If there’s one way Hibike! Euphonium has been successful, it’s in how much it’s made me want to talk – not just about the show itself (or its over-discussed ‘Yuri-bait’), but also about the themes it raises: questions of the uncertainty of adolescence, the purposes of youth and life, and even the nature of religious devotion. That last one is something I’ve only come across recently while musing about Taki-sensei and the bad rep he’s gotten from a number of fans who haven’t been on-board with all his decisions. I not only want to demonstrate here why I think those criticisms are misplaced, but also the importance of Taki-sensei’s appearance of infallibility to Reina, the band and the viewer watching it all, which all leads to the most important matter of how Reina’s ‘love’ parallels to worship and the way this religious model is both her strength and her weakness.
A key issue with seeing Taki-sensei as ‘infallible’ is the controversial re-audition in episode 11, as many have criticized both the choice itself and the method used; yet, everything Taki-sensei does makes a lot more sense in the context of his other decisions for the band. At this point in the story, the band had come far musically, but were still socially fraught as a group. Pressures of seniority were taking precedence over musical ability. Taki-sensei had already put pressure on Aoi to work out whether the band could take priority in her life, and having her leave, while uncomfortable, was for the best for both herself and the band. The first auditions had also encouraged Natsuki, a strong symbol of the overall change in the band from complacency with mediocrity to striving for something better. He now turned to Kaori and the band so that they resolved their rumours and social tensions themselves, just as Aoi had made the decision to leave herself. Kaori needed to accept that she wasn’t getting the solo, and so did the band, so that they could musically move on.
This required a multi-faceted set-up, and it ended up going exactly as Taki-sensei must have planned. The re-auditions needed no deceit so that the eyes of the band could be literally opened to seeing the truth as well as hearing it; hence, ‘blind auditions’ would have kept an air of mystery that would have only re-fed rumours of manipulation in the procedure. Likewise, making Kaori play first was intentional to make Reina’s solo sound better, since Taki-sensei knew she did from the first audition and wanted it to stand out to everyone even more. Cruel? Perhaps, but he needed to break through Kaori and not pussy-foot around the issue, an approach we’ve seen to be in-character throughout. Furthermore, the necessity for clapping as voting was in place to prevent people from hiding themselves, to expose the fact that no-one would have the guts to go against either seniority or musicality. Last, but the opposite of least, Taki-sensei’s ‘offer’ to Kaori – ‘will *you* play the solo’, with the syllable ‘ga’ used for emphasis – was in fact an offer for her to decline the part, which was what she needed to do to have everyone save face and alleviate the tensions. She herself needed to back down from the spotlight everyone was putting on her. The whole re-audition was never a question of talent, but an unravelling of the social constraints that had emerged within the band.
This incredible set-up shows to me just how tight Taki-sensei’s understanding and control of the band was. However, the show was careful not to make this too simple, which is why for a few seconds we get a crucial moment of doubt behind-the-scenes. The point is not that Taki-sensei is the teacher-equivalent of an overpowered character like Kirito in SAO; he just has to appear that way for his students in order for them to have a solid foundation upon which to progress. I’m sure many of us have needed to rely on a teacher in that way at one time or another.
It’s more clear how obvious Taki-sensei’s role was in Kumiko’s development, so I won’t expand on that. Then again, this was the area that made me begin to make my correlations between the actions of this teacher and the role and personality of a God.
Regardless of belief or unbelief, the qualities of the Christian God are well known to anyone, and it’s interesting to see how many of these parallel to how Taki-sensei acts. One main trait of God can be that feeling of distance, which Taki-sensei embodies constantly through his blunt delivery, and even more so from his lack of presence in the early episodes while the band were trying to prove to him that they were worth supporting. Yet, the personal time he has with Kumiko in episode twelve also shows an ability to come closer to his students when in matters most, just as his distance from them initially was what they needed most to be challenged out of their comfort zone. One could even say the band could only see his distant side because they were distancing themselves from him, often criticising his choices, whereas Kumiko, who never partook in this, exhibited a kind of ‘faith’ that led her to see his more gentle side, similar to how Reina ‘loves’ him and never criticised him either; this all works as another parallel to a Christian relationship with God. On top of that you have his awareness of deeper social struggles, which relates well to the idea of God knowing our heart when we only know the surface. The rumours he debunked through the second audition were that kind of surface-level assertion, but he knew what mattered more to the band and dealt with that; had he not, he would have just dismissed the rumour without knowing how much it would debilitate the progress of the band.
Another note of godlihood can be seen in his initial agreement with the band and how he uses it throughout the series. Just as God is said to have given us free will, Taki-sensei gave the club the choice between caring about Nationals or just having fun. Once either God or Taki-sensei receives our decision, however, they treat it as set in stone – we chose to disobey God in the garden of Eden, and the band chose to strive for Nationals, both choices differently deciding the remaining history of their choosers’ existence. I could even go as far as relating the fixed trajectory of the band to the covenant relationship Israel had with God in the Bible, if only for how they’re unshakable and involve taking a group from wickedness into prosperity with their ruler. Ultimately, even if people don’t want all this in a God, they often do in a teacher; without someone who sets the rules in stone and doesn’t change themselves from one day to the next, it’s harder to gain confidence as a student as the members of the band did through Taki-sensei’s guidance. But many also worship gods for this reason; an absolute, unshakable authority can be greatly desired when your life is in chaos.
This symbolism in Taki-sensei as a godly figure is not watertight, but I’m sure it’s not supposed to be; the show is too complex for interpretations not to clash. It does, however, shed a lot of light on Reina’s ‘love’ for him. When people say they ‘love’ about a person they worship, it’s exactly how Reina describes it – never in a ‘like’ kind of way. It’s adoration that leads to a great sense of humility, which I felt was aptly portrayed in how small Reina seemed to get while confessing this ‘love’. Her occasional shouting about Taki-sensei’s brilliance furthered this feeling for me – that Taki-sensei is not someone she wants to ‘be with’, but rather someone who holds the kind of ‘specialness’ she aspires to. Of course, I think the ease with which it’s confused with ‘feelings’, as Kumiko displays in episode ten’s scene, is on purpose, a further complication to the number of different kinds of ‘love’ that are found in the show. But seeing this love as a form of worship just feels so… Reina. And it also raises some interesting questions which I think the show is self-aware of.
For a start, is Reina’s ‘faith’ in Taki-sensei a strength or a weakness? I’d argue for both; treating someone like a God can lead you to be dependent on their success for your own, and I thus worry what will happen to Reina once Taki-sensei inevitably disappears from her life. Then again, she avoids the overly prideful approach of wanting to be better than Taki-sensei and instead seems to do everything while remaining under his authority, exemplified by her apology to Kaori in episode twelve. She too knew the real purpose of the auditions, I assume, and thus wanted to follow Taki-sensei’s desire to alleviate tensions by eliminating any that she could herself. Reina is a good example of how devotion can be a blessing to us – even though it drives some people away from her (in some ways for the best), is it not partly that devotion which draws Kumiko closer? Her absoluteness of resolve, which Kumiko is struck by, stems from a godly figure who is too absolutely resolved; the parallel isn’t just there for dramatic fuel. Reina has her determination defined by Taki-sensei, and this is where her character will likely divide opinion. For some, her devotion to excellence under obedience is a breathtaking accomplishment. For others, Kumiko exhibits many freedoms that Reina will not have by not being tethered to a temporary idol.
The final question is whether we should emulate this ourselves. I’d argue its something we need and sometimes inevitably fall into when we’re growing up – we like idols, celebrities, people to have absolute allegiance to. Yet, we shouldn’t go so far as to make people our gods, as only a real God can be considered an infinite being unchangingly worthy of such faith. I fear for Reina’s future and how she will be challenged as a character because her ‘god’ is temporally-bound and ultimately human and fallible underneath his infallible impression. Still, Hibike! Euphonium suggests that discipline under an effective authority can take you further, as Reina is the closest of all of them to becoming ‘special’ in part because of her devotion to a teacher who can indeed nurture her talent to new heights. I wouldn’t have the same ‘love’ she has for him, but I’m be damned if I didn’t realise how important his leadership is to the chaos of a band like the one we get to see coming together under his infallible instruction and guidance.
But what do you think? Taki-sensei’s connotations of worship can surely be received in many ways I couldn’t cover in this article – have your say in the comments below!