Hibike! Euphonium – 04

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Sadly, Taki-sensei passed up a perfect opening to slip a “not quite my tempo” in there this week…

Anyone who thinks Taki-sensei is an unduly harsh teacher probably hasn’t seen Whiplash, I’m guessing – and obviously, as a musing on the topic of teaching kids how to play music it operates on a whole different level.  But that’s just as obviously not a fair comparison, especially given that Hibike! Euphonium isn’t trying to be that sort of story.  It’s not K-On! either of course – there’s a pretty wide swathe of territory in-between those two poles, and Hibike! is comfortably in the meaty part of it.

Be that as it may, it’s Taki that’s really carrying the show for me at this point.  I don’t dislike any part of it and I find it generally interesting, but there’s no other character in the cast that I actually really want to know more about as a person.  Why?  Who knows – it seems to me that Hibike isn’t really trying all that hard to makes its characters into well-rounded people.  Last week I said that the word that kept running through my mind when watching it was “abstract”, but this time it was “clinical” – which seems quite fitting, as that’s exactly the approach Taki-sensei takes to teaching concert band.

That means a number of different things to me.  The parts of this series that don’t feature Taki-sensei have a clinical quality in that it seems very much as if we’re watching events as a detached observer.  Maybe, in hindsight, that’s because that’s sort of what Kumiko is – she really only gets animated when she’s dissing Shuuichi or going into labor over Kousaka.  But even when she’s not a point-of-view character the narrative is exactly the same – we see little snippets of conversation or behavior that may suggest elements of the person engaged in them (Incidentally, was that a classic KyoAni big-name cameo with Natsuki Hanae as “As a teacher I don’t dislike his methods” boy?) but then it’s over – the camera moves on.  Will it ever stay focused on anyone long enough for us to find out if there’s any “there” there?  Who knows – I wouldn’t like to assume one way or the other, but it would certainly help me stay invested.

Fortunately every time Taki-sensei enters the fray he puts a thousand-volt charge through the entire show.  Things get edgy, nervous, and really interesting – you can practically smell the sweat forming on those stressed-out adolescent brows.  It can be debated whether he’s a good teacher or not, but even that debate is at least an intriguing element for the series – and he’s sure interesting.  He’s as clinical as they come – unlike his Whiplash counterpart Terence Fletcher Taki doesn’t fall back on screaming fits and physical violence.  He still brutalizes his pupils – he just does it with half-smiling, unsparing judgment that allows no room for rebuttal.

I’m not normally a fan of that leadership style, but I think we can see here that Taki is very good at it – he breaks down his band (collectively and individually) in order to build them back up, and gives them a common foe against whom to rally.  It’s interesting to hear that he’s never taught band before, because he’s clearly very well-versed in both group dynamics and instrumental music instruction techniques.  I think the idea that if you want to aspire high you better be prepared to suffer to achieve it is a valid lesson to impart in this situation, and given the issues with the second-years especially, I’m not sure hand-holding (which is Haruka’s M.O.) is very effective.  Everything with Sakurai Takahiro is about the right role – put him in it, and he’s among the best.  Miscast him, and he’s borderline awful.  Here, he’s squarely in his sweet-spot and hitting a home run.

In the end, that’s great but not enough to make Hibike! Euphonium a real standout of a series.  It’s a shame KyoAni didn’t quite trust the audience enough to fully abandon their usual crutches, because they really act as a drag on the series.  It would have been easy enough not to have several characters who act like classic Kyoto Animation archetypes, or to try and tell a story about both girls and boys – but that would be straying outside the safety net, and that’s something KyoAni doesn’t do too often.  There’s some leaning on crutches in Hyouka too (though not as much as here)  I won’t deny, especially in the early episodes – but it was as if at a certain point Takemoto-sensei decided (or was allowed to) that whoever was going to get hooked in already was, and he could venture off the usual roadmap. 

Hibike! Euphonium is progress for KyoAni, no doubt – it’s not dull, it does show restraint and occasionally allows its rough edges to show – but it’s not everything it could be, if only it would have been willing to take some real risks and trust the audience to embrace it anyway.

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28 comments

  1. D

    I facepalmed during the "'As a teacher I don't dislike his methods' boy" scene. The sign in the background was a recruitment sign for the band and said "especially boys". KyoAni can wink at the camera all they want and think that forgives them, but it doesn't. Granted this is most guys I've seen in a KyoAni show in a long time, but looking at the club in full still makes me frustrated.

  2. K

    That female to male ratio might actually be common in Japanese high school concert bands? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyZnIzoqjfA The manga shows a similar ratio so I don't think KyoAni is deviating from the source material in this case.

  3. M

    As a band teacher myself, it doesn't look weird at all to see mostly girls. When I taught band and orchestra at a co-ed school, I always had far more girls than boys. Same for choir. Now that I"m at an all boys school, you have to cajole the boys in.

    As the above link shows, every time Ive seen those Japanese national competition band videos, they are always 75-95% female.

    This show is very much a sports type anime (dead weight pulling us down/enetering a team that has non-serios players/need to rally together against a common enemy/our coach can't do everything for us, but will show us the fundamentals/nice captain but weak leader ), in the vein of a baseball show.

    Remember Diamond no Ace? I believe every time they show the band in the stands, it's ALL girls.

    Even here in the united states, it's still mostly girls. Especially if band meets at the same time as sports (as this band does) because most of the boys will be at sports, not music.

  4. D

    Hmm, interesting. My high school was pretty 50/50 in the ratio but I'm getting the idea we were the exception. Lol

  5. c

    Wow, it's more girls than boys in the states now? I know HS Orchestra/Symphonies always had a high girl to boy ratio, but concert band…? In my time (around 12-14 yrs ago, lol) it was about 50/50 – with more boys in brass+percussion and more girls on woodwind.

    Man….

  6. M

    Remember, this is not JUST Concert Band, like a period during the school day. This is a band that meets simultaneously with all the sports practices, drama practices, etc AFTER school. You'd lose the boys in band who played any sport, did drama, had after school jobs, etc. I teach at an all-boys school now (used to teach co-ed) and you have to bribe the boys to give up basketball or baseball or track or whatever to do band instead – especially for multiple years, and all school year long rather than just a season.

  7. M

    *practically* have to bribe, that should say…

  8. c

    That's true. I know I never did High School band myself — switched to a local Youth Symphony — because we'd be required to do Marching Band after school if we joined Concert Band, no exceptions. And for someone who had a young sibling to take care of while the parent was at work, staying at school 'til 8 or 9 o'clock was not an option. Especially since school buses would have long since left, lol, and public transportation is crap in the west side of the States.

  9. KyoAni can choose to focus on whatever they choose to, no natter what excuses we make for them.

    Remember in the premiere, when they called he roll in Kumiko's homeroom and got through about 10 names, all but one of them girls? It's all part of the fantasy bubble that defines a KyoAni show.

  10. M

    True, but what exactly does that do? I'm not making excuses, I'm stating facts, and saying mostly, "What's the bid deal?" Calling 10 girls names for a very short throwaway scene at the beginning, that has nothing to do with band? The show is about the band, after all. It would be more worrisome if they were getting the band part wrong.

    I don't fault Diamond no Ace for purposefully forgetting that girls exist, and making the ones that do show up one dimensional creatures. It doesn't make it less of a show. You barely see any in classrooms, or in hallways. When you do see them, they're cheerleaders or managers, mostly.

    I'm a guy. It doesn't bother me, but I do notice when another guy gets miffed at a show with a lot of girls and few guys, but a show with a lot of guys and no girls doesn't bother them at all. I'm also black, so Ive heard people complain when there are no black characters on a show, but it doesn't bother me specifically, because it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the plot.

    So I don't really get what the big deal is, except to just simply have something to complain about.

  11. K

    I don't get why the content of the show is being blamed on KyoAni when this is an adaption of someone else's novel. If anything, it's just the way KyoAni has been marketing it in the PV/OP/ED/merch as a story about four cute girls that's a problem.

    They can choose to adjust the gender ratio of the band and alter the girls' personalities, sure, but why not please the author, appeal to those who are/have played in high school concert bands (the majority of them being girls), AND pander to the otaku all at once? (Speaking of which, I heard the pre-orders have been doing poorly.) I want to see more of the male characters too, but I'm pretty pleased with how Taki-sensei and Shuuichi have been portrayed so far. Also, the guys all wear long pants. It can't be an anime that appreciates legs if more of them wear pants.

  12. M

    I also don't know why people focused so much on Sapphire and Hazuki. If you ignore the OP and ED they're not main characters – they're totally side characters. They're Kumiko's walk home club, some comic relief, and that's about it. This show is a band's story through Kumiko's eyes, not Kumiko's story.

    The main characters are Kumiko, Asuka, Taki, Goto, and Shuichi. They're the ones who keep the story going. Taki, Goto and Shuichi together get TONS of screen time. I don't understand why people complain about the lack of boys in the show.

    Kumiko is showing growth too, as slow as a high school freshman would. She walked up to Kosaka, and said her piece, AND she walked up to headphones-euphonium-girl who doesn't really participate and asked her to play. That's a big deal for her, to go up to a senpai and do that – especially after how Goto snapped about it being none of the freshmen's business.

    She confronted both her biggest obstacle and the bass section's biggest obstacle on her own, with no push from anyone else.

    Also, this show is about band more so than the characters. Again, with Diamond no Ace – besides Eijun (a bit), most of the characters are flat and get no characterization (The third years, I could care less about them), or growth besides how their baseball skills are improving. I don't see that as a bad thing. The show is about sports. It's ok that Wakana and the manager can be forgotten about for a dozen or more episodes (even though the managers had an entire ED – you'd think they were main characters the way (people think Hazuki and Sapphire are) because their non baseball lives are not the focus of the show. Even touch, a show about people and baseball, not baseball only, had girls that mattered – even the managers. If it wasn't for the manager ED, no one would know their names, haha.

    As a "baseball" show, I think Euphonium does a great job. This show, at least, is enjoyable, and gets the music right above else, the way that Diamond no Ace gets the baseball right above all else.

  13. c

    That's a good point about Hazuki and Sapphire — they're more sidekicks than main characters, at least right now. Probably more for marketing purposes, which KyoAni is smart about (gotta stay afloat, after all!), ~cute humor~, and Hazuki herself as a beginner to be taught the basic essentials (and thus some of the audience). The show sure does better when their time onscreen is shortened (same for Asuka, though she has more meat on the bone to pick at, so to speak).

    To add to your list, I very much think Kousaka is a main character as well — she just hasn't had much time on screen yet, seeing as Kumiko has been too afraid to approach her (still) and speak her mind (at last, done!).

    Aaaand, I gotta disagree about the girl:boy ratio complaints. People have a good reason to complain — it isn't common knowledge outside Japan how big the discrepancy is. And the boys… it's not a TON of screentime, lol. They exist, sure, and are getting more and more screentime (THANK GOD) but it's still largely a sentence or two and off to more cute girl stuff. Except for Taki-sensei — bless him.

    …I sound really hard on the show. LOL. Tbh, I agree a bit with the team vs. individual comparison with Daiya, where Sawamura is the protagonist but not the focus, such as the band vs. deep characterization here, but it's still more Kumiko's story in Euph than Sawamura's in Daiya, heart of the show or no. And at least (in my opinion) Euph isn't rage-inducing boring when its focus is away from its central cast. >:P

    And yes. Yesssssss. It gets music and the chemistry of an ensemble so right. 110% right.

  14. M

    I do think the Hazuki-beginner stuff (which is her main thing) is supposed to be placed there for the audience member who is new to band, as well.

    A Japanese show will be made for a Japanese audience, most of the time. American shows certainly are not made with other countries in mind. I don't think it's fair to complain about a Japanese show that doesn't cater to American audiences, is all.

    The most important thing of a band school should be the music and chemistry of the ensemble, not percentage of boys compared to percentage of girls, in my opinion. I teach at an all-boys school, and it doesn't bother me to see few boys. Even though in real life, I'll go weeks without seeing any girls at all. Maybe I'm odd.

    Awesome comment!

  15. M

    *bother me to see few girls. Sorry for the typos/wrong words!

  16. c

    It's not that I think the creators should be blamed for creating (what appears to be) an accurate portrayal of the usual girl:boy ratio of concert band, just that western fans shouldn't be blamed for complaining about what looks like yet another pandering ~male otaku fantasy- in the form of the school band, especially since the reality of Japanese concert bands is a pretty obscure thing to know. (I like to keep in the know myself, and finding this out yesterday came as a surprise.)

    Boys vs. girls is a silly thing to worry about, yes, but in real life only. An unbalanced ratio in a story is a deliberate thing.

    If you're a female viewer, it gets quite frustrating when show after interesting show overtly panders toward the male otaku demographic, leaving other demographics cold. If your cast of characters is a plethora of frustratingly unrealistic cutesy girls to satisfy that crowd, at the very least give us unrealistic bishounen that pander to the girls (or gay dudes) as well.

    Thankfully, S!E has proven to be more than pandering, both in musical content and (some of the) characters. But a worry is a worry is a worry. People just want to be entertained, after all, with as much sincerity and little calculation as possible.

  17. c

    Sorry, CAN get frustrating as a female viewer. I don't mean to speak for all the ladies. πŸ˜›

  18. The really interesting thing here is that the gender balance was exactly 1 line in a 6-paragraph post, and it's the topic of pretty much every comment. I knew it would be though. I'm not the one who's obsessed with the topic.

  19. K

    Hazuki and Sapphire are almost what made me drop the show during the first ep. I am glad I didn't and gave it more of a chance but they were a bit much to take. Thankfully since there are so many other characters they have been toned down a bit.

  20. A

    The highlight of the episode for me was Kousaka and Kumiko finally having a conversation– or at least two one-sided apologies. Kousaka getting more characterization as a level-headed character was one thing, but the look on Kumiko's face while running away was incredibly amusing to me.

  21. She apologized to the wrong person.

  22. A

    Hm… I suppose that even if you assume that Kousaka also apologized to Shuuichi at some point, the show decided to focus on the interaction between the girls, which would still boil down to disregarding the male characters as unimportant.

    Of course, showing her apologizing twice in the same fashion would've been kind of jarring, the entire show has been from Kumiko's point of view, and I just wanted an excuse for them to finally talk, so I really have no problem letting it slide.

    With that said, I do have to wonder if Shuuichi actually did something to deserve his treatment.

  23. Of course he did. He was born with a Y chromosome.

  24. A

    Oh? You're not giving Kyoani the benefit of the doubt? I mean, frankly, I'm not. I'm sure the show will end and he'll remain the butt-monkey for no properly explained reason, but so far every male student with a name (all two of them) seem to be minding their own business rather than playing the whacky comic relief like most of the girls are. There could be a reason for Kumiko to dislike him, who knows.

  25. w

    Pretty sure this is just part of their rapport. Kumiko speaks to him normally as often as she glares at him. Shuuichi seems to able to get on Kumikos nerves in his own way, tactlessly calling her cynical this week, and then the whole "Don't talk to me ugly" thing they mentioned in episode one? Not that I think she's right to diss him, but their relationship looks pretty equal to me. I don't see how she should have to apologise to him

  26. I was referring to Kousaka apologizing, not Kumiko.

    I really think the notion that the Kumiko-Shuuichi relationship is "normal" or "even" is symptomatic of the unhealthy fantasy view of girl-boy relationships that dominates anime, and that KyoAni has done as much or more than any studio to propagate.

  27. A

    Hm… I understand the concept of men naturally siding with attractive girls despite how insufferable they would actually come off in real life, but… KyoAni a main offender? I would have to think about that one.

    For the time being, neither the stuff I like or the stuff I dislike about Hibike! have anything to do with gender discrimination. Even if it never even gets addressed, if it's only that much, I can easily live with it.

  28. a

    Unlike you I find the main characters not only multi-faceted but seriously a breath of fresh air (barring Hazuki and Sapphire, episode 3 and 4 were infinitely better due to their lack of screen time for one thing). Kumiko remains very real to me, sullen, indecisive and a little bit of a jerk. Her sense of defeatism is subtle and natural. THAT sort of female MC I don't expect from Kyo-Ani or from anime in general. The room for growth here is delicious!

    As for the gender ratio, should it even matter? I mean we get tons of shows were female characters are basically non-existent even if the setting doesn't really call for it, and yet we barely see any complaints in that front.

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