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But the more important thing, namely for any United States citizen 18 and up, is to vote. People might think their votes don’t matter, but over and over we see how apathy lets those with more extreme agendas weasel their way. We have literal killers who feel motivated by our current political climate to emerge out of whatever sewers they crawled out of. I will be at the polls, and I hope you’ll decided to go too.
Orihara’s hard to understand, but it might not be for the reasons anyone assumed.
It’s the Sports Festival at Hashimoto Technical High School, but the biggest spectacle isn’t any event—it’s Orihara on a rampage. Another classmate has played a prank on him by messing with his music player, so Orihara responds by going berserk and tossing him around like a ragdoll. Jin and the others suspect that the only thing that can calm him down is his music and his noise-canceling earphones, but (as revealed in a flashback), they’ve been having trouble fixing the earphones, even with Himari’s help. However, Himari reveals that she’s spent extra time to repair them. In a mad dash, the Chorus Club and the Rugby Club work together to successfully subdue Orihara.
As Orihara listens to his music player and falls unconscious, he remembers the parental abuse he and his little brother suffered as children. He remembers hearing screaming, but can’t remember if it was his or his brother’s voice. But as the police came to take away his mom and her boyfriend, he remembers thinking it was his brother’s. In fact, Orihara can still hear his brother’s voice today.
They Laughed, They Cried
This chapter kind of reminds me of the infamous soccer episode of the anime Eureka Seven, which contained, in the same episode, both athletic filler hijinks and a plot-crucial coup d’etat. The situation in Hashikko Ensemble isn’t quite the same, as what happens at the Sports Festival contributes directly to the main story, but the contrast is potent. The general wackiness of this chapter makes the dramatic reveal of Orihara’s situation much more impactful.
As comedic as Hashikko Ensemble can be, I really don’t think this reveal is an absolute tonal shift for the manga. There’s a recurring theme of among the characters of trying to deal with the emotional and physical setbacks of their pasts, and it even creeps through in Jin’s vague descriptions about his relationship with his dad. Orihara’s story seems to be the most serious by far, and I have faith that it’ll be executed well. I mean, this is the guy who wrote Ogiue from Genshiken‘s story, after all.
The exact circumstances of Orihara and his little brother’s abuse is kept vague. The manga mentions that his little brother was unable to move, and the arrival of the cops clearly implies that this was not the result of illness or accidental injury. It’s unclear if the abuse was primarily physical, emotional, sexual, or any combination, and I don’t have any hypotheses at this moment. More information will likely be revealed to us over time, but the degree to which Kio holds back will be interesting to see. Whatever the case might be, the chapter is a crucial piece of the puzzle that is Orihara. He’s not just a loner, and he’s not just temperamental—his past is complicated, and having him open up to others (let alone join a club) is going to be about understanding his issues.
Himari works hard to restore Orihara’s earphones, but I don’t get the sense that she’s doing this out of either sympathy for the guy, or out of a desire to uphold her end of the deal with Akira and Jin. She seems to me like someone who either values the technical skills needed or who has a sense of pride in her own abilities—like it’s a challenge she wants to overcome. Nothing says this more than her pantomiming the hand motions necessary to make the complicated earphone repairs. In that respect, she might make a good team with Jin, whose audio expertise potentially supplements her own strengths. His explanation of the complexities of noise-canceling earphones (like how you need to get through the urethane coating that’s meant to prevent short-circuits before you can even begin to fix them) is a perfect example in this regard.
What Orihara’s been listening to this whole time is Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem Op.48: In Paradisum.” It’s used in Catholic church funerals, which probably means that Orihara’s little brother didn’t make it.
There’s a brief mention at the beginning that Hashimoto Technical High School switch to holding their Sports Festivals on weekdays because in the old days, delinquents from rival schools would come over to pick fights on the weekends. While the culture has changed since then, they keep the scheduling. Just having this little hint at the yesteryear of the high school (as well as the fact that the one older female teacher still remembers those days) gives this funny sense of history to the school setting of Hashikko Ensemble.
Also, Hasegawa is excellent as always. I can’t help but laugh every time I see her now.
Having read through the first novel, this manga seems to be adapting the contents pretty faithfully. This might go without saying, but the key advantage of the manga version is that it’s more visual—a welcome thing given that Gaogaigar as a whole thrives on visual spectacle. It’s also a lot easier to follow if your Japanese language proficiency isn’t especially strong.
I’m not sure what the schedule is for this manga, but I’m hoping that having it so easily accessible means that Gaogaigar fans will be able to rally around it, and really give it the attention it deserves.
Name: Koyanagi, Hanako (小柳花子) Alias: N/A Relationship Status: Dating Origin: Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii!
Information: Koyanagi Hanako is a 27-year-old OL (office lady) who cosplays in her free time. In and out of the office, Hanako is generally cool and collected, though she often butts heads with her co-worker and boyfriend, Kabakura Tarou. An avid cosplayer (especially of male characters) and a fan of Takarazuka, she’s also friends with her fellow fujoshi, Momose Narumi, and her boyfriend, Nifuji Hirotaka.
Koyanagi will often read BL right in front of her boyfriend, partly to tease him, partly because she aggressively doesn’t care.
One of my favorite characters to think about is Kongo Agon from the football manga Eyeshield 21. He’s not a favorite in the sense that I would put him on a top 10 or even top 100 best characters list, but what he does provide is an entertaining and exciting role as an antagonist whose presence allows a more complicated story about what it means to be a successful teammate.
In Eyeshield 21, Kongo Agon is the undisputed best high school American-football player in Japan. His reaction time is unmatched. While others might be stronger or faster, no one has the optimized combination of both like him. Anything you can do, he can probably do better. Agon isn’t even one of those characters who is strong individually but is especially bad at teamwork. He knows how to work within a group, at least to a certain extent. The fact that he’s so superior to everyone else, however, lands him into a classic trap for someone of such extraordinary talent: he finds less worth in those who can’t keep up with him.
When mentioning what his ideal team would be, Agon describes a hypothetical team that’s 21 of himself + one teammate who has a few unique skills. And in a way, he’s right. An All-Star All-Agon team would probably beat every other team around. However, that team fundamentally cannot exist (Eyeshield 21 is not a science fiction series), and this is where Agon begins to falter. He may be perfect, but no one else is, and his inability to truly accept that is what opens up the cracks in his armor and leads him on the road to defeat.
One of the most famous athletes in history, Michael Jordan, ran into a similar problem. Jordan in his rookie days was a once-in-a-generation talent, but felt he couldn’t trust his teammates. What turned it around was his coach, Phil Jackson, who pushed Jordan to assume the role of a true leader, and to motivate his teammates into believing that Jordan trusted them. No small part of this was Scottie Pippen, who could mediate between Jordan and the rest of the bulls and lead by example in the process.
A lot of what made Jordan able to overcome his over-reliance on himself are the very things that Agon ends up failing to learn for a long time. Agon, despite being the best player around, is not an effective leader for a team; he’s closer to a tyrant than a captain. Moreover, the man who could be his Pippen, his brother Kongo Unsui, is shown little if any respect by Agon. Because he views everyone else as so beneath him in talent, he can’t even fathom the relatively minuscule accomplishments of opposing teams as matter at all—only for such an “insignificant” change to hand him a devastating, skin-of-his-teeth loss. Agon is decent at teamwork, but if only he respected his teammates and his opponents more, he could have been invincible.
Perhaps the biggest character development moment for Agon in Eyeshield 21 is the day that he finally bothers to train. Much like Frieza in Dragon Ball: Resurrection F, Agon is begrudgingly pushed to the point that he has to actually try, only Agon’s storyline predates Frieza’s in this particular sense. That realization by Agon, that he has to work at maintaining his dominance, is the ultimate blow to his being. He’s forever transformed, unable to ever go back to thinking that he, by simple virtue of being himself, is enough to defeat everyone.
Two years after I declared Shidare Hotaru the best female anime character of 2016, I’ve finally read all 11 volumes of her manga, DagashiKashi. Now, it’s time for a full review of this eccentric and wonderful series about Japanese snack nostalgia and the thirstiness of youth
Shikada Kokonotsu is a small-town high school boy who dreams of drawing manga professionally, but his dad wants him to take over the family business—a shop that sells dagashi, a category of Japanese snacks that are made to be cheap so that kids can afford them with their small allowances. One day, the vivacious heiress to the Shidare snack company, Shidare Hotaru, arrives at their store with a mission: to recruit Kononotsu’s dad to her family’s company. However, in order to do that, Kokonotsu needs to take over their shop. Thus, Hotaru takes it upon herself to convince Kokonotsu to embrace the dagashi passion in his blood by making daily visits and challenging Kokonotsu in various snack-related ways.
I love reading reactions to Dagashi Kashi because of how it seems to frustrate many anime and manga fans. At first, it seems to be a fanservice-heavy rom-com/harem work with a veneer of Japanese snack nostalgia, only to quickly reveal itself as the opposite. Sure, Dagashi Kashi is filled with attractive and powerfully charismatic girls, but it’s their passionate and humorous interactions over the snacks themselves (as well as the history lessons provided) that are the true backbone to this series. This might not be what others want out of DagashiKashi, but it’s exactly what won me over.
One can hardly call Dagashi Kashi an ultra-complex manga, but it’s endlessly entertaining, and its characters memorable and fully realized. Hotaru is the lynchpin of the series, a whirling dervish of intensity, passion, and mild misfortune, but every character carries their weight in making it a delightful comedy. For example, Endou Saya, a childhood friend who harbors a secret crush on Kokonotsu, is a perfect “normie” character—someone who only has a casual connection to dagashi but rounds out the main cast as a result. Every time a new character is introduced, they also quickly endear themselves. The key example is an employment-challenged character named Owari Hajime, who shows up when Hotaru vanishes for a brief period. While the hole Hotaru creates in her absence can’t be filled by anyonese (a plot point in the series), Hajime differentiates herself by being this adult who’s both more mature than the kids around her yet ill-equipped for the real world.
The humor comes across to me as a kind of manzai battle royal. While manzai comedy classically involves one boke (buffoon) and one tsukkomi (straight man), the classifications are modular within the context of Dagashi Kashi. Most of the time, Kokonotsu is the one who’s reacting to characters’ shenanigans, be it Hotaru, his best friend Tou, or even his dad. But sometimes, Kokonotsu lets himself be carried away by Hotaru’s dagashi antics, and it’s up to Saya or even Hajime to call him out on it. However, Kokonotsu’s casual reactions can be completely disarming to her, which puts her out of the driver’s seat, so to speak. The humor is sort of like a cross between Lucky Star and SayonaraZetsubou-sensei, and if that doesn’t quite make sense, it’s because Dagashi Kashi is kind of its own thing in the end.
Another interesting aspect of the series is that it’s a very different experience reading it compared to a Japanese audience. For many who grew up in Japan, dagashi are just a part of life, and part of the appeal of Dagashi Kashi is that it’s a trip down memory lane. For foreigners like me, however, it’s more about discovering a little-explored aspect of Japanese culture. In that regard, I love learning all this dagashi trivia, and there’s plenty to go around. In fact, the series can be so information-dense that it’s sometimes hard to believe that Dagashi Kashi chapters are generally only eight pages.
It’s hard to decide which chapters are my personal favorites, but a few stand out upon reflection. First, there are a couple that are meant to celebrate the announcement of the anime (seasons 1 and 2), and they’re intentionally drawn to be dynamic and action-packed, as if to challenge the animators to do something about it. Second, there’s a chapter that features Snickers, of all things. It lets a non-Japanese reader like me sort of get the nostalgic experience that’s expected from Dagashi Kashi. (As an aside, Hotaru actually presents Snickers as an ideal emergency survival food due to its high sugar, fat, and calorie content.) Third, there’s one about red bean ice cream bars. Hotaru, for some reason, essentially asks which would win in a fight: a red bean bar in the summer or a red bean bar in the winter? The question is as nonsensical in the story as it is in this paragraph, and that’s what makes it great.
With a series like Dagashi Kashi, it can be difficult to see how the series ends or whether it’s satisfying. I will say that I enjoy the conclusion, but it more or less resolves in an open-ended fashion. While it’s not entirely ambiguous, be it in romance or the pursuit of dreams, it feel as if the message of Dagashi Kashi is that these characters are still young and have their entire lives ahead of them. In other words, even as the manga finishes, the characters are capable of doing so much more. It’s a nice message to end on, and an appropriate way to send Hotaru, Kokonotsu, and the rest of the crew off.
The term “harem” gets thrown around often in anime and manga, but series considered to be part of the harem genre rarely feature actual polyamorous or polygamous relationships. Instead, the purpose of many of these series is pure, carnal power fantasy. However, I’ve noticed that a few series make a distinction being “good harems” and “bad harems.”
Case 1: Tales of Wedding Rings
For the most part, Tales of Wedding Rings is a fairly orthodox harem fantasy series about a boy who gets transported to another world and must wed powerful princesses across the land to defeat an evil entity revived. The girls are all beautiful in different ways, and unlike those works which tend towards having the hero choose a true partner, the implication is that none of the heroines mind a polygamous relationship. It’s no strings attached. Or is it?
More recent chapters have revealed an interesting wrinkle. The hero, Satou, is the new “Ring King,” and for most of the series, his predecessor has been spoken of as a legend savior. But one of his former wives reveals a dark secret: as he continued in his role as the first Ring King, his thirst for for power grew in more than one sense. Knowing that his might relied on his physical and emotional bonds with his wives, he began to abuse and even rape them. The wives endured all they could, but ultimately they worked together to take revenge and kill the Ring King.
Suddenly, a manga about an ideal male power fantasy, the harem of hot and powerful babes, carries a lesson that there’s a difference between genuine love and the desire for control and power that leads to abusive relationships. It’s not enough to have all the women, but to treat them with respect as well. Otherwise, the fate that the first Ring King brought upon himself through his violent behavior might very well befall Satou as well.
Case 2: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
The Gundam franchise traditionally doesn’t stray too far from heteronormative relationships, at best teasing about the prospect of other types of attraction and love through its characters. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is a major exception to this rule. Its romances feature homosexuality, major age gaps, and yes, actual harems.
The character Naze Turbine commands a ship piloted by his many wives. But while he might appear to be a dubious personality at first, his real goal in marrying so many women is to take them out of dangerous, dead-end situations. He makes them his wives so as to afford them the protection of his yakuza-esque organization, Teiwaz, and he provides training and education for them so they have the skills to survive in their own. He doesn’t even require his wives to actually sleep with him, so some are spouses in name only. Of course, he won’t refuse a physical relationship either, and has fathered many offspring as a result.
Like first Ring King in Tales of Wedding Rings, there is a character who represents the “bad harem” in Iron-Blooded Orphans: Jasley Donomikols. Another member of Teiwaz, he constantly tries to bribe Naze’s wives to his side with gifts of money and power with no success, failing to realize that what they value most in Naze is not riches but love and caring. Eventually, Jasley is murdered out of revenge by Naze’s wives.
Naze’s approach to love ends up influencing even the main love triangle of Iron-Blooded Orphans. At one point, Amida (Naze’s #1) says to a young Atra Mixta that a true man has enough love to go around, a lesson Atra takes to heart.
So What’s the Difference?
In both Tales of Wedding Rings and Iron-Blooded Orphans, a clear distinction is made between a healthy harem and an unhealthy one. The former is based on caring and generosity, while the latter is founded in greed, selfish desire, and the treatment of women like objects. Both the first Ring King and Jasley make this mistake, and end up paying the price for it.
This notion of the “selfless harem” is fairly idealistic and at odds with how harems are generally envisioned. Normally, they are wish fulfillment fantasy for boys and men filled with lust and eyes for many, or for those who don’t want to choose. Institutionalized polygamy (like the kind found among Fundamentalist Mormons) can become a dangerous source of power imbalances in communities, harming both men and women. The irony is that according to the series which champion selfless harems, they can only be truly obtained when one does not greedily desire for them, like some kind of Zen or Taoist riddle.