Hibike Euphonium and Actual Anxiety over Queer Baiting [2016]

I hate queer baiting. I hate it even more when good shows do it, and Hibike Euphonium baited like a champion.

(Psst! Hey, I wrote a whole book about Madoka Magica, my favorite anime, and its influence on the world and on my life. Please check it out!)

What I’ll talk about here has already been covered very well by other authors and summarized quite succinctly in some quite biting memes, so I’ll be somewhat brief about my feelings on Hibike! Euphonium and what its decision to queer bait the audience meant to me.

I think Kyoto Animation is for sure one of the best animation studios in the world today. Even when they make work far below their usual standard, it’s still mediocre at worst. To call them the Pixar of anime is probably only a slight exaggeration. Have they even made a genuinely bad show? I don’t know.

Hibike Euphonium, More Like… Hibigay Euphonigay

My problem with Hibike! Euphonium lies in the fact that it is NOT a subpar show in any way. It was well-written, filled with memorable characters with interesting characters arcs. And it was beautiful, with gorgeous artwork complimenting the lovely music (both in the OST and in the show itself).

A show about teenagers trying to prove themselves and turn their brass band into one of the best in the nation… it’s basically just a sports anime. The plot never deviates from that, to be honest. But the character work is so strong that it blasts past anything like that! It had me genuinely hooked.

hibike euphonium and fake dialogue

But then the show went and set up one of the best queer romance subplots this side of Madoka Magica, which of course turned me into a huge fan. Kumiko and Reina became one of the few couples in a fictional story to turn me into a giddy schoolgirl shipper.

Queer Romance…. Yes!!!

The entire show, from the ending theme where the red string of fate was literally tied around their fingers, to the budding moments of connection that climaxed with one of the most romantic moments I’ve ever seen in anime, Kumiko and Reina’s relationship was built up excellently.

Take this scene from Episode 8 that is done with extreme romantic intensity:

All culminating with the shot that launched a thousand ships:

hibike euphonium hibigay

Kumiko and Reina’s romance was a classic formula for a great romantic subplot in a show otherwise focused on something else. The characters bonded outside of the main plot, fell for each other, and used their romantic bond to support each other in their character arcs. The entire rest of the season is essentially dedicated to Kumiko supporting her new girlfriend in her pursuit to become the best, even as bandmates begin to hate her. It was great stuff…

….Then it turned out to all be fake because actually the two characters liked boys or whatever.

The Queer Bait Arrives

Near the end of season 1, Reina confesses her love for her male teacher. That’s real weird already because teacher-student romance stuff ew gross, but it’s much weirder that it comes out of nowhere, has no relevance, and obliterates the romance they had been building for ages.

It’s not like I was just reading too much into the subtext, either. It was genuinely, clearly, obviously the path that Kyoto Animation chose when they created this show. They baited viewers into supporting this relationship which was explicitly romantic, and then went hetero with it because that’s just the way it’s Supposed to go in Japan.

hibike euphonium gay
You have to forgive me for misunderstanding that this was gay. Clearly it’s not romantic at all?
hibike euphonium red string
Just kidding??? They have the literal red string of fate tying them together!

Me and Hibike! Euphonium

I was in firm denial about it though. So what if Reina likes her teacher? Some people have feelings for multiple people at once and teenagers are notoriously complicated creatures. So what if the novels this show adapted ended up with Kumiko in a heterosexual relationship? Animes can change things.

I even wrote a one-shot fan fiction desperately wishing for this stuff to all blow over like I wanted, titled “Sound! Valentine.” It’s one of the very few non-parody fan fictions I have ever written. Looking back at it, it’s wish fulfillment denial of the highest degree. I really, really didn’t want it to be queer baiting.

So when season 2 came out and Kumiko and Reina were STILL in a super obvious romance plot, but still pushing this “hot for teacher” nonsense alongside it, it really just started making me sick to my stomach every episode.

hibike euphonium season 2
How could something so cute make me so anxious?!

Actual Anxiety Over a Friggin’ Anime

The story was advancing, and as far as I knew it wasn’t deviating much from the novels that already revealed the gay stuff to be mere bait. It was stressful not knowing for sure if the romance plot I had become strangely invested in was going to fall apart in favor of vanilla boy romance stuff.

It was about halfway through the season when I realized I wasn’t having a good time anymore. The characters were good, the romance was cute, and the visuals and music were fantastic… But I didn’t enjoy any of it. I just couldn’t.

The romance stuff was no longer making me giddy, just anxious. Every episode further I reached, the possibility of Kumiko and Reina’s relationship being a ruse grew stronger. I had to stop watching the show for good just because it was an ordeal just to get through a single episode. And to this day I still haven’t finished the second season, let alone the rest.

I eventually looked up the sequel movie synopsis, and yep. It goes full-on heterosexual and eschews everything that the first season had been building towards. The whole series was just queer baiting. A cynical marketing move to drive merchandise sales. And it worked.

Radioactive Fandom Fallout

hibike euphonium and my room
My college apartment bedroom in late 2015, complete with exactly one poster

Every time I think about the show I get genuinely angry about the entire ordeal. How can a company with such a solid track record as Kyoto Animation indulge in such gross tactics? How is this at all acceptable? Unlike my complaints about Fire Emblem’s token gay silliness, this isn’t just a minor annoyance. This is enough of a big deal that it’s stuck with me for years and years.

One day maybe I’ll finish the series and there’ll be enough distance for my anxiety to have faded. But I will never forgive Kyoto Animation for what they did. Maybe that’s a bit of a hyperbole for a stupid cartoon for teenagers, but hey, nations have fought wars over less.

In fact, the swirling emotions of anger and anxiety over Hibike! Euphonium eventually made me decide that I would make a lesbian romance story one day that would essentially remake the entire Kumiko/Reina dynamic but do it way better because I’m not a hack who queer baits for money. One day that will exist. But for now, we can reminisce about the time we almost had a really nice romance story and how it was all a cynical calculating lie.

hibike euphonium

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9 thoughts on “Hibike Euphonium and Actual Anxiety over Queer Baiting [2016]

  1. I guess that gross manipulation of your viewers for safe money is considered less appalling (and more likely to be skipped over by most media) if it happens in “a stupid cartoon for teenagers.” Also: I had a single poster in my last dorm. It was for Rush

    1. It’s like having a token minority character and then it turns out they were actually a white male in disguise the whole time

  2. Well you said what I wanted to. I think only an idiot goes into a gay-looking anime hoping to ship gay couples only to change their mind and ship the straight couple/creepy age-gap crush towards a older man who already has a fiancee, like seriously how did you think that was going to turn out, Reina?)

    I’m still glad that Liz and the Blue Bird happened though, it’s the only thing I still like from this franchise.
    Didn’t like baiter Reina’s role in that movie tho maybe that’s just my unending hatred-bias towards her (nothing against the seiyuu tho, she makes a great Chisato in LycoReco)

    1. Huh! I never knew Reina has the same voice actor as Chisato from Lycoris. I loved, loved, LOVED her performance as Chisato and it really made that character feel like something special way beyond the normal “mysterious aloof prankster girl” archetype in many anime of that ilk. Also that show definitely felt like a conscious effort to emulate the fandom ship-hype buildup that stuff like Euphonium and Madoka Magica generated, but they didn’t go all the way because they were concerned about a potential Season 2. Luckily, that’s definitely happening now, and I’m ready for that inevitable makeout.

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