The Girl Has a Crush: Reflecting on Kumiko Oumae and Sound! Euphonium

euphonium 5

So, I ended up giving Sound! Euphonium another go.

I just went back to check my post on the show from when the first episode came out. I did this as I couldn’t recall if I’d done it before I’d ended up dropping it (at the second episode) or afterward, as that, in turn, would slightly affect the way I opened this post. Instead, though, I’m explaining what I just did and why, because I was a bit shocked at just how negative I was about the show. And, ultimately, I did end up dropping it after the second episode, having repeatedly zoned out while watching. It wasn’t bad, really – but I simply didn’t care, and I figured it was largely since I myself wasn’t in band when I was in school, nor did I play an instrument. The intricacies of high school band life left me bored.

In the interim, I noticed people gushing about it, but a lot of them were enthusing about the things they related to in it from their own experience of having been in band while in school. I’d more or less settled into a passive belief that Sound! Euphonium was probably a good show that simply wasn’t my sort of show. Occasionally I clicked on a screencap – but, a Kyoani show looking quite good? Is that really news anymore?

And then there was a collective freak-out the other evening upon the arrival of the eighth episode. And when I say “collective freak-out”, I mean that a lot of the folks I tend to associate with or read the blog of went into merry meltdown mode over a couple of the girls in the show apparently becoming something other than friends. As the pitch increased, I could feel my will giving way, especially as some of the more impassioned declarations popped up; I thought back to an earlier expressed desire that Free! would move one of their male pairs from homoromantic subtext to fully realized, gay male high school couple in a non-BL series text. Had some kind deity heard my wish?

I watched episodes three through eight the next day in rapid succession.

It bears mention that in the bits of Euphonium that I did see before I initially gave up on it, I was struck by Kumiko’s reactions/attitude toward Reina. The ED certainly was unsubtle given the whole red string of fate tied between the two girls, but before I’d seen that in the first episode, Kumiko’s behavior in relation to Kousaka caught my attention. Her sudden panic over seeing Kousaka, followed by her determination to apologize for a months-old incident – a determination severely hampered by her nervousness, stuck out in relation to the fairly level-headed character she’d displayed to that first point. For a character like Kumiko, it felt like too much. In some shows, this’d be evidence of poor characterization, but here instead it came off as a pointed contrast.

Of course, then the ED queued up and I rolled my eyes over that garish, obvious red string. At this point, I should pull a quote from the aforementioned post I did about the first episode:

“By the way, that ED – I’m sure the folks at KyoAni are snickering into their slush fund right now about how brilliantly they will once again manage to capture the money of the homoshippers without actually ever bothering to provide a gay character who gets to be, you know, gay (we all knew from the word go that Tamako Market’s Midori had no chance at all – we hardly needed an entire movie to confirm it*).”

So that’s roughly how I felt (feel?) about the ED and its bearing on reality within the show.

In the second episode, Kumiko still struggles to speak to Kousaka in a manner that was different from what I would’ve expected given her general character. She stammers, she babbles, she blushes, she avoids eye contact…

Watching episodes three through eight the other day, I saw this pattern continue. When Kousaka is involved, Kumiko gets completely out of sorts. Despite easily engaging in conversation with her friends, and with senpai she admire (Asuka, Aoi), she repeatedly struggles with trying to get a conversation going with Kousaka. She agonizes over each statement she makes, and then over the responses she does get from the other girl. The amount of time she spends torturing herself for seemingly angering or upsetting Kousaka is on level with the amount of time each episode of Go! Princess Precure spends on transformation sequences. Kumiko desperately cares what Kousaka thinks of her despite not being terribly troubled about how anyone else regards her (to the point that she can’t manage to pick up on the obvious fact that Shuichi has a crush on her).
Our heroine also frequently watches Kousaka from afar without daring to approach her.
Of course, episode eight dials things up to an extent that it is difficult to argue against the interpretation I was leaning toward anyway – that Kumiko has a crush on Kousaka, although I don’t think she quite realizes the nature of it herself.
But, you know what? I’m still not wholly convinced that we’re going to really get much beyond this even after catching up on the show. Hazuki pledging to help Shuichi get Kumiko has me pretty leery. Sure, Kumiko has displayed no romantic interest, or, truly, even much interest at all in Shuichi, but neither had Tamako done the same toward Mochizuki, and, hey, how’d that movie go? Yeah. And I could have a pretty striking flashback to Hyouka depicting Satoshi in a manner that was so very much boy-with-a-crush-on-his-male-friend only to nix it at the last second (in keeping with the canon of the novels, granted).
Yet, that isn’t why I wrote out this post! No, truly, I wanted to comment on how convincing I found the idea of Kumiko with a crush because her behavior feels very true to life… because, wow, have I been there before or what! I, too, effected a fairly unflappable persona while secretly flipping the hell out about the girl I had a crush on in high school. To me, she seemed perfect in a way that I could never aspire to – she was better at our shared intramural activity, I thought she was cuter/prettier (Kumiko noticing her larger chest in a manner that didn’t inspire jealousy as others had? oh, yes, hello – definitely been there, although without the whole getting jealous over other girls’ boobs thing… and I realized later that it was simply a matter of perspective and being blinded by, well, love), and I overanalyzed everything I was going to say to her before I did, then analyzed it all again afterward along with her own reaction. (Looking back, I wish I could reach out to my younger self and tell her to not twist herself into quite so many knots about it all.)
…okay, looking back on everything I’ve written, it seems far likelier that I ultimately wrote this as a means to babble disjointedly about Sound! Euphonium and same-sex attraction. Hmm.
At the very least, if Kyoani does jerk the rug out from under us and refuses to make subtext text, it’ll be a disappointment given that anime by and large is terrible about depicting youthful romance. This is, of course, pretty ironic considering that anime is extremely obsessed with the thing. There are very obviously some other items about which to be dismayed if they punt on it (a missed opportunity to normalize same-sex relationships looms large), but given how mind-bogglingly pervasive really horrible depictions of teen romance are in anime, this manages to rank at the top for me. (Also, given that “teen romances” encompasses same-sex, opposite-sex, and pairings involving nonbinary characters [haha, good one, as if anime ever even gets within throwing distance of the last one there…], it’s a broader ‘issue’, if you will.)
But I hope this ends better for Kumiko than it did for my own self. Mine resulted eventually in a confession… long after I’d gotten over the girl. I knew I’d never had a chance; Kumiko appears to have one. For me, then, it was just a matter of getting it off my chest – as I’m sure many of you know, spending several years longing for a very close friend can be pretty wearying and tends to inspire a sense of guilt, at least when you’re a teenager (changing in the same locker-room for gym several years of high school didn’t help this at all – do you know how many times I kept my head stuffed in my gym bag pretending to be looking for my socks?).
I haven’t touched on The Scene from episode eight at all. To me, it speaks for itself – I can’t bring myself to comment on it much or analyze it because of that. I will note Kousaka’s wholly unsuitable outfit. I loved that they bothered to show her feet as they became blistered from those cute, awful shoes she was wearing, especially as I’d just been thinking myself that it was silly to show her dressed like that to walk up a “mountain”. And I liked, too, that Kumiko surveyed her own outfit after she saw Kousaka, and there was a sense that she felt lacking in comparison. Do we really think Kousaka got so fancied up only for her own self, especially given the clear fact that the shoes were going to prove a poor choice? No way that girl would’ve done that had she been going up that mountain alone.

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6 Responses to The Girl Has a Crush: Reflecting on Kumiko Oumae and Sound! Euphonium

  1. ninryu says:

    [COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILER FROM THE NOVELS]

    Unfortunately I heard that in the novels Kumiko ends up with Shuuichi. Why? God knows. These two have zero romantic interactions.

  2. foshizzel says:

    Kyoani and romance always makes my head hurt! Have they ever had any successful relationships in any of their series? I can only think Clannad and Chuunibyou ? I am probably missing some I am sure, but I have no idea what they will do in Euphonium besides that side couple.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Well, Tamako Market’s movie did pair Tamako and Mochizuki off. Kanon ended with Yuuichi and Ayu becoming a couple. Hyouka ended with two couples.

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