August 2015 Media Round-up (TV)

Non-current TV: CatastropheEmpireHibike! EuphoniumThe Great British Bake Off (season 4, episodes 1-4), Threesome

Shows I kept current with: Blunt Talk, Hannibal, Humans, Masters of Sex, Mr. Robot, Not Safe for Work, Playing House, Review, The Great British Bake Off, UnREAL

Pilots tried: Brotherhood, Difficult People, Raised by Wolves, The Devil is a Part-Timer (may continue), X Company (may continue)

Rewatched: Bakemonogatari, Gilmore Girls (season 6, episode 4), Hannibal (season 3, episodes 10-13), Hibike! Euphonium (season 1, episodes 8-13), Nisemonogatari (episodes 1-7)

Other: From Dusk Till Dawn (season 2, episode 1—enjoyed season 1, but based on the season 2 premiere, will not be keeping up with this show), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (season 2, episodes 3 and 5—out of curiousity after seeing Guy Ritchie movie, may or may not watch more)

august2015tv

Things of note (almost entirely Hibike! Euphonium):

Hibike! Euphonium

Before we actually get into this, I should probably note that most of my feelings about this show are best expressed in flailing hand gestures so it’s going to be a little tricky to articulate what exactly is so notable about Hibike! Euphonium using just text. I mean, consider this somewhat embarrassing but pretty illustrative email I sent in the middle of my marathon:

I AM 5 EPISODES IN. THEY MARCH. THERE IS ALMOST DEFINITELY LESBIAN SUBTEXT. THIS IS THE PERFECT SHOW.

I still stand by my assessment of Hibike! Euphonium as The Perfect Show, but I suspect the appeal is very niche. It’s a show about high school band and it is fucking committed to that premise; there are just so many specific details—like, people discussing the uses of valve oil vs. slide grease, explaining the 8-to-5 step size for marching, etc.—that don’t advance the plot and probably seem super boring or pointless to non-band people, but man: they are Perfect. The high production values of the series really contribute to this as well; when anyone is shown playing an instrument, the individual valve (or key or slide) movements are animated in time to the music, and the music itself, on the soundtrack, is not necessarily played flawlessly, since these are, after all, high schoolers. And it’s not just the technical details of concert band—the show also captures such specific feelings about the whole band experience. Maybe I’m underestimating the show’s writing and these emotions end up coming across as more universal, but at least from the perspective of someone with a lot of Band Feels1, this show Gets It: the humiliation of being called out on your mistakes in the middle of rehearsal, the frustration of feeling physically incapable of playing a particular passage2, the resentments that build up between section mates over parts, etc. In particular, Hibike! Euphonium focuses a lot on the drama caused by the band members’ conflicting views over how seriously to take the band—they vote at the beginning of the series to aim to win nationals rather than just playing for fun, but it’s not unanimous, so there are some issues there—and this just rings so true3.

I’m no longer in the anime community at all, so I’m not sure how people have been responding to the series, but I gather that it has been compared to Whiplash a lot, which makes sense, since the series only premiered about 6 months after Whiplash came out in theaters and there isn’t really that much other media focused on band (believe me, I’ve looked) to even draw comparisons to. And I mean, the comparison isn’t even as shallow as that—certainly there are some parallels: Andrew (Miles Teller’s character in Whiplash) and Reina’s shared desire to become “special”/one of the greats at all costs, various characters practicing their instruments to the point of bodily harm (Andrew bleeding onto his drums, Midori bandaging her fingers, Kumiko playing until she becomes dehydrated), harsh but effective (or are they???) teaching tactics, etc. But there are obviously some major differences, so let’s just go with the main ones that stand out to me:

  1. Taki’s teaching style. It’s certainly not as extreme as Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons’s character in Whiplash), but it’s similar in the taking no shit and accepting nothing less than perfection without any regard for the students’ feelings sense. And on the one hand, it seems more acceptable coming from Taki because it was, after all, the students’ choice: had they voted to play for fun rather than to win nationals, he wouldn’t be pushing them as hard. Whereas Fletcher is, for the most part, gratuitously abusive. But on the other hand, there’s a huge difference between an extracurricular band at an average (i.e. not performing arts oriented) high school and a prestigious jazz ensemble at a prestigious conservatory. So even if it’s a high school band aiming to win a competition, it’s still ultimately just a high school band, you know? Some of the public humiliation aspects of being a band director may be effective—sometimes you do need to figure out which person in a section is fucking up so that you can fix the problem, probably—but it just feels so unnecessary given that these are teenagers who aren’t actually aiming to become professional musicians and have things that they prioritize over practicing for hours daily. Which brings us to the second point:
  2. Hibike! Euphonium’s characters are largely not aspiring musicians. It doesn’t seem like any of the characters except for Reina are really planning to make a career out of being a musician, if they’re even thinking that far ahead. I think, like in real life, it’s understood that some of them may continue playing in university and perhaps join community bands later in life, but ultimately, music is just a hobby for them. A really intense hobby, because they’re in high school and everything is intense in high school, but still. And I think this is pretty rare for a piece of media about music, perhaps because writers think that prodigies or characters with Great Artistic Ambitions are automatically more interesting. And that brings us to our third point of difference:
  3. Kumiko is chill as fuck (until she’s not). Our delightful protagonist starts off the series not particularly enthused about joining band. She played euphonium in middle school, but she’s picked a high school with a sort of shitty band, solely because they had the cutest school uniforms of all of the high schools in the area. And once she does join the high school band (because peer pressure), she wants to try out a different instrument, until she’s aggressively scouted by the euphonium section leader. And she doesn’t even vote in favor of either side in the key For Fun vs. For Glory decision. She’s neither the expected perky anime protagonist4 nor the expected ambitious music protagonist. But over the course of the series, we see her becoming more and more invested in band until she has a sort of revelatory “I love euphonium!” moment and decides that, like Reina, she wants to become “special.”

But you really want to hear about the lesbian subtext, don’t you, dear reader?

WELL.

Let’s talk about some lesbian subtext. Specifically, let’s talk about Episode 8 of the series. There is a festival. Hazuki, a tuba player and one of Kumiko’s best friends, has a crush on Shuichi, a trombone player and Kumiko’s childhood friend, but worries that Kumiko and Shuichi are already a thing. Kumiko denies this, but Shuichi later asks her to go to the festival with him. At this point, Kumiko is like “oh fuck, I’m stuck in the middle of a love triangle. How do I get out of this?” which is in itself totally refreshing. So when Shuichi pressures her for an answer, she just grabs the next person to enter the room and says she’s already going with that person.

BUT: that person happens to be Reina, and they have a…weird history. As in, they played in band together in middle school and after they lost in nationals, Kumiko made an insensitive5 comment to Reina about it and has been obsessing over that comment ever since, but maybe she’s actually just obsessing over Reina? Like, if one of the characters were male, you would certainly read Kumiko’s reactions to Reina’s physical appearance (e.g. when she first sees her in the marching band uniform in Episode 5) and fixation on that moment from middle school as an unambiguous crush, but because they’re both female and this isn’t specifically marketed as a yuri anime, it’s less clear whether the show is actually committing to that or just teasing.

Anyway, on the night of the festival, Reina, wearing a flowy white dress, has Kumiko bring her euphonium to meet her. They proceed to avoid the festivities and hike up the mountain together, switching off instrument carrying duties and, like, definitely flirting. And then they reach a shrine at the top and play a duet together and oh my god, it is The Most Romantic. (The whole beautiful scene can be watched here.)

There’s also some weird high school ubermensch aspect to their relationship, with them inspiring each other to become “special” and “not the same others,” and it is utterly delightful. They never kiss or anything, but basically the last shot of the season is of their intertwined fingers as they hold hands, which feels pretty fucking significant. The problem is that apparently the light novel that the series is based on has Kumiko and Shuichi as a canon couple, so one wonders if that’s going to be the endgame if the show gets another season, or if the show has just decided to go in a different direction. But in a world where Hannigram ended up as canon, who knows?


Humans

Sci-fi show set in a near-future where human-looking androids are commonplace as servants, workers, prostitutes, etc. and some of them have free will. Not the most novel idea (although what even is), but still a pretty solid premise for a show. The Swedish show it was based on was well-received, and the cast of this version looked promising. And yet, this show ended up being so bland. So bland, in fact, that I can’t really even remember any specific praise or criticism. But I apparently felt that it ought to be mentioned when I first made the draft of this post, so, there it is.


Not Safe for Work

Solid, well-written six-episode comedy-drama about a frustrated British civil servants at various levels of personal and professional dysfunction. Not necessarily super memorable, but Zawe Ashton was great in Fresh Meat, and it’s interesting to see her playing a completely different type of character here. And Tom Weston-Jones is really attractive in this, and he and Ashton are really attractive together, so um, yes, good aesthetics.


Threesome

British sitcom about a group of three friends—a straight couple (Alice and Mitch) and a gay guy (Ritchie)—that have a drunken threesome that results in the Alice being impregnated with Ritchie’s baby. And they decide to get their lives together and raise the baby as a threesome, which is, you know, a solid6 premise for a sitcom. I really enjoyed the movie Friends with Kids, so I guess there is something about platonic friends raising children together that appeals as a storyline, even though I generally consider anything involving babies to be The Worst. And I found this show easy to marathon but…not too great? A lot of lazy sitcom plotting and, somewhat surprisingly, tired gender stereotypes.


[1] Oh god, do I have Band Feels. They are some of my oldest and most potent Feels. I guess I’ve played in musical ensembles for a total of 10 years at this point—2 years of elementary school band, plus a summer band camp and after-school ensemble; 2 years of middle school band—and I maybe delivered a speech about band to my 8th grade Civics class which is here and cringe-worthy; 2 years of high school band—which included concert band, marching band, the pit for the school musical, and All-District Band, but was not 4 years because of some of the sort of band drama that would not be out of place in Hibike! Euphonium; 1 year of doing just band in college; 1 year of doing just orchestra in college; 2 years of doing band and orchestra in college because I had nothing better to do four nights a week in my junior and senior years, apparently. But I have had no band in the past year and it is TERRIBLE. ^
[2] Consider: you are playing William Tell  Overture in orchestra. Your part consists of a repeated rhythm—you know, the most famous rhythm of the William Tell Overture (16th 16th 8th 16th 16th 8th 16th 16th 8th 8th 8th)—that is too fast to single-tongue, but you have never been able to figure out how to double-tongue, even though it’s a pretty fucking essential skill. I mean, you understand, in theory, how double-tonguing works, but you have never been able to, like, command your body to do that. Also your part is written in G, not F, so you have to transpose, which is not the worst, but is an additional hurdle. And so, in the middle of one of the rehearsals a week or two before the concert, you’re struck by the revelation that you are just not going to be able to play this part in concert and the overwhelming impossibility of the task will almost reduce you to tears, but you’re in the middle of rehearsal, so you can’t actually cry. Anyway, you’ll get to the concert, and, well, as expected, you won’t be able to play the part. But it ultimately doesn’t really matter, because your part is basically covered by the rest of the brass and you’re playing in the orchestra of a small liberal arts college, so like, who even cares. If anyone even noticed your complete and utter failure, no one commented. Life goes on, although the William Tell Overture may be forever tainted for you. ^
[3] I remember actually discussing this topic specifically with one of my section mates in high school; we were more on the “whatever, band is for fun” side of things, while certain other members of the section were, um, less chill (it should probably be noted that certain other members of the section were also much better players). I’ve been on the “less chill” side in different bands, though, so I do sort of get it. The point is: that conflict is totally A Thing. Like, oh my god, it is such A Thing. ^
[4] And I mean, it’s not that she’s especially shy or cute or anything, which might be a different type of expected anime protagonist. She’s just really fucking chill.^
[5] The comment itself reads pretty neutral to me, but given the reactions of the characters, it apparently was pretty dickish? So who knows if it’s a translation thing, or if I can just no longer get into the mentality of a young teenager.  ^
[6] Is “solid” the only positive and yet somewhat non-committal adjective in my vocabulary? All evidence points to yes. ^

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s