Do you remember your first love?
I am personally all too familiar with it. In eighth grade, I experienced my first crush on one of my best friends. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know it; it came later, in the large amounts of waking up, being consumed with the thoughts of another. Naturally, I wanted to say something, but I knew about the consequences of being different, of being an outsider and looking in. So I kept quiet. I pretended. I stayed and played the role as a friend, while attempting to understand my own feelings and how not to express them at the same time. It’s easier, you see, to believe in a lie if you wake up every day and commit to it. But there are sometimes where our heart wages against us, and we slip. For me, it was one sleepover where I was too emotional, too tired of keeping up an act, and kissed my friend on the cheek in an attempt to ‘remove something on her face’ (I know, not the smoothest move). It was in that moment of vulnerability that I reached my own moment of truth – that there are some things you can’t come back from. For me, that was my sexuality.
Hibike! Euphonium does an excellent job of capturing this struggle; the framing of one’s desires or wishes against their own actions. In Episode 10-11, Yuuko makes it her own duty to create the stage for Kaori’s happiness, or what she perceives as Kaori’s happiness – getting the solo trumpet role for the competition. Her selfishness to see Kaori satisfied so that she can feel better for herself and become the martyr behind the curtains just as Kaori was with the first and third years is stunted by her actions of pleading with Reina to drop out of the auditions as well as her hesitant cheering for Kaori despite knowing that Reina is the better player. Her heart falters in the process, and by the end of it, she cries knowing that for Kaori, playing is enough – she doesn’t need the spotlight, as long as she’s doing her best.
Reina Kousaka is a different person, however. Hibike! Euphonium makes it a point from Episode 1 to show that she is uncomfortable opening herself up to other people, even former classmates like Kumiko and us, the audience. At first glance, Reina makes no attempts to talk to other people in the band; she practices alone, on the rooftops. If she says something, it is blunt and honest. She can’t end conversations – all she can do is walk away from them. We see her as any classmate does – weird, distant, moody.
With more and more episodes however, it becomes increasingly clear that unlike other characters that often attempt to cover up their intentions with conceived notions of social etiquette, Reina does not care about facades. She herself does not know how to openly express her feelings toward the people she sees as befitting to receive those emotions, and as a result, she is consistently awkward, her body language never quite lining up with her words. This can specifically be seen with her constant interactions with Kumiko. They are beautiful but sparse moments in low-key environments where we see her true, raw self – a Reina unconstrained by classmates, the corridors and hallways of school, and whispering gibberish. Despite this, these emotional pauses are still clumsily dampened by Reina’s inability to convey what she actually wants to say. What comes out instead are jagged, fragmented and often at times too direct statements. Reina cannot hold herself back in these moments, and the results are junctures of emotional outbursts followed up by awkward silences.
With that in mind, Reina’s actions become much easier to parse. Why she separates herself from the crowd may be due to her driven need to be better and to stand out, but I also feel like it’s a personal reason because she just can’t connect with a crowd that chooses to fall in love with social norms and music as a hobby. She practices in sunlit places, perhaps out of a need for warmth but also to carefully distance herself from the prying eyes of others. She always walks out of conversations, not away, never choosing to pause or look back, because she is tired of pointless chatter that has nothing to do with her. She chooses the trumpet because it fits her personality the most – loud, blaring, straight to the point, without the heavy need to blend in like string instruments. Her exchanges with her seniors and equals are abrupt, but her most dramatic, wild but natural statements are with Kumiko, and Kumiko alone. “I want to be special” and “I don’t try to get close to people who don’t interest me” are her desire to finally be rid of being defined and excluded from society. What Reina wants most is to become her own individual – someone she consciously knows and is intimately familiar with. Her journey with the trumpet and Kumiko are both a sign of this, and Hibike! Euphonium makes it clear to us that it’s as much about a way of self realization as it is about finding comfort in a way to be freely passionate.