I’m Not Like That: Euphonium and Yuri Baiting

Well, I suppose we’d better talk about that one scene in this week’s Euphonium.

on the benches

I’ll get to the many wonderful scenes from episode ten of Euphonium next week in my power rankings. In short: it was an excellent episode with plenty of great moments for a large number of characters. This post, however, is going to focus on a single scene in the middle of the episode, both because of how that scene has dominated the online discussion since the episode aired and because of the place that scene occupies in the ongoing conversation about yuri and how anime handles homosexual relationships, or — more to the point — how it doesn’t handle them.

I’m referring, of course, to the scene where Reina confides in Kumiko that she loves Taki-sensei. It was a brief moment that didn’t really have much impact on the overall episode, but it was a world-shattering event for many viewers who were enjoying the show in large part because of the relationship dynamics between Kumiko and Reina. It didn’t completely ruin the show for me — I still think it’s a very good show — but it did put a bad taste in my mouth when watching the show and earlier that day when I first found out about it via Twitter, seeing the screenshots genuinely hurt a little bit. There were other people who were far more upset, and if you ask me their anger is mostly justified.

same 23

Let’s start with the functional reasons why that scene bothered me. In a show so full of elegant character writing and beautifully constructed personal moments between the cast members, this felt pretty sloppy. It wasn’t nearly as well constructed and executed as the rest of the show has been, and being sandwiched between several excellent scenes showing the band’s growing internal conflict did it no favors. After all the wonderful build up in other relationships in this show, Reina flatly declaring she loves Taki-sensei felt awkward and forced.

Normally a single, arguably poorly conceived, scene in an otherwise outstanding anime would just be a blip on the radar. But context matters and in the context of what had happened between Reina and Kumiko in the previous episodes — especially episode eight — this scene feels more pointed. It feels directed at that ship and those of us who supported it in a way that makes it feel a bit hurtful. To be clear, I never expected an explicitly romantic conclusion between Reina and Kumiko, and I don’t really believe anybody could have reasonably expected that. Romance was never the focus of this show. It was merely a side-show that complemented the band portion of the show and gave a more complete picture of the characters’ high school lives. Furthermore, I don’t think this moment actually precludes an eventual romantic end for those two. There’s no reason that Reina couldn’t have developed a crush on Taki-sensei when she first met him as a middle school student just hitting puberty and later developed romantic feelings for her best friend. That’s all possible.

kumirei hug

Given all these facts: how brief the scene was, how romance is only a secondary focus of Euphonium and how ambiguous the scene overall was, it’s understandable that some people would question the backlash. Some of it has taken the form of idly wondering why people put so much emphasis on the yuri elements whereas others chose to question whether people upset about this were “real fans” of the show. I do agree with the questioning on some level. Why should one little line that might potentially represent an obstacle to a couple you personally like be such a big deal?

But the point here is not that this scene means Kumiko and Reina are doomed to never be romantically interested in each other, it’s that the people who originally wrote Euphonium and the people at KyoAni went out of their way to provide evidence that this isn’t the case. Rather than just leave it ambiguous and allow the viewers to reach their own conclusions they wanted to say “All that stuff in episode eight is well and good but Reina’s only openly confessed her feelings for Taki-sensei.” It’s a single line that in the larger context of the show happens to feel like a direct shot at the yuri shippers they baited in episode eight.

lying reina

So we got baited by a handful of scenes between those two and then got shot down a little bit. What’s the big deal about that? Ships get shot down all the time! Why take this so personally? Again, I would point out that context matters and the problem is that this isn’t just one scene or one show but rather another example in the long pattern of homosexual relationships getting marginalized in anime. It’s not just Euphonium, it’s characters in Nanoha still insisting that Fate and Nanoha are just “best friends” when functionally they’re married at this point. It’s Yuyushiki resorting to oblique references and metaphors involving puzzle pieces instead of just admitting what’s obvious to anybody watching. It’s Midori’s subplot getting shoved to the side in favor of a traditional heterosexual childhood friend relationship in Tamako Love Story. And it’s every anime with homosexual undertones this side of Sakura Trick refusing to openly acknowledge that girls can have feelings for other girls and boys can have feelings for other boys. (All my examples are female/female examples because yuri and all girl slice of life are the genres I have more experience with. I’m sure there are male/male examples, but I just don’t have the experience there) Instead these anime partake in teasing and queerbaiting while also leaving enough room to play it safe and pretend those relationships don’t actually exist.

And I think “safe” is the operative word here. This isn’t necessarily driven by internalized homophobia or anything. Above all, avoiding any explicit mention of homosexual romance is just what’s safe in anime. I don’t think it’s fair to expect Euphonium or KyoAni or any one studio or show to solve all of these problems with one on-screen gay relationship. And in a vacuum it’s easy to see each individual decision to make all your characters straight or to avoid an actual homosexual romance as justified but when it adds up to a pattern of gay characters being ignored it’s becomes harder to stomach. And to be clear, I’m just some cishet guy who happens to have some affinity for yuri anime and manga. There are people far more affected by these choices than I am and that have far more right to be annoyed by this. What I’m trying to convey here is not my own righteous rage at the lack of “progressive anime” or tell anybody else that they’re obligated to be offended here lest they be labeled a Bad Person. I just wanted to try to explain that what happened in this week’s Euphonium isn’t “just one scene” and the trend it’s a part of is justifiably upsetting to a lot of us and we have a right to be annoyed by this without being derided for “missing the point” or not being real fans of the show.

finger on forehead

So no, the anger and hurt that a lot of us felt over this scene was not just because we think girls kissing is hot and wanted to see that. There’s plenty of fan art if that’s what you’re looking for. Our reaction comes from wanting just for once to see a subtle and nuanced portrayal of a homosexual relationship in anime that isn’t specifically about such relationships. When a show like Euphonium offers the prospect of this and then pulls the rug out from under you two weeks later then of course you’ll be upset. All the scenes in previous episodes didn’t just happen by accident and to make a halfhearted attempt to backtrack now feels a little bit lazy and more than a little bit cowardly. So before you go off ridiculing people who are upset by this scene please try to understand that this isn’t “just another failed ship” to many of us. It represents the potential for something extremely special being taken away and regardless of how rational those expectations may have been, the feeling of being denied something you had hoped for is going to hurt a little.

This entry was posted in Hibike Euphonium, Rants, Spring 2015 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to I’m Not Like That: Euphonium and Yuri Baiting

  1. Anegrilsox says:

    I do not understand why so many critical to the kyoani.
    If kyoani were really cover the genre yuri / shoujo-ai, she would not have picked a Light Novel heterosexual, only to change the sexual orientation of the protagonist and the relationships created by the novelist.
    She simply would have chosen adapt one Romance/Light Novel/Yuri/Shoujo.
    PA Work greatest example, it will cover the genre shounen-ai, so she chose based shounen-ai romance, Haruchika.

    No one will reclaram that has relationships between persons of the same sex, simply because several people have read the novels, people do not like when someone changes the novelist’s job to please a group of people.

    It’s simple if you want adptar any genre, choose novels and Light Novel covering the genre, do not keep changing the novelist’s work.
    Why disrespect to the fans of the series, who have read the novels.
    It is disrespectful to novelist who had his modified work, with the fans who have read the novel.

    • kelloggspp says:

      I do agree that the studio/staff creating an adaptation of a work bear some responsibility of loyalty to the source material. You are correct that the existing fanbase would be upset if major changes were made in the adaptation process.

      That said, there are some extenuating circumstances here. First, KyoAni is not exactly known for faithful 1:1 adaptations. Almost the entirety of season 2 of K-ON plus the movie was anime original. They heavily modified Chuunibyou from it’s light novel form even adding a new character. There were also some major changes made to their Clannad adaptation. So given their track record of not following the source in the past I don’t think it’s fair to excuse this based on the need to be true to the source. KyoAni doesn’t /need/ to be true to the source and in fact they have a history of /not/ doing that.

      Second, if the intention all along was to follow the source in this area then why put all that stuff in episode eight? Given they never intended to follow through on it, putting the Kumiko/Reina stuff in there amounts to shipbaiting in way that’s incredibly cruel to people who actually want to see that. If they know they’re going to keep this part of the novel and go ahead with those other anime original scenes anyway that makes them look worse in my mind.

      I will say this though, the fact that Reina’s feelings for Taki-sensei are present in the novel while the other Reina/Kumiko scenes are not (at least to my knowledge) does help absolve the original novel author of some guilt. If she never intended for those scenes to exist then she really hasn’t done anything actively hurtful. She just wrote a story that included a high school girl that has a crush on her music teacher. So assuming my understanding of which scenes are in the novel and which scenes aren’t is correct, Takeda is off the hook. But at the same time that doesn’t make the problem go away, it just puts more blame on KyoAni’s side of things.

      • Anegrilsox says:

        You are mistaken, I read the vol. 1 and 2 inteteiros, and summaries of vol.3 and 4.
        And I say to you the yuri baits are much heavier and clear in LN than those present in the anime.

        If you read the vol.2, it is where concentrates the biggest yuri baits, how to share a bed, and touch the other girl panties.

        It is true that KyoAni modifies the original and novels, however never auterou relationships, interest loving the protagonist. Or changed the sexual orientation of the protagonist.
        Rika and Yuta always been the canon couple in the original material.
        Hyouka the same with Chitanda x Oreki.
        Kyoukai no Kanata which had its story completely changes, kept the pair Akihito and Mirai.

        You should take the phrase Fuka into account, when he was asked why Cross Ange have not received the shoujo-ai classification, where the anime was full of relations between persons of the same sex with romance, kisses and even sex.
        Fuka was short and thick, Ange think different from other girls and has other interests.

        Did you see the criticism what a High School DxD, by diverting the original content and create the NTR arc.

        One thing is to add characters, change history, Mecher in secondary characters, change the script.
        Another thing is misread the protagonist, changing their sexual orientation, is loving interrese to a person of the same sex and that the KyoAni never did, for the protagonist she was always faithful to the original work.

        Friend you can not fault the KyoAni when such elements are present in LN, who distorted the anime and what is written in LN were fans of yuri.
        You read the summary of the novel 3, which was created by a fan yuri and esparelhamento Reina and Kumiko.
        It perfectly described what he found.

        ”Takeda’s first novel was a love story; this is not a love story. This is the tale of Kumiko rediscovering her passion for music and why she played. There’s definitely some scenes that one could see her growing closer with Reina in a romantic sense, but it’s never explicitly said.”

        Such scenes are also present in LN, however who distorts the facts of LN to force KyoAni had changed the anime were fans of yuri.

        Again post for you

        ”Takeda’s first novel was a love story; this is not a love story. This is the tale of Kumiko rediscovering her passion for music and why she played. There’s definitely some scenes that one could see her growing closer with Reina in a romantic sense, but it’s never explicitly said.”

        Again the KyoAni not to blame some if you want to criticize someone then criticizes the novelist who created the baits.

        ”There’s definitely some scenes that one could see her growing closer with Reina in a romantic sense, but it’s never explicitly said.”

      • kelloggspp says:

        Thanks for the additional info. To me that doesn’t change the core problem, it just shifts the blame to the original author and away from KyoAni.

      • “Blame” is a strong negative word that comes with the implication that the other party did something they shouldn’t have. You can be disappointed in KyoAni or the author, but you cannot blame them for anything. You’re effectively blaming them for not choosing what you personally wanted to see. Whoever made the choice to keep both yuri and non-yuri hints alive probably did so deliberately, and just because they decided on that doesn’t make them suddenly wrong. This episode does not backtrack on the possibility of yuri, the confession doesn’t mean anything in that context either. You’re dealing way too much in negative absolutes about this than you need to be in your choice of words. This is really more of an individual disappointment rather than a real flaw.

  2. Paßerby says:

    As bobduh said in his articles on objectivity, no work or viewer exist in a vacuum; our personal experiences affect how we experience media.
    Therefore, I feel fortunate not to notice or be bothered by the LGBTQ undertones, but instead respect and empathize with the annoyance experienced by people such as yourself.

  3. sonicsenryaku says:

    to be honest; i really dont think it’s that big a deal but i understand exactly where you are coming from and why some people may be upset although i do think people read too much into something that may have not been there. Still, nothing is set in stone; ppl have crushes all the time that never come to fruition because they end up falling for someone else. Anyway, I think the romantic subtext between kumiko and reina’s relationship is really interesting and adds to their bond but i always saw it as nothing but subtext; a part of the writing to enhance their relationship. My nitpick with ep 8 was the fact that some of those reina/kumiko scenes felt like pandering to sell more blu-rays rather than genuine scenes and for the most part, pandering has been a thing hibike has avoided. The romantic subtext didnt feel as subtle or as real as it was before.

    i dont think Reina admitting that she had a crush on taki was poorly written either because it was foreshadowed a couple of eps back and even in ep 8 she pretty much put it out there (you just had to read between the lines to see it; one of the things i think hibike does very well in allowing viewers to do). I dont think the story ever made an intention to be one thing and then coped out. The way reina confessed to kumiko about taki, it’s almost the same way a sister would casually confess to their fellow sister; it shows how comfortable reina has become with kumiko, and exemplifies how much she confides in her. I actually like how her admitting having feelings for taki wasnt made into a big deal because it shows that this series isnt a romance drama, but a band drama first.

    At the end of the day, it doesnt feel like a cop out to me because the show never really committed to going that direction, that’s why when ep 8 came along, it felt more like pandering to me than something genuine and pulled me a bit out of the emotions (just a tiny bit). Yes, i understand that it would have been interesting for kumiko and reina to be in a relationship, but i think that’s less important than the fact that kumiko and reina have great chemistry romantic or not. Them not being romantically involved doesnt take away from that. At times i feel like viewers are blew this whole romance thing out of proportion; if gender really doesnt matter when it comes to romance like some people say it does (to which i feel the same as well), then this should just be like any other failed ship (assuming if this ship is actually confirmed as failed). I know there’s this feeling of disappointment for the missed opportunity of a same sex relationship being represented in anime but hibike didnt seem to be going in that direction in the first place. Again, it all seemed like nicely used romantic subtext to me; subtext that people seemed to have read too deeply into. For the people who claim the romance in this series is not a big deal, do what i did: shrug it off and keep on keeping on. The show is hasnt stopped being good.

    • kelloggspp says:

      I don’t think this is necessarily a wrong interpretation of the events in Euphonium. I’ve certainly heard it from other people including ParticularlyPeeved up above here. I personally saw the interaction between Kumiko and Reina prior to episode eight as somewhat charged and borderline flirty behavior. At that point I didn’t expect it to go anywhere (which given what we’ve seen now and the nature of this show was probably always the right way to look at it). Episode eight changed that though because to me it represented an incredibly charged and overtly romantic scene which, rather than coming out of left field, simply took the existing romantic tension between these two and turned it up about five notches. This completely changed my impression of the show and had me hoping that this was really going to be something and I know I wasn’t alone in that. Were we right to raise our expectations that much? In retrospect probably not, but we did and now here we are.

      The point of this post isn’t that what I’m describing here is the only valid interpretation of this show. It also doesn’t mean that not making queer representation in anime a personal viewing priority is wrong either. I just want to explain what those of us who do look for and want to see these things got out of the past three episodes of Euphonium and where the negative reaction is coming from, and I think you appreciate that.

  4. sonicsenryaku says:

    oh and i would like to add that in tamako market, while midori didnt end up getting the girl, the fact that her feelings werent being played for a joke by the anime was all that was necessary. It’s not about the hook ups as much as it is about excepting that homosexuality is a legitimate romance and should be respected. As long as anime’s can represent that well enough, it should be fine.

    • kelloggspp says:

      I was mostly fine with how Midori was handled in Tamako Market. There’s value in how her feelings were understated and there wasn’t any kind of freak out over her sexuality. Actually making a big deal about it would have had its own set of problems. My issues primarily relate to Tamako Love Story where it felt like there was some sense of Tamako falling for Mochizou because that’s how things are “supposed to happen”. I think it’s a motivated reading of the script and I don’t consider it a universal truth of the movie but in the context of KyoAni’s history with these things and the way it gets handled in anime as a whole it felt like another case of gay relationships not being treated as a serious option.

  5. JekoJeko says:

    Wait wait wait – this scene ‘shot down’ the opportunity of a homosexual relationship? Since when did a homosexual sub-plot have to be so straightforward? So what if Reina loves a guy – shouldn’t we wondering how that crush will develop or deteriorate instead of giving up on the pairing we desire to see?

    The thought that the potentiality for homosexuality in a series can be ‘shot down’ by a scene where someone confesses their straight feelings (especially a scene so brief) is silly. Giving one of the characters straight feelings is a just a storm that rocks the boat – if you’re really rooting for Yuri, you’ll see it as that and look forward to future signs that the ship is still sailing (i.e. changes in Reina’s straight feelings, further things from Kumiko that could shift her attention a different way, etc.). Stand up for your ship! You never know what could happen with Reina’s feelings.

    The scene was clearly there to develop the rumours about Taki-Sensei’s knowledge of Reina. All this whining about ‘ship-baiting’ being unfulfilled is just the result of people who aren’t good captains of their ships in the first place. The problem here is not that KyoAni fiddled with the source material and added in ‘Yuri-bait’ that they had to, staying faithful to the source at this stage, challenge with a straight confession. It’s that followers of the Yuri-baiting obviously wanted it easy. The first sign of trouble and they run a mile, yelling about agendas that ‘marginalize’ homosexuality without realising that a complication such as this for a homosexual sub-plot should only serve to enhance it.

    How can progress be made if the fans wanting it are reacting like this?

    As an aside, the scene was meant to be a muted point, working with the pacing of the rest of the drama. To juxtapose to the hysteria of the rumours, here’s a confession of love that, for once, doesn’t make the music stop, the animation slow down, etc. It’s furthermore an interesting contrast to Reina herself, who wants to be ‘special’ but expresses what would usually be an important part of her character development with little resemblance to the blasts she usually wows us with from her trumpet. To love a teacher is still forte, but the show expresses it as fortepiano, a brief burst of revelation that doesn’t sustain any great level of drama, drawing attention to how Reina wants it to be received; not as fuel for the cacophony of rumours. A bolder scene wouldn’t have made sense with the show’s use of the band as symbolism. It needed to have a far lesser impact for it to benefit the impact of the episode overall.

    Heh, long aside. xD

    • kelloggspp says:

      I mean, you aren’t wrong. I did say in the body of the post that this in no way functionally prevents a romantic conclusion for Kumiko and Reina. I think where we differ is in the significance of Reina’s confession. In a vacuum if you only look at Euphonium itself then it can be seen as merely a bump in the road for Kumiko and Reina’s developing relationship. That’s certainly a valid interpretation. I also think that all of this disappointment could be reversed depending on where the show goes from here. This anger isn’t a cerebral reaction considering all the moving parts involved in this specific show. It’s a visceral reaction from people who have been burned in the past and see this and think “here we go again.” To be clear, I’m not defending my negative reaction or anybody else’s negative reaction as the one true way to view this scene. I’m just presenting where this reaction comes from and the source of my disappointment. You’re free to disagree but I don’t think there’s one right and proper way to interpret the scene.

      • JekoJeko says:

        I guess it’s the usual difference of critical approach. This kind of negative reaction involves taking the reaction from episode 8 (‘It might be Yuri!’) and relating it to the reaction of episode 10 (‘Oh wait it’s not.’), and then relating the feeling drawn from that to the context of KyoAni. In short, it’s more about the viewer than the show itself.

        It’s pretty much the opposite of what I do: take the contents of episode 8 and see how they – without the audience’s reaction – interplay with the contents of episode 10 in order to affect the reaction at that point. Matters of character and presentation are codes that can be more solidly analysed than claims about the past repeating itself, which are often in danger of falling into the realm of supposition.

        While there is never a right way to interpret a scene, an interpretation that makes explicit links with between the components of one scene and another will always appear stronger to a structuralist mind like my own. Starting in ‘the vacuum’ allows us to then approach the context with more awareness of what the show’s actually doing. Yet, it’s still fair that not all viewers will do that, being immersed in their prior experiences of this sort of thing. I just don’t think we can criticise KyoAni for disappointing that kind of viewership.

  6. Pingback: To Yuri or not to Yuri, that is the Euphonium | UEM!

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