For someone who’s been having a hard time lately feeling passionate about anything to write about, what are the odds one of the shows I’d end up watching during that time would be about characters being passionate about their hobby.
Hibike! Euphonium presents this through characters joining a concert band with the goal of making it to the Nationals. While I may not play an instrument (anymore) I consider the journey from feeling unenthused about practice and trying their best to becoming more serious and impassioned about their hobby and performance heartfelt and inspiring. To some degree, perhaps even relatable, though I’ve never set a goal of that high a bar before.
What makes the lovely themes of being passionate about something and trying your best all the more endearing and uplifting are the characters. Though the show is relentlessly gorgeous in its visuals and presentation of these characters, and essentially every move they make, which can be overly fantastical, small things like the teacher scolding students for their skirt length manages to make it awesomely grounded in reality, and made all the believable through its impressive animation, typical of KyoAni. Everything regarding aesthetic and movement in the show is so comfy, pretty, and pleasant to look at it’s almost entrancing. But what’s important to note is how, while the visuals might seem too pretty for their own good, the fluidity of the movement makes the characters feel that much more human.
Each character has their own attitude and goals, but we only explore a select few. Reina Kousaka is someone who strives for achievement fuelled by her fear of failure. Whereas, Sapphire “Midori” Kawashima wants to play at her best because she loves playing contrabass so much. Hazuki Katou is a beginner, but guided into determination to improve by her peers and learning the joy of playing in an ensemble. She finds passion through the joint effort of playing instruments together and the satisfaction that comes with the sound evoked from that union. On the opposite end, you have Aoi Saitou, who while passionate about music as a hobby, maintains a cynical outlook on performing competitively and prefers to view it as a fun activity instead of a pursuit of something grander. Shuuichi Tsukamoto gets frustrated with not being able to perform properly and becomes more inspired to improve after an exchange with Kumiko. Natsuki Nakagawa (aka “best girl”) shows jealousy toward Kumiko, but also understands their gap is based on experience, as Kumiko has been playing for seven years, while Nakagawa only started playing a year prior. But despite her jealousy, she admires Kumiko and is motivated by her to work harder, as she supports Kumiko to do the same.
Lastly, we have Kumiko Oumae, who starts off wanting to try a new instrument and act normal, but is then pressured into playing the euphonium again, and isn’t really that passionate about playing or working hard toward anything. As shown in the flashback to her surprise at Reina being upset they didn’t win Nationals last time and possibly only pretending she didn’t expect them to win out of fear of getting hurt if they didn’t, and similarly her inaction when votes were taken on if they were playing for Nationals or not, Kumiko displays indecisiveness in what she wants following the concert band. Notably, she detects their welcoming ceremony to be a terrible performance, showing her to be talented, but her demeanour here also shows she’s sort of distancing herself from her hobby, not realizing she’s passionate about it until she becomes inspired by Reina. Through their relationship, as well as other various reasons (i.e. being in that hard-working environment during practice sessions), Kumiko grows more and more passionate about music, the band, self-improvement, her friends, and life in general. Training so hard to play the euphonium to the best of her ability that she has nosebleeds, she finds the strength and motivation to become a better musician and more open person.
Watching all these characters work hard and pursue their passions was a truly relatable and motivational experience. Seeing them struggle, some fail, while the rest succeed, and everyone becoming more understood about where they and others stand in terms of ability and effort felt so real and human, I could see it as evoking a surreal sense of nostalgia in anyone who’s had similar experiences. And I’m glad to see Taki-sensei dispense some growth mindset advice to the students who didn’t make the auditions as a learning experience which should be treasured and used to motivate them to work harder for next time. Always nice to see failure being treated as an opportunity for growth, and in contrast with characters who do see it as something upsetting. Kaori Nakaseko being a senior outplayed by a junior (Reina) was a hard pill to swallow, and it shows in her practice and when they do a second audition in front of everyone. As much as she wants to play the solos, she knows Reina is the better player, so when Taki-sensei asks her if she wants to play, she declines believing Reina would be more suited if they want to win gold.
Hibike! Euphonium may showcase characters with more talent than others, but everyone is shown to be working harder and harder over the course of the series, getting more serious and feeling more impassioned about their music and their aspirations like their lives depended on it. And I really appreciate it went as far as it did to demonstrate not only how much work goes into it, whether you’re talented or not, but also how much it means to them in doing so.
All in all, no matter what your passion may be, I think Hibike! Euphonium does an excellent job presenting the emotions and different perspectives associated with passion, for those who pursue it leisurely, those who are inspired by others to embrace it, and those who aren’t aware they have it but eventually realize it, in a loving and sincere way.