuki and her own heart.
We see this in Midori's interview/harassment of Hazuki, where Hazuki seems to be admitting things to herself at the same time as she admits them to Midori. This is where we get our introduction to the titular festival that drives the plot. Until now, any sort of relationship plot in this show was scant and speculative. Now, it is thrown into the limelight through this natural event. The way it invades this typical scene of the three sitting around Hazuki's desk eating lunch drives home the commonplace but prevalence of love at this time.
Yes, it's love! But what is love? Midori gives us our first clue, with an impassioned speech that highlights her goofy idealism. It's adorable, but will it prove true in this episode? With Midori becoming all the more idyllic and Hazuki more worn down, and their fighting intensifying, Kumiko stays detached and neutral, observing this drama with passive and mild interest.
Scene 2: Would you like to go to the festival with me?
The example she gives of bow-chan asking out trumpet-senpai (I'm too lazy to look up their actual names) has a strange sort of metaphysical relation to it... is she in the classroom observing them, and then suggesting to the viewer that this is a good illustration? Just telling herself? Does she have some sort of omniscient perspective? The whole idea of narration in this genre opens up so many questions that I may address later, but moreover it's just wonderful and friendly and endearing.
As is bow-chan's behavior in this scene... although she's a bit of a jerk at other times, this scene begins her road to redemption. She just wants to go on a date with her senpai! All her insecurity centers around that! How cute can you get? Well, there's her "usai!", that's a good one.
I love this shot of the three of them hanging out. It nicely sets up Midori's little sister, and Kumiko's happiness about hearing about her shows her more intimate, invested side. But mainly it's to set up the crucial misunderstanding between Hazuki and Tsukomoto: Tsukomoto is looking over at Kumiko, Hazuki looks over at him, he thinks that he's been caught looking at Kumiko and looks away, Hazuki thinks that he was looking at her and was embarrassed, and she hugs her tuba because that is the cutest thing she could do and the world is a kind and loving place.
If I wanted to I could make this post twice as long and talk about how beautiful absolutely every shot is but at the very least I have to point out the little dent in the tuba here, and how the tuning valves are actually realistically adjusted, and to encourage you to just pause at random here and there and look at how perfect they manage to get everything every time.
The scene ends with the episode's first glimpse of Reina. The pairing of this shot with the previous shot of Tsukomoto seems to imply that she, too, is looking over at Kumiko. The way the music completes at this scene suggests a sort of "correctness" and finality to this action - that is, when Tsukomoto looks over, the scene continues and the misunderstanding occurs, but when Reina looks over, there can be no misunderstanding and the scene is complete. This I would attribute to the general cosmic harmony of the episode (and the series as a whole), the continual movement from chaos to correctness. From misunderstanding to communion.
Then we get the OP, of course, which is always nice.
Scene 3: Who are you going with, senpai?
Midori's love-survey continues through her unstoppable belief that everyone must be in love and that love is music and good for everyone and who the hell knows what else. I like that the scene starts with Natsuki's response, which makes her investigation seem even more exhaustive and tedious for all others involved. Then she turns to Riko-senpai, who makes some adorable noises, and is immediately OWNED by...
Natsuki's GOD TIER SMUGFACE, save THAT one to your reaction image folder ASAP. I love how Gotou and Riko's relationship is an open secret to everyone but the viewer (although we did get some hints in previous episodes, just enough that we might start to root for it, which makes this revelation all the more satisfying) and the first years. It really highlights that, in both good and bad ways, this band has a history, and that real actual things were happening in the previous years. There's so many histories to find out, it's all so juicy - you just gotta know! Even Kumiko is a little shocked to hear this.
In general, too, it's really refreshing to see a development like this. Most shows in this genre shy away from any sort of concrete relationships, cause it can feel "rigid" to fans of the show, or somewhat stressful in the inherent potential "drama", and seems to "necessitate" too much plot. Hibike! dodges a lot of that by having a huge cast and making Gotou and Riko fairly minor characters, but what makes it actually worth doing??
Scenes like this, of course!! Their exchange here is SO ADORABLE. Gotou MOST MOE GIRL 2015. Riko's quintuple downplay is cute enough - "flustered" is one of the key emotions of the episode - but Gotou one ups it with his little cough and sudden genuine concern - we're not dating?? The "deal" of their relationship - the secrecy, but then the assumed date at the festival, etc - feels very realistic - not "mysterious" or "ambiguous", but just the sort of ill-defined place most people are in most relationships. It's all very intimate and cute.
The only thing that could disrupt this and escalate it further is the first appearance of my 3rd-ranked character, the indomitable Asuka!! Her personality is absolutely brilliant - a sort of "all out"ness, acting without shame but never without competency, no limits, absolute confidence, I could go on and on. It's basically the sort of person who walks the tightrope of being memorable while never falling into the pit called annoyance. The way she teases Gotou and Riko highlights this sort of purposeful shamelessness... Like, she's being deliberately provocative, but not in a way they could actually resent, her mission is just genuinely to open people up and spread comfort and happiness. But she also wants to have some fun doing it.
Then Midori asks her about her own romantic status, and we get an absolute pentafecta of meaning and representation. Let's break it down:
1. The way she says Euph-oni-UM-san, emphasizing it as if it was a name, is UNFEASIBLY ADORABLE and probably should be illegal
2. The way she plays up a sort of "cutesy" angle that kinda mocks Midori but in a way that's also self-deprecating so as to still encourage her is another beautiful representation of her wonderful personality
3. But then the actual truth seems to be that, in many ways, music is her only love, which hints at the backstory I'm sure we're all super interested in learning
4. And also reminds us that music is love, already proclaimed by Midori, and proven oh so true by the end of the episode
5. The way she hugs her euph is SO CUTE that I think someone must be coming to kill me because seeing this and still living is cosmically unjust etc etc etc
But GUESS WHAT, we're still going UP from there. From the first episode, I found Kumiko interesting because she's so close and yet so far from the "good girl" archetype I love so much in other shows. There was always this air of cynicism about her, of disinterest, of... distance. Like, it's these feelings that lead her to call out Reina's "delusions", or whatever you want to call them, right in the opening scene. A sort of resignedness, like, she's given up on a lot of things, but she's still satisfied for the most part. We'll get into this more later.
It seemed like a significant part of her character, but for someone to call her out on it so plainly was still unexpected. It made me suddenly realize that the show wouldn't just operate via her personality, but might be somewhat about her personality, and from there, it seemed like the potential was infinite. My confidence in this show was always high and I was about to be super rewarded.
Also, I just love how absolutely every conversation in the episode to this point had been about the festival, and plans for the festival, but Kumiko has... no interest whatsoever. It's this sort of separation that's so compelling and distant and mysterious yet somehow so familiar and reasonable and close. What a wonderful character.
A little physical comedy as Midori almost overstates her bounds... the juxtaposition between her literal starry-eyed idealism and Hazuki's flustered doubts is a d o r a b l e and speaks to the emotional plane of this episode, which can sort of be staked out through the four main girls.
The scene ends with Kumiko saying, basically, "the festival, huh?", with a tone that could be wistful but seems more likely to be sheer bored speculation. There's a sort of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-esque joke, where her disinterest contrasts the episode title. The Festival Triangle! Is this the summer triangle made so memorable by that Bakemonogatari ED??? No, no, obviously we're talking about LOVE!
We cut into the title to complete the first truly great scene of this episode. This collection of characters is gathered just because they all happen to play bass, which is both arbitrary but also seems to speak somehow to their characteristics. They're all excellent and I want to see more of all of them and all their interactions are great. And this is just a subset of seven out of this whole cast! I love the feeling of a big cast show like this having lots of little subgroups that are aligned on different metrics. Shirobako was great for this too.
Scene 4: What should we be trying to express here?
Ah, and what would a UFO episode be without a bit of the band playing, right? Even if it's just a bit. The piece they're playing is "Crescent Moon Dance" by Horikawa Namie. Asuka introduces it to them in episode 6. Now, I tried to look up information on this composer for... longer than I should have, with absolutely no success. Then I realized... it's cause she doesn't exist! Kyoani made her up, and composed this piece fresh! I was surprised... it's a nice piece! Good job, Kyoani!
I love the way Taki-sensei stops them here... as someone who's been in band and choir and such, these sorts of scenes are almost painfully nostalgic. "I believe we've already talked about this"... "What should we be trying to express here?"... these exact phrases! And it isn't just that this is the way directors typically talk, it's that this is a great way for directors to talk! I've seen a lot of people say that Taki-sensei seems "harsh" but this is actually just the way these things function. You remind people that you've already talked about it because it's helpful to realize you can remember, that this shouldn't seem like new information. It isn't accusatory! And what are we trying to express? This guy gets it!
Ahh, but not as much as Asuka gets it! Again, for the sake of her genuine interest in instilling the meaning and improving the band, she abandons all shame and restraint. Her enunciation and little twirl are on point, especially contrasted with the intricacies of the euph, the disbelief of Kumiko, and the total static confusion of the girl in the back.
Oh, but you better believe there's significance to the speech she gives! Like, Kyoani/the author actually just made up everything about the piece, so why wouldn't they make it meaningful? Buuut... that's actually for another time, I think. The lonely but celebratory dance of the moon? Doesn't that remind you of another dazzling girl, maybe one with an empty room and a euphonium for a boyfriend? Ahh, we'll have to revisit this when we learn a bit more about Asuka. But even now, it reinforces a few things for us that will matter by the end of the episode, mainly:
1. Music has meaning
2. An important part of music's value comes from understanding and expressing its meaning
3. Music can be an emotional statement via the concert of meaning and expression
4. Pay attention to celestial bodies!! Their movements, and the legends surrounding them, matter!!
Asuka's speech ends by devolving into deprecating self-parody that allows her message to be conveyed without also imposing her ego onto others, but without losing her genuine passion in researching and reporting on the composer. Ahh, I know that one pretty well. Taki-sensei picks up on this in a wonderful way, playing a very mild tsukkomi to her boke (google it i guess). He indirectly praises her, and was the one who picked her in the first place, expecting this sort of result. And yo, musical direction via relation to other personal behaviors? This guy getttts itttttt!!!
And y'know reaction shots, right? Like, something happens, and then it cuts to all the characters present and you see them reacting? If you don't know what I mean, load up an episode of a shonen show and jump to any random time and you'll likely see one. It's a classic way to stretch content without much work... slowly pan over some character's shocked face, great! That's another 10 seconds you don't actually have to animate.
Kyoani, of course, likes to show off by completely subverting this, rapid-firing reactions of character we've hardly seen but have fully-fleshed and beautiful designs, and giving each cut the same care of composition that they'd give any other. I love this shot especially... the focus shifts to Kumiko tucked away in the back, who pulls out a paper to make a note. It perfectly captures the combination of crowded and cozy that always defines rehearsal rooms.
Ah, and here's yet another side of Asuka - the reliable senpai! She helps out her adorable kouhai without pretension or flamboyancy, reminding us that, despite all her shamelessness, Asuka is actually completely reasonable underneath. What's great is that, although this is a rare aspect of Asuka to us, this is actually how she is most of the time, and all of the time that she needs to be. What a reliable senpai! Her language - is it "kurushi" for you, is it "painful" or "difficult", has a sort of camaraderie to it... like, Asuka is speaking from experiences she's had with similarly difficult parts. What a great senpai!
Tsukomoto notices their conversation, which prompts his question in the next scene. He also happens to catch Reina's eyes. What is being conveyed in this look? It hinges entirely on where you stand on the biggest issue of the episode, which we'll be addressing shortly...
Scene 5: Are you stuck on something?
The first transition in this scene is really bizarre, really really out of character for Kyoani... Like, I get it, I think... Kumiko is so preoccupied by practicing the fingering, that she walks some distance in completely the same routine, not even noticing that she's passing Tsukomoto, even when he calls out. But the way they depicted it... the background sort of "morphing" behind her, is just really strange, and raises questions about the entire nature of depiction of the show. If I was hard pressed to name one flaw in this episode (like "name one flaw in Euph e08 or we'll kill your grandma!") I'd say this.
ANYWAYS, this scene doesn't have a whole lot going on. It's just another instance of the two walking home together, which Hazuki mentions happens quite a bit. We get a little bit of their dynamic again: Kumiko is unabashedly distant and disinterested around Tsukomoto, who in turn seems like he's always trying to prove something. Some "fans" of the series claim that this shows how "comfortable" Kumiko is around Tsukomoto, or that she's just being "tsun", but we know how wrong this is. No, no... Kumiko just genuinely doesn't care. He humiliated her in middle school and now she's a bit resentful. She sees no reason to make any sort of effort around him. You go, Kumiko!
They talk about their struggles in band... I feel like Kumiko's level of skill is really wonderful to have for your main character and also really relatable. Like, she's not so bad that she's in jeopardy, that she's really struggling, there's a sort of humble confidence and competence, but she's not the best, she can still improve, she still wants to improve. It's a nice middle ground between the "complete amateur gets it together" and "expert stomps everybody" tropes we usually get, and I feel the plot that will result from her efforts from this place could potentially have some genuine insights. Like, I'd estimate that Kumiko is around like the 80th percentile in the band. How do you close the gap between that and 100th? It's not a situation we see too often.
And I guess Tsukomoto has issues too but lol who cares about him.
Scene 6: Huh? Why?
Doot-doot-doo-BRAAPALAAAAAPADOOPAdoooo okay yes good job shut up. I played trombone in high school and I can tell you as #1 trombone expert that this guy is amateur hour. Nah tho hes not even that good hes amateur HALF HOUR. boo, boo!!!
Okay I guess I could give him some credit cause he actually seems to value Kumiko's opinion and such but I'd rather just talk about how good Kumiko's VA is. Like, listen to her explanation of how Taki-sensei would be fine cutting euphs even though there's so few. Or even the little "hmmm" she gives when Tsukomoto asks for her opinion. Gahh!!! It's so good! All the little inflections! The slight benevolence! The slight raspiness! So good! It feels so natural, and yet there's so much complexity to it. It's human! That's the only word for it! She sounds so human!!
Okay, and this part's key, but I won't explain why until much later. Tsukomoto says he hopes they make nationals, he's starting to believe they can do it. Kumiko's like nahhhhhh, easier said than done, don't go crazy here. But then, she admits: they are getting good. And she hopes that they'll get even better. Not nationals. Nothing like that. Just that they'll get even better. That's key.
Inspired by this, Tsukomoto begins his somewhat understandable but ultimately misguided plan. Step one: hey, we should practice together here next time?
SHOT DOWN! The euph is tooooo heavy!! Remember that reason!! That reason is key!!
But he can recover from this! It's time for phase two! We all know what's coming... between the opening scene and the episode title, anyone could deduce where he's going with this... besides Kumiko, maybe. He takes a second to gather his courage, and then asks: what are you doing on the fifth?
Band, of course! Get wrecked!! Give up now! Don't you understand not a single cell in her mind is thinking about the festival?
At this point, my gut is clenching. Sure, she denied it at the start of the episode, but could she actually like Tsukomoto and just not realize it? Would she actually accept if offered? Or even consider it? Would it come down to the Hazuki factor? I couldn't be too sure. I was scared. It could all be over. I was panicking, it seemed no-win:
1. If she accepts, game over, bad end, go to bed, cry.
2. If she thinks of Hazuki and then denies him, STILL bad end, perhaps even WORSE end: she actually has legitimate desire to go with him, but prioritizes her friend... but there's still that desire!!
3. If she just flat-out denies him, it conflicts with her "detached" personality by being so direct, but also taints her underlying morality... like, I'd want her to be the type of person that couldn't reject someone without feeling some sort of conflict, but the other side of that conflict - even if it's just pity - I don't want at all.
I was like... back out, man! Back out! You're ruining everything! Give up now!! But no, he goes all-in:
The festival... will you go with me?
AAAAAAAAAAAA, and the RESPONSE???
Have you ever SEEN such destruction? Such a perfect and elegant solution? Genuine confusion! Genuine concern! Not a rejection, but just naturally informing him that she is so disinterested that she doesn't even comprehend what's being asked of her. It's a level of shock comparable to when Midori asks her if she likes him at the beginning of the episode. It's just not the sort of relationship that could possibly happen in her mind.
To me, this is it. This is the end of the war. Everything debated beyond this is just stubbornness. But I am not one to lose in stubbornness, so I will prove the other side even more wrong. And if they want to refute me I will only accept an equally long counteressay.
Give it some thought? Okay yeah buddy take a hike. Pack it in. Head back to losertown you loserino. Look at that: within a span of a few stupid questions, his smile and optimism are now gone forever. The life he pictured where he dates Kumiko has drowned itself in that pretty pretty lake.
Kumiko's narration confirms this interpretation: she's just surprised! Nanda yo... She has to reevaluate everything, you know? Some of society's truly unintelligent and despicable have interpreted this as being her overcome by realization of her own emotions, like, she's suddenly realizing that she likes Tsukomoto. Ehhhh I don't think so. And here, I'll even throw in an argument for that side: you could say that the fact they change uniforms after this scene is significant, that the changing of seasons reflects the changing of her heart! But you shouldn't say that, because that's stupid, unlike everything I'm saying, which is science.
Scene 7: Naruhodo.
And here's why I think so: in what might be the world's first "double weather/season reverse pathetic fallacy", they switch to their summer uniforms and it rains. It isn't about what they represent with this as much as it is what they don't represent: if they wanted to, this could easily be a melancholy scene where Kumiko, y'know, struggles to unravel the mysteries of her heart, or whatever. The dishonesty to herself! The betrayal of Hazuki! The tension of her response! All that crap. It could be dark, moody, pensive.
But nah. There's cute, upbeat piano music. The sky is bright and there's plenty of colour and movement on screen. Sure, she's contemplative, but she's just trying to work out what Tsukomoto actually thinks of her as. You gotta realize, they've been friends for years, and now suddenly all those memories have a slightly different slant to them. It'd be enough to leave anyone a bit dazed. Yes, THAT ALONE would be enough. And it's supposed to be a bit funny, y'know? Like, this is how "distant" Kumiko is, that she hadn't even conceived of this... It's the same sort of joke as where she's so dismissive of the festival, and Natsuki calls her out on it, and she's surprised.
After some Holmes-esque deduction, we see our MASTER OF NUANCE AND EMOTION work out the eponymous triangle. See, this aspect wasn't even on her mind before! It's really clearly not a case of her only rejecting Tsukomoto out of consideration for Hazuki.
I love the shot of angry Midori. So full of betrayal and rage! So justified! Demanding to be taken seriously! We'll probably never see it in "canon", which is probably for the best. Kumiko's imagination is so overblown, too... like, hilariously so. And I love that she sees it as all just a big hassle... not really a significant risk to anyone's long-term feelings or anything, but just a pain. It's a perfect mix between reasonable and unreasonably too reasonable.
This whole little sequence here is an absolute joy to watch... just on the level of like, gestures. Does anyone capture the little nuances of natural motion like Kyoani? I once saw a thing about Miyazaki movies that pointed out little details like uhhh the girl in Spirited Away pulling up the back of her shoes in one scene, and ever since then I've loved to look for them in any animated show. Kyoani is great, though, cause they combine realistic details of how people move with exaggerated cartoonish motions. It seems like it ought not to work, but through the fluidity of the animation and amount of love and care, it turns out great!
So now, through this "fated look" and Midori's unbridled enthusiasm, Hazuki prepares herself to confess. I love how static and uninvolved Kumiko is through the whole thing... It feels like a very real situation, where you feel like what's happening is directly related to you, but there's nothing you can actually do at that situation. It's awkward, for lack of a better word.
Scene 8: Sorry, but I'm going with this person!
Back in the music room, we arrive at the climatic scene of the first act! It is appropriate that we end the school-based half of the episode in the most important room in the school. The triangle finally comes together, and there's a sense that all the tension formed in the previous scenes is going to burst: Tsukomoto demanding Kumiko's answer! Hazuki demanding his! It seems unsolvable, but the appearance of a sudden new element...
The music starts up again, this time accompanied by the ambient sounds of people fooling around on their instruments. There's a sort of play-like structure to this whole thing, one that operates through location and observation. Like, Kumiko meets the eyes of Tsukomoto, and then goes out into the hall to avoid him.
Tsukomoto follows her out, because he's an idiot, and Hazuki notices this, and resolves to follow him. But it takes her a little longer to leave, 'cause she has to psyche herself up. And does Reina follow Kumiko out into the hall too? I'd like to think so. It isn't really ever clear what she initially left the classroom for.
I dunno, probably not worth discussing at length, but there's something about the causal structure of this that I really appreciate. It's a somewhat complex situation that was derived from a few natural and unremarkable actions.
The noise Kumiko makes here is officially CUTEST SOUND OF ALL TIME, dethroning the reigning CSOAT.
This angle is rare for Kyoani in that it's actually an impossible perspective, as far as I can tell. I'm no architect or math guy or whatever but I don't think it's actually possible to see both walls in this way? So it'd have to be like a "fisheye lens" or something... I might be wrong, I didn't think about it too hard. It's rare for Kyoani to depict something like this. And I dunno. I guess it could be sloppiness, actually. And maybe if it was a long shot it'd bug me. But with the length we're given, this sudden difference in perspective is a nice treat, and really emphasizes the painful discomfort of the scene.
Their discussion of what ought to be a "signal" is also pretty funny, playing to Kumiko's "distance" factor again. And I like the implication that maybe Tsukomoto isn't so socially graceful either, although he can put on a good front of it. I don't actually dislike Tsukomoto, y'know. He's just on the wrong side.
The noise Kumiko makes here is now officially CUTEST SOUND OF ALL TIME, dethroning the reigning CSOAT, which was the sound she made about 20 seconds earlier.
OKAY, and now here's the crucial event. Tsukomoto may have set up his own downfall by suggesting an excuse when he asks her if she has other plans. I'm not sure why he did it. I honestly am not sure at all what was going through his brain when he brought it up again. Surely he must have realized Kumiko's disinterest when he asked the first time, right? And her avoidance here? So why press it? Who knows... things look very different from another's perspective, I guess.
But Kumiko is in a pretty rough situation, y'know? She can't say she's going with Hazuki or Midori. Aoi-chan probably has cram school, and Tsukomoto probably knows that too. She doesn't even really want to go in the first place, but who would believe that? So what does she do?
Kumiko hears the door open, and, desperately, grabs the unknown person's arm...
Ahhh... who could it be??? Also allow me to say quickly here how much I love that, in this scene, we hear the band dooting away in the rehearsal room, but only when the door is open. It's a really nice effect.
She stammers out that she's going with this person instead! Huhh???
Okay, let's get this straight... this is a stupid plan, right?
Like... really stupid.
Like, Kumiko really didn't have any idea who it was.
It could have been that rude bow-chan.
It could have been Taki-sensei.
It could have been Hazuki! How busted would that be? That would screw EVERYTHING up, WAY more.
How would she explain it to them later?
Or even... how would she explain anything right at that instant, when the person would - very reasonably - say "Wuh? What are you talking about?"
Then what would Tsukomoto think?
Then what would she do to avoid going with him?
It's clear that she's just 100% panic mode trying the first thing she can think of here. But this might be the lesson of it: instead of compromising to some troublesome explanation, she rolled the dice on a sudden impulsive "solve everything" gambit.
And it pays off! She grabs perhaps the ONLY person in that entire room that wouldn't instantly destroy this ill-conceived plan. The only one who wouldn't question her, who, for whatever reason, would accept this unilateral claim of a preexisting plan. Of course, this same quality will lead to something well beyond a convenient dodge, as Reina endeavors to make it no longer a lie. And it will lead to something well beyond that, too. But that's all later.
BUT EVEN THEN, Kumiko's scheme could still fall through if the three of them were left alone to perhaps discuss what these "plans" entailed, exactly. But Kumiko is saved again! Hazuki bursts in, ready to finally ask the question. First, though, she looks for Kumiko for approval.
And Kumiko responds by taking a step closer to Reina. It's these little things, y'know? There's a whole lot going on this single image, some of it obvious, and maybe some of it not. And maybe some of it made up entirely. Part of me wants to go through and compile a guide to what I see as symbolic repeating visual motifs in this episode. The biggest one is shots of feet, which we often cut to just long enough to see their movement or positions. Like Hazuki crossing them while interrogated by Midori at the start - there's a lot of personality in it, so it obviously signifies something. Or the fact that we see Reina in this scene first with just a shot of her feet entering the room. And of course later there's a really powerful scene involving feet. Buuuutttt, I think this crosses a line between what I'd call "functional analysis" and what I'd call "representational analysis". The former is what I like to do, which is looking at the choices made and how they function in making you have an emotional response. The latter is where you focus on codified meaning, like saying "the legs in this shot represents 9/11, and the fire extinguisher is because jet fuel can really melt steel beams".
Umm, I could have used a better example. Anyways, I only really like doing the latter as far as it influences the former. So like, I'm happy to say how I feel seeing these shots of feet, and why I think it's different than if they had shown a typical body or face shot (in short, I think it's more that, by going to the feet, they can have a "drastic cut" (where like none of the previous shot is visible again) that still represents the same action, which makes the pacing feel more dynamic and invests you more in the action), but I don't really want to get into a whole thing of "feet = agency" codification or something. I don't really see anything wrong with that sort of analysis, and it can be pretty interesting, but it just isn't what I'm interested in doing myself because it's always going to be one step away from the desired emotional response, and that step is what I'm interested in. Thus I don't really want to create "codexes" of motifs and contexts and speculate on the resulting meaning, outside of some underlying desire to just do absolutely everything I can with this episode.
Like, I'm not an idiot... I know there are absolute masterpieces of cinema that are much more complex than this single anime episode. If I was interested in a sheer structural breakdown, I know there are better targets. But few, if any, have given me an emotional reaction as strong as this episode. I want to understand how that functions, and share that with the world.
And also like... I know I'm going a bit "deeper" on this than most people would, but I don't want to entirely go off the deep end. I'd like to think that everything I'm saying is pretty justified from material in the episode. The problem I have with "representational analysis" is that it's way too easy to say "blank represents blank", and because you don't necessarily have to say why or how or how does it make me feel every time, you could just be going further and further off base. Like maybe it's just that a lot of animators at Kyoani have foot fetishes. I dunno.
Okay yeah: the little things.
So here we have the triangle! The staredown! The final choice! Tsukomoto attempts to avoid Hazuki, totally ignorant of her intentions! He just wants to talk to Kumiko! Perhaps skeptical of her sudden excuse? Thank goodness Hazuki stepped in! Kumiko pleads with him to hear her out! She's desperate to end the situation, and probably even thinking of Hazuki's feelings!
Tsukomoto asks one last time: is that what you want? Everything is understood now. I even suspect that Tsukomoto knows full well that Kumiko lied about having plans with Reina. If, for some bizarre reason, I was rooting for Tsukomoto, like, if the genders were reversed, and he was Sue-chan, this scene would be absolutely BRUTAL. But no. And Kumiko, also knowing that they're both now probably totally on the same page about what's actually being said here, that she is outright rejecting him, says that this is what she wants.
Ahhahahahahaha, just give up, man! It's over! It's overer than over! It's thrice over! I wish I could say this was the last VICIOUS BTFOING in the episode, but it's just... the last one that makes me happy... ;___;
but man does it make me happy lol. happy but maybe a bit sad too. but not in a way that cancels out the happiness, y'know?
seriously dude cheer up!! hazuki is a cute and nice girl too!!!
So now, the pressure of going out with Tsukomoto is off. But it's been replaced by Tsukomoto's anger? Kumiko may not want to date him, but I wouldn't say she outright hates him, so that might be a bit troubling too. And now her dear friend is on her way to ask out that very same Tsukomoto! Aaaaand, most importantly, her relationship with Reina, which was already pretty strange and fragile, just got way more complicated because of this sudden, inexplicable contact.
But what does Kumiko do? In a natural, unprocessed emotional reaction, she grips Reina's wrist a little tighter. It's the little things, y'know?
Although she hasn't been involved with the episode at all thus far, Reina can understand perfectly what's just gone down: Tsukomoto asked Kumiko out, Kumiko didn't want to go but didn't want to say no, then Hazuki asked Tsukomoto out. All of that is easily deducible from what she's just seen. And, more importantly, she's witnessed Kumiko's behavior through all of this. She's the only one who actually knows the entirety of the situation, and knows how Kumiko responded.
Scene 9: We're going to the festival, right?
And maybe that's why she does what she does. I don't buy that Reina is so socially ignorant that she assumes Kumiko was sincere in her claim that they were going together, especially since it seems that they didn't talk at all between this scene and the shot in the hall. But she sees an opportunity, and takes it.
Kumiko has absolutely no reaction during this scene, a far cry from her earlier griping and CSOAT yelps. There's no narration to guide us through her thoughts during this, the second time she's been "asked out" in as many days. Of course, there's no reason to assume they'll actually go together. It seems just as likely that Kumiko will explain herself and they'll go their separate ways. But I don't think anyone was at all doubtful that they were gonna go together at this point. The placement and pacing of that shot makes it utterly clear: this is what will happen in the latter half of this episode. And the fact that we don't doubt it speaks to some underlying feeling we all have about the characters. Look into your heart. You know what I'm talking about.
But I'm still gonna talk about it. Hahaha. Oh man.
Interlude I: Episode 10 is out
Yes, it has now been TWO WEEKS since this episode came out, but here I am, still writing about it. I haven't had many good opportunities to work at it, but I've been thinking about it roughly 24/7. Who knows if I'll even get it done tonight (although I'm gonna do my best!), there's still a TON I want to say. We're only getting warmed up!!
It sorta bugs me that this is my AOTS and all and other people are out there watching new episodes and talking about new episodes and I, out of sheer insane devotion, am stuck on e08. But this is important to me. This is important to me because I told myself it was important and my ability to tell myself things are important and believe myself and act accordingly is also important to me. But it also seems like a great opportunity to create something I'll truly be proud of. It feels like everything is in this episode, or at least a lot of things. And it feels like, if it's this episode, I can say everything. So let's keep going! Further up and further in!
Scene-by-scene analysis: act II
Scene 10: The sunset ushered in a lively festival...
Earlier I was talking about my ideas of "functional" and "representative" analysis and I dunno if I made myself clear, so here's a really simple example.
A functional analysis of this opening shot of the leaves might suggest that it's here to show that the weather is nice again, because the last shot before the commercial break showed the same leaf with rain. And the fact that it's the same shot, minus the rain and in a different time of day, actually makes it more clear that time has passed than two different shots, because you can very clearly see the evidence that this is a new day.
A representational analysis might suggest that we're looking at the "springtime of youth" of these girls, and that the green colours represent their vibrancy, and that the windows represent how this is what awaits them outside of school, which they can only restlessly and ineffectually observe during class.
They're both good, but the former interests me more than the latter.
By the way, I made up these terms and this distinction on my own , so if you encounter some other text saying something about this sort of thing, or if there's other things with these terms, and nothing makes sense, that's why. I'm not sure if other people are interested in this sort of "analysis-analysis" but I am so here we are.
The old-fashioned and intimidating Michie-sensei is probably the aspect of the show I forget most often, and one of my least favorite. It just seems like a pointless sort of character at the moment, and I'm also not interested in any sort of focus on her that would absolve that. But I'm still happy for this sort of shot because it adds to the sense of "completeness" that this episode has. It also reinforces just how big a deal this festival is - even their teachers have to make a comment.
I think it's sorta implied that Taki-sensei cut rehearsal short here, since we see nothing of it besides his dismissal. Probably a combination of him empathizing with the festival-hungry kids, and the fact that they probably weren't getting much work done anyways. These two shots of their teachers drives home how for everyone - probably even Kumiko, at this point - the festival is everything on their minds... nothing else is given a second of attention.
Kumiko's narration - again, humbly explanatory, with just the right balance between familiarity and distance, friendliness and disinterest - carries us into this establishing scene. Here we are: at the festival! Could you get any more excited? So much has been set up for us! And on top of all that - it's a festival episode! I love festival episodes!!
Ahh, like this! I love this! On so many levels I love this!! On three levels!
Level one: It's a festival! Look at the stands! The food!! I want to be there!!!
Level two: Everyone is cute! Everyone has a unique personality represented by their evident choices and dispositions! Their positioning is natural and yet dynamic! The shot is bursting with personality and energy, even though it's just a still frame! It feels like this could be the cast of some other show!
Level three: Those are all "established" background characters, who have been "established" in that group! The choices made in this shot reflect their established personalities and relationships! And Kyoani, out of sheer love for these characters, went out of their way to include all of this, even if just for a second.
More levels of love than seconds that this shot appears on the screen! What a masterpiece this episode is!
IMMEDIATELY one-upped by this absolute BANGER. We KNEW this one was coming, but could we REALLY be READY for how PERFECT it was??? I think as soon as I saw Gotou on the bench I squealed a bit with anticipation because the entire exchange becomes obvious from just that shot.
EAR BLUSH!!! OMG EAR BLUSH!! and that BACKGROUND HOLY COW! He can't even look her in the face when he says it. K-kawaii. AAAAAAAhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Gotou MOST MOE. Gotou BEST GIRL. BEAST GIRL. BEAST GIRL AND BEST GIRL.
The little gasp she makes here is TCSOAT (Third Cutest Sound Of All Time). And like... the fact that she invited basically only this response, and she knows it, and she knows as well as we did that that's the only thing he really could've said, and yet she was still a little surprised to actually hear it! She couldn't quite prepare!! And then the way she thanks him! I saw a comment on /a/ about how this is the sort of couple that ends up sitting on their porch eating tangerines while watching their grandkids play in the yard. What a beautiful sentiment! How accurate!! How cute!!!
We get a nice little sequence of static or mostly-static shots here, some of established characters and some of "strangers", accompanied by the chatter of the crowd and stirring music. This is like, super wonderful, right? I've seen so, so, many festival episodes in anime that all these obligatory shots of games and food start to carry the same nostalgic weight as they might for a Japanese viewer actually accustomed to the real thing. Okay no, it's actually just a tiny sliver of that weight, but the longing to make up the difference... that, too, is a nice feeling.
I like how, alongside shots of the groups we expected to see at the festival, we get this little "twist" with no additional explanation or ceremony. Bow-chan, who's name I'm afraid to look up because of potential spoilers, and Natsuki, hanging out together! Even though they seemed to hate each other before! It turns out that really just is the way they are. And it makes sense, too - they're in the same class, the first-years that were present for the conflict that cast its shadow over the whole series. Although Bow-chan prolly pulled through for love of her sensei, and Natsuki remained out of sheer apathy, they have this connection, and are much closer than they let on. This is something I always like to see.
Scene 11: Cho-kawaii!
We "curve out" of this into the first of the two major festival arcs: Hazuki's big date! Midori helping her prepare is a wonderful little slice of a close friendship. The pride and happiness she feels for her friend is so endearing, on top of her own excitement for her own night of festival fun with her sister. And Hazuki's nervousness, her slight discomfort - it's the first time she's worn a skirt besides her uniform! It's all so cute and wonderful I might just explode!
Ahhh!! Settle down Kyoani, I am already at risk!! Here Kyoani creates a character in a rare archetype that I love and succeeds with flying colours. It's the "somewhat strange, kinda mopey, but ultimately kind little kid"! Prolly the best other example I can think of is Renge from Non Non Biyori. The most common signs of this character are the voice and a face that goes like ": <" a lot. PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION!
Like, let's try not to stray too far from what is the foundation and moral core and beating heart of anime: the cuteness! The way Hazuki responds to Midori's sister, squatting down and sharing the viewer's excitement: that is cute! The relationship Midori has with her sister: that is cute! It's cute for both of them! This sense of her being responsible for her, but also genuinely excited to spend time together! The way she prompts her sister, with a sense of familiarity and pride and trust! Cute, cute!!
The way she turns to Midori before responding... TOO CUTE! And the way Midori picks her up!! Too cute!!!
But Hazuki is still the cutest!! There is nothing cuter than a girl who's gotten extra cute for her first big date! Nothing!! The way her smile spreads at the compliment is so infectious that it ought to be classified and contained in some lab, only visible through haz-mat suits.
Okay, let's take a short break from all the cuteness and look at... astronomical symbolism. Here's a nice shot of Hazuki looking all wild-eyed and full of longing, but what is she looking at?
It's this decoration! And who are these guys? Well, I'm pretty sure that it's Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are these fate-crossed lovers who can meet only once a year. It comes from a Chinese myth, which inspired a Chinese festival, which then inspired the Japanese Tanabata festival, which (again, just pretty sure) is the sort of festival we're dealing with here. Orihime and Hikoboshi represent the idea of a love that isn't allowed to exist but, under rare circumstances, can come to fruition. A sort of "fated" or "undeniable" love. (Btw, it's said that if it rains on Tanabata, then the lovers can't come together, which is why they make such an emphasis that it was raining for so long but then cleared up). But, at the most general, these festivals are just all about love, and hopes and ambitions for love. Keep in mind that the whole story originated from an explanation of astronomy, of two stars... but we'll get to that later.
That's a lot for a young girl crushing hard to process! And Hazuki has to let off some steam, and once again, it's CUTE! CUTE!! The juxtaposition of her detailed glittering eyes and this cartoony shot is cute!! The fact that we can see the results of her tuba training is cute!!
And the way Tsukomoto catches her doing this is cute! Cute and funny, in that slice of life way where you feel like they had to make this joke, that there's no way they wouldn't. A very reliable sort of humour, comforting and familiar.
And Hazuki's greeting to Tsukomoto! Cute! Cute!! I'll even admit that Tsukomoto looks a bit cute here! It's a nice outfit! Everything cute!! But brace yourselves, because now we're going to go... way past cute.
Scene 12: A pretty big compromise
OKAY, here we go, this is where we actually get started. I think I've made it clear that so far, this is a pretty solid episode, right? Like, it just does everything it needs to. And it hits most of the elements that made me like the series to begin with... slice of life antics + band stuff + a bit more drama/plot than a typical SoL show.
And like, Reina and Kumiko are the two main characters, right? They share the opening scene, they're most prominent in the OP and ED... it'd be crazy to think of the series as anything but their story. So it's not like it's surprising that there would be some sort of development that focuses exclusively on them. I was eagerly anticipating it, as they were my two favorite characters, and their relationship my favorite aspect of the show.
So as soon as we had seen the Hazuki and Tsukomoto scene, I knew we'd be getting the Kumiko and Reina scene. As soon as I saw this establishing shot I knew that this would be it. I knew I was getting exactly what I was hoping for. Like, have you ever had that sort of sensation? Where you're watching something, and you realize that some element that you liked best was about to become the focal point? Probably the most common example of this is in stuff like... Like imagine you were a big fan of Marlo on The Wire, ever since he was a minor character. Or Michael. And then you slowly realize that they were gonna be a big deal in the plot. Or or in shonen series this happens a lot... the guy you thought at first was gonna be a one-arcer ends up staying around... I remember getting hype like this when Robin and Franky joined the crew, especially.
It's so exciting! But it's also a bit worrying, right? Like... will they do a good job? Is their motivation for doing this the same as mine for wanting to see it? Could it be too much of a good thing?
Okay well... in this case, I honestly wasn't worried at all. I was 100% confident that they would handle this perfectly. I had a sort of rushup euphoria as soon as I realized what was happening, born of that confidence.
And they still blew me away.
Okay, this line is important. NO WAIT. Every line is important. We'll be talking about every line. "Why did I have to bring my euphonium?" The heavy euphonium! The one she wouldn't bring to practice with Tsukomoto. A reasonable request he made. A place nearby to the train station (I assume, 'cause they often seem to stop and hang out there on the way home).
Completely arbitrary unexplained undefined request from Reina > Reasonable understood purposeful request from Tsukomoto
SCORE ONE FOR TEAM REINA. In fact, score ONE HUNDRED.
Okay but let's dial it back for a second and talk about a million other beautiful things they've ALREADY done in this scene. Most of them contribute to what I'd call... "an escalation of intimacy into the night". Think about it like this: we saw a bunch of crowded exciting festival scenes, and what were they characterized by? Noise, and light, and business, and all that. The only scene not like this was Gotou and Riko, which was again quieter and simpler. And then Midori and Hazuki - quieter and simpler again. And later, too, the colours becoming more muted and darker.
I'm not trying to swerve too far into the sort of "representational analysis" I talked about above... I'm not saying there's a "code" here or anything. It's just a basic emotional response that's being generated. When you see the characters in bright, crowded, noisy areas, you're thinking "wow that seems fun". When they're alone, in the quiet halflight, you think... how intimate, how romantic... right? Obviously, right?
And then, after the Hazuki scene, we see a GIGANTIC escalation in ALL these qualities. The BGM stops. The colours become much more muted and nighttime. There's no ambient noise, just the sounds of Kumiko's breath.
Now, what's REALLY cool is that this immediately follows Hazuki's brief look of longing into the sky. I don't think you have to be much of a psychoanalyst to imagine what she's imagining. In fact, I think, given how much we're asked to think about her big date from her perspective, and especially in regards to her expectations and anxieties, that we're likely to be fully imagining with her: soon they will be alone, in some peace and quiet, and maybe a bit of darkness, and then...
All I'm trying to say here is that, in a really, beautiful, wonderful, masterful way, Kyoani has reminded us exactly of that quintessential (and by this I mean "is in lots of anime") festival experience, where you and your date finally get to be alone, and it's very intimate and romantic, and etc etc. And there's a sense that they're "building up" to such an experience, and encouraging you to imagine what that would look like.
And THEN they transfer all those expectations and memories over to the Kumiko and Reina scene, by continuing this escalation of aesthetics, and team Reina gets FIFTY THOUSAND POINTS.
Reina complains about Kumiko running late, which might seem a bit stiff, but I dunno. I feel like I can empathize with her cause she's so nervous, y'know? And sometimes when you're nervous you end up a bit aggressive. Well, I don't, but I think lots of people do.
Kumiko doesn't even REGISTER this because she's so STUNNED by what she's seeing. This is the sort of dumbfounded face she makes when Reina confirms their date by the shoe lockers, but like, times a thousand. What's she looking at?? Well, remember when I said there is nothing cuter than a girl who's gotten extra cute for her first big date? That was TRUE. But I wasn't talking about Hazuki!
OKAY let's just talk about this dress for a second. I found this stitch on /a/, by the way. I think we need to give praise where praise is due. This isn't the most important aspect of the show for me, not even close, but I'll be honest and admit that it is still important. And it's certainly an important aspect overall for Kyoani, in terms of sales and stuff. The character design! They have to make the characters look cute! Beyond that, they have to make the characters look moe! Now, last time I tried to define exactly what that word was, it ended up taking a few thousand words, and got really personal, and many people found it "depressing", so we're gonna skip all that.
Instead, though, we're gonna take a more exhaustive surface-level view on what makes this outfit absolutely god-tier and perfectly designed for its purposes. Basically, I see an outfit choice like this as having to hit the sweet spot of a lot of different metrics all at once. It has to be the right amount of modest and the right amount of provocative. It has to be the right amount of innocent and sexy. Cute but not too cutesy. Fancy but not too impractical. It has to work nicely with the setting and her design, but not so nicely that it seems unfeasible that this dress could exist outside of this context. It has to have some detail and asymmetry and such, but not be too complex. It has to look ideal but not so pristine that it seems uncomfortable or unworn. It has to have good movement and freedom, but not so much that it seems unstable.
And I mean... obviously it succeeds on every metric, right? And I'd explain more but I think this probably isn't what anyone wants to read (lol implying anyone is reading this). Like, if you're already on the same page as me about this, there's nothing I need to explain. And if you aren't, my attempts to explain how perfect this dress is probably will do more harm than good.
What's really cool though is that the context of this outfit - Reina choosing something to wear for Kumiko - makes it so you can imagine Reina going through all of these decisions herself. Her criteria and priorities are basically the same as the art director's, and with the same sort of freedom too. And her choice still "succeeds" in that it seems right that she, as a character, would choose it - just as much as it succeeds as Kyoani's choice (which is based, ultimately, on making sales of the merchandise etc).
Does that make sense? Is it kinda neat? Sure? Okay cause now we'll go one layer deeper.
Now, what's REALLY cool is that because Reina is making a choice to appeal to Kumiko that happens to coincide with Kyoani's choice to appeal to you, your reaction is now SUPERSYNCHED to Kumiko's! Ayy! What the hell am I talking about? Well, it's just that Kumiko and the viewer are entirely on the same page here. The same level of confusion, of expectation, of whatever. Like sure, they evidently made plans sometime offscreen between the acts, but it clearly couldn't have been much more than the time and place. So Kumiko is entirely on the same boat we're in...
But so what? Well, this gets into a whole 'nother thing with anime. Do you watch harem anime, or any sort of romantic show? What's always the worst part? The part that makes you have to pause the episode and walk around the house screaming into your hands (don't lie I know everyone does this)? It's the dense MCs, right? It's the scenes where it's so OBVIOUS that he should say something, where YOU would say something, you'd say something a THOUSAND TIMES OVER. For me, the worst ones are where he has an opportunity to compliment the girl, but manages to insult her somehow by tripping over himself to avoid it.
For me, the stupid MC, despite often being designed 100% for blandness and easy self-insertion, puts so much distance between me and the show. He's not behaving at all like I would, or at least like I would want to. Or like, he'll just be so IGNORANT, missing OBVIOUS clues that he's actually on a date, or about to be confessed to, or something. Ugh.
So here, we get something different! Kumiko, our MC, isn't being ignorant! She isn't oblivious to what's happening here, there were no social cues she didn't pick up on. She has no better or worse understanding than we do! And she isn't wrapped up in some crazy headgame about liking or disliking that we're not privy to and would never want to emulate. There's no expectation, or even the expectation of an expectation. There's no reason for her to behave any differently than we would, on the most visceral levels.
And then what does she do? ACTUALLY PLAINLY SAY EXACTLY WHAT EVERYONE WAS THINKING, what ANY reasonable person would be thinking. "I was surprised at how cute you were". That's just honest. She didn't think she'd need to dress up like this, she just wore whatever, but here's Reina in some formal one piece gown thing looking INCREDIBLE. There's no crazy handwaving and "Buwha w-what I meant to say was the MOON looks cute tonight!" or whatever. I remember as soon as I saw this I was like OMG this is it, this is the REAL ONE. and i mentally awarded another 50k points to team reina.
And then another 50000 for this! This reaction: blush! Surprised inhale! Quick turn away! It's on both sides now!! This is it!! This is the real one!!!
This whole exchange is just so great... Reina, with a bit of confidence now, starts playfully walking backwards while explaining, very vaguely, the plan for the evening. She makes some references to sharing the euphonium's burden and the shortness of the hike, but these seem almost beside the point. She knows Kumiko is skeptical and exhausted, but she knows that Kumiko will still follow her. Or rather, maybe she knows that if Kumiko doesn't follow her, then she would have never wanted Kumiko to follow her anyways.
At this point, I felt that I might be asleep or dreaming. It was becoming clear what was about to happen. They were going to climb a mountain together and then play a duet. I knew that. It seemed too good to be true, but there it was. And it was STILL even BETTER than THAT.
The music starts up again, but now a quiet, contemplative piano piece, and with it, Kumiko's narration. It feels very different from her previous narrations. It isn't so much explanatory, not a summary of some recent events or whatever. It's a lot closer to her narration after being asked out by Tsukomoto but HEY, before team Tsukomoto gets too far ahead of itself, I'd say there's still some fundamental differences. Those ones represent a sort of untangling of the mind, of her working through the situation. It's mostly functional, similar to her explanations. Now, you might wonder - functional for who? At what level of diegesis does the narration exist? Are we supposed to imagine that the whole story is in fact a story being told by Kumiko in the future, and that we are seeing a visual representation mixed with her words at that time? Or, is it more just a vocalization of her inner monologue? A precedence for this comes in the first episode, when she talks through a situation to her cactus.
Either way, I'd say her narration until this point was largely based on arriving at or conveying a functional understanding of something. But this sort of narration I would describe more as... preservation, right? She's explaining her surroundings, her senses, and her current thoughts and feelings. There's nothing really mysterious, nothing she has to figure out for her sake or others'. It's just that recognition you get some times that what you're currently experiencing will someday become a precious memory.
And oh man... the commentary she has here... so perfect. It reminds me of "Ithaca", y'know, the one everyone likes is "The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit." and well gosh well okay Kumiko isn't quite there yet, but I think the spirit is the same, and maybe even it's the same aesthetic they're trying to capture, or at least it is in my mind, some lively warm night aesthetic, where your night vision makes everything blue, as seen (???) maybe in the songs "Tyrant's Miniature Garden" and "Banshee Beat", and others I'm forgetting. It doesn't matter.
And you probably know what a Yuki-onna is, right? It's strange for a summer metaphor, but you think of all kinds of things when you feel this emotional. Like most Siren-myths, the idea here is that the thing is so beautiful that you're drawn to it against all rationality. Maybe you even KNOW that you're following a mythic sirenesque creature that will kill you, but you still have to go, because it's THAT beautiful. It's not clear exactly what Kumiko is scared of here... maybe just being exhausted? But she can't help it. She's totally honest to herself and the viewers.
And WOAH HEY, did you see the little flies buzzing around this light? It only shows up for a second. It's a 3d effect they had to add, just for this. It's another example of something being drawn to something beautiful. And it looks really nice.
Step one: breach the topic of the shrines in a natural way like "Hey, check out this shrine. Remember the other shrine?"
Step two: once you've confirmed that they remember the two shrines such that they can compare them, THEN ask which they prefer
Step three: once you've done that, you can offer your own opinion and such.
She races all the way to step three! Without Kumiko saying ANYTHING! That's crazy! Is she nervous? Is she just being a bit awkward? I think she's just... very eager to reach a place of understanding with Kumiko. This is her first attempt to reach those depths of conversation.
Kumiko is... basically not having it at all, though. She ignores the question, still wholly occupied with the strangeness of their current situation. Her concerns mirror the audience's... what's up with Reina? Is this something she's into, climbing mountains? Like, I think... being that this is a TV show, and not reality, we have a certain faith in the characters to behave in... I dunno what the word I'm looking for is exactly, but like... sustainable ways? In ways that will allow the show continue, you know? But to Kumiko, there's still some concern that Reina is just plain weird, and not really worth making friends with. She doesn't really believe this deep down, but she has to ask.
And Reina blandly rebukes her, reminding her that nah, she's a reasonable person. Don't worry. Kumiko seems a little exasperated by Reina's bluntness, but also annoyed at her own doubts, maybe. It's a cute little exchange.
But then she COMPLETELY OPENS UP! It's this sort of development that I find so powerful. Not just that she opens up here, but her readiness and even eagerness to explain herself to Kumiko. Like, have you ever had that feeling? That you're with someone you can just open yourself up to completely? Someone that you feel assured will understand you, no matter what you're trying to say? I certainly hope you've felt like that at least once in your life. Even if you're fortunate enough to spend time regularly with someone that feels like that to you, there's certain moments where you become overwhelmed with that assurance, and you start to say things you may have never even told yourself.
So that itself is very intimate and touching, but the actual message here? Hooo man, can I even touch on this sort of sentiment? The feeling of a routine that you don't hate, that you might even like, but by the very nature of it being routine, you want to discard. To throw everything away. To go somewhere else with nothing. It's not that you actually would, or even could, but in the very imagining there is something. A quality that there is nothing in your life more precious than your freedom. That sort of feeling. I think almost everyone feels like this from time to time. But not many people ever have the chance to talk about it. And here they do.
Kumiko admits that she understands this feeling a bit too, but seems uncertain about the validity of climbing a mountain as a compromise. She's right - that's a pretty big compromise. And when Reina says they have to, because it's a school night, Kumiko seems a little startled by this level of pragmatism... an almost lame amount of responsibility. But she's also still sort of impressed with Reina, with the achievable but meaningful initiative she takes towards resolving her feelings. And I also think she's a little stunned to suddenly think of real life amid this dreamlike event. Her "he" is pretty ambiguous.
Moreover, this whole exchange reinforces the sort of "hidden personality" of Kumiko. That underneath the "good girl" exterior, she's actually pretty cynical, or maybe even hopeless... Most people, I think, would engage with this conversation pretty differently. They'd entertain the question about the shrines. They wouldn't question the entire motivation of the evening. They wouldn't belittle the efforts of someone in attempting to find a compromise with their feelings. Even Kumiko, I think, would make these adjustments in most situations, just for the sake of social functionality. But to Reina, Kumiko is open and honest, too.
After some lovely shots of the forest, indicating some passage of time, we have the promised instrument swap, which Reina suggests with typical directness. Kumiko at first hesitates, but Reina insists, saying that unfairness bothers her. Again, personal information is volunteered entirely unsolicited and needless... It isn't that Reina is saying unfairness in this situation would bother her, she's trying to tell Kumiko something about her overall personality. She's just eager to have Kumiko better know her and understand her.
Everything about this sequence... Reina tying her hair back, the shot of the instruments being set down, their reactions as she tries to lift it... it's flawless! 100% flawless execution! You really feel the weight of the euphonium, right? There's a real thoroughness to this scene that I love... they could have conveyed the swap and the effects pretty easily through like, two shots, but they choose to illustrate the entire process.
And again, we see Kumiko's honesty reflecting Reina's. She doesn't hesitate to point out just how weird it is to see the juxtaposition of Reina's dress and the euphonium. Like, earlier I talked about how refreshing it is for Kumiko to flat-out call Reina cute. This is, I think, the same spirit... It isn't just most harem MCs, it's that most reasonable people, irl, wouldn't think to make such a comment. Anything that could be taken as insulting (and this could be taken as a dig at Reina's judgment in attire for hiking) would be avoided. It's easy for us to assume otherwise, because we're just watching a TV show. But Kumiko is that sort of honest person. It comes out even more in this NEXT LEGENDARY EXCHANGE:
BOOM okay how many of you out there, after all this focus on Reina's outfit, were ALREADY THINKING "damn girl your feet must hurt". I WAS! Seriously, I thought of that earlier. Probably because the whole festival thing reminded me of an early episode of the Black Rock Shooter TV show (before it went entirely dumb) where the MC girl is walking home from the festival and her feet hurt.
AND YET AGAIN, Kumiko just has to ask... where I think most people (myself included) would hesitate, because of the implied questioning of the outfit choice, and like, what can you do about it either way, and all that... she has to ask... don't your feet hurt? Like, do you see how that could be construed as rude? I dunno. Maybe I'm projecting a bit here. I just think 99% of the time you don't want to question other people's judgment if it doesn't actually impact you, especially if you can't do anything about it. It's not like they haven't realized their feet hurt.
The 1% of the time, though, is in moments of such intimacy that you just want to better understand the other person, and better empathize... And that, of course, is what we're dealing with here.
Most people, too, would hesitate to admit so flatly that yes, they are in pain. Because they know there's nothing the other person can do, and that the other person will likely emphatically try to take on some of the pain themselves, I think most people would downplay the extent of the pain in this situation, right? But NAH. It HURTS. but and then:
DEMO ITAI NO, KIRAI JA NAI SHI.
BUT I DON'T HATE PAIN.
AHHHHHH!!! What a line! Holy crap! In the two weeks (Holy crap! This is taking me a long time to write) since this aired I have made probably a dozen jokes of this format to my friends who have also seen this episode. Usually it goes like this:
A-Doesn't it hurt to do all those multishines?
A-Oh but you're supposed to say it hurts.
A-So you can say "But I don't hate pain."
But I think people are starting to get it, maybe? WHAT A LEGENDARY LINE.
ANYWAYS, AGAIN, the level of opening herself up to Kumiko, needlessly and fully, is just so beautiful to witness in terms of it's significance. Like, instead of a situation where you empathize with your friend "oh your feet hurt wow that sucks" "yup that sucks" and get a little closer, she dives all the way in, making her understand. And man like, the message here? I dunno, I think I hate pain, generally. I dunno if I can really follow her on this one. But there is SOMETHING to it, I'm sure. There's a whole lot of her personal philosophy wrapped up in that one sentence.
OH BUT IT GETS BETTER:
Nani sore? Nanka eroi...
Ahahhahahahahaha OMG. Did she REALLY JUST SAY THAT? I mean, it prolly wouldn't be too surprising that some people were THINKING that, but she just SAID IT, in this phrasing that parodies a dirty old man, with that sort of face, AHAHAHAHAHA I CAN'T BELIEVE IT, even now I can't believe she actually said it. +100000 points for team /u/.
WUAH FOR REAL? OMG hahahaha NO WAY. What a PERFECT response. Now, I've analyzed her reaction frame by frame with a team of face/emotional scientists and I can confirm the suspicions that her reaction was as follows:
-(offscreen) slightly preoccupied by the fact she had just said something like "I don't hate pain"
-surprise at Kumiko's silly reaction
-relief that Kumiko understands her
-performance of disdain to continue their "bit"
So like, no ACTUAL disdain is the key information here.
This is obvious from Kumiko chasing after her while laughing. And here, at the end of the first of two GODLY scenes, we get this perfect little encapsulation of how I think their relationship works. Reina is burdened by something (we'll get to exactly what later), and wants someone who can understand her, which she feels most people can't. Kumiko is distant and disinterested in most things because of something (prolly something to do with her sister?) but puts on a show of contentment and engagement because, I dunno, why not?
Together, Reina can attempt to become closer to Kumiko, and to have someone understand her, and Kumiko can find herself genuinely engaged in someone. Now, that all makes sense, but I think it's in this "bit" that we actually see proof, in that... it's gone beyond the actual dynamic, now it's just an understanding they share. Kumiko actually understands what Reina means when she says she doesn't hate pain. She understands so much that she doesn't need to pursue the topic. She can just make a joke with that basis. And Reina knows, hearing the joke, that Kumiko does know what she means. And Kumiko knows that too. There is perfect mutual understanding on every level, and comfort such that they can play around like this. And Kumiko prolly meant it too i mean yknow.
We cut away from that after this scene, which I think is kinda nice, because it leaves it to the imagination how they continued to react to this. Did Reina make any more comments? Did she laugh too? These are things that have moved to an even more intimate space, as they move further up and in to the mountain. And hey did you ever think about how like they're escalating a mountain, and their relationship is also escalating? (Sam "Car 5" Veins, 2015).
Scene 13: You shouldn't ask for God's help with that...
So we leave them for now, and return to the lively festival! We join our senpai trio as they make prayers. Trumpet-senpai hopes to do well at auditions! At what? Uhh, right, right, this is a school band anime. I almost forgot. Like, the actual narrative arc in this show is about there success in band, right? I think the fact that the whole Kumiko-Reina thing is a tangent away from the main plot adds to the feeling of it being secret and intimate and such.
Asuka explains that it's foolish to pray for success in music, because music is all up to you. This is a pretty nice message, it really speaks to Asuka's character as we know it, but also adds a bit more, bridging us to new information that still feels familiar and correct.
She shoots down the subject of her friend's prayer, but she still prays in earnest herself. And she mentions specifically that it isn't worth praying for that. So what is she praying for? It's something beyond her control, apparently, but something very worthwhile and precious. What could it be? Somehow the combination of this action, the shot of her empty room, and her overall personality is actually quite chilling to me. It feels like something significant is being left unsaid.
At the same time, this is a very kind and comforting scene, especially when you see her friends' reactions. I think they're thinking something like "sasuga Asuka", with that typical "sasuga" expression, resigned but comforted. Happily reassured by the familiar behavior of a friend! What a fleeting and hidden emotion! This, this is what I truly love about anime, the revelation of these small moments and feelings.
But then, as Asuka is wont to do, she escalates this moment of personal expression into over-the-top self-parody, praising Hazuki for landing a date. This, too, seems familiar to her friends, who nevertheless feel the need to remind her not to stalk or harass her kouhai. Asuka responds with a gleeful "wakatteru", delighting in the fact that her reputation is such that this needs to be said. AHH!! What a great character!!
Scene 14: You know, I like you...
Ah, and we return to the secondary plotline, Hazuki's big date. The intimacy and quietness of the scene follows the pattern I outlined before, with them now finally arriving at a place of intimacy and connection (just like our other couple!). I love that, through the entire emotional gambit that she's about to run, Hazuki holds on to her takoyaki and pickle-on-a-stick, those two treasures of festivals.
Their conversation has a natural level of friendliness and awkwardness, it feels pretty realistic. You can easily picture that they've been having similar conversations throughout the festival. I think a lot of series fall flat around the confession scenes because it really seems like there ought to have been like fifty other better chances for them to have had the conversation already (see: Nisekoi) but this seems good.
But we all know what's coming, right? Since this actually is the first and best and most reasonable time for it, Hazuki's prolly gonna start building up to a confession! Tsukomoto asks about her tuba, so maybe she can talk about how yeah, he helped her out that one time, and ummm...
Oh, or... JUST JUMP RIGHT INTO IT? WOW! So brave! So brave and yet... so stupid? At least from my point of view. Like... I dunno. I guess there's some logic to the thinking of like... if he wants to date or not, it doesn't really matter how you ask? But I dunno, give him the best chance to like you first, right? Have a few laughs and stuff! Like, at the very least, don't make it shocking, right? Like, you don't want to force a reflexive reaction to a question like that...
Yeah!! Like that! That's what you DON'T want! No one is gonna be eager to return your feelings if said feelings just made them choke on their takoyaki!!
All he can manage is a little "yeah"... like, yeah, he knows she likes him. That's pretty obvious, right? The real question is if he knew she liked him before she asked him out on the date, or maybe exactly as she asked him out? Ah, but... at this point, I'll be honest - I was actually hoping he'd return her feelings. I honestly was. I wasn't even deterred by the choking. Because I am optimistic and stupid.
And so is Hazuki! Pushing through this awkwardness to make the question as clear as possible! She's as dumb as Tsukomoto, really!! Like, you don't pursue this line of questioning, right? You take a hint and move on! You should all be on the same page about things after the first hesitation?
Ahaha but I just realized I scream the EXACT OPPOSITE advice to a lot of other anime characters, so what do I know. Really, the lesson here is to be like Reina, and just tell them that the date is happening. No, no. I don't mean that.
But, like I said, I can sympathize with poor Hazuki. I really really wanted for this to work out. I like both of these characters, and I want them to be happy. But, much more importantly, I want Tsukomoto to leave Kumiko alone forever and ever. I wanted as much insurance as possible that we would not be heading in that direction (little did I know how irrelevant this front of the war would soon become).
I really like this shot... it really feels like he's thinking this through. It's pretty painful. Like, I know what we all want him to do. Accept Hazuki's feelings!! Leave Kumiko alone!! Everyone wins!! But in the most neglected corners of my brain I have a tiny box called "sympathy for male characters in anime" and it is saying in a tiny voice "try to understand!" and maybe we should listen to it just a little bit.
Okay, so Tsukomoto knows Kumiko this whole time and never asks her out. In fact, it seems like he was pretty rude to her in middle school. What's the deal with that? Seems unforgivable. But I dunno. I guess he wanted to be popular. Like apparently it was cause she embarrassed him in front of his friends and we all know that's the most important thing ever and trumps everyone else's emotions all the time.
Now it's high school. The big festival is coming. Oh crap, Mr. Cool Popular Boner-man can't be seen without a date! Um, Kumiko is a gurl you know! Maybe the girl you know (now that their senpai quit band (which means you're basically dead in this anime)). You can ask Kumiko!! There's no way she'll say no because you are awesome and everybody loves you.
OH CRAP, she did reject you. NO NO NO SHE JUST DIDN'T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU MEANT. You better ask her again ASAP. Uh wait first let's ask this boner-chan girl. WAIT NVM KUMIKO GAVE YOU A SIGNAL BETTER STALK HER OUT INTO THE HALL AND ASK AGAIN AND AGAIN. if u ask enough times 1 time she will say yes!!!
OH NO, it seems like Kumiko ACTUALLY REJECTED YOU. WHAT. HOW. TSK. UGH. JESUS. WHY MUST EVERYONE BE SO STUPID BESIDES YOU Ohh wait there's some other girl that wants to go okay ugh I guess this is fine.
UGH now this girl is telling you she likes you UGH can't she read the mood UGH I think you like Kumiko better because her hair is fluffier.
Hmmmmmmm yes. This is what is going on in his mind I am pretty sure. Maybe you are saying I am being insensitive. Well maybe HE and EVERYTHING HE STANDS FOR is being insensitive by even DARING TO EXIST in the presence of the KUMIKOxREINA pairing.
Maybe I am going a bit far.
Seriously, though, I do wonder why Tsukomoto accepted this request if he still had intentions only for Kumiko, and had no interest in receiving Hazuki's (extremely obvious) feelings. Was he just trying to be open minded? Did he really not decide right until that moment?
Sooooo he rejects her. B t f oooo and all that. He's the hontoniest of bakas sure but I think we should appreciate just how much this adds to the episode. This is a whole new dimension of emotion we're running into now. Although there was some confusion and tension in the start, everything in the second half was rocketing towards our most idealized stars. But now... something we don't want! Disappointment! Sadness!
And not the least of which is just our empathy for poor Hazuki! Rejections can be some brutal stuff! Let's pour it all out.
Ahh, the long contemplation of the river, then the timid "souka", and finally the enthusiastic "yosh!"... the spaces between these actions feel twice as long as they really are, at the very least. Poor Hazuki! What can you say or do in this situation? And we have to spend the time with her, trying to figure that out. The pain of this bond breaking is as strong as the connection of Kumiko and Reina. We get both sides. That's amazing. Not just the contrast making the latter feel even stronger, but the genuine rich emotional fullness you get when you see something sad like this. It's humanizing, cripplingly humanizing. And beautiful.
And really, Hazuki handles this about as well as anyone could! She immediately correctly identifies the main reason for her rejection - Tsukomoto likes Kumiko instead. And then selflessly, she tries to help them come together - just for the sake of the happiness of her friends! I'm not really sure how legitimate this is, her desire... like, deep down, is she truly happy with it? It has the same sort of ambiguity as Tsukomoto's intents when he accepted the date in the first place. They're both very realistic feelings of uncertainty, and grey areas, and confusion.
But yeah, regardless of all that, her attempt at selflessness is amazing and wonderful and super endearing. She seems to imply that Kumiko has feelings for Tsukomoto, but she's already established to be kinda baka so we can just ignore that.
WAIT NO WE CAN'T. What is up with that line? What does she think she knows about Kumiko's feelings? If she thought that, why'd she go ahead and ask Tsukomoto out? Or is she lying for Tsukomoto's sake? Or maybe she only realized that Kumiko probably reciprocates the feelings when she realized the depths of Tsukomoto's feelings? In any event, she IS being a bit of an idiot, I think, so I'm not too worried.
(I'm actually incredibly worried).
Ahh, and then she ends her pledge with this beautiful sentiment: a tuba's job is to support you from the wings! This is a wonderful resolution to her character arc of the last few episodes, where she tries to embrace and enjoy the role of a tuba player. Remember that episode? I love when Gotou says really meaningful and kind things about the tuba when Hazuki isn't around, and Rika chastises him for it. But then Hazuki realizes the very thing he suggests on her own, when she plays with Midori and Kumiko. What a nice episode! And that wonderful sentiment, about the real music - this line brings that forward into this episode.
Now, thinking of your entire romantic life in terms of the instrument you play in high school band... maybe not that healthy. And an attitude of "love is not for me, I am the one who supports the love of others"... prolly not super healthy either. Ahh but there is something kinda selfless and beautiful to it, maybe? And something sorta compelling about band being that important to her? Uhh, I dunno.
More importantly is just the sheer self-actualization and bravery required to even say something like this! Go for it, Hazuki!! Your campaign goes against everything I consider good and right in the world but because I know you will be entirely ineffectual I am OK with it. As long as you're happy.
And they do seem happy! Sharing a little laugh to break the tension. Maybe there's hope for them after all? It feels nice and realistic, and it allows you to more easily picture the rest of their conversation that goes unseen. They're prolly both a bit shaken and embarrassed but they're getting over it. Ahh, nice. I felt a little sad, which reminded me what "sad" was. It made me forget that the world is a perfect place where you always get what you want. Like, even if this wasn't the most sad thing ever, the distance I fell off of Mount Yuri between this and the scene two before made it feel like all the seratonin was drained from my body.
OKAY BUT really, who cares, because this is more just to deliver us with some contrast into the next scene. The scene that makes me realize all over again, even stronger, that the world is a perfect place where you always get what you want. The greatest scene in any sequential media ever made by anyone. Are you ready? I'm not ready. I'm going to go to bed and do it tomorrow. And lie in bed and not sleep and think about how I could possibly get how this scene makes me feel into words. And feel myself failing again and again to succeed. And then have a long dream about two flowers blooming on the far side of a mountain. And wake up and do my best.
Wait wait actually this post is getting too long and the image uploading is starting to break, so we'll continue in part two.