How Kenzaki Ririka is an Impossibly Good Characterization


Before I even talk about Ririka's introduction, it's worth noting the feelings Mizore is going through before they meet. Nozomi is the socialite of the band and consistently surrounded by the 'flutes'. In multiple scenes that she's in, the movie purposefully creates a contrast through its music. If you note the music in sequences where Mizore is alone and when the film portrays Nozomi around her friends, the tone difference highlights Mizore's feelings as a lot of the musical composition of Liz is written from Mizore's perspective. The window scene serves as a particularly good example of this. I'll just put a section of my other writeup here:


00:30:34

We're back to Nozomi's friends and a similar track to the first 'flutes' scene plays this time, setting the atmosphere except without Mizore. Important to note is that this cheery atmosphere builds up to the blowfish scene with Mizore. It serves to contrast the state of mind between the two people as Nozomi was surrounded by people while Mizore sat in solitude with nothing but a blowfish to keep her company. Here, the beats of the music are synchronized to Nozomi's footsteps as Mizore daydreams about her. This is one of the reasons that Liz's OST is so difficult to evaluate in a vacuum. Some tracks flow into the next one and complement each other really well. The Nozomi track leads into the daydreaming Mizore track and that track leads into...

The window scene. The window scene is something that has left an impression on me throughout all my watches. There is a profound gentleness and an apparent innocence in this track that is unmatched by literally any non-vocal track. The way this track matches the screenplay is possibly one of the best usages of OST in the whole film. It does a great service to the relationship that Mizore and Nozomi have. It begins playfully and complements the non-verbal interaction on the screen. Then it follows by a tone shift that highlights Mizore's isolation after Nozomi disappears with a sombre mood. This moment is one of the most powerful moments in the film. And it wouldn't work without the OST at all. Liz punctuates this important movement with silence before moving on to band practice.


There's multiple instances that can be observed throughout the film such as wind, glass, bluebird in the opening sequence. Mizore does not feel whole when she's not around Nozomi. While I disagree that she's clingy, the truth of the matter is that Mizore considers Nozomi such an integral part of her, a part that she simply cannot let go of no matter how much it may hurt her. There's two ways to look at this: Mizore is selfish and clingy or Mizore loves Nozomi but misunderstands her own feelings as admiration or platonic love. And I refuse to buy the clingy argument because the film illustrates how good friends they are so many times through its motifs. At any rate, the film establishes two parts of Mizore: the 'whole' Mizore when she's around Nozomi and the broken and confused Mizore when Nozomi isn't around her. The music in the film illustrates those feelings very well. And understanding the music in Liz is vital to understanding Ririka and the impact she has.


RIRIKA

We've established that Mizore feels 'incomplete' when she isn't around Nozomi. That sentiment portrayed multiple times throughout the film is what makes Ririka a very important part of it. The music usage in Ririka's appearances are largely a part of how she's characterized and what makes her the perfect example of what a good supporting character should be like. I'll go as far as to say that ignoring how the music characterizes Ririka is vastly a disservice to how good of a character she is. I'll discuss her development and characterization in 6 stages for each version of doublereed, girls.


doublereed, girls i (00:20:00)

Before actually going into Ririka's introduction, the scene before is important. It's a moment that focuses on the flute girls with Nozomi but 'flute, girls' does not play. The cheery track's absence is largely in part to Mizore's absence in that sequence but the film uses that silence to build up to Ririka's introduction. The music in her introduction is different from anything we've heard so far. It's full of life and bursting with energy and is used as a way to characterize her personality. Ririka is genuinely trying to connect with Mizore and Mizore can actually notice that. The music is a representation of the bright aura that she exudes in trying to connect with Mizore and a testament to her pure intentions in that moment. However, the way the track proceeds is...different from expectations. It cuts off instantly and abruptly as Mizore rejects her. The aura that she was exuding is instantly shut down as her advances are rebuked. Mizore does not see Ririka as a potential friend. She is too caught up in Nozomi to even consider the notion of finding someone else she can connect to. Ririka serves two purposes. The first evident purpose that almost everyone can tell is show just how far gone Mizore is in her unwillingness to open up and connect to people and how utterly dependent she is on Nozomi. The other part is how this sequence characterizes Ririka. The harsh rejection from Mizore confuses her and ultimately leads to her thinking that Mizore doesn't like her. Ririka as a 1st year is looking for validation from her senpai, Mizore and the harsh rejection utterly breaks her heart. For a person like Ririka, she's clearly not used to being rebuked like this with the bubbly personality and aura that she usually has. However, it's about how the movie continues to characterize her.


doublereed, girls ii (00:22:09)

This is a very short sequence where Ririka makes a 2nd attempt at talking to Mizore but once again, the music cuts off when Mizore rejects her once again. The following conversation with Nozomi does not have any music playing and there's a thematic reason (as well as a Sound Design reason ofc) for why it doesn't play. Ririka's notions of building a relationship with Mizore have been utterly shattered at that point. The bubbly personality that she previously had is gone as she tries to understand why Mizore keeps rejecting her. The screenplay portrays her behaving in a similar way that she was before but inside, she feels different as she's had her foundations shaken. It's a short conversation where Nozomi seems hesitant to go out of her way to assuage Ririka's fears as she herself feels dependent on Mizore although it isn't mentioned at the time but rather subtly conveyed. In fact, Nozomi might even find gratification in the idea of Mizore rejecting Ririka as she finds solace in being Mizore's only friend. Nozomi is ultimately a very flawed person and there's some wild interpretations surrounding her actions in the movie. Since my interpretation is that they're both mutually in love with each other, I classify Nozomi as subconsciously possessive. It can be further supported by how she treats Mizore in a group setting like with Natsuki and Yuuko. She's almost driven by a desire to keep Mizore's eyes on her at all times and does things to grab her attention throughout the movie. While her possessiveness is inherently driven by love, it's portrayed negatively in Ririka's case as she simply does not show a proper amount of empathy to Ririka's plight in that moment.


doublereed, girls iii & iv (00:40:00)

The timestamp is for a scene with Natsuki and Yuuko where Mizore plays the piano and they talk about career plans. I'll talk about their purpose in the movie here and this sequence leads up to doublereed, girls iii so it's a good point to talk about them here before talking about Ririka again.


NATSUKI and YUUKO/KUMIKO and REINA

Throughout Hibike, even in the first season where Mizore isn't focused on at all, Natsuki and Yuuko can be seen helping her and of course, they play a big part in the drama in s2. In Liz, their relationship is what's brought to focus as the 2nd probably gay couple from Hibike Euphonium. They play off each other effortlessly, are honest to a fault and...the complete opposite of Nozomi and Mizore. They're able to sense the tension between Mizore and Nozomi and effectively act as a foil to their relationship...and well that's exactly the purpose they serve along with Kumiko and Reina who are a bit different in how they're executed as a foil.

Hibike's director, Tatsuya Isihara refuses to acknowledge Kumiko and Reina's relationship and labels it 'adolescence' so naturally, Yamada keeping in line with his wishes does not insert a gay subplot between them where one explicitly does not exist. Their nature as foils within the movie is their skill as musicians and understanding of each other. BUT to talk about how this understanding came to be, I need to talk about Hibike and the parallels that Kumiko and Reina have with Mizore and Nozomi. Kumiko's characterization proceeds in a very special way with how she starts off as this low achiever and is effectively "entranced" by Reina's desire to become someone special. She's caught up in ideas that she can have a fulfilling time in concert band not caring about competition and ultimately finds herself lacking that fulfillment that she was supposed to have playing casually. Only after meeting Reina does she discover that she wants to be someone special, she begins a journey to personal fulfillment and learns to love the euph. It's very similar to how Mizore and Nozomi's relationship is presented. Mizore is unfulfilled until she meets Nozomi and is instantly enchanted by her personality and talent with the flute. I think it's worth mentioning that Mizore DID NOT start off as a better musician than Nozomi. Rather it was a desire to get closer to Nozomi that made her play the oboe so religiously that she got very good at it. Nozomi is to Mizore in terms of personal fulfillment what Reina is to Kumiko. Both enable the other to come to the realization that they need. The motif of the Blue Bird is used to illustrate gratefulness. Just as Kumiko is grateful to Reina for making her feel special, Mizore is grateful to Nozomi for allowing her to find a purpose with the oboe and even surpass her in skill. In fact, the story of Mizore and Nozomi can be called 'mutual fulfillment' according to the narrative of Liz and the Bluebird. The parallels between their relationship make KumiReina a perfect foil as they have reached a greater level of understanding when they play The Third Movement in perfect sync with each other. The foil is even more effective when you realize that KumiReina have the level of understanding that Mizore and Nozomi still need. Obviously the two relationships are very different but the parallels in terms of their relationships as musicians is what makes the dynamic more interesting. And that essentially makes the foil more effective.


BACK TO RIRIKA

A really good attention to detail I would like to point out is that Ririka is shown listening in to the conversations of the flutes which serves as a notion of how busy the atmosphere is around Nozomi. Then she walks into Mizore all alone and the contrast is there. A more subdued version of Ririka's theme plays during this engagement possibly because of Ririka's own hesitation at approaching Mizore or because her aura itself is now more subdued. Ririka once again tries to connect with Mizore and this time Mizore actually responds. A part of the reason why she responds is because she had previously been rejected by Nozomi for doing the Daisuki Hug. With that rejection, the void within her heart is left to be filled in by Ririka. It sounds manipulative but at that point in the movie, Mizore is much more open to Ririka's company as she feels Nozomi becoming even more distant from her. I think this scene is crucial in establishing their relationship as musicians over their relationship as friends as they're still slowly getting there. I would like to point out an important fact a lot of people seem to gloss over: Ririka is someone that plays the same instrument as Mizore so she naturally understands how good Mizore is at the oboe. Her desire to get closer to Mizore stems from respect she has for her as a musician. And maybe aside from Reina, Yuuko and Natsuki, Ririka is the only other person that understands Mizore's skill. Ririka notices the blue feather given to Mizore, the feather that symbolizes her friendship with Nozomi and naturally asks her about it. When Ririka says, "you guys are such good friends", doubt is very clearly reflected within Mizore's eyes. The doubt about her relationship with Nozomi. She rejects Ririka once again but less coldly than before. It's clear to see that their relationship is progressing and Ririka in general seems to come off with a better impression of their interaction this time around.


doublereed, girls v (00:45:28)

And it plays yet again except that the real moment that needs attention is actually 00:46:08 where the track undergoes a dramatic shift in tone. From the previous interaction, it was emphasized that Ririka had gotten closer to cracking Mizore's shell but the opposite happens here. It's Ririka who breaks down and needs a confidant. Through the movie's subtle characterization, a picture has already been painted of the struggles that Mizore herself faces. Their relationship should be the other way around by all means. A part of the reason why Ririka was so insistent on connecting with Mizore was because she saw how troubled she was but ultimately didn't realize that she was projecting her own troubles onto Mizore in a desperate attempt to connect with her. As she opens up about failing the auditions, Ririka's shell cracks as it turns out that her behaviour was masking a much more troubled person inside of her, someone that isn't confident of their skills and someone that needs peer support from Mizore rather than the other way around. The music does a great job of illustrating Ririka's insecurities with how it's essentially the same track composed differently as a way to say "this is the same person but right now she's almost a completely different person from before." However, Mizore...does not respond to her plight. Emotionally stunted as she is, she doesn't realize how she can help Ririka at that point in time.

This event marks a dramatic shift in Mizore's perspective that sets the movie's plot into motion and her penultimate development as a character. In the following scene, she is shown to be paying more attention to the friendships that exist within the concert band and is clearly thinking of a way to help Ririka. And she finds help in the form of none other than Nozomi. Once again, Nozomi's possessive side is illustrated in a particular moment of great cinematography that I'm sure you're aware of. But the point is that Ririka opening up to Mizore serves as a point that allows her to move forward in forging a genuine relationship with her as well as being more observant and aware in general. Mizore sees a lot of herself in Ririka except that she realizes that in Ririka's case, there is no benevolent Nozomi to save her from a life of unfulfillment and self-loathing. In fact, the whole ordeal can even be Mizore acting out of the idealized image of Nozomi that she has in her mind and subconsciously wanting to move past being the 'taker' in their relationship in an action that's ultimately an act of inherent kindness motivated by the kindness she received at the hands of Nozomi.


doublereed, girls vi (00:48:28)

Here we are at the penultimate and final moment of Ririka's characterization. At this point, it's safe to say that Ririka as a character has been established as an excellent supporting character in context of the movie's narrative and to help flesh out Mizore's motivations. However, I fundamentally disagree with the idea of her being a glorified "plot device" or a "foil". She's effectively a character that goes through many stages of characterization and finally ends up here. The final evolution of her theme implies serenity. It implies that she has come to terms with her internal struggles and the issues she previously had in being unfulfilled. This is a narrative that is consistently present throughout Hibike Euphonium, Liz and K-On and it's present here in Ririka's case too. Kumiko was struggling with her lack of skill with the eupho in Hibike s1 and ran out yelling that she wanted to get better. While she was doing that, she understood her own feelings with Reina's help. She wanted to get better, she wanted to learn to love the eupho and she wanted the fulfillment that she was lacking. Just as that moment is a release for Kumiko, this moment in the movie is a release for Ririka. In a simple act of kindness that may have been a direct result of her relationship with Nozomi, Mizore helps Ririka learn about her own motivations and realize that she really does want to compete, get better and play at the same level as Mizore. As they play together, it's a homage to the relationship that they have now established. They are both thankful to each other for putting things into perspective for them. Ririka becomes the first genuine friend that Mizore has had since Nozomi and this relationship is what allows her to move past her relationship of codependence. Ririka's time as a character on screen comes to an end. However, the way she affects Mizore in recognizing the flaw within her relationship with Nozomi continues as Mizore is now aware of how a real friendship feels like. She's aware that what she has with Nozomi isn't one. It's clearly something different. Helping Ririka allows Mizore to move a step closer to realizing her own worth and ultimately her worth as a musician independent from Nozomi. It's the kind of genuine interaction that Ririka has with Mizore that solidifies how good of a character she is. I'd like to mention that the effect Ririka had on Mizore is visible in the closing moments of Liz where Mizore becomes more expressive of her feelings 1. because she now understands Nozomi and their relationship 2. she's more responsive and less subdued, clearly displaying better social skills that are a product of what she learnt from Ririka. She talks about continuing to play the oboe. I'd like to mention that Mizore's connection with the oboe was absent throughout Hibike Euphonium and also throughout most of Liz but her interaction with Ririka and watching her discover a source of fulfillment led her to realize what the oboe means to her independent from Nozomi who was initially the reason she picked it up. There are two reasons for Mizore continuing to play the oboe. An obvious one is that it's a symbol of her bond with Nozomi and the other answer would be that Mizore now recognizes the oboe as a source of fulfillment for herself. And that fulfillment is something that she learns through Ririka. By the end of the movie, Mizore learns to love the oboe and "Do her best on stage." Words that are a far cry from "I wish that day would never come."