Trumpet of the Heart; Hibike! Euphonium and Reina’s Youth.

[FFF] Hibike! Euphonium - 10 [506C1103]_Jun 17, 2015, 9.46.58 PM

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.

[FFF] Hibike! Euphonium - 08 [4F2BE868]_Jun 17, 2015, 8.31.12 PM

[FFF] Hibike! Euphonium - 08 [4F2BE868]_Jun 17, 2015, 8.31.46 PM

Discarding false pretension, Reina conveys her love for music, Kumiko, and the need to be special. At heart, Reina is a budding, introverted flower, slowly unfurling to keep up with the world around her to be recognized by the people she considers important instead of just ‘everyone else’.

Her behavior may seem weird and dysfunctional, but all of these actions honestly match up with my personal experience of an adolescent teenager who was coming to terms with her own sexual orientation. Forget about the science of love – the hormones that course through your body, defying your understanding of how interactions work and muzzling your rationality. Love outside the boundaries set by a traditional society is dazzling, heartbreaking, and life-changing. It is the defining moment of self awareness. It is learning who you are, what you want, and lastly, how to express what you want without fear of being judged by others. Coming to terms with this is a constant struggle as you try to be who you want to be but also become increasingly tired of the people around you as your desire to be accepted as ‘normal’ till finally – at the top of one hill of realization, you come to understand that normal is just a facade as everything else. Screw being normal. You want to be you, and nothing else.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 9.55.27 PM

It’s a declaration of love, after all.

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14 responses to “Trumpet of the Heart; Hibike! Euphonium and Reina’s Youth.

  1. Pingback: The Value of Youth – Adolescence and Anime | one of episodes·

  2. Interesting: I’ve always viewed the show from Kumiko’s perspective (wherein it explores the liminality of youth and ambiguity of sexuality that masters like Fitzgerald have similar explored in long-heralded literature), but through Reina’s eyes the parallel between her desire for isolation in being ‘special’ relates to how her relationship with Kumiko goes against the norm. She reaches a proximity with her that none of the other band members have with each other.

    I still don’t want any ship to sail to its destination, though. Far more interesting to keep things is quasi-romantic suspense.

    • Sorry for the late reply!

      I can totally see this as well. I think it’s a mixture of both, really; it’s what makes the tension in their romantic relationship so good. They both inspire each other to be more competitive, sort of like a ‘rival’ ship that has unhealthy tendencies (absolute codependency) but it narrowly dodges this by each other beginning to open up to the other (and other classmates) more.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. This is an excellent piece. You may know that I’m bi and I was thinking something along the lines of what you eloquently put out here. All my way throughout school I was falling consciously in love with guys but I also had huge crushes on some girls unaware what my feelings were for real. It was only in university that I started unpacking my homophobia and viewing the past with different lenses that I realized what was going on. I clearly remember in primary school that I wrote an essay about my best friend and I was so lyrical about it (“I can’t fall asleep if I know she worries”) that honestly I and the rest around me were dumb enough not to compare them with heterosexual romantic feelings.

    I cross my fingers that Kyoani did episode 10 (“I like Taki-sensei in a love way”) only to give us at the end the promised red string between Reina and Kumiko.

  4. This analysis of Reina has really given me a different perspective on how to view Reina as a character and Reina and Kumiko’s relationship in general. I was actually getting annoyed these past few episodes with how it felt like Kyoto Ani were baiting the possibility of Kumiko x Reina and it bothered me all the more given how it felt like it was thrown away when Reina said she liked Taki-sensei back in episode 8 (I think it was 8). I felt like the show has kept framing their relationship as something more than simply camaraderie, but it also doesn’t seem to want to confirm anything and that’s why I felt like it was baiting the possibility of a beautiful and genuine lesbian relationship. However, your analysis of her character and her behaviour along with your own personal experience discovering your own sexuality made all those romantically framed scenes between Reina and Kumiko feel more believable than it simply being Kyoto Ani teasing. I may not be in 100% agreement, but this post has definitely shed some new light on the show and how I feel about it. Fantastic! :D

  5. Great piece. Reina (and Kumiko) really are the most convincing and relatable character from any KyoAni anime for all the reasons you stated. In fact, I can’t think of many recent anime characters that were this realistic. It’s easy for people to just call them cardboard moeblob characters, but I couldn’t disagree more.

    • I think they’re a mix of certain traits we rarely see in anime (self centered characteristics but with a healthy measure, competitiveness but not to the point that it dominates their relationship) which is why their characters are so interesting! I hope we get a second season ^^

      Thanks for reading!

  6. I really loved this. Reina is my favorite character for the same reason. I liked it how KyoAni used this story for something that wasn’t another K-ON, and despite having very cute girls, they added something more special to their characters, something more human, like this awkwardness in both Reina and Kumiko. They are, in fact, very special characters.

    • I enjoy my dose of cute girls but I really do love how Euphonium adds a certain nuance to its character without sacrificing important detail to storytelling. Reina is very different from many anime girls I’ve run into in shows, so it’s refreshing to see how she’s grown in this series!

  7. I really like the characterization in Euphonium, especially of Reina and Kumiko. It’s easy to pigeonhole this show as repeating the same cutesy schoolgirl moeblob archetypes of kyoani works past, and maybe a few supporting roles do, but not these two. Their pride, sarcasm, awkwardness, and angst that you’ve noted make them complex and give them convincing humanity that’s exceptional in this genre of anime. “Is it love or not?”, though an important question, is only a fraction of what makes these two fascinating and compelling people.

    • I think there’s always been some subtlety to KyoAni’s characterization trends, more in some shows than others (Hyouka, Free, in comparison to something like Chuunibyou, etc) but the problem with KyoAni shows is that they are SO YMMV that it often depends on how much you resonate with the subject to really connect with the show and be engrossed with it. I find that a lot of people judge superficially [animation, character quirks] and the result is that we often are quick to label KyoAni shows as this or that instead of giving ourselves the chance to dig a little deeper! Not that it’s always bad. I personally couldn’t come to enjoy Amagi Brilliant Park despite hearing very good things about how it fleshed out its characters in certain ways.

      It’s good to hear then that so many people are enjoying Euphonium, as I am too and I’ve found that often times when a KyoAni show airs only a small group of people are willing to comfortably talk about it before it getting wrapped up in some extreme argument. I hope this post can bridge the two sides in some middle ground; I know Reina and Kumiko are fascinating, wonderful characters with a great relationship that’s worth writing about, whether it be about the romance, the personal resonance, or the things the two share in common, really. :) Thank you for reading and enjoying!

  8. I like how the light falls in such a way to look like a pink “blush” on Reina’s face in that last screenshot.

    And yeah, I’ve yet to hear about a first love that *wasn’t* awkward or confusing in some way. It was that way for me and all my friends too.

    • Heheh yeah experiencing love for the first time is always a weird, confusing thing – we’re not used to it, we’ve never felt it, so it’s often just us scrambling to deal with our feelings and what to make of them. Thanks for reading! :)

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