“I’m going to play for you.”
-Mizore Yoroizuka to Nozomi Kasaki, Sound! Euphonium, Episode 5
It had to be Nozomi Kasaki.
No other young woman could lead us onto the stage prior to Kitauji High School’s concert band performance at the Kyoto Regional. Nozomi, of whom we were not aware until this second season of Sound! Euphonium, represents a core tenet of the series as a whole: finding inspiration and love through music. Mizore Yoroizuka found her love and inspiration in Nozomi and the girls’ reunion and reconciliation formed the narrative during summer practice that led to this performance. Nozomi spent the majority of that time forbidden from rejoining the band even to help with menial tasks. Now she leads the viewing audience to their exclusive seats for the show.
In the moments before Nozomi pulls back the heavy stage curtain, Mizore tells her that she’ll play for Nozomi. Reina Kousaka overhears this and immediately tells Kumiko Oumae that she’ll play her trumpet solo for Kumiko. Senior trumpet player Kaori Nakaseko tries to pass off the band to second-year Yuko Yoshikawa who passionately insists Kaori stop that line of thinking — they still haven’t made Nationals together. They raise their hands in solidarity and the small subgroups of band members around them, including Kumiko and Reina, follow suit. In that moment they, without speaking a word, make the promise to play for each other.
Nozomi’s presence at the start of the performance again hints at this question, which is answered time and time again throughout the seven-and-a-half-minute song.
For whom does everyone play?
Kitauji High School’s first piece isn’t shown. Instead, the camera cuts to outside shots of the building, further isolating the upcoming performance from the rest of the world. For nearly eight minutes, “Crescent Moon Dance” will be the world of Sound! Euphonium. Shown waiting just offstage are those who aren’t able to be a part of this particular world — Sound! Euphonium still reiterates that, regardless of effort, sometimes you’re just not good enough. These specific band members — including Natsuki Nakagawa, Hauzki Katou, and Nozomi — can only watch. The band onstage plays for them, too.
When the seven-and-a-half-minute, uninterrupted performance of “Crescent Moon Dance” begins, we’re led in by Reina, looking straight ahead as she begins to play her trumpet. The show is about to begin. What follows is a masterpiece of televised animation. Others have spoken at great length about this episode’s technical merits elsewhere. My focus is on the question posed before the performance begins — for whom do you play?
At first, it’s their adviser and conductor Noboru Taki, who has pushed them to this point. The camera first focuses on him and then on the faces of the concert band members who await his instruction. Instructor Taki was the catalyst for their entire Nationals run. Upon his arrival as their advisor he forced the members of the band to choose their path — aiming for Nationals, or simply having fun.
The next response comes from an unknown french horn player, whose sheet music is plastered with messages and pictures, presumably of friends in the band or her section. At this point, sheet music is a mere accessory for most — a necessary, uniform visual for the audience in the hall. Here, the french horn player is reminded of her friends who traveled the same path to get to this point, the Kyoto Regional, with hopes of making Nationals.
Sweat, tears, and physical effort are also shown. The entire performance is visceral and passionate. The viewing audience can feel their efforts. Between cuts to various musical instruments are more shots of marked-up sheet music. Sapphire Kawashima’s, and then Kumiko’s, both with various messages and photographs taped over the score.
During Reina’s trumpet solo, Kumiko is reminded of their evening together shown in the first season. In that moment, Reina plays only for Kumiko. When the camera is placed slightly behind her, at the back of the stage, we can see the sheet music of about half of the band. Many of the pages are marked and drawn-on, with more photographs and memories. Reina’s is conspicuously clean, with only her notes present. She expresses her emotions through her music alone.
Reina’s dedication to Kumiko is followed by a series of sheet music images. We may not know these band members by anything but their character designs, if that, but they each have their own story and path that they took to get to this moment. We simply weren’t privy to anything but Kumiko’s story.
Then, it’s Mizore’s turn. Her solo brings her narrative to a close as she plays for Nozomi. The camera focuses on a content Mizore, then fades to Nozomi listening backstage with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. It’s a fitting sendoff for the storyline that dominated the first four episodes of the season, and reiterates the question that Sound! Euphonium asks again and again through the “Crescent Moon Dance” performance.
For whom do you play?