The first season of Euphonium made a huge impression among yuri fans, who ship the two main characters, Kumiko and Reina. As the first season progressed, the two girls grow closer and Kumiko confesses to Reina, who already has a love interest. With the second season approaching, fans were excited to see if anything would happen with Kumiko’s and Reina’s relationship. But the show did a complete 360 at the end of the last episode, throwing off the fans who had been routing for the girls to become a couple. Instead of dating Reina, Kumiko confesses to a new love interest- her senpai Asuka.
I saw the backlash on social media, fans proclaiming that KumiRei was dead. Many were confused by the creators’ decision. I decided early on that I was going to marathon the second season of Euphonium after it finished airing, and therefore knew about the show’s outcome before I watched it. This was actually beneficial in the end because I was able to analyze all of the hints and events that led up to Kumiko’s confession to Asuka. Here is what I found.
*Warning: This post will have many spoilers!
Why Not Reina?
In his review of the 13th episode, Nick Creamer from Anime News Network does a wonderful job of explaining why Reina’s personality may not be the best match for Kumiko:
“Kumiko and Reina have a relationship built largely on difference. Kumiko was initially intrigued by Reina both because she didn’t understand her and because she felt that lack of understanding represented some more fundamental lack in her own personality. That fear ultimately proved itself true – Reina possessed a drive to succeed that Kumiko initially didn’t, and drawing closer to Reina allowed Kumiko to embrace ambition and even ego. But while Reina was an inspirational figure for Kumiko, the two ultimately don’t have all that much in common, outside of a certain nastiness in how they view other people.”
This is true. Although they may approach people the same way, Kumiko and Reina are very different. Kumiko is apathetic while Reina is driven. The two of them do become much closer over the course of the show, but the truth is their interactions are always a little… stiff. Reina doesn’t possess the best social skills and this comes across in their conversations.
Other than their personality differences, one of the most crucial reasons why Kumiko may have not gone after Reina could be unrequited love. When Kumiko confesses to Reina in the first season, she does not really give a reply. This could have disheartened Kumiko. However, an even stronger reason could be Reina’s
obsession with feelings for Taki-sensei. She mentions in the first season that she is in love with him and as the second season goes on, Reina’s infatuation with her teacher becomes stronger and more obvious. Kumiko probably realized that dating Reina was futile.
But Why Asuka?
A small, but important detail is that Kumiko and Asuka spend more time together. They are in the same section and spend almost every day together practicing for hours. On the other hand, the only time she sees Reina is on the way to and from school, except for when they occasionally see each other outside of school. Even when they have ensemble practice, Kumiko and Reina sit on opposite sides of the room, while Asuka and Kumiko sit next to each other. If you add up all the time spent together on a daily basis, Asuka wins. And in terms of the story, this season was also much more focused on Asuka. The beginning and the end show have important character developments for Reina, but the majority of the season is about Asuka and how Kumiko tries to help her.
Kumiko and Asuka also get along very naturally. This is because, as Nick Creamer explains, “Kumiko and Asuka have a great deal in common. They’re both fundamentally snarky people, they both hide their feelings from others, and they’re both psychological schemers, always ready to assign motives to the people around them… The two of them spar as near-equals, with the main difference between them being that Asuka is generally a little more of everything – more guarded, more cynical, more confident, more clever.”
Kumiko can relate much more to Asuka because their personalities are so similar. At the same time, Kumiko looks up to Asuka as her senpai, as the club vice president, as a talented euphonium player, and as a more exaggerated version of herself. As Kumiko states, at first she disliked Asuka, but the events of the second season changed that.
The Beginning- Mizore and Nozomi Drama
Kumiko first began to get more involved with Asuka when Nozomi tried to rejoin the band club. No matter how many times Nozomi asked for her approval, Asuka refused to acknowledge her. It was obvious how desperate Nozomi felt, and Kumiko began to wonder why Asuka was being so insensitive. She began to wonder what Asuka’s true feelings were; she knew Asuka was hiding something behind her cynicism the same way she did. Kumiko mentions many times throughout the show that she doesn’t understand Asuka, and expresses a desire to learn more about her.
Kumiko gets her answer at practice camp when she confronts Asuka, who explains that Mizore, the oboe player, couldn’t stand the sight of Nozomi. Asuka didn’t want Mizore to have a breakdown because she was vital to the band, especially with the competition coming up. At that moment, Kumiko’s suspicion was correct- Asuka covered up what she was really thinking. Asuka did care about the band and her friends, but at that moment, Asuka acted big and bold, using her usual mask. She had yet to show any weakness to Kumiko, but she soon would.
The Hill- Asuka’s First Sign Of Feeling
When Kumiko woke up early the next morning, she saw Asuka on a hilltop, basked in morning light, playing her euphonium mournfully, beautifully. As she listens, Kumiko thinks to herself “[her playing] seemed to convey a myriad of emotions.” At that moment, Kumiko realizes that Asuka does have feelings. Negative emotions that she hides deep down, only shown through her music. This realization is small yet powerful. Some of Kumiko’s curiosity has been answered, but there is still much more for her to find out. It is the beginning of a long, divulging journey.
Family Issues, Absence, and Budding Feelings
Not long after that incident, Kumiko gets a personal glimpse into of some of the struggles Asuka has been hiding. One afternoon, she walks into the teacher’s room and sees Asuka along with her mother. Her mom is arguing with Taki-sensei and her daughter, saying that Asuka needs to quit the band. The mother becomes hysterical and slaps Asuka on the cheek in front of everyone. Asuka stays calm and collected, evidently used to her mother’s behavior. Kumiko witnessed this firsthand- she saw what Asuka goes through on a daily basis. That afternoon Asuka does not come to band practice. Everyone was worried, especially Kumiko. From there on, Asuka does not come to practice regularly, except for a few occasions. And Kumiko becomes depressed. Overly depressed. Much more depressed than some of her friends.
This is when her feelings really begin to show. Kumiko wouldn’t have become so distraught by her absence if Asuka was not special to her in some way. They say that absence makes the heart fonder. With Asuka gone, Kumiko may have begun to notice how much she really enjoyed being around her on a daily basis. Other clues of her feelings is that whenever Asuka does make an appearance, Kumiko seems overcome with emotion or happiness.
Going To Asuka’s House- The Truth Revealed
Even though Asuka was not going to band practice, she invited Kumiko over her house to study for exams. It turns out that Asuka wanted to talk to Kumiko about her problems with her mother and the band. Asuka’s facade disappears and she opens up about her absentee father. It turns out that her father is a famous euphonium player and he is one of the judges at Nationals. This is why she was so determined to get to Nationals; she wanted her father to hear her play. For the first time, Asuka is showing vulnerability and weakness. She is selfish and damaged, and she has an enormous amount of guilt.
When Kumiko sees Asuka’s pain, she consoles her by saying “I like your playing! That morning at band camp, you were playing by yourself, weren’t you? When I heard you play that piece, I thought to myself that I loved your sound.” In this moment, Kumiko may not have been making a love confession, but she is admitting that she loves something about Asuka.
After talking to Kumiko, Asuka is inspired to play the euphonium, so her and Kumiko go to the river. Asuka plays a euphonium piece written by her father, the same piece she played that morning at band camp. She plays with a beautiful melancholy, and Kumiko listens in awe. The first time Kumiko heard this piece, Asuka’s personal history was a mystery to her. The second time, Kumiko knows the pain behind the music, and she understands why the piece sounds so sad yet so warm at the same time.
She now understands Asuka. This is extremely important because it shows how similar the two of them really are, how they both are full of insecurities. At this point, Kumiko feels closer to Asuka.
Kumiko’s Desperation and Asuka’s Return
Asuka still doesn’t come to band practice after that night, and Kumiko continues to be depressed. Reina notices and finds it odd because Kumiko isn’t the sentimental type. Kumiko admits that she doesn’t really understand why she is so upset. She only knows that she is feeling frustrated. It is getting pretty obvious at this point, though. Kumiko is feeling anxious because she wants Asuka back. She likes her.
Later, Kumiko hears Asuka arguing with the third-year band students. She claims that she is fine with quitting the band, but Kumiko knows this isn’t true. At lunchtime, she confronts Asuka and asks her to rejoin the band. Asuka plays it off, acting as if their personal conversation the other day never happened. Kumiko becomes so upset that she starts yelling. She is desperate to get Asuka back in the band. This blatantly shows Kumiko’s feelings- would she have acted this way if she didn’t like her romantically? Would she have done this for anyone else? Maybe Reina but… She literally cries as she talks to Asuka, proclaiming that she “I want to play at the competition with you. I want to hear you play euphonium! I want you to play at the Nationals! I want to play with you at the hall…”
Is it really just about her playing anymore? I don’t think so. Kumiko’s speech sounds more like a love confession.
Asuka comforts Kumiko, and is obviously glad that her kouhai cares about her so much. However, one of Asuka’s classmates calls her over, and she leaves. That day after school, Asuka shows up to band practice for the first time in weeks. And just look at Kumiko. Her face says it all.
Final Hints Leading Up To The Confession
The very last episode includes numerous moments that hint heavily at Kumiko’s feelings for Asuka. Most of these are visual, so I am going to just post pictures in this section.
No Regrets- Her Confession
Earlier in the show, Kumiko’s older sister implores her to make choices so she will never have any regrets. These words ingrained themselves into Kumiko’s mind, and she realized that they applied to Asuka. She knows that if she doesn’t tell Asuka her feelings, she will regret it.
Therefore, after the last day of school, after all of Kumiko’s emotions have built up over time (envy, awe, empathy, loneliness, love), she realizes she may not see Asuka after graduation and decides to take action. She runs around the school, past all of her other senpai, determined to find Asuka. Outside the school, in the cold and snow, Kumiko finds Asuka and tells her how she feels.
Asuka reacts cryptically; it is difficult to tell what she is truly feeling. However, when Kumiko says she doesn’t want to say goodbye, Asuka replies with “Then we won’t.” With that, she walks away and says, “See you.”
Kumiko seems disappointed and relieved at the same time. She smiles when she looks over the notebook and piece Asuka gave her. As the episode ends, Kumiko contemplates Asuka’s playing and thinks, “I’ll never forget how it warms in sounds.”
She’ll never forget Asuka.