Five years on

Reading this almost destroyed me this morning:

That night, the group, which gathered to plan our wedding, gathered to plan his funeral. Bishop Gene, who had officiated at our wedding, would preside. Those who had stood at his bedside with me would eulogize him. The family of relatives and friends would join together again to mourn his passing.

This Monday I “celebrated” my fifth wedding anniversary, of which technically I’ve been a widower four years. So much of what Sarah McBride talks about here reminds me of how my own wedding went: the anxiety, the juxtaposition of the medical and the sentimental, the relief of being married even though I shouldn’t matter. Logically there shouldn’t be that much of a difference between being married and in a long term partnership — even legally it matters little in the Netherlands — but emotionally, to have made that commitment clear and official did matter. It’s good to see that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Hibike! Euphonium



When I started watching anime back in the eighties, it was for the science fiction adventure and jiggling cartoon boobs, so I’m just as surprised as you to have found myself watching and enjoying a series about a high school band and their struggle to improve. It’s not like I was a band geek in high school or something; in fact high school bands are rare to non-existent in the Netherlands. There are marching bands (fanfares) but those usually are independent clubs or societies. Perhaps it’s just that, like Shirobako, this is about competent, passionate people pursuing their dreams. There’s also that slightly fannish thrill of having the basics of an unfamiliar craft or profession explained to you.

The plot itself is fairly straightforward. Our protagonist, Kumiko Oumae, is a first year student at Kitauji high school, who used to play in her middle school’s band and has selected kitauji to make a fresh start and reinvent herself. She’s definately not going to play in her new school’s wind ensemble club, especially since it’s not very good, to be polite. Whereas her former school managed to get gold at the prefectural competition, though didn’t advance to the next stage, Kitauji never managed higher than bronze, with the current band members largely demoralised. So obviously Kumiko isn’t going to join. And if her newly found friends convince her to do so anyway, clearly she isn’t going to play the same boring old euphonium she played through middle school, right? Then again the series is called Hibike! Euphonium so perhaps Kumiko’s wishes don’t quite come through.

As Kumiko gets sucked into band life again, the new advisor and music teacher Noboru Taki puts a simple question to them: do they just want to have fun, or do they want to get serious and aim for the nationals? It has to be the second choice of course for a series like this, as we follow the band as it gets serious, straightens itself out and takes its first steps on the road to the nationals. With just thirteen episodes in its first season and taking a leisurely pace, we don’t get there. The climax of the series is the prefectural competition, where we get to see if Kitauji for the first time ever can advance to the next stage. It’s very much like your typical sports competition movie, except that here there’s no rival school to fight against.

An anime series about music of course stands or falls with not just the music, but with the depiction of the music. Especially in a proper high school band setting, you cannot cheat. Every time an instrument is being played it has to be done correctly, mirroring the music being played and when you have several dozen people playing a dozen or more different instruments simultaneously, it becomes complicated. Hibike! Euphonium pulls it off though, as you can see from the clip at the top of this post. But it does more.

This is after all the story of a high school band that starts out bad and improves. Which means that not only do you need to see them play music, you need to see them play music badly and getting better. Compare the clip one paragraph above with the one below: the same piece of music played with the difference of time spent learning to play together as an ensemble. Even for a lay person like me the difference is clear. And it’s an earned difference: there are magical breakthroughs or genius individual musicians, just people determined to get better and working hard to do so. Hibike! Euphonium continually drives home the point that improvement requires graft and talent, not just the latter. As such therefore you’ll hear a lot of repeated snippet of music as the individual musicians and sections rehearse, then watch it all come together in the performance. The care and attention with which Kyoto Animation, the studio responsible for the series, put into animating this really pay off.

Kyoto Animation has of course a reputation to uphold, having a proud history of producing quality anime. It’s therefore not surprising to see the same sort of care lavished on the cast. This is not just the Kumiko show, as the show regularly checks in with other characters too, even if most of the series is seen through her eyes. Apart from her friends in the bass section, which include the wind ensemble’s vice president, there’s also her childhood friend who now plays trombone and several of the second year students left over and desillusioned from their experiences the previous year. Each of these is fully fleshed out even when we’re only seeing them for short periods at a time. Hibike! Euphonium is first and foremost an ensemble show.

the hairflip that launched a thousand ships

But at the heart of it is the relationship between Kumiko and an old middle school classmate of hers, Reina Kousaka, who is introduced along Kumiko in the very first scene of the series. Reina is ambitious and determined to be the best, with a seemingly cold personality, whereas Kumiko is good natured and inclined to go with the flow. She has one flaw though, a tendency to speak her mind at importune times, as she does in that first scene when Reina is disappointed at their school not going through to the next round and Kumiko is surprised she thought that was even possible with their band. This sets up their dynamic in high school, as Kumiko regrets her words and is slightly in fear of Reina, wanting to apologise and make up but not quite sure how. As it turns out, she needn’t have worried.

Reina loves Kumiko

Because it’s pretty clear that the tension between Reina and Kumiko is based on more than just ill feelings… Though in the thirteen episodes so far it’s been teased more than explicitly stated, both have made love declerations. Episode eight in particular, in which Kumiko denies wanting to date her childhood friend and instead asks Reina to go to the Agatha festival with her, is food for shippers. The Reina x Kumiko slow burn romance is one of the best I’ve ever seen in an anime series because it’s so believeable and sweet, rooted in their personalities. Reina’s passion for being the best trumpetist she can be is what attracts Kumiko while Reina is curious about Kumiko’s real personality behind her good girl mask, as it comes out through her habit of making thoughtless, snarky remarks. Their romance doesn’t take away from the larger story, but is bound in with it.

So yeah, a series about a school band is the best series of 2015 for me, one of the best series I’ve ever watched. If you want to try it for yourself, it’s available on Crunchyroll.

The Puppies lost the Hugos. Again.

The Hugo Award winners:

  • Best Novel: Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translation by Ken Liu (Tor Books).
  • Best Novella: No Award
  • Best Novellette: “The Day The World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translation by Lia Belt in Lightspeed Magazine, April 2014
  • Best Short Story: No Award
  • Best Related Work: No Award
  • Best Graphic Story: Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (Publisher).
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Guardians of the Galaxy written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Orphan Black “By Means Which Have
    Never Been Tried” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett [Space/BBC America] (Temple Street Productions)
  • Best Editor, Short Form: No Award
  • Best Editor, Long Form: No Award
  • Best Professional Artist: Julie Dillon
  • Best Semiprozine: Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Wendy N. Wagner, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton and Christie Yant
  • Best Fanzine: Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Alissa McKersie, Colin Harris, and Helen Montgomery
  • Best Fancast: Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
  • Best Fan Writer: Laura J. Mixon
  • Best Fan Artist: Elizabeth Legget
  • The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Wesley Chu

Like last year, it has once again been proven that slate nominations can succeed but cannot win the Hugo Awards, yet do poison and disrupt them. We’ve had five No Awards votes previously; this year doubled that as voters rejected slating and the inferior works forced on the ballots that way. But it still meant that deserving people like Eugie Foster, for whom it would’ve been her last shot at a Hugo, were cut from the ballot to make way for assholes and chancers not good enough to get nominated on their own merit.

It also makes for mixed feelings about the first ever win of a Dutch person, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, whose story was …not good… to put it politely and somewhat on the sexist side and who won by default as the only non-Puppy nominee in that category. I wish i could celebrate his victory with a clear conscience and I’m happy for him, but going up against real competition there was no way he could’ve won.

Last year when the results had been made known i was convinced that the Puppies would’ve learned to leave well alone, to have realised that slating could get them nominated but not win the Hugos. This year I know there will be more shit, but fandom is mobilised now. Hopefully this means next years nominations are less of a trainwreck.

UPDATE: looking at the nominations data (PDF) makes clear what a waste the Puppies made of the Hugos. Just scroll through the short story, novelette and novella categories to see what could’ve been. For one thing, they cost Eugie Foster her last possible nomination.

Worldcon 75: Helsinki

It’s official: Worldcon 75 will be held in Helsinki, as it should be. Even if the North-American vote hadn’t been split between Washington and Montreal, Helsinki would’ve won. Barring accident, it’ll be the second worldcon I’ll be going to, but I wonder how hard it would be to do by train from Amsterdam to Helsinki?