Villainous Musings: Thoughts on Hibike! Euphonium’s episode 8 (SPOILERS)

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Hello to all who may listen. I will spare you peons my rich and powerful laughter at your expense, as any villain worth his salt knows only to grandstand whenever there is a crowd present. And unfortunately, whatever crowd I might have had was long since lost due to my laziness extensive planing to rule the world by means of a corn field in Nebraska (*malevolent cackling*)! No matter, I will carry on regardless: people will pay attention when they see the aftermath of my devices. As for today’s dastardly deed, we will talk of the newest show in line to be described as “K-ON with X”, Trumpet Girls Hibike! Euphonium (mwahahaha)!

Specifically, I am going to give my general thoughts on the most recent episode in the still airing series. What I mean by a “Musing” in this case is that both here and anywhere else I put the title of “Villainous Musings” I will be talking about a subject within general geekery that I deem to be fairly narrow in focus. In this case not only will I be talking about a single episode in a show which is still airing, I will be focusing mostly on the last 3rd of this episode. Not only that, I will be talking as if you already have familiarity with the general subject matter. This means two things, one being that the audience for things of this nature will be naturally low and spoilers will generally be plentiful. If you find that the post is outside your strike zone, I will find you and use your body as a science fair project please feel free to look elsewhere (which admittedly there ain’t much “elsewhere” here). The second is that these types of posts will be shorter on average than something a bit more full length (tread carefully however, because as a grand and dastardly super villain, my version of a short speech and your version of a short speech are things far divorced from each other). Also in this particular occasion, not only am I talking about a show which is not yet finished, I will be talking mainly of romance and shipping. I will also be talking as if you have seen the episode already, so I don’t spend all my time summarizing. Please keep in mind that this post was made with
episode 8 being the most recent (all of this could very well be invalidated by the show’s end).

Now with formalities out of the way, it is time to move onwards and upwards!

For those who have been following this series, and more specifically following discussions of it, you would know that ep.8 of Euphonium has caused quite the stir with yuri fans and the shippers. It is common in our fandom to speak ill of those who enjoy pairing off characters as well as those who proudly wear yuri (or yaoi) goggles. Their passion is often derided, and those who take part in it are often seen as detrimental to the fandom’s image. However to myself, while there are some who’s zealotry can be stifling at times (something not unique to shippers and yuri fans), it is nothing more than harmless fun. The reputation of those who like to participate in shipping could be another post on to itself, but that is for another time.

Concerning yuri goggles however, In the case of Euphonium’s ep.8 (and some other Anime) you don’t need vision aiding eye-ware when even the legally blind such as myself can see perfectly fine. Sometimes a scene (in this case) or even a whole show can be so laden with subtext that even those without the goggles will start asking questions. Such is the case with the “date” between Reina Kousaka and Kumiko Oumae in the latest episode. The show always had some yuri subtext (such as with Kaori Nanaseko and her kouhai Yuuko Yoshikawa, or some previous scenes with Kousaka and Kumiko) but the volume of subtext was never as dense as say, Strike Witches or Nanoha (the much more chaste nature of most KyoAni productions also aids in this masking). Episode 8 was a break from the norm as it was basically a whole episode devoted to romance, and the last 3rd of it was filled with multiple levels of yuri subtext between our protagonist and one of the female leads. I would like to muse over how the different romances in this episode are portrayed, and the different layers of subtext present between Kousaka and Kumiko .

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Before we really dig our teeth into the lily sandwich present in the episode’s latter half, let us discuss the other elements of romance present here. The 2 senior tuba players of the bass section, Takuya Gotou and Riko Nagase, are confirmed to be an item in this episode. They are not focused on much in this episode, but they none the less have some really nice moments. When asked if they are dating by Sapphire Kawashima Midori, Riko denies it out of embarrassment initially. Gotou however then asked “we’re not dating? in this dejected tone which immediately prompts Riko to re-affirm the relationship with him, albeit in a whisper. This was a very cute little exchange that fleshed out our secondaries quite nicely. The only other moment they are given in the episode is right when the festival is starting, with Gotou waiting for Riko. Riko arrives in a yukata, and asks how she looks. Gotou turns his head away after being asked, and says that she looks cute. Again, a small exchange, but enjoyable and warming none the less. It was a very small part of the episode, but it was a good portrayal of a romantic relationship that has already been in progress, in contrast to the newer ones portrayed in this episode. Separate from this I also find it interesting that the only girl shown so far with a definite boyfriend is Riko, who is drawn ever so slightly pudgier than the other girls in the band. An unimportant thing but just something I noticed.

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Also, there was another element of romance present before we get to the delicious talk of oysters on the half-shell (patience is a virtue, my friend). That of course being the incredibly short lived romance between one Hazuki Katou and Shuuichi Tsukamoto. These two are given a little more focus within the episode as Hazuki is one of our female leads and Shuuichi is our most prominent male character in the show, mainly due in part to his closeness to Kumiko. Their relationship, whatever it may be at this point, plays a major role in how Shuuichi’s relationship with Hazuki turns out. This episode actually begins on their soon to be relationship, picking up on the cliffhanger of the last episode where Hazuki asked Kumiko if she and Shuuichi were a couple. She immediately denies it which signals Sapphire Midori to wax poetic about Hazuki’s new found crush. Kumiko then intentionally gives way to Hazuki as far as letting her ask him out during the festival, seemingly against her true feelings on the matter. This can be seen when Shuuichi takes the initiative to ask Kumiko out to the festival, and only rejects when she remembers Hazuki (who herself is about to ask him out). Considering however his quiet disappointment when he is rejected by a Kumiko who literally grabbed on to the nearest person to her to say that was her “date” (who just happened to be Kousaka) and the fact that he was the one to take initiative to ask Kumiko out for the festival, I would say he was more affected by the rejection. Needless to say with Shuuichi’s heart in a different place, his date with Hazuki (who asks him out just moments after him being rejected by Kumiko) is fairly uneventful.

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It comes to an almost premature climax, where Hazuki abruptly says that she likes him. Now, there was no surprise that Shuuichi was not going to be interested in Hazuki when he made the move towards Kumiko. What I wasn’t expecting however, was Shuuichi outright rejecting Hazuki after a long silence post-confession. What I was expecting was for him to just go along with it in name, while his heart was not truly in it. His proactive move towards Kumiko, along with his rejection of Hazuki (and by extension his refusal to keep the status quo) brings in a new facet to his character and admittedly, makes me like and respect him a bit more (although I never hated him per say, I just found him somewhat unremarkable). Hazuki inevitably gets her heart broken, but doesn’t cry in front of him. She instead offers herself up as his wingman in order to get him and Kumiko together (his love of Kumiko is denied, of course). The reasons for her doing this are myriad: she could be doing this to take her mind off of the rejection (which will most likely backfire), she could be doing it because she wants to “see her beloved be happy” (which is a dangerous path to walk down), or she wants to see him succeed where she has failed (something which if true, would be rather admirable on her part). It might even be a combination of all 3.  Either way, Hazuki saves her tears until she meets up with Sapphire Midori again (who has been the sole person cheering on Hazuki directly this entire time, not Kumiko interestingly enough).

Again, I rather liked this portrayal of romance as well, with one of the reasons being Shuuichi’s unexpected response to Hazuki’s advances. Another was that is was in direct contrast to how the relationship between Kumiko and Kousaka was portrayed. Compared to the more mature and suffuse portrayal of our two flower garden girls (which I will get to in a moment), the interaction between Hazuki and Shuuichi here is much more in line with the idea of young love, and is almost juvenile in nature. Hazuki in an earlier episode immediately becomes enamored with him when he helps her out with her heavy Tuba, more or less falling in love at first sight. She basically doesn’t talk to him again until she asks him out for the festival. During their time together she is highly embarrassed, with an almost constant blush on her face and a noticeable warbling in her voice. And to top it all off, she confesses her love for Shuuichi on their very first date. When I say that the whole thing was almost juvenile, I do not mean that the script writing was amateurish. I mean that in-universe, their romance (if you can even call it that) was very indicative of their age and lack of experience. Hazuki barely even talked to Shuuichi, so she was never really viewing him as a partner or even taking his feelings into consideration (initially at least), hence why she got dumped. To me, it’s more that Hazuki was idolizing Shuuichi, rather than truly being “in love” with him. Then, when the date actually did happen, it was awkward, embarrassing, and ultimately filled with rejection on both sides. It was also incredibly chaste, unlike the rather sensual undertones present between Kumiko and Kousaka. It was juvenile in the best possible way, and a great portrayal of all the characters involved.

And now for our seafood course for two, the “date” between Kumiko and Kousaka. Now admittedly this episode was not the sole instance of yuri content between the 2, in fact we have gotten it before the 2 even started talking again after their spat in middle school and every episode since. I am of course talking about the ED sequence where Kousaka and Kumiko are connected by the red string of fate, which we have of course seen from the beginning. There have also been a few direct interactions between them in previous episodes. However this episode is most definitely the crown jewel of their yurilicious interactions, being filled to the brim with subtext. I mentioned before that the portrayal of this relationship was both more mature and far more sensual that what had been portrayed before. What do I mean by this? Well, let me count thy ways.

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First off, the “date” does not happen in the bright and colorful festival. The two decide (well really Kousaka decides, Kumiko just goes along with it) instead to hike up a nearby mountain to a point that overlooks the entire city of Uji (where the show is based), seeing some Shinto shrines along the way. The 2 do this completely by themselves, in a dark and solemn setting with nothing but forest and empty shrines to keep them company. The more austere setting already delivers on the increased level of maturity, however another element contributes majorly. Unlike the relationship of Hazuki and Shuuichi which came and went like a flash in the pan, the relationship between Kousaka and Kumiko was much more of a slow burn. The 2 have known each other for some time now, as they competed together in their middle school’s band club. They had a falling out as Kousaka took Kumiko’s trademark bluntness somewhat personally during an already sensitive moment when they failed to make it past the prefectural competition level. However, their relationship was being slowly rekindled through brief interactions here and there, which finally came to a head in this episode. This slower approach is appropriately followed with the 2 girls delving deeper into each other’s emotions and feelings than with Hazuki and Shuuichi did. Because of the general setting and the fact that Kousaka and Kumiko have taken greater time to understand each other is the main reason why I call this relationship the most mature of the bunch. This also ties into the sensual, and at times erotic air their “date: had, which I will cover now.

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The first elements of romantic subtexts comes right in the beginning, in how they are dressed. Kumiko is dressed incredibly casually, specifically in a rather boyish manner as she is wearing a simple T-shirt and shorts. This is in pretty stark contrast to how quite a few of the female characters are wearing Yukata, or just blouses and skirts, all things which have a very feminine image (yes Yukata are technically unisex, but they are much more frequently worn by women in modern Japan). Kousaka on the other hand is wearing a white A-line dress with  a pair of white high-heeled sandals. By contrast this is very feminine dress, and one could make the assumption that Kumiko is representing the “male” in this “date.” This idea is bolstered by the fact that its technically Kumiko who “asks out” Kousaka, however its really Kousaka that runs what Kumiko started. The more sensual (and downright erotic) themes start right at the beginning of their hike, where Kumiko says that Kousaka’s dress is cute. Her narration then goes on to compare Kousaka to the mythical Yuki Onna, being beautiful but with an air of danger around her. There is a certain level of allusion to forbidden fruit with that comparison, with the Yuki Onna being ultimately dangerous but at the same time irresistible. A further level to all of this is added where it is called to the audience’s attention that wearing heels for walking up a mountain is a bit of a strange idea to say the least (along with they hauling their instruments up there, more on that later). In a nice bit of animation, Kumiko notices red sores on Kousaka’s Achilles heels. Kumiko asks if her feet hurt, and Kousaka’s response is that while they do hurt, she doesn’t mind the pain. Kumiko’s response of “that’s kinda hot/sexy” (Nanka eroi being her exact words) basically speaks for itself. This is continued firther when Kousaka comments that Kumiko has a horrible personality, specifically referencing  the competition in middle school. She then however states that this is not an insult, but a complement. Not only that, Kousaka literally calls this “a declaration of love,” with that same serious look on her face.

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Kumiko seems more confused than anything to this revelation, however she gets the message a little more clearly with Kousaka’s next remark. Kousaka mentions how she feels that Kumiko has a rather amicable exterior, but is rather distant on the inside. Kousaka then says that she would like to “peel off” those extra layers, and Kumiko immediately covers her breasts. All of this serves to build up a sexual tension between the two girls, leading to the figurative climax when they reach the mountain top and it’s vantage over the entire city. Kousaka gives a talk of how she wants to be special, and what follows has pretty much become the episode’s most infamous moment.

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Just as Kumiko is about to address her as “Kousaka-san” as she normally would, Kousaka stops her in her tracks by putting her finger on her forehead. She then tells Kumiko to address her by her given name: Reina. She then pulls her finger down Kumiko’s face, flicking it off of her top lip. During this, the wind blows around Kousaka’s dress and the camera zooms in on it. While we don’t see any panchira, we see Kousaka’s silhouette, backlit against the city lights. What I found so amazing for this scene and the dialogue which proceeds it is that for a show basically devoid of ecchi fanservice, it managed to create some palpable sexual tension as well as scenes which were not just sensual, but erotic. Despite showing nothing but a silhouette, the scenes and dialogue shown got the mind racing and pondering just what exactly Kousaka’s true intentions are, and for how much of this exactly is Kumiko just “along for the ride.” That scene was powerful, and is what caused me to write this rambling mess of a blog. There is however another part to all of this, and its what they dragged their instruments up a mountain for.

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This episode does not have the normal ED sequence of “Tutti” (funnily enough the most yuri-laden episode does not have the red string of fate imagery). Instead, it is an insert song of Kumiko and Kousaka playing an instrumental duet version of “The Place We Found Love.” When I first heard it, I didn’t know the name of the song so the poignance of the title was lost on me. There were however a few things which struck me about it. One was the fact that unlike Kousaka’s previous times playing pieces out in the open, no one else but her and Kumiko heard this song. This made the whole thing a much more private, more personal experience. Something that only Kousaka and Kumiko shared, galvanizing the happenings just prior. The second was the song itself and it’s tone. With me not knowing the song’s true title, I found the song actually pertinent to a lot that has happened so far in the show. The song, while not overtly melancholic, is not exactly jubilant either. It is this odd mix of hopeful and mournful, something which represents certain events in the show pretty well. Things have been lost along the way, like Kumiko’s senpai and childhood friend Aoi Saitou. She ended up quitting because more or less, she felt like she didn’t deserve to go to the nationals after trying and failing to keep the club together in the previous year. Conected to that is the mass desertion of the second years, an event which still haunts club president Haruka Ogasawara and adds to the mystery that is the crowd favorite Asuka Tanaka. And of course Hazuki lost her first chance at love. However we have also gained as well. Kousaka and Kumiko have rekindled their friendship (and possibly more), and Kumiko managed to get the previous slacker Natsuki Nakagawa to start playing more seriously. And also there was successful love at the festival thanks to Gotou and Riko. So for what was lost and what was gained, they played a song for both: a celebration, and a requiem.

However, as for the question of where my shipping loyalties lie, despite all of this I am split between KumikoxKousaka and KumikoxShuuichi. Despite all the things that Kousaka said, it was not lost on her that Kumiko probably has a thing for Shuuichi and even made a comment about it. Also along with Kousaka’s talk of wanting to be special, her reason for choosing to hike up a mountain during a festival was basically just because it was different than her normal routine, which fits into what she would later say. When you use these statements as a lens to view Kousaka’s very suggestive passes at Kumiko (along with Kumiko’s tendency to just go along with events rather than fight them) suggests to me that this “more than friendship” might be a bit more one-sided than it might initially seem. If you follow along with the theory that Kousaka is experimenting, then that gives some credence to the idea that this could be more of a “Class S Friendship” rather than true lesbianism. On the opposite side there is no question where Shuuichi’s affections lie after his rejection of Hazuki, and while Kumiko’s weakness to peer pressure applies here too, I already indicated that this is probably not entirely one sided. To add to that, while Kumiko never looks particularly happy when she is with Shuuichi, the fact remains that she still talks with him frequently. Also for the notorious ditherer and fence sitter that is Kumiko, she is actually fairly candid around him. This indicates a certain level of comfort around him that Kumiko has only just gained around Kousaka. However, the scenes Kumiko had with Kousaka were so electrifying and the subtext so myriad, that to deny the possibility at this point I feel is foolish.

So there you go, for all that overly extended bluff and bluster, I am undecided. For those who have stuck with me for this long, I congratulate you for finishing this marathon of the damned. Someone should give you a medal (not me, I’m EVIL, remember?) But I will say to all who have remained:

 

From Mahora with Love,
-VillainousHanacha

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