Up until episode 8, Sound! Euphonium had been one of my favorite shows of the current anime season—beautifully produced, delicately written, nostalgic in the extreme, thoughtfully reflective on the nature of competitive high school music programs. But, when episode 8 hit the Anitwitter waves, there was…a shift in focus I wasn’t expecting. And the effects of that shift were, well…I didn’t realize what they were for a while, but I thought the overall arc of my experience with the episode was interesting enough that I ought to bring my immediate reactions over from Tumblr and make a more reflective piece out of this fascinating experience.
Before I even got home from work last Tuesday, I was hearing the buzz about this episode. Now, I was used to hearing positive chatter about Sound! Euphonium—it’s unambiguously one of the best shows of the season, so that much was to be expected. The unusual thing was that, rather than general positivity about the episode, there was a very specific angle that conversation was taking: it was, of course, about yuri. When I got home from work, people were still talking about Euphonium, but more than that, they were still talking about Kumiko x Reina as if it had become canon. So I booted up the episode, watched it. Here’s what I had to say:
So, I’ll be honest—I’m not really much of a yuri fan, nor am I as convinced of Sound! Euphonium’s gayness as most of the people I’m seeing talking about it on Twitter. Most of this comes from the perpetual games anime plays with dancing around actual girl x girl relationships and some of it from the right-up-to-the-line-but-seemingly-quite-intentionally-not-over-it nature of the dialogue, but there was a pretty interesting phenomenon I noticed in my own reaction to all of the Kumiko/Kousaka scenes.
That was a very distinct sense of “NOT FOR YOU” that I got from their interactions. As far as I’m concerned, most yuri anime seems to directly pander to male fantasies (one of the reasons I’m not found of it), but this episode of Eupho definitely wasn’t that.
Between the agonizing intimacy of Kumiko and Kousaka’s understated dialogue and immaculately animated motions, plus the absolute lack of a “male identification” point, I felt more like an invader in their scenes than a participating member of the audience. Like, I like cute anime girls. But everything about Kumiko and Kousaka’s mountain hike seemed to reject me as the primary audience. I’m not saying “Geez, minus the normal invitation for guys to perv out over cute girls, I can’t engage with this.” That sort of stuff tends to drive me away from a show just as much; but that more of a moral revulsion than this was.
What happened here was simply that I felt, in a most unique way (since most anime is targeted toward straight males like me), unwanted in this scene.
I’m not sure I’ve articulated very well here, but it was strange experience. I’m not sure how much I liked it. I don’t know if I was supposed to like it or if it even matters if I don’t. I don’t even know if Im even describing the experience correctly. Maybe it’s just that I’m so used to being pandered to, even though I often don’t appreciate it, that not being pandered to, for once, feels very strange.
EDIT: Reading through this after I hit publish, I felt very dishonest that I didn’t (whether consciously or not) use the word uncomfortable to describe what I felt. Not the whole time, but I definitely felt uncomfortable at points. Make of that what you will.
After publishing this post on Tumblr (which I chose to do since I felt it was somewhat off-the-cuff and less polished than what I normally try to put up on the blog), I had the great pleasure of getting to talk with a couple people on Twitter as I tried to sort through the complex feelings and very real discomfort I felt about the experience and, at a different level, the discomfort I felt about being uncomfortable. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that I didn’t really like the way I felt about the episode, but I also couldn’t ignore how I felt.
The best solution seemed to be watch the episode again, but the confusion and the memories of the feelings the episode had generated a pretty big non-desire to go through that experience again. But something didn’t feel right to me. The very unusual reaction I had to the episode, despite its intensity, had certain inorganic feeling to it. The sheet unusualness of it all made it feel like it…wasn’t really me. Flash forward to Sunday and, facing the impending deadline for my APR ballot, I decided (amongst an impossibly inconvenient recursion of Euphonium tweets on my timeline) that I was ready to give the episode another watch. And here’s what happened:
So, I went back to Euphonium 8. Honestly, after my first watch of it, I was pretty convinced I did NOT want to watch it again—probably for a lot of the reasons I listed in the original post. But, I felt I couldn’t accurately think about Euphonium if I didn’t and:
I really wanted to try to experience the show without the overbearing mental pressure of the yuris, as generated by my social media circles. Honestly, I think I would have been far less specifically sensitive to the yuri potential of the episode had it not been for the absolute EXPLOSION of people totally freaking out about how gay the episode was.
But, you know? Those aren’t my default terms for engaging with a show and to, really, be forced into watching an episode on different terms than my own was, as has been noted, an uncomfortable experience. I wasn’t free to interpret things my own way or to experience it through my own personal lens. And a lot of the lines I was hearing from people who I really like and respect on Twitter were being couched in seriously inflexible terms: “THIS CAN’T NOT BE YURI.”
Which is fine, but I guess I’m just say that it affected the way I watched the episode a lot.
So, coming back to the episode today, I felt I was mostly free from the pressures of other people’s interpretations of Eupho and could really engage with it on my own terms.
An episode that was 1) more comfortable, 2) more impactful, 3) more engaging, and 4) more likable than the episode I watch on Tuesday.
And you know what? While I still totally see where the yuri people are coming from, I no longer feel obligated to see the episode that way—and I honestly prefer my interpretation, if only because it’s far more natural and comfortable to me. I don’t think it’s necessarily anti-yuri per se (certainly, they could exist side-by-side) but it’s far less definitive.
To me, Sound! Euphonium 8 feels like a fever dream. A summer daze. A mystical, ethereal, intimate, passionate moment all done up in shimmer glass ball of city lights, stars, and festival torches. It’s shot through with summer winds, the intensity of someone else’s eyes, and seeing (maybe for the first time?) somebody outside of yourself. It’s mesmerizing and entrancing and perhaps one step away from a complete loss of self, into a death of warm light hovering over a still, clear pool of water.
And I’m entirely comfortable with it being just that. None of that is inherently romantic or sexual. None of it is explicitly opposed to romance or sexual attraction. If Eupho decides to make Kumiko x Reina an actual couple, I think this will have been an entirely convincing and fascinating point to have been the initiating moment. If it decides not to, it will have been a gorgeous, beautiful moment of human vulnerability and connection.
Frankly, I think the yuri vs. not argument ultimately ends up detracting from the authenticity of this dream, at least for me. I have no chips in on it having to be yuri and no chips on it having to be not-yuri.
I far prefer something real, and this episode of Sound! Euphonium, whatever it was, was certainly that.
You know, I wish I could end this post there (that’s definitely one of the better endings I’ve ever written to a post), but that’s not where the story of this post ends. After finishing up that burst of writing, I finally felt like I had hit on something that I truly owned. An interpretation, a feeling, a response that was genuinely me watching as myself.