In Sound! Euphonium, sometimes people struggle not to blurt things out and keep them hidden… After all, they are supposed to be an ensemble/orchestra and therefore stakes are high for maintaining order. Everyone must be on the same wavelength.
Last year, Sound! Euphonium proved an emotional hit with young audiences.
The struggle to be the best, to put one’s heart and soul into the music and come out on top was a very emotionally charged one. The decision between playing for fun and playing to be top of the league is a tough one to make, since it alienates those who don’t want to pursue the activity so seriously. It might also make the constant, long hours of practice into a chore, rather than the fun activity one picked up as a hobby. These themes were explored deeply in the first season of the series.
Things get a little more complicated now, as the girls and their interpersonal relationships in Sound! Euphonium 2 continue to deepen.
[This article contains spoilers for Sound! Euphonium 2 up to episode 4.]
One of the recurring topics is the friction between the eleventh-grade members of the ensemble. The tension in the air is palpable and clearly affects the composure of the group.
Now that the Kita-Uji High School brass band club are the prefectural champions, those who dropped out in the previous year want to return while some of those who stayed in the club are opposed to the idea.
This brings up a great dramatic dilemma. Do we hide some elements of the truth to keep people happy in a fragile environment, or do we face the problem and tackle it head-on, risking a major breakup? Remember, the club members’ championship dreams are riding on this harmony being genuine.
The issue in this particular arc centers on the character of Mizore, an eleventh grade student.
Her performance–though musically accurate–is cold, robotic, and emotionless, according to the evaluation of the teachers. Yuko, another eleventh grader, tries to encourage her with advice as she plays. “Try to blow a little harder here,” she suggests. Mizore: “Is that… emotion?”
We are given an image of somebody who seemingly does not understand how to emote. We see that she is having a hard time expressing feeling through her playing, but at the same time, we are also told that although she has a quiet personality, Mizore’s oboe was always very passionate. Something must have happened to have triggered her reclusion.
In the midst of this, a former member of the group (also in the eleventh grade), Nozomi, repeatedly demands that she be allowed to rejoin the club, but is refused on the grounds that, apparently, Mizore does not get on well with her.
As the competition is coming up and there is no time for emotional instability, the group must keep their eye on the ball.
However, Nozomi causes a stir when she spots Mizore practicing in the corridor. Mizore, in shock, runs away to hide.
The direction here is, as usual for Kyoto Animation works, phenomenal. Episode four, masterfully directed by Taichi Ogawa, shows off some very smart visual techniques in order for us to experience the full emotional explosion that Mizore undergoes.
Firstly, the framing in the scene where we finally find Mizore hiding behind the teacher’s desk in a science classroom is brilliant–Mizore has secluded herself from everyone into a tiny corner of an empty room, symbolically representing her emotional distancing from the other members as felt in her musical performance.
She may be a little clumsy at getting her words across and making relationships, but she is not a robot. She is emotional on the inside, very much so. Mizore only joined the club because Nozomi invited her. Mizore had felt betrayed last year after Nozomi left the group. Once Nozomi left, Mizore could no longer face her–as she did not want to confront the idea that she was dumped, essentially–but did not want to hate her. She continued to play in the club. She stuck with the oboe not because she liked it, but simply because that instrument was the only connection she still had with her friend. The instrument represents the tangible link to someone special.
Mizore ran because she did not want to face Nozomi again for fear of losing what she believed was her only friend. Yuko steps in and physically shoves Mizore down to the ground, explaining to her that she has made many genuine friends in the club, and not out of pity. The confirmation of this bond is illustrated with tears falling from Yuko’s face onto Mizore’s cheek, as she lies on the floor. This is representative of a true emotional connection, finally being made. The tears of her friend landing on her own cheek trigger an epiphany: At this precise moment, Mizore realizes she is loved, she just could not see it because she had shut everybody out.
As Yuko confronts her, however, Mizore faces the sudden realization that Yuko has also been a genuine friend to her. Likewise, Mizore realizes that hiding her own happiness after winning the Kyoto competition (out of respect for the people who did not participate) has been building up a lot of tension–almost leading to the instability in the group. It might have even cost them the competition.
The next part of this sequence has Yuko physically pull out Mizore from the dark place she has retreated into and into the light. Bear in mind that this scene takes place just before the sunset, with the sun low in the sky, so that the contrast in the classroom is very sharp. Dark areas and very bright areas are very close to each other.
Japanese anime is very famous for symbolism in the use of color, light and shadow, and even objects in the background, showing the inner feelings of the characters. Thus, bringing Mizore into the light cleanses her mind and helps her see things much more clearly. This shot is even shown in slow motion to emphasize this transition even more.
For now, slowly but surely, the members of the Kita-Uji High School brass band club are coming together as an ensemble that play together in true harmony, in all senses of the word.
Sound! Euphonium 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.