Shot Breakdown #1: Taki-sensei’s Calm Steel in the Face of Spitting Authority

Welcome to Shot Breakdown, the segment where we take any given individual shot from any given episode of any given series and peer between the lines through an analytical looking-glass.  Its purpose:  to analyze the important aspects of a single shot and its relevance to the scene, themes/motifs featured, and characters in question.

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Featured Series:  Sound!  Euphonium 2, Episode 7

Episode Director:  Haruka Fujita

Storyboards:  Haruka Fujita

For this inaugural installment of Shot Breakdown, I’ve decided to scrutinize a shot from one of the most powerful scenes from an anime I hold near and dear to my heart, Sound! Euphonium 2.  This particular episode, directed by Naoko Yamada’s protege Haruka Fujita, features the beginning of Asuka’s story arc, where we discover the circumstances of her familial life that led her into becoming a (seemingly) callous character, as well as the impact her presence has on the concert band.

The episode opens with a confrontation between Asuka’s mother and Taki-sensei, the former wanting the latter to accept Asuka’s resignation from the concert band so that she can focus more on her studies, due to her having to take the standard entrance exams instead of being granted admission through recommendation.  Taki-sensei, however, bluntly states that he has no intention to accept the letter knowing that it was under her behest, and not Asuka’s, that it is being submitted.

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While the scene in and of itself is brilliantly directed, with its use of dreary lighting and expressive character-acting to draw out such emotional tension, both within and without each character,  it is this single extreme close-up shot of Taki-sensei’s left eye, revealing his ice-cold expression, Asuka’s mother being reflected in the glass, and how she is framed as being shorter than him, that produces the highest magnitude, not only in terms of the scene as a whole, but for Taki-sensei as a character as well.

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Firstly, Taki-sensei’s cold, seemingly indifferent expression.  From just a shot of his eye, we see his steely disposition towards his end-goal of granting his deceased wife’s wish to lead Kitauji to the Nationals.  While not necessarily being apathetic about Asuka and her mother’s issue, Taki-sensei realizes that the situation at hand could prove to be a roadblock in his plans for the band as a whole, and refuses to completely submit, even to another authorial figure (and a higher one at that).   We’ve received context behind Taki-sensei’s steadfast attitude towards said goal from the episode prior to this one, so our understanding of this particular look is all the more clear-cut.  Having to face such an issue just after being reminded of his reason for being in this position to begin with, it is striking how composed Taki-sensei is in this particular scenario (considering both the subject at hand and how the other party approaches it).

That same ice-cold expression leads to my second point of how the reflection only includes Asuka’s mother, indicating his attitude towards how she handles the situation (completely emotional) and her brand of parental control over her daughter. I felt that this look had a sort of sympathy-apathy hybrid, and with his lenses reflecting the mother, it is indicative who this expression is meant for.  It’s as if he disapproves of how she tries to install control over Asuka’s life, possibly even viewing it as pathetic.  Subsequently, his look of indifference, along with the fact that Asuka’s mother isn’t directly focused in this shot, attests to how this issue is but an after-thought (an “afterimage”, if you will) to his agenda.  Evidenced by how he continues instructing the concert band with the assumption that Asuka won’t be returning, Taki-sensei is more than capable of working a possible instance where an important member leaves the team/when he has to make adjustments for the group (see Season 1), although of course, considering his defiance, he’d much rather keep Asuka knowing how much of a powerhouse she is, both in terms of her musical talent and her influence to the band as a whole.  The entire conflict, in Taki-sensei’s eyes, is nothing but a cheap obstruction caused by a parental figure who imposes her decision.

Which leads to my final point: how Asuka’s mother is framed to be smaller through the lens. While not necessarily being a low-angle shot, the way the reflection shows her being shorter than Taki-sensei could be seen with the same effect.  The purpose of a low-angle shot is to create the image of someone being more powerful, important, or authorial, and the manner in which Taki-sensei appears to be taller than Asuka’s mother demonstrates a wiser, more composed personality.  Aside from the aforementioned difference in how both authorial figures act during the situation, Taki-sensei actually has a better understanding of what Asuka really wishes to do (which is another major reason why he is justifiably hesitant in accepting the resignation) than her own mother, who only aims to impose what she wants without even giving a second thought.  While not being as authoritative as her (he still recognizes her status as a parental figure), the fact that he can look at her eye-to-eye unflinchingly and with such resolve speaks volumes of him as both a determined and perceptive character, more than what he actually says in the conversation (which was still determined, but more open to choice, as he actually asks Asuka if this is what she truly wants).

This one shot alone honestly displays an important aspect of Taki-sensei’s character and how his presence during this scene was an impactful one.  It could have been excised altogether and the scene could have been laid out differently (i.e. just show the two talking side by side, as it would’ve shown both character’s expressions and their height difference), but through Fujita’s creative direction, she is able to create a more substantial and evocative approach to convey such an important scenario.

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