“The Last Competition” & “Early-Spring Epilogue”
Wednesdays 12:30 pm EDT on Crunchyroll
Either the band was going to get gold at Nationals or they weren’t, so I can’t say I would have been surprised at either outcome. That said, given Euphonium’s unending optimism I figured they would win. I liked what happened much better, which you will see is a recurring theme for me for the final two episodes. The loss created a very complex, bittersweet mood where you felt bad for the seniors but you also had a moment to reflect on how far they came since the mass defection over a year earlier.
That mood carried over into episode 13, which came with a its own surprises. I can’t say the actual episode as a whole was very compelling as the musical performances and montages kind of dragged on. With only a precious 25 or so minutes remaining I didn’t want to waste time on that. I was assuming the bulk of the episode would be focused on Reina since that seemed to be the only loose end left, but again I think I liked what we got better. Reina’s final significant scene was actually kind of sad. She still seems cool with Kumiko but you have to wonder how much damage their little rift really did. It’s almost like Kumiko is “over” her to a certain extent now that she’s seen how difficult she can be. At the very least Reina doesn’t seem to dominate her every waking thought anymore, an honor that has suprisingly moved on to someone else.
That brings us to the last moments of the series, which is what everyone has been buzzing about. Kumiko’s final words to Asuka made for one of the most beautiful scenes Kyoto Animation has ever produced, both visually and emotionally. As to the nature of Kumiko’s confession, her feelings were clearly shown to mirror her feelings for her sister so I think it’s safe to say her admiration for Asuka is more as a role model than something romantic. That said, comparing Kumiko’s reaction to when Reina wouldn’t speak to her or even her own sister leaving really shows how much she grew to care about Asuka. I don’t think we’ve ever seen her that upset. It made their final parting really sting, as I interpreted Asuka’s last words to mean they would never see each other again.
We’re then left with the parting shot of Kumiko reading Asuka’s notebook, hitting us with an awesome, top tier title drop. I think showing the title was important to drive home how meaningful their connection as euphonium players has been from the start, since you could argue the impact of Asuka on Kumiko’s life was not really developed until the last batch of episodes. That’s probably the only slight criticism I could make about this final arc, although I kind of want to rewatch the series and analyze their relationship more without the Reina blinders on. There’s probably a lot of development I missed. Regardless, I’m left very satisfied with the ending and so happy KyoAni finally pulled off a season 2.
I’m always an advocate of leaving well enough alone when it comes to good anime and even though the first season of Euphonium was begging for a sequel plot wise, I was extremely wary of getting more. Thematically, season 1 told an incredibly tight, focused story with a clear start and finish. Season 2 does not match it’s predecessor in that regard, but it does improve in other ways that makes it a worthy follow up to what could be the best series Kyoto Animation has ever made. Basically, it proved me wrong.
Perhaps the biggest improvement is in the pacing. My only complaint about Season 1 was the first half being too slow. There was too much time spent just hanging out and having fun and it wasn’t until the serious band drama kicked in that I took notice. Season 2 does not leave us waiting, immediately introducing new members and addressing the big split in the band alluded to in season 1. There was not a single episode I didn’t feel like something was accomplished, including the mandatory pool, class trip, and school festival episodes.
While the drama was always popcorn worthy, the narrative is broken up into shorter character arcs and that made the season as a whole feel a bit less focused. It was also hard to care anytime the plot moved away from Kumiko. Introducing characters like Mizore or digging deeper into Taki’s backstory was all well and good, but it also muddled the message. Whereas the first season simply asked “do you want to play for fun or for glory?”, season 2 finds us going around asking others “what do you play for?” with mixed results.
Fortunately the attention eventually shifts to the relationship between Kumiko and Asuka, which becomes the true highlight of the second season. They don’t have the primal, white hot chemistry of Kumiko and Reina, but seeing them grow close felt just as meaningful. In this case it was Kumiko who got to peel back the mask and discover everyone’s favorite senpai is just as flawed and vulnerable as anyone else. Their bond as fellow “euphoniums” has quietly been building throughout the series and it was pretty cool watching it bubble up to the surface and explode.
Overall I don’t think there’s any debate that season 2 is inferior to season 1, but when the bar is set that high it still leaves a lot of room to be good. Season 2 is good, if not great, giving us more time with characters we’ve grown to love and developing new angles to their relationships. Most importanly though, above all else: Kumiko did not end up with Shuuichi. That’s for you, Euphonium light novel truthers, enjoy.