Second Impressions Digest – Mikagura Gakuen Kumiyoku, Hibike! Euphonium

Mikagura - 02-6 Mikagura - 02-14 Hibike - 02 -12 Hibike - 02 -14

This pair isn’t exactly your one-stop shopping for pulse-quickening excitement.

Mikagura Gakuen Kumiyoku – 02

Mikagura - 02-1 Mikagura - 02-2 Mikagura - 02-3
Mikagura - 02-4 Mikagura - 02-5 Mikagura - 02-7
Mikagura - 02-8 Mikagura - 02-9 Mikagura - 02-10
Mikagura - 02-11 Mikagura - 02-12 Mikagura - 02-13
Mikagura - 02-15 Mikagura - 02-16 Mikagura - 02-17

I think it would be fair to say that the problems with the second episode of Mikagura were easy to predict.  Namely, that once you got past he veneer of insanity and things calmed down a bit, there wouldn’t be enough left to sustain interest.  This is based on a LN based on Vocaloid songs – I mean, this was always the most likely outcome if we’re being honest with ourselves.

While I didn’t find this ep distasteful or anything, I did find it frankly rather boring.  The premiere was so wild that it led to some interesting theories, among them the “Green Acres Conspiracy” model – to whit, the main character is insane and everything we’re seeing is her delusional view of her asylum.  In truth it looks like it’s just a far-fetched LN plot without any real effort to explain it, at least so far.

This ep wasn’t nearly as nutty or random as the premiere, and there wasn’t a lot left to carry the load.  The hook of a cliche oversexed male harem LN protagonist that’s actually a girl is clever, the Gainiax-inspired visual style has some eye-catching moments, and there are a couple of funny gags (like the yuri heroine being turned on by the girlish pseudo-trap).  But past that things look pretty routine now – a magical school with a complicated set of rules, a bunch of students with special powers, an excuse for battles and some light ecchi.  It’s not too interesting or different underneath a very thin veneer of distinctiveness, and while I’ll give Mikagura another ep or two to recapture some of the manic charm of the premiere, I’m not too optimistic that it’ll keep me hooked.

Hibike! Euphonium – 02

Hibike - 02 -1 Hibike - 02 -2 Hibike - 02 -3
Hibike - 02 -4 Hibike - 02 -5 Hibike - 02 -6
Hibike - 02 -7 Hibike - 02 -8 Hibike - 02 -9
Hibike - 02 -10 Hibike - 02 -11 Hibike - 02 -13

“At least it isn’t K-On!” has a pretty limited shelf life as a selling point for a series, but at least it’s true.  There is some hint of sobriety and dignity to Hibike! Euphonium, but I’m not sure how much else there is.  This is a pretty difficult thing Hibike! is seemingly trying to pull off – making the superficially mundane and unexciting aspects of high school life seem interesting rather than… mundane and unexciting.  And so far it’s a mixed bag at-best.

Mind you, I don’t think the bar is that high for the series to succeed because it has two natural constituencies wired-in – Kyoto Animation fans and those with an interest in band minutiae.  And I don’t see any reason why it won’t work for them.  While fairly restrained, Hibike! is still well inside the KyoAni fantasy bubble – the world where 95% of he population is cute teenaged girls and they all act like only girls in KyoAni shows act.  The backgrounds are beautiful and the animation fluid (a couple of moments this week were pretty exceptional), and the attention to detail with on band side is pretty high-level.

Is there enough there to keep the rest of us hooked in?  Well, I did like this episode marginally better than the premiere so I’ll probably stick around for another couple of episodes.  Taki-sensei seems somewhat more quirky than the typical seat-filler KyoAni uses in teacher roles, and while hardly exciting there was something almost hypnotic in the slow, grinding way in which the introductory band meeting played out.

The temptation here, especially for the optimist, is obviously to compare this show to Hyouka.  And Hyouka didn’t exactly storm out of the gate, but the difference for me is that I was already intrigued by a few characters two episodes in and there was already a hint of something deeper simmering underneath even if it was just something in the air at that stage.  I don’t get that sense here, and none of the major cast apart from the teacher seem far outside the KyoAni norm far enough to interest me.

I would also note that as lovely as Hibike! is visually, Hyouka was clearly on another level – already at two episodes staking a claim as one of the most visually impressive TV anime ever made. It was more than just beautiful – there was a fierce creativity to the visuals that told a story of its own, like a second unspoken dialogue track.  That fierce creativity is generally what Hibike! is going to need to be memorable or in any way a show that marks a creative re-awakening for Kyoto Animation, and so far it’s the missing piece from my perspective.  But there’s enough here besides to give the series another couple of weeks to find it.



  1. c

    One thing I'm finding really interesting, and bear with me here, is how just about all the main girls – with exception of our trumpet player – are playing bass instruments. Thing is – these guys rarely get melody or even notes to play. They're hella important, but for most teens… not as exciting or fun to practice as other instruments. So many who play in the lower register are known for rarely taking the songs anywhere near as seriously* as say first chair trumpet with a solo (as our trumpet girl may have been).

    This whole "enjoy your youth" or "go to Nationals" reminds me a whole lot of sports anime, the similarities to my own high school band frustrations close and compelling enough to keep me coming back, (and now) loving it on its own merits.

    …what I'm trying to say is the conflict itself sounds universal to just about everyone, even if the minutae are different. You may not see anything under the surface yet, but the little we've been given leaves me with the sense of these first couple episodes as setup for some decent tension and character drama. It's in the execution, I hope, that it gets things right, at least with the mains.

    Weirdly enough, I find the boy childhood friend and the advisor the more compelling of the characters so far, at least for their potential, although reluctant-Euph comes close. Not Japanese, so I can't speak on the essential girl experience, but she rings true enough to my own adolescent experience. KyoAni tends to go a little overboard on cute antics, I think, to the detriment of letting their characters breathe.

    Euph-senpai is real great tho, not gonna lie. My hero~ A bit of a caricature but if one must have a plot device I'd rather it come in her form than any other.

    *I apologize to any low brass who may be reading this. Y'all are cool, but I was an uptight trumpet gal myself. Ahahaha.

  2. A

    Hm… how do I put this. The whole premise of Hibike!– that is, the awkwardness in dealing with people who take your hobby way too seriously, was kind of amusing to me. I spent both episodes trying to understand how I "got" and yet couldn't "put into words" why the protagonist made such a big deal out of it. It's just a mess of things like "people having expectations of you" and "turning your hobby into your job".

    I didn't really expect a follow up after episode 1, but they just kept beating on the subject, specially that one conversation near the end about alibis. Honestly, I still don't quite follow what she meant by that. And it's precisely this "not quite following" part that amuses me from what's supposed to be a brain dead KyoAni formula. I don't know when they'll resolve it, but I don't mind watching until they do.

  3. s

    yea i know what you mean; though it intrigues me more that it amuses me; While the writing has yet to prove to me that it's capable of delving into this topic with grace, the writing has proven to me that its conscientious enough to bring it up as a topic of commentary and that it could possibly have what it takes to explore this avenue admirably; to me it's still a wait and see thing. In terms of art and animation, i think hibike is up there with kyo ani's visual feats (disappearance of haruhi suzumiya, Hyouka). Hyouka's visual appeal stood out because it's visual tone was different form the kyo ani norm but hibike is starting to climb up to there with it's use of animation techniques and cinematic flair. over the years kyo ani has been experimenting with stereoscopic 3d and improving their shot composition, scene transitions, and visual effects and we are seeing this all culminate in Hibike. While i do feel upon closer observation of hyouka (and might as well throw in disappearance because it's on that level as well) and hibike's visual direction and stripping them down to their bare parts, hibike loses but it's just slightly. It really does look like hibike is getting the serious treatment with visuals from kyo ani

  4. C

    It is true that Hibike is giving off some Hyouka-vibes, but I'm still not sure if it will be able to redeem post-Hyouka Kyoani.

    They were partially redeemed in my eyes thanks to Amaburi which I really enjoyed, but one good show of the eight they've churned since Hyouka is not a very good track record.

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