To Yuri or not to Yuri, that is the Euphonium

I’ve been wondering about something after reading this article; there’s been a lot of talk on the current issue of ‘Yuri Bait’ in Hibike!, and I’d like to share my thoughts on it as the next episode nears.

Thing is, I’ve heard a lot of people get angry at the show and/or KyoAni for ‘baiting’ certain viewers into thinking a homosexual relationship would be canon before using one scene to ‘undo’ all that and make it ‘mean nothing’. That or people are saying it’s a further sign of the marginalization of homosexuality in popular media. There are, however, a number of voices that are appreciating this development for what (I think) it really means for the show. When you properly evaluate the relationships of the characters, the scene actually becomes a boon for the potential Yuri-relationship sub-plot.

First, we should see the relationship between Kumiko and Reina for what it really is: liminal. Kumiko’s mind isn’t focused on feelings towards guys, supported by the female-dominated cast and environment and her coldness to the only boy she seems close to, while Reina is unafraid to throw around words of ‘love’ and implications of deep connections. It’s simultaneously the right set-up for a friendship that explodes the less vibrant character into a new experience of youth (as in Hyouka) and perfect as the non-romantic prelude to an actual romantic relationship, offering meaningful ground for their proximity to become something deeper. KyoAni seem perfectly aware of this, as they dedicate time to flesh out both sides of this same coin. Reina may have blown her ‘straight trumpet’, but Kumiko is far harder to describe, enabling her character to go in a number of directions and face all these conflicting developments at once.

The last few episodes, however, threw some remarkable challenges. Shuichi’s advances have rung alarm bells for people who don’t want a poorly-written Kumiko x Shuichi ending (since the show has rarely touched on any romance between them), while Reina’s confession has made Yuri fans outraged at episode 8’s incredible scenes being merely ‘bait’. But what rings true about both these things? They’re conflicts, and this is a dramatic show about conflicts. That means these issues are developments of each sub-plot.

Shuichi’s increased demonstration of interest in Kumiko and the teasing she receives are conflicting interests; she clearly isn’t ready for that kind of experience, and neither does the viewer want her to fall down that typical path of passive realization to what’s been actively going on around her. Reina’s confession is also a blow to the potential for her and Reina getting closer, but it’s also an obstacle to a sub-plot which is as much at threat to disruption as anything in the show. The Yuri ship should still be sailing – it’s just hit a storm, which makes it more exciting. That, in my book, makes this show stand out as something making progress for homosexuality in romance, making the potentiality for it matter to the development of its characters.

The latter is the primary issue. The rumours regarding Taki-sensei and Reina are going to bleed profusely into the next episode, and I can expect that her deeper feelings are going to get mixed in with the drama – perhaps exposed more greatly – leading to her feelings being affected by whatever unfolds. The fact it’s a teacher-student relationship speaks of its fragility, as the two have completely different goals – Taki-sensei is engaged with bringing people together, while Reina rejoices in isolating herself as ‘special’. This only seems to me as a further opportunity for the homosexual sub-plot to develop, which in turn will run alongside and affect the development of the Shuichi and Kumiko sub-plot.

I don’t think either path is going to come to a head; Kumiko’s development isn’t leading her towards Shuichi – the potential for romance there is just another of the challenges that are developing her in the ways that matter. Likewise, the development of Reina’s feelings towards Taki-sensei and Kumiko’s pseudo-romantic proximity to her will be another cog in the wheel. The point is not who gets together with who, or what that means for how relationships are portrayed in anime, but what that means for the character individually. The depths of a character – particularly those as deep and natural in this show – should come first over the desire to see two characters together in some way or another.

If KyoAni does somehow make a relationship absolute in this series, I’ll start playing the Euphonium myself. It would hopefully help to clear my confusion as to how and why the series ended that way. As it stands, though, I think Hibike!’s first season is exploring the liminality of youth and, consequentially, won’t be making any ships canon, desired or not.

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15 thoughts on “To Yuri or not to Yuri, that is the Euphonium”

  1. Heh. This is certainly an interesting take on the romantic subplot with Hibike.

    Quite refreshing, considering everyone around me seem to take it as “bait” and the appearance of Shuuichi’s interest and Reina’s crush as confirmation of said bait. Its nice to hear another possible take on it. ^^

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the reply!

      Yeah, it seems a lot of fans have reacted in a negative way, but the critical community around Hibike! (as I’ve encountered on sites like reddit) is more in line with this train of thought. The ‘Yuri-bait’ reaction also seems like such a boring dead-end. It’s more fun and more appreciative of the show to explore things with this kind of comparative depth.

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  2. I think you hit the nail on the head with what the show’s primary focus is. I’m not usually a fan of yuri in anime, not because of personal beliefs (I am Christian myself and seem to have similar beliefs to yours on homosexuality), but because it usually is written lazily and only exists for the purpose of titillation of the male audience; it objectifies the relationship instead of actually giving it proper development and context in the narrative. The fact that so many people seemed to only be drawn to this show because of strong hintings of a yuri character relationship and proceeding to deride those implications as “bait” was frustrating to watch, because it seemed to indicate to me that they were not actually appreciating it for the numerous other merits the show has. I’m aware of how important it is to watch a show and individually come to a conclusion, and that my reaction basically boils down to me saying: “WHY DIDN’T YOU WATCH THIS THE SAME WAY I DID? YOU ALL WATCHED IT WRONG!”, but that sums it up pretty well, selfish as it is.

    Another interesting point I’ve seen brought up elsewhere is that the scenes in episode 8 didn’t even have to imply yuri to begin with. Reina is obviously a very isolated person, but appears to strongly value what few individual relationships she does keep. As an introvert who strongly values close, individual relationships I could definitely see that angle. The experience she has with Kumiko during the festival could just as easily have been an instance of her reaching out to someone she feels she feels a connection with and can be honest towards, and being caught in an isolated moment of extreme intimacy. Is this the only way they intended for this scene to come off as? Probably not. This show does air at otaku o’clock and has BDs to sell. However, their scene together in episode 10 after conflict transpires in the band would suggest that the former is a very valid reading. Speaking from having gone through an experience one of my years in high school band that was very similar to the one Reina goes through in this show (though with lot less active speaking out and a whole lot more passive aggression), the way it portrays her dealing that stress is spot on. Though I might be projecting, having someone like Kumiko in that situation that is willing to listen to personal frustrations and respond with reassurance was probably what helped me the most when I was in that situation.

    I could probably say more about the show, but it’s not on topic with the post. I’m just happy that there’s a series in my favorite genre (slice of life) that portrays an activity I’ve spent eight years of my life doing with such attention to detail and care put into every facet of the production. I’ll be interested to see what you have to say once you get the full picture when the show ends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your response!

      I agree that focusing one element of a work, such as just one of the many opportunities for romance in this series, is a fraught way of criticising it. You’re not ‘watching’ it wrong, but if you’re trying to make a statement about the value of the show and/or its production, you’re making that statement wrong by championing your reaction as having a wider effect on the quality of the anime than it actually does. Thus, viewers that reacted to this as ‘Yuri-bait’ always seem to take their criticisms away from the show, targetting KyoAni, the ‘system’ or whatever else they want to get irritated. The so-called ramifications of this ‘controversy’ shrink once someone actually analyses the show, leaving disappointed fans just as people who unfortunately took the wrong angle throughout the show, which is often their own fault.

      Cool to hear that the show relates to you on a personal level; I have a friend who went through her own troubles with a band (being more in Reina’s position), so it relates to me somewhat too.

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  3. I enjoy watching this because of the story, characters and progression, but one thing I don’t like (this is a personal opinion ) is the fact that Reina loves Taki sensei. I don’t like those kind of animes, don’t know why.

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    1. I’m still unsure as to what kind of love it is. Inasmuch as Kumiko is confused about this period of her youth, I’m sure Reina is deep down too; that’s why she’s trying to blow the clearest notes and be ‘special’ – inner conflict can be devastating if you don’t combat it with your dreams of who and where you want to be.

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  4. I need to keep up with the fandom sometimes, I seen just very few instances of some of my tweets in my timeline ranting about Reina’s “confession”, certainly not as worse as what you just described xD

    Personally, I love my yuri for sure, but I don’t really get what’s so agonizing (is that the right word here? lol) about it. Your post is pretty much spot-on though, despite the confession, it’s just a cog in the wheel atm, and likewise with any slight romance developments for the moment. All we need to do is just see where this yuri ship is sailing, or if it would continue to sail. If it does, cool, if it doesn’t, that’s fine either, as long as the romance subplot is actually nicely written.

    On another note, will Hibike has a second season? Your post sounds like it certainly will, lol.

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    1. Thanks for the response!

      I think a lot of my exposure to the fandom has been through other blogs and reddit, though I certainly agree that in some circles the cries of ‘Yuri-bait’ won’t be as strong. As for Hibike! having a second season, I’d be happy either way, but I feel that the development of characters like Shuichi is implying that a continuation of these characters is in order. Chu2 got a second season (which wasn’t necessary), and Hibike! is up there in terms of first-season quality. There’s also plenty of source material for them to adapt. :)

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  5. I’m currently trying to write a post on the characters in Euphonium, mainly just about Kumiko, Reina and Asuka, but man there are so many different views about the relationship between Kumiko and Reina. I’ve spent about 90 minutes going over different posts, reading them carefully, checking comments, and links to other articles about the topic, but your post here is one of my favorites on this topic by far.

    Great read, I enjoyed it a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

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