Episode 9 - "Sound! Euphonium"
It took 9 episodes into the second season, but we finally got the name of the anime as an episode title.
The inevitable happened: Asuka had to leave the band. It's fitting with her character that she only opened up to Kumiko after they could no longer have an official relationship.
This show consistently surprises me with how it adds little tweaks and twists to a narrative arc it slowly builds. We had seen how Asuka had enigmatic concerns about how well the band was performing in competition and those were finally addressed with the introduction of her mother. Asuka knew that the more serious the band got, the more time she would have to spend practicing, which would at some point cause a conflict with her mother's goals for her.
However, the small scene with Mrs. Tanaka introduced some extra emotionality that couldn't be explained by just the pressures put upon a single parent. Woven into Kumiko's drama with her older sister were the clues to that tension: the famous euphonium composer and musician.
It's interesting to me how far forward Asuka saw her disentanglement from the club. The very next day after that shocking scene in the staff room, Asuka began grooming Natsuki to step into the missing euphonium slot. Asuka probably already felt relieved that Kumiko was on almost equal footing to play their featured part in the ensemble.
The final key to solving the mystery of Asuka was that the famous euphonium musician is her father, whom her mother divorced when she was only two years old. That should have been the end of anything to do with him and indeed, Asuka has never spoken with him at all. But when she was in grade school, he sent her a euphonium, a note for her and a song he wrote for her. That song is the one she's been playing by herself all this time.
What probably caused her downfall with her mom, and it had been building for years because of her interest in the euphonium which reminded her the divorced husband, was when Asuka saw who would be judging the National Competition: her famous father Masakazu Shindo. As Asuka got more serious to get to the final contest, it affected her judgment in dealing with band drama. She wasn't being as clear headed as she was the previous year, although she did a good job of explaining her reasoning to keep the band's emotional status quo. Now, she won't get that chance to play for her father.
Mamiko's drama got a short reference this episode by only showing that she returned a borrowed CD of Kumiko's band performance. We're not done kicking that mess around. But since we were dealing with closing the circle on Asuka's story, that meant it was time to start using those threads that Kumiko wove with Taki and the story of his dead wife. Reina is one of those threads too and I'm sure there will be issues with how Kumiko knew about Taki's past before she did.
Asuka is a student of orchestra instruments, so I was not surprised she called Kumiko and herself "euphoniums." There is a metaphor there that has not been specifically defined, but Asuka definitely believes Kumiko fits the definition of a euphonium better than she does. Reina also praised Kumiko for being observant and knowing what to say, otherwise the Nozomi-Mizore conflict would not have been resolved. Asuka also mentioned how helpful Kumiko was with Reina and Kaori in settling the trumpet solo issue.
From what we've seen, a euphonium in its role as a bass instrument is supposed to be in the background, supporting the melody, watching over its key. But a euphonium is a special bass horn in that it can speak loudly and clearly when called upon. It can shine on its own. It can act like Asuka. It can speak like Kumiko. I hope there's a nice scene later on that makes these points clear. That would be satisfying.
KyoAni was showing off again this episode. And why not? It's the episode we say goodbye to Asuka, so we better make her look good and use all sorts of directorial techniques to heighten the impact of her scenes. This scene leading up to Asuka's confession on why she suddenly wanted to go to finals has Asuka and Kumiko's world slowly turning upside down. Asuka revealed that she is not the "special" Asuka everyone thought she was. In the end, she was a little girl with a small selfish wish to see her long absent father.
She almost told the whole truth when she spoke to the band before the regional contest about how she wanted everyone to hear their music. The bare truth was that she wanted one person to hear her euphonium. Because of that wish, her grades suffered a little and her mother invoked the agreement that she would quit the band if her music got in the way of academics. How this played out is tragic in the Greek Drama sort of way. Nemesis stalks us all, Asuka included.
The last bit of visual coolness was how the focus shifted from Kumiko to Asuka as she played her father's song as a farewell serenade to the audience and to Kumiko. I hope it's not true that this is really Asuka's curtain call from the band, but it looks final. Kaori's "Bring-Asuka-Back" plan to bribe her mother was never going to really work anyway.
Looking ahead, we've got to work through Mamiko's drama to its resolution and then deal with Reina's feelings about Taki. Kumiko the Euphonium better find the right words to deal with each one before we get to the flash-forward we saw in the first episode.
At least Asuka knows her mother is crazy. Possessive and hysterical, she said. Hysterical in the Freudian sense, even. As I mentioned above, Asuka playing that euphonium probably had been making her simmer from feelings of betrayal, resentment and who knows what else over the years.
I liked Kumiko's little freak out at hearing the news that Asuka was the daughter of someone famous.
The Fun Stuff.
It's Kaori's turn for the eye catch. I hope she didn't name the photography session something like "Operation Photograph Kaori Playing Trumpet."
Yay! Natsuki scenes! I was impressed with how Kumiko said Reina's name in her scaredy-cat voice a few episodes back, but Natsuki doing an insincere "OK" thumbs up had me rolling. We also learned Kaori really likes cats.