Note: This is the first essay I’ve written in nearly 6 months, and as such I have no expectations that I’ve written anything near a masterpiece here. However, I am excited to have completed this as my first essay towards 12 Days of Anime, and I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Also I realized after publishing this post that the link to the scene I reference in the article isn’t very noticeable, so in case you don’t see it you can find that scene through this link as well. – Zubat
Editing on film projects, be they as small as a class assignment or as large as a major movie production, is often an unseen, unglamorous task. It lacks the wonder and enthusiasm of brainstorming and planning or the fun and excitement of filming and acting. Determining which single shot out of many (or in some cases, very few) best captures the essence of a scene is a hard skill to learn; sitting in front of a computer and splicing cuts within a frame of precision is an arduous task. But the joy of the editing process is finally seeing an idea reach full bloom as each new piece is added together. With every new clip added to the film, an editor witnesses the transformation of a soundstage into a wonderland; with every spoken line connected together, an editor forms the emotional plot lines imagined since day one. These decisions are not only vital towards a film or show becoming a reality, but they in turn have a substantial effect on what we as viewers feel and experience while watching a completed project.
From what I know of the anime production process, editing doesn’t show up in quite the same way in anime, since much of the framing or pacing of a scene is determined through storyboarding and direction. But Hibike! Euphonium 2 demonstrates why those technical details can be just as valuable as vocal performances or animation in a fantastic 38 second long sequence from the show’s 9th episode. In a calm scene, we watch Reina listen to Kumiko’s worries about the expectations Kumiko feels on her, and respond with playful affirmation. Reina’s playfulness isn’t something created out of the energy of the scene, as would be found in more action-oriented shows. Instead, this energy is formed and shaped by the construction of the sequence – from Reina’s words and body language to how the sequence is pieced together. These things combine with warm colors and soft backing music to create a warm, welcoming feeling, most noticeable as the scene begins to transition away from those feelings into the following scene with Taki-sensei.
Reina’s voice is our first window into watching her playful side emerge. In her words, Reina affirms her trust in Kumiko by saying “when it matters most, you always have the right words” – but she immediately follows this up by mocking Kumiko’s “did you really think we could make it to Nationals” line from the very beginning of the first season. With a smile, Reina comments that “there’s something about you” before noting Kumiko’s tendency to always notice things around her, even if she doesn’t act like she sees. Her words confirm her belief that Kumiko will be fine meeting with Asuka, but also make fun of Kumiko’s natural personality and thoughts (from S1E8, “it’s like you put on a kind, good-girl face but inside, you’re actually really distant”).
We also see this playfulness in the animation of Reina’s motions and body language as well. Walking backwards and hopping from one foot to another, Reina’s reserved vocal tone is upstaged by movement and steps that suggest her amusement with Kumiko. The quick shots as she steps back are also some of the most detailed cuts of animation in the sequence – from Reina’s hair fluttering differently in her bangs, to her weight shifting from one foot to another in multiple shots. There’s enough detail in these shots to feel overwhelmed by Reina’s movement, and it certainly doesn’t seem quite like the same Reina as we’re used to. She leans just a bit forward while commenting on Kumiko’s personality, something we see through her arm reaching ever so slightly around her back. It’s a posture similar to Asuka’s in this shot from episode 10 – leaning forward and daring a comment back, albeit a bit more reserved from Reina than Asuka. And of course Reina grabbing Kumiko’s hand and getting in her face while saying she’ll “catch her and peel [her] mask off” is all about teasing Kumiko, catching her off-guard and making her uncomfortable. It’s something we see in Kumiko shifting her weight backwards and voicing a few soft “Kumiko-noises” of discomfort.
Both Reina’s words and movement go a long way towards describing Reina’s playfulness in this sequence, but the framing and pacing of each shot truly brings this scene together. These details, and in particular how the shots are timed together, give us the opportunity to see this sequence from the emotional perspective of Kumiko as she listens to and watches Reina. The set of shots from 0:05 to 0:11 never uses the same positioning of the “camera” and also never stays on a shot for an extended period of time. Those details combine with framing centered away from Reina’s full expression to show Kumiko’s unease, perhaps similar to glancing around as she’s caught slightly off-guard. We also never see Reina’s face in full for a long duration during this sequence, which leaves us unsure as to any emotions she might be showing with her facial expression. Another set of quick shots occurs as Reina comments on Kumiko’s ability to know what to say when it matters most – a brief shot of Kumiko shows her discomfort with Reina describing her possibly more accurately than she’d like. But that brief shot away from Reina also reemphasizes that unease, that discomfort – if we simply stayed on Reina for the whole shot, the impression would have been quieter and perhaps more serious in tone with her hair partially obscuring her eyes. But that brief moment away from Reina helps remind us of how Kumiko’s is reacting to Reina’s teasing, and the scene is able to continue moving forward.
But the biggest moment where the pacing truly shines is at 0:33. Here, Reina reaches forward to grab Kumiko’s hand, but before this shot she was still standing over an arm’s length away from Kumiko. She hadn’t started moving before the jump between cuts, so in effect her motion is something that happens near-instantaneously. This moment has multiple effects: it helps smooth out a jump that would’ve slowed down the pacing of the scene between cuts; and it also creates a moment of surprise for both Kumiko and us watching Reina grab Kumiko’s hand. It’s most likely that the former reason is the biggest part of this editing decision – the length of time that would likely be added by showing Reina’s step forward would be too short of a duration for a new cut (makes the pacing too fast) but too short to add addtional time to either adjacent cut (makes the pacing too slow). But the decision to make this transition instant helps the feelings created by Reina’s playfulness continue through a surprise leap towards Kumiko. It emphasizes how Kumiko may not have expected Reina to take that step forward, and shows one more time where she was caught off guard by Reina’s playful encouragement.
In 38 seconds, Hibike! Euphonium 2 took a subdued sequence outside of much of episode 9’s drama and used words, body language, shot framing, and editing to create a warm moment that gave us more insight into Reina’s playful side and her friendship with Kumiko. It is a scene stellar on merits of voice acting and animation, lifted even further through framing and pacing decisions that help emphasize the emotional core of the sequence while keeping the scene calm and steady as a whole.
(This post is the first of my 12 essays for the 2016 edition of 12 Days of Anime, a joint project between many anibloggers. For more info about the project, check out appropriant’s introductory post here, and check out the full blog spreadsheet here if you’re interested in the work of everyone participating!)