The Three Episode Rule: Hibike Euphonium

Title CardI must reference Sora no Woto at least once a season.

Hibike Euphonium is actually being covered over at Random Curiosity by the good Samu, but since I really shouldn’t dive into my colleagues’ posts and hijack discussion I thought I should write something here.

Over at Random Curiosity, my colleague Samu made a point that Hibike Euphonium isn’t K-ON, and indeed we’re three episodes in and it’s quite evident that Hibike Euphonium is going to be indulging in the drama. This really shouldn’t be any news, though, since this very line of drama had been hinted at and brewing from the very first scene of the very first episode. Hibike Euphonium certainly has never made a secret of what it was going to be, moreso because it’s an adaptation and the tenor of the source novel is easy to discern with just a bit of research. I also have enough respect for director Ishihara to assume a level of versatility beyond just ‘K-ON clone’. I’ve seen some references of Hyouka, and I think there is a certainly similarity in the source (and directorial styles between Ishihara and Takemoto), both being about that hazy and uncertain age we call adolescence—not just set in a high school, as Japanese fiction is oft, but about adolescence itself.

On some level, though, I consider Hibike Euphonium to be a sports anime, with all the camaraderie, competition, blood, sweat and tears that entails. Well, at least I think it’ll get somewhere near that point. Right now, Hibike Euphonium is nowhere near as hot-blooded as your stereotypical Japanese sports story. Whereas typically those feature a passionate team that must challenge the longest odds to grasp their dreams. The concert band of Hibike Euphonium is, with some exception, not very passionate and has little of dreams. Japanese sports stories are usually supposed to get you really fired up and into the ‘youth spirit’, but the Kitauji High School concert band is anything but inspiring. After episode 03, I genuinely felt sorry for all the members who actually wanted to make something out of their band, like Kousaka. I used to be in a band too, but I was relatively fortunate in that there were only two of us in percussion and we were both fairly enthusiastic about it. So the two of us were allowed our own little world in the back of the band and if the rest of them sucked then it didn’t feel as much of our business—our tempo was awesome. The feeling of listening to half your section be awful because they’ve obviously only read the sheet music that day must be demoralising, especially because they’re destroying all that effort you put into it. It’s a universal thing with all team activities, be it a band, football, or a videogame. If all members of the team cannot perform at roughly the same level, or at least invest roughly the same effort, then it’s going to feel that the team is being dragged down.

The problem with a lot of adolescents is that they’re at a branching juncture in their lives where they’re not good at taking anything seriously—it’s a personal experience I regret to this day. This uncertain phase seems to be one of the core issues that Hibike Euphonium intends to tackle, and it’s tackling it seriously. For example, take the band performances in episode 01 and episode 03. I was fully expecting them to suck even before they started, and indeed they did, but not comically so. In lighter fare the concert band would be horrifically bad, making not music but vile blackboard-scratching that must be censored to preserve the sanity of the viewer. If Ishihara was doing say, Nichijou (or just Kotomi’s violin in Clannad), that would be the right angle, to play it for laughs. In Hibike Euphonium, the band is bad in very realistic ways, to show that it has very realistic problems. Even in Hyouka director Takemoto ventured for a slightly abstract style, but Hibike Euphonium is, thus far, very much grounded. Together with the detailed backgrounds it’s fiction as heightened realism, much like, say, 5cm per Second. That is, I think, a flattering comparison.

One last note: in Japanese sports stories, the protagonist team loses as often as not. I wonder if Hibike Euphonium will follow that same philosophy.

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