Hibike! Euphonium – A Retrospective Look at Asuka
Note: Spoilers for Hibike! Euphonium season 1 and 2.
Throughout the two seasons of Hibike! Euphonium, Asuka is truly the most compelling character looking back. Not to judge a book by it’s cover, Asuka has many different shades and depths to her character that really makes her an interesting case study.
On the surface, Asuka is playful, teasing her bandmates at a moment’s notice and making jokes. She is fun to be with, however her amusing personality is just one among the many shades of personality she possesses, for it is but a facade.
Asuka is many things — she is at times a joker, but at times a cunning manipulator. But predominantly, beneath her facade lies a side of her that cares more about her own agenda than everyone else. Striving for her own goals — self-improvement and to meet her father; she has never been one to care about all the drama surrounding the band. While everyone were struggling, the only thing in her mind was “practice”. Maybe it’s exactly because of this reason that she somehow appears superhuman to everyone. Her charisma makes her a natural leader, but a position she is obviously not interested in, settling as a vice president while Haruka became the band’s president despite not as much a perfect fit as Asuka.
This makes it difficult to discern when Asuka is joking and when she is serious. Asuka always interacts with people using different masks. Was she hinting at something? Or was it another one of her many antics? Throughout the entirety of season 1, we were sharing Kumiko’s confusion when we observed Asuka through her perspective. All of a sudden, her jokes don’t sound as funny anymore, they sound aloof, almost as if she’s using them as weapons to distance herself from anyone else.
“Distance”. This is an interesting word, because it’s a word also constantly associated with our resident protagonist, Kumiko. To further analyze Asuka, let’s talk about Kumiko. Both Asuka and Kumiko are really similar characters if one were to scrutinize. One distance herself from another using a facade of lightheartedness while the other distance herself through her indifference. Remember we are talking about a protagonist who never shed a tear before when her band gets dud gold in middle school. However, she’s changed. Over the course of season 1, Kumiko has become someone who faced failures and overcame it. She rediscovered the enjoyment of playing her euphonium, and also rediscovered her passion. That change, is what Asuka needs. But that becomes a difficult endeavor as Asuka refused to change, still maintaining her “joker” facade to distance herself from everyone. She just didn’t care about anyone else except for herself. Asuka was truly indifferent, just like how Kumiko’s indifference created a rift with Reina.
It’s impossible to fully understand one another, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best to understand them. This is exactly what we have seen of Kumiko in season 2. She tried her best to step into other people’s barriers, she tried her best to understand them, which is something the older Kumiko wouldn’t have cared – the Kumiko who initially enrolled in Kitauji High School just so she could run away from concert bands. However even if she cared now, she still remained hesitant. Now that she’s stepping into other people’s barriers, she’s facing people’s deepest secrets head on. That hesitance ironically still makes her a bystander, as she just listened and never spoke her opinions. To quote Asuka “you are afraid of hurting people or being hurt, so you leave things wishy-washy and watch from a safe distance”. As such, she couldn’t do anything during the Mizore arc and it took Yuko to really bring her back. Despite the fact that Kumiko’s changed, this was still one weakness she had to overcome.
And as for who helped her overcame that weakness? Well surprise, it was Asuka. This is interesting because both Asuka and Kumiko have a habit of distancing themselves from people, and because of that they have grown to be observant and notice things nobody normally would. This is how Asuka noticed Kumiko’s weakness and said it right into her face. Kumiko knew somewhere deep down this is true and hearing this, it’s as if something exploded inside. For the first time in a long while, Kumiko was no longer reserved and bared all her feelings to her. Due to her case with her sister, perhaps Kumiko saw this somewhat personal — but nonetheless on that day, her feelings definitely reached her.
That scene is amazing because Kumiko wasn’t just a bystander there. She had a direct influence in that scene just like how that scene has influenced her as well. Both Kumiko and Asuka changed moving forward. I guess a big part of this change is honesty. Kumiko became more willing to voice her thoughts and Asuka decided to be more upfront with her desires. After that ordeal, I feel they finally had sincere, genuine interactions for the very first time; I feel like they have finally become true friends. Before this, their interactions felt somewhat superficial, like as if they were holding something back. Furthermore this arc also nicely humanizes Asuka who everyone has been seeing as superhuman. She also looked like she truly fit in with the band after that, right in time for the nationals.
Since the third years graduated at the end of season 2, the focus on Asuka is the perfect send-off for this incredibly compelling character. Seeing how her character story concluded beautifully after two seasons, just in the nick of time before her graduation too is a particularly gratifying experience. Hibike! Euphonium is an amazing series, and things like these are exactly the reason why the series is truly one of my favorites.