M-Pros: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 27

It’s the Hashikko boys’ first real test: performing at the M-Con!

Chapter Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society is up at the M-Con, and their performance impresses at least one of the judges. While they’re part of the “free” section—i.e., participation only—Akira and the rest take it very seriously. In a powerful moment, members of the audience could swear they heard an angel, thanks to the harmonizing by the four on stage. In the final moments, Jin’s thoughts are about proving how great choruses are.

Afterwards, many congratulations are had, including from Shion’s mom and the Nishigafuchi club members who attended. Nishigafuchi’s message is loud and clear: you’re good enough to compete. Elsewhere, Yumerun is observing from a distance, and seems upset about Jin to the point of tears. Hasegawa spots her and, mysteriously, offers to exchange Line account info with Yumerun.

Shuusuke, who was on piano due to Shion’s injury, offers to take a photo of the club (plus associated classmates). However, when Shion tries to assert that she’ll be the one playing for them next time, she trips and falls into Shuusuke’s arms in a repeat of a childhood moment between the two. The situation seems ripped straight out of a romance manga, which causes a great deal of shock and blushing, albeit for different reasons. While Akira very clearly has feelings for Shion, Kousei is just mad that Shion’s nickname for Shuusuke, Shuu-chan, is what he used to call his deceased little brother. In the end, they manage to take a rather awkward but hilarious group photo, while also giving (Mashino) Shuusuke a new nickname: Masshie.

The Judge’s Thoughts

I found the aforementioned judge to be an interesting part of the chapter because it showed how an expert would see a fairly amateurish club and still recognize in them some potential. In my view, the key is when he describes what proper harmonizing is: It’s not about thinking, “I will try to let my voice out in a way that matches up with the others,” but rather, “If I let my voice out, it will match up with the others.” 

He also expresses being impressed by the way they transform into tenuto in their performance, which is a musical direction meant to convey “holding a note for its full length.” (I’m not sure I’m using that term correctly, so feel free to correct me!) Jin actually reaches him for comments afterwards, and he encourages them to get more members so they can participate in different types of competitions.

I hope this isn’t the last we see of him.

Romance in the Air?

I’ve written a good deal about the potential for romance and love triangles in Hashikko Ensemble, but I’ve tried not to focus too much on it because I didn’t want these reviews to overly emphasize that side to the extent that people might assume this was a primary focus of the series. That being said, it’s now crystal clear that Akira has a thing for Shion, and that it wasn’t just him being somewhat naively overprotective. There also might be something going on with Yumerun too, but those tears are kind of ambiguous. 

I still wouldn’t quite classify Hashikko Ensemble as a romance manga, though. Rather, it’s a story about human connections through the world of music, of which love is one possibility. It’s exactly the kind of story Kio Shimoku excels at, and why I continue to be such a big fan of his.

Back to the subject of Yumerun, I would think that everything about this chapter—the encouragement Jin got to find more members, Yumerun’s reaction, Hasegawa’s gesture—would lead to her joining them. However, that would first require her to transfer to Hashimoto Technical High School, an environment likely unsuited for her implied musical talents overall. It would be a hell of a move, and if it happened, it would signal some very clear intent on Yumerun’s part.

I also got a kick on the little swerve we got in terms of Kousei. It seemed like he had some feelings for Shion, but it turned out to be something about his little brother instead. It’s a bit of dark humor that ironically lightens the moment.

Songs

Naturally, the only song this month is (once again) “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto. 

Final Thoughts

It’s clear from previous reviews that I didn’t quite understand what the “free” part of M-Con meant. I took it more as like, an “open competition,” as opposed to being the distinction between “For Fun” and “For Glory,” to use Smash Bros. terms. 

I think this is probably inevitable with my writing about Hashikko Ensemble because of how music is not my forte. It makes me want to see someone who does know a thing or two about music read and review this series!

A Different Way of Seeing: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 26

Jin reveals an important part of himself while Akira shows his kind heart in Chapter 26 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

It’s the Hashimoto Chorus Appreciation Society’s turn at the M-Con competition, but before they go up, Jin has a question for Akira: how does Akira interpret the lyrics to “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars)?

It turns out that while Jin can read up on the history of a song to understand what went into it, he can only ever understand lyrics at face value. After some hesitation, Akira explains in private to Jin that he picked the song while thinking about Kousei, who lost his little brother when they were young. To Akira, it sounds like a song of prayer—an explanation that seems to awaken something inside of Jin. Right after, Jin blabs to Kousei, causing some embarrassed tension, threats of violence, and teasing accusations of Kousei being a tsundere.

That little moment resolved, the guys start their performance, with Kousei drawing the most attention with his delinquent attitude in this more formal concert hall space. As they sing, they impress one of the judges in particular, but in the stands, Yumerun (Jin’s childhood friend) looka extremely annoyed for some reason.

Is Jin Neuroatypical?

Jin has always come across as a huge nerd who’s really into music as a kind of scientific phenomenon. However, based on what we’ve learned over the past two chapters, I’m genuinely starting to wonder if Jin might be somewhere on the autism spectrum, or is perhaps neuroatypical in some other way. 

Not only have we learned that he has trouble with making his singing feel more expressive, but now he’s explained that he’s basically incapable of interpreting lyrics on his own. I’m not very familiar myself, but I’ve known people who have Asperger’s, and from what I understand, people on the autism spectrum often have difficulty grasping the emotional meaning behind how things are said, or even sarcasm and the like. Hashikko Ensemble itself hasn’t said anything explicit, but I think it would explain a lot about the character, including how he approaches social interaction.

Akira and Kousei

The fact that Akira showed such concern for Kousei further fleshes out his character. There’s something about his trying to help Kousei out, as well as his interpretation of the lyrics, that reminds me of his childhood friendship with Himari and his love of children’s picture books. Akira is a kind soul, and I increasingly like him as the central protagonist of this manga.

Yumerun’s Anger

Part of the imagery of Yumerun grinding her teeth is that it “rhymes” with the panel of Shion doing the same out of frustration over not being able to play the accompanying piano. But beyond that, I really can’t seem to figure out why Yumerun is expressing some dismay over seeing Jin sing there. Their mutual past might be even more complicated than I first thought, and I wonder if maybe Yumerun is actually there on behalf of Jin’s mother. If not, maybe Yumerun sees chorus singing as somehow painfully common. I’m sure there’ll be more information in the coming months, but for now, this has me fascinated.

Songs

It’s just “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto again this time, but given that it’s front and center in this chapter, I think it’s worth it to go into greater detail about it.

As Jin explains, the song in question was written after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923  when the lack of light pollution made the starry sky visible. The stars are a metaphor for people’s souls, and the song itself functions as a song for repose of the soul. Jin’s interpretation as a song of prayer approaches it from a different angle. To him, the lyrics seem like they’re calling out to the souls of those who have been lost, but the second half makes the name of the song sound like a comforting call to those left on Earth. 

Final Thoughts

If Kio Shimoku is indeed writing Jin as having some sort of neurotypical mind, it would be new ground for him. Genshiken has a lot of eccentric characters, but that series always came across as just a bunch of fanatical dorks who really like anime and manga. Jin’s obsession with music seems driven by something different. 

What a Dream Boat: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 25

Another new character brings further insight into Jin’s history in Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 25.

Summary

The Hashimoto Tech Chorus Appreciation Society has arrived at M-Con, nervous about competing. Day One is just for observation, though, and they see Nishigafuchi (the school they visited previously) succeed. They’re also worried about Shuusuke not showing up after he tore down Jin so thoroughly, but luckily, he arrives. However, another figure appears as well: a girl named Shouji Yumerun, a classmate of Jin’s when they were kids, and when she looked very different.

Yumerun mentions becoming a pupil of Jin’s mom, and that this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—words meant to comfort, it seems, but which have the opposite effect. Jin begins to think about why it is he’s so unable to be naturally expressive, and how he gathers people who make up for this weakness. The chapter ends with him getting ready to ask Akira a question.

Jin’s Intuition

I’m actually surprised to discover that Jin sees himself as talentless, and that all of his singing ability comes from hard work and study, if only because he has come across as such a natural in previous chapters. In Naruto terms, he’s the Rock Lee everyone thinks is a Sasuke, and it makes him more relatable in some ways.

Another character Jin reminds me of is Mike from Monsters, Inc. Like Mike, Jin has the theory down but can only take it so far due to a lack of natural ability. The fact that Jin has such an eye for talent further reinforces this image while also adding an extra wrinkle to his character. He finds people with the raw potential he himself lacks, almost to an intuitive degree.

Yumerun

We get another new character in Yumerun, who drops some hints about Jin’s past and his relationship with his mom. Apparently, Jin and Yumerun were classmates, and he helped bring her into music. Now, she’s studying under Jin’s mom, and she thinks this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—implying perhaps that Jin felt pressure to succeed his mom, and that maybe Yumerun has a thing for him?

I’m struck by Yumerun’s words, particularly when she says to Jin, “You won’t be told anymore to stop escaping into the chorus just because you lack talent.” What I interpret this to mean is that Jin likes singing in a group because it better hides his deficiencies. Rather than just being a passion, it’s also a defense mechanism.

In the Mind But Not in the Heart

Every chapter review, I record all the music terms that crop up, partially because they’re in Japanese and not necessarily common knowledge even for fluent speakers. But it’s also because I have little to no musical knowledge or ability, so I feel the need to try and understand. The fact that Jin has a somewhat similar struggle makes these sections take on a new meaning of sorts. As someone not musically inclined, it’s hard for me to tell if these flaws of his are really that basic or if it’s the difference between being decent and being elite, though the fact that no one at Nishigafuchi said anything makes me think the latter.

In this instance, Yumerun brings up all the things Jin has trouble with: enunciating s, k, and z sounds; the nuances of syncopation;  and techniques for emotional expression. Apparently, he can understand it on paper, but has trouble doing it himself. Syncopation is “a shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats.”

Songs

No songs this month, but the fact that the previous storyline is officially known as the “Spitz arc” amuses me.

Final Thoughts

The Chorus as a place where people who lack in certain areas can support one another feels like the story of a team sports manga, as opposed to ones about individual competitors. Hashikko Ensemble might not have the attractive characters or the pizzazz to attract regular sports manga readers, but I wonder if this possible theme of “the sum being greater than the parts” might resonate still.

You Are, All of a Sudden, a Mechanical Man: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 24

A new character flips everything upside down in Chapter 24 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Shion has sprained her wrist, and the Chorus Appreciation Society is forced to do something about it. Given a few options, they ultimately land on getting an alternate pianist to accompany them, though Akira expresses that he doesn’t think anyone could really replace her. Shion pulls a favor with her mom, and gets an old acquaintance/friend to take her place: Mashino Shuusuke, a guy who carries around a sun umbrella and who just has an aura that screams “elite.”

However, after just one song, Shuusuke finds the Hashikko boys to be fundamentally inadequate. He critiques each of their weaknesses one by one—and actually declares Jin to be the most hopeless of all! While the rest of the group is eager to prove Shuusuke wrong, Jin seems uncharacteristically glum.

Their Unique Problems

It’s interesting to see where each character’s singing flaws are, as pointed out by Shuusuke. It’s not easy to convey in comics, so the exposition is welcome. Also, it might be a hint at how the characters might develop over time.

Akira is trying too consciously to sing low, and his enunciation is suffering. He’s pushing his vowels out at the expense of his consonants.

Kousei doesn’t sing with purpose. According to Shuusuke, Kousei comes across as someone who thinks passion and feeling can make up for that, but it can’t.

Shinji is a total beginner, so there’s not much to be done there. Shuusuke says this as if there’s nothing specific he could say to help, which makes Shinji all the angrier

Jin knows how to “sing,” but what comes out of him isn’t “music.” In terms of criticisms, this one hits the hardest.

A Hurdle for Jin

I find the introduction of Shuusuke to be one of my favorite story developments so far because it’s the first time that Jin has been challenged as a character. Up to this point, Jin has always been the fount of knowledge who knows more about sound and music than anyone else. To have that called into question, to have someone say that Jin’s singing is merely technically proficient, is a major change-up. Adding to this is the fact that Shuusuke is clearly a legitimate talent at the piano.

The only times in the past that Jin has looked even remotely that taken aback is when he mentions his mom. We have the sense that there’s something messy underlying his interest in music, and I have to wonder if Shuusuke’s comments are related in any way.

Shuusuke and Shion (and Akira?)

As implied by the chapter’s title page, there’s a history between Shuusuke and Shion dating back to their piano concert days (Shion, as we see, has always been herself). There’s a clear frustration he has over her choosing to go to a technical high school–my best guess is that he saw her as a rival, or at the very least, someone who’s wasting her talents. There might not necessarily be any romantic sparks (or at least not reciprocal ones), but the “childhood friend” history is a reliable, if not as common a trope as it used to be. Given Akira’s bit of blushing early in the chapter when he comments on Shion being irreplaceable, there might be some tension there.

Songs

“Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto make another appearance here.

Final Thoughts

In frustration, Shion says that it’s actually Shuusuke’s fault that things aren’t going well, and that they’re much better when she plays. It’s hard to tell if she’s just being stubborn or if there is some merit to her words, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the answer is in the end.

 

Hammerman, Hammer: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 23

 Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society has emerged triumphant over Tsuyama’s group, and now the M-Con competition is only one week away. But while that ought to be everyone’s highest priority, Shion is still trying to complete a hammer-and-chisel woodworking assignment she just can’t seem to figure out. Meanwhile, everyone else is wary that the group’s only pianist is potentially putting her own fingers in harm’s way.

Thanks to a handy demonstration by a surly Orihara and an idea from Jin and Akira to treat the process like playing piano, Shion manages to get it done. However, Shion accidentally bumps into a storage locker and sends a bunch of chisels crashing down towards her hands, only to be saved by Orihara, who accidentally grabs her chest. After a bit of awkwardness, things seem resolved…only for Shion to later fall while changing out of her workshop clothes and appear to sprain her wrist anyway.

Working to Music

Hashikko Ensemble is all about the contrast between the characters’’ vocational classes and the songs they’re singing, but most of the time, it’s the science and engineering side facilitating learning about music. This time, it’s more the other way around. The chisel work that Orihara demonstrates shows a kind of softer and more meticulous side to him as well, especially in how shaving off the wood in layers is this gradual process.

It’s also interesting to see where the different characters in this series can and can’t relate to one another. It’s Jin who suggests likening different degrees of taps of the chisel to piano terms–forte, mezzopiano, etc.–but it’s Akira who brings it all together by wondering if Shion could literally do it to a specific song. It’s like it took all three guys here to eventually connect to her way of thinking.

When Anime Haircuts Die

After Tsuyama’s group loses, they all shave their hair in preparation for finding internships, all while taunting Orihara that this is likely his head’s fate as well. Could that actually happen in this manga? Could the main characters end up losing all their nice-looking anime hair if Hashikko Ensemble goes on long enough? It would certainly be something different.

Shion Is Great

I don’t know if this is what Kio always intended, but Shion is really stealing the show at this point. From the beginning of the chapter and Shion’s Ito Junji-esque expression as she declares Akira to be a traitor to just the overall antics that follow, she’s becoming one of the most memorable parts of this series. There’s a point in the chapter

The wrist sprain is very akin to Madarame’s from Genshiken’s (he fell while at a doujin event), and it makes me wonder if Shion is actually supposed to be the Madarame of this series, only less self-aware. She has a sort of ponkotsu quality, but it’s not like she’s untalented or constantly failing. You could call her moe, but she’s less endearing and more exasperating. There’s a point in the chapter when Shion is describing how she doesn’t understand how anyone could do keep track of all the different subtleties in how hard to tap, nor how anyone could do two completely different things with their left and right hands, only for the rest of the characters to yell at her about how that’s a perfect description of playing piano.

It’s like Shion does what she wants and pushes the story along as a result, but perhaps hat describes most of the characters in Hashikko Ensemble.

Songs

The song Akira suggests Shion tap along to is the one they plan to perform for M-Con: “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto.

Final Thoughts

Orihara plays a major role in this chapter, and in it, he keeps expressing that he really hates girls. The way he says it, however, seems to speak to something deeper. Could it be that he’s expressing his anger towards the mother that let him and his deceased little brother be abused for so long? It can be hard to tell, given how Hashikko Ensemble can move between the serious and the comedic in such striking ways.

 

Make Some Noise: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 22

It’s the conclusion of the Hashimoto two-group chorus competition in Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 22: Me o Sorasanai (Don’t Look Away).

Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society is up in the mini-competition being held at their school. To counter Tsuyama and company’s Spitz song meant to win Mimi-sensei over, they sing one of their own: “Sora mo Toberu hazu.” Despite Akira having performed for the opposing team, he also joins in here, like an impromptu double-agent.

Despite their impressive performance, all the guys cheer in favor of the other team—because a rumor spread that if Tsuyama’s crew wins, they’d get to touch Mimi-sensei’s breasts, and the winner is determined by decibel level. Hashimoto’s girls try to start a counter-cheer despite being heavily outnumbered, seemingly in vain. However, thanks to Science, the girls (and thus the Chorus Appreciation Society) win out.

Look Into My Eyes

While hearing the performance, Takano-sensei mentions that while there are four singers on stage, it sounds like there are only two. In a flashback, it’s shown that Jin had Akira and Orihara sing while looking directly at each other, making sure they didn’t avert their gazes. This is supposed to help you learn about the other person as a singer, and for you to be “showered” by their voice. To me, it feels like something that would be deeply intimate and personal, almost like looking at someone naked

The Science of Noise

As explained by one of the teachers as well as Jin, humans have a limit to which frequencies they can hear. “A-weighting” is a measuring of low-level frequencies, which is commonly where environmental noise resides, and A-weighting is used in music to achieve a sense of loudness to the human ear. Humans have a hard time hearing low-frequency sounds, as well as high-frequency sounds. It’s something students working in construction have to account for. The most easily heard range is 2–4 khz, the sound of a baby crying or a woman yelling. So while the guys sounded louder to the human ear, the girls managed to be even louder without seeming so.

Oh Shion

Shion is a certain kind of dumb that leans more towards naivete. In this chapter, she tries to come out in a bikini (similar to how Hasegawa is in her school swimsuit), only to get snatched away by a teacher and forced to change. It’s like she does and doesn’t realize what that would do to a school of mostly boys. There’s just a lot about her character that cracks me up every month, and Kio’s never really written a girl like her. She lacks a certain level of common sense, which I find highly relatable.

Shion plays piano for the Chorus Appreciation Society, and multiple characters point out how good she is. Takano-sensei thinks that Shion might be even better than her, while Kanon wonders why she’s even at a technical school in the first place. In a way, it’s fortunate that Shion had that personal crisis about what to do with her life, and that she ended up at Hashimoto. There’s something wonderful about someone trying to overcome their own weaknesses.

The Girl with the Deep Voice

Though not super prominent, Kurotaki Mai is emphasized a fair amount. She first appeared last chapter as the one who called over Hasegawa when Akira looked like he was going to get beat up by Tsuyama.

In multiple instances, Mai is the last face on a spread, or at least close to it, and there’s a kind of mini-arc over the course of the chapter. We already know that Mai, like Akira, is sensitive about her voice. Earlier, she’s shown being captivated by the performance. Later, when the girls are trying to out-shout the boys, she doesn’t immediately join in due to her complex. However, she seems to find that bit of courage, and begins to yell as well.

It feels like she’s going to become an important character—maybe a path for the girls to start forming their own singing group. There’s also the vague sense of some kind of love web with Akira, Shion, Himari, and Mai, but I can’t tell if the manga is headed that way.

Songs

Same as last time, the two mentioned are Spitz’s “Cherry” and “Sora mo Toberu hazu.” I should note that in previous chapters, I had translated it to “You’ve Gotta Be Able to Fly,” but the lyrics featured in this chapter clearly show it should be “We.” A literal translation would be “We Should Be Able to Fly in the Sky Too” but I’m trying to figure out a way to make it sound less unwieldy.

Final Thoughts

Takano-sensei seems to have encouraged Tsuyama and friends for this little competition as a way of getting them to accomplish something. It makes me remember that while they’re not the major part of this manga, Hashikko Ensemble is also a story about teachers and their students.

 

 

Do It, Akirapella: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 21

The delinquent fans of Mimi-sensei are here to show their singing chops, and they have some unexpected help. Is it a defection or something else in Chapter 21 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

In a shocking turn, Akira has seemingly joined the enemy as he provides the bass line for Tsuyama and friends’ a capella rendition of Spitz song “Cherry.” A flashback shows the amount of work that went into this, including a couple of the guys learning to sing falsetto and the fruits of Ouga’s practice with Jin and Akira. Takano-sensei is the one responsible for introducing the idea to sing a capella, but it needs at least five people—hence Akira’s actions.

Unsurprisingly, Jin is completely okay with this development, but now Orihara is unusually raring to go. The other group’s performance impresses Mimi-sensei (the judge for this competition), but the Chorus Appreciation Society has come prepared with their own Spitz number.

Takano-sensei’s Lessons

Takano-sensei apparently taught a lot in very little time. This includes the history of “a capella” and its shift from religious use to just “voice-only performance.” She also gives a few tips on how to sing falsetto: try to imitate Michael Jackson’s “Hooo”s and “Heehee”s, and also practice speaking in falsetto. She’s not nearly as technical as Jin in her explanations, but that’s probably a good thing. It speaks to her character and her role as a music teacher.

It’s still not clear why Takano-sensei is helping out, but based on her personality, I don’t suspect anything remotely malicious. Perhaps she wants to teach the students a lesson on life. Perhaps she wants to just shake things up a bit. Perhaps she’s just indirectly teasing Mimi-sensei. I know I want to see more of her, though.

Akira’s Doo-Wops in Art

It’s hard to convey differences in music through art alone, especially if there is little visual iconography to latch onto. The help of the text element in comics and manga makes it a little easier, however, and I love the way that a capella is portrayed in this chapter. Not only are there notes with accompanying percussive “lyrics” to show the a capella, but Akira’s portrayal in particular is great. I can practically sense the deep, deep bass in the image above. It also shows Akira with a sense of purpose rarely if ever seen from him.

Songs

“Viderunt Omnes” was going to be the Chorus Appreciation Society’s song of choice for this competition. Instead, both sides are using Spitz songs to try and win Mimi-sensei’s favor. As mentioned in the last chapter, it’s like her favorite band.

“Cherry” by Spitz

“Sora o Toberu hazu” (“You’ve Gotta Be Able to Fly”) by Spitz

Final Thoughts

I really liked that this chapter was dedicated to one performance (with some backstory accompaniment). It’s not often that Kio does such a straightforward chapter, and I think that gives it more impact.

 

 

It Was Me, Jin! It Was Me All Along!: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 20

Why fight when you can sing? It’s Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 20!

Summary

Tsuyama (of the Mimi-sensei-loving quartet) and Orihara fight under the former’s mistaken belief that the latter sexually assaulted Mimi-sensei. Evenly matched, the situation is eventually defused when Mimi-sensei herself explains that nothing happened and Hasegawa lied about Orihara squeezing Mimi-sensei’s breasts. Tsuyama and his friends still discover it’s Shion who’s the true “culprit,” but at least a couple of them don’t seem to mind at all.

Jin uses the audience gathered from the fight to his advantage, and suddenly announces a 4 vs. 4 singing competition between the Chorus Appreciation Society and Tsuyama’s group.

We learn in a flashback that Tsuyama is actually a pretty good singer, but they’re not exactly ready for this contest. The music teacher Takano-sensei offers to help them. Also, unbeknownst to his friends, the gorilla-like Ogawa (nickname “Ogre”), goes to the Chorus Appreciation Society for help in learning how to sing better. The reason: he doesn’t want to hold the others back. Jin begins teaching him about how to deal with being out of tune.

Back in the present, Tsuyama’s group are about to sing “Cherry” by the Japanese pop group Spitz (Mimi-sensei’s favorite band) against the Chorus Appreciation Society’s “Viderunt Omnes,” when suddenly, Ogawa hands his microphone over to Akira, in what looks to be a shocking betrayal!

Not the Best Handling of Rape as a Subject

I want to preface this minor criticism by saying that I don’t think Kio Shimoku is trivializing or supporting rape in any way, and what I sense from the story is that this little fiasco is more about a false rumor run rampant. Hasegawa, for her part, didn’t even say the word okashita (variously “rape,” “violated,” etc.)–it was Tsuyama who interpreted it that way.

However, given the increasing awareness we as people have about women not being believed when it comes to sexual assault, having a girl like Hasegawa start this rumor is not the best look for the series. For me, it’s not a deal breaker, and I still love the heck out of Hashikko Ensemble, but it’s potentially playing with fire.

Anyone Can Improve Their Singing

Jin makes a helpful point this chapter about how getting better at singing in tune depends on how tone deaf someone is. A person who can recognize that they’re not singing well can, over time, learn to adjust. Someone who is tone deaf, on the other hand, will need another person to tell them when they’re off, but this can still be a path to improvement.

It gives hope to folks like me who are musically challenged.

Friendship Between Misfits

While I originally thought that Tsuyama and his friends might become antagonists of sorts, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, what I see is a group of people who are kind of weird and arguably pretty creepy, but who have one another’s backs. I find it touching that Ogawa thinks so highly of Tsuyama (who encouraged him to work out so that no one could belittle him) that he would go to the enemy for help in learning how to sing. In a way, it’s like these guys are the cast of Genshiken, only all of them are like 10-15% Kuchiki. The clear path is for at least some of these guys to eventually join the Chorus Appreciation Society, but I wouldn’t be surprised at a few twists and turns.

Also, the fact that two of them are into yuri but two of them don’t seem to care that much makes for a small but interesting distinction among their group.

Songs

As Mimi-sensei talks about her fondness for Spitz, the following songs get mentioned:

“Cherry”

“Robinson”

“Sora o Toberu hazu” (“You’ve Gotta Be Able to Fly”)

“Viderunt Omnes” is also brought up again. Orihara basically refused to sing anything else.

Final Thoughts

Despite all the weirdness with Hasegawa, her running commentary for the Orihara-Tsuyama fight is a highlight of this chapter. The way she compares Orihara’s enormous strength to Tsuyama’s speed and technique fills me with glee.

I highly doubt that Akira is doing any sort of real heel turn, but I’m looking forward to how it pans out. I assume that friendship will win over all, and Shion will gain some strange new guardians.

Problematic Fans: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 19

I forgot to mention it last month, but the series has a Twitter account @hashikko_music. Also, Volume 3 is coming out September 20th!

With that out of the way, on to Chapter 19 of Hashikko Ensemble, titled “God is Dead.”

(I was thinking of adding the chapter title in these reviews. What do you think?)

Chapter Summary

The Hashimoto Chorus Appreciation Society has left Nishigafuchi, and they’ve taken away different lessons. Mimi-sensei discovers that the M-Con doesn’t require conductors, so her training and practice were unnecessary. Shinji finds out that extensive singing can really work out the stomach muscles to the point of pain. And Shion is reminded of how the memory of squeezing Mimi-sensei’s boobs is the key to her keeping her grip soft when playing piano.

In the clubroom, as Jin explains to everyone Nishigafuchi’s ability to minimize the amount of noise in their singing, Himari makes an appearance to deliver Orihara’s earphones, which she’s finally repaired. However, Himari is shocked to see the number of girls there, and after some awkward fumbling while handing over the earphones to Akira, the sheer amount of blushing going on triggers Hasegawa’s romance radar.

Meanwhile, as Mimi-sensei is advising the Volleyball (she wears many hats at school), we’re introduced to a kind of unofficial Mimi-sensei fan club. Its four members hold a grudge against the Chorus Appreciation Society because they’ve heard a rumor that one of the members has squeezed Mimi-sensei’s breasts, though they assume it’s one of the guys. They confront Akira and threaten him to tell them their target’s identity, but Akira, not wanting Shion to get hurt, decides to pretend that he’s the culprit.

However, Hasegawa interrupts and claims that Orihara is the one they’re looking for, even exaggerating the story to be extra obscene and extra gropey to troll them. Hasegawa reasons that they wouldn’t mess with Orihara, and this would end their whole endeavor. Unfortunately, she turns out to be very wrong, and one of the members tries to get into a fight with Orihara. Not long after, a teacher bursts into the faculty office and informs Mimi-sensei of a rumor that she was raped by Orihara, which causes her to do a literal spit take.

The Mimi-sensei Fan Club

The four members–Muro, Naga, Ouga, and Tsuyama–all seem to resemble animals, but I can’t for the life of me figure out if it’s supposed to be a specific reference. They don’t seem to fit Journey to the West, Momotaro, or the Four Symbols. If anyone knows what they could be, I’d be interested to know.

In addition, I like that the chapter points out how this little quartet is viewed with some disdain by other members of the school. They kind of come off as creeps, and you can practically hear the utter loathing in the voices of the Volleyball Club members when the four visit the club’s practice just to see Mimi-sensei. One of the members even calls Mimi “Mimi-kami-sama,” and they’re all obsessed with her large breasts, even more than the rest of the boys in the school. For some reason, they like to compare her boobs to different insect-like creatures, including pillbugs and large crustaceans known as Bathynomus giganteus. Doesn’t exactly sound hot, but…

Shion is the closest thing Hashikko Ensemble has had to antagonists thus far, so I have to wonder if they’ll somehow fulfill that function. Knowing the manga, though, I bet at least one or two (if not all of them) will somehow end up joining the main cast.

Another New Character! What Could It Mean?

The reason why Hasegawa is able to rescue Akira in time is because another classmate, Kurotaki Mai, mentioned the incident. Apparently, she relates to Akira because she also has an unusually deep voice, though Hasegawa thinks it might be something more. In fact, between Mai and Himari, Hasegawa has the impression that Akira is some kind of unrealized Casanova.

Speaking of Himari, I was wondering when she would show up again. The fact that she reacts with such shock at the amount of girls in their clubroom makes me wonder if she’s more nervous around other girls than guys. There’s a lot we still don’t know about her, but she does come across as shy and reticent.

There’s an amusing gag where both Hasegawa and Himari think of the other as looking mean, despite or perhaps because the two have different personalities. Is that another friendship in the making? And could Mai’s deep voice somehow land her in the Chorus Appreciation Society?

Deep Breath Languages and Non-Integer Overtones

I wonder what languages count as ones that require deep breaths. I only speak a few languages myself, and I can’t seem to think of any of them as requiring extensive use of deep breaths or strong use of stomach muscles. It’s a topic I’m fascinated to learn more about–I just wish I knew where to start!

Jin also explains that the key to the beautiful harmony that Nishigafuchi is capable of has to do with “non-integer overtones,” a term I don’t fully understand, but seems to imply an unusual harmonics of some kind. As Shion comments, it’s a difficult word even in Japanese (非整数次倍音, hiseisuujibaion). It appears to be more common of a term in audio engineering, which also speaks to Jin being the biggest sound nerd there is. I guess you could describe him as an audiophile, but that word doesn’t quite fit all the way, as he cares less about audio equipment and more about the science of sound and its interactions with the art of singing.

Wonder Cooooore!

There’s a weird gag in this chapter where the word “Wonder Coooore” keeps getting censored. It turns out that Wonder Core is an exercise machine promoted on Japanese TV.

It’s advertised around the world, including in the US through the Home Shopping Network, but it’s not nearly as funny or interesting.

Songs

No songs this month. Only conflict!!!

Final Thoughts

It’s a minefield to touch on the topic of rape in a joking matter, even if it all comes out of an elaborate misunderstanding (plus intentional obfuscation). I have faith that Kio won’t do anything truly in poor taste, but I still wanted to express some concern. We’ll have to see with the next chapter.

Bringing It All Together: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 18

Can Akira overcome himself and finally sing in front of an audience alongside his peers? That’s the big question of Chapter 18 of Hashikko Ensemble. 

Summary 

Still at Nishigafuchi High School’s elite Chorus Club, Jin has declared that the Hashimoto High School Chorus Appreciation Society will put on a small performance of their own in front of the other school’s members. Orihara is against it, having noticed that Akira didn’t sing during their prior practice. Still, Hashimoto ends up going along with it anyway.

While there are clear strengths to the group, notably Jin’s singing and Shion’s piano-playing, it’s clear to the members of Nishigafuchi that they’re still not organized as an ensemble—it’s like four different people merely singing at the same time instead of together. Even then, it’s not really four, as Akira continues to stay quiet to the extent that Orihara takes over the entirety of the bass part. But as his club mates continue to sing, even Akira’s timidity begins to recede inch by inch, until he comes in at the very end, unifying the various sounds for a brief moment. Akira inadvertently matches the subject of their song, a star that’s small but manages to shine.

Akira Did It

As I read through this chapter, I really wanted to see Akira overcome his fear, but I genuinely didn’t know if he would. Page after page, they kept singing while Akira kept his mouth closed, and I found myself cheering for him to break through this wall. When it finally happened, I almost felt like I wanted to grab him by the shoulders, and yell, “You did it!!!”

Between suggesting Hashimoto sing in front of Nishigafuchi and encouraging Orihara to just do the bass part himself if need be, Jin is the main reason Akira is in a position to do more than lip sync. Putting him on the spot like that can seem somewhat mean, but I’d like to think that Jin notices Akira’s genuine desire to sing. Just having attention on Akira wouldn’t work, so it’s crucial that Akira be surrounded by his club mates putting their all into their performance—an open invitation to join them.

I believe Jin is clever and cunning enough for all this to be his plan. He can act naïve at times, and in certain ways he is, but there’s a sharp mind behind those eyes.

Culmination of Ideas

Near the end, when Akira finally joins in, Jin’s thinks about how everything is come together for their group. In doing so, he brings up a lot of the terms that have come up in previous chapters—high-pitched tones, low-pitched tones, overtones, and singer’s formant. It’s as if this chapter is there to bring together all these concepts, and to show that the Chorus Appreciation Society has managed a breakthrough. The rough direction that the series has been taking has tightened up.

I read a bit more about singer’s formant—the ability for a singer to sound louder than an accompanying orchestra despite that seeming impossible—and realized that a less technical explanation works in introducing the idea. Essentially, singer’s formant is what opera singers are trained to have, and Akira more or less has this quality to his voice without any sort of practice required. It’s his nine-tailed fox, one might say.

Four in Unison

An interesting thing about the art in this chapter is how it shows the characters at different angles in a way that emphasizes how uncomfortable Akira is, as well as how they’re all over the place as a group. The key angle, however, is when they’re facing left, as it gradually goes from being only able to see Jin and Shinji, to an imagine situation of all four silent, to eventually Akira joining in and completing the group. It’s not easy to convey the impact of a song through image and text alone, but I can really feel that unity and harmony (pun somewhat intended) in the spread above.

Songs

The only song this chapter is “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto. It’s the song they’re planning on singing for the MHK competition.

Final Thoughts

Akira seems to have finally found himself. Now I’m just wondering if his childhood friend Himari is eventually going to sing as well, or if she’s going to be outside the club forever.

I also continue to be entertained by Andou, the sadistic soprano. At the beginning of the chapter, she mentions wanting to here Hashimoto’s performance, but it’s clear that she’s motivated by a desire to see them flounder. To her, something like an out-of-tune band that knows how bad they’re doing is probably the ultimate pleasure. The core group of Hashikko Ensemble is plenty quirky, but this makes it seem like there’s a whole ocean of weirdoes out there.