Menagerie, Menagerie: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 15

In this chapter, we see our first school outside of Hashimoto Tech! How will these students react to the eccentricities of the main cast?

Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society is running into a few walls. This is partly because so many of its members lack experience, partly because of clashes in personality (especially between Orihara and Shinji), and partly because Mimi-sensei herself doesn’t know much about music. Thanks to the reluctant help of music teacher Takano-sensei, however, the Chorus Club gets a chance to do some inter-school practice. They visit Nishigafuchi Private High School, a strong music school with numerous accomplishments in competition and automatic entry into the elite Nankan University. It’s the Hakone Academy of choruses, in Yowamushi Pedal terms, perhaps.

The Nishigafuchi students are surprised at the wildly varying appearances and demeanors of the Hashimoto students. The Hashimoto students split off into their respective vocal sections, but when Akira goes to meet the other bass vocalists, he’s recognized by a student from his middle school days, Kidamoto, who asks what he’s doing there.

Pronunciation 101

There’s an interesting demonstration of some tongue exercises led by Jin. Namely, he shows how while Japanese people are typically taught vowels in the order of “A, I, U, E, O,” the more natural and comfortable order for the mouth would be “I, E, A, O, U.” I rather like how the manga drops bits of knowledge like this, as it both lends an air of authenticity while also making a kind of narrative sense given Jin’s scientific approach to music.

Too Many (?) New Characters

A lot of characters are introduced in this chapter, namely students at Nishigafuchi. Because there are so many, including the leaders of each of their club’s chorus section, I wonder which of them will be important down the line. It’s hard to tell with Hashikko Ensemble, given how we already have some minor characters ascend. I get the feeling that the bass leader, Honma Tadashi, will play a role in helping Akira improve.

As for Takano, she reminds me of the characters from FLCL, and not just in terms of her full lips and pouty face. She has a kind of laid-back slyness that feels like a mix between Haruko and Mamimi.

Kidamoto

Possibly the most important new character is Kidamoto. While he doesn’t stand out at first blush, but I do like how Hashikko Ensemble is utilizing him. At the very beginning of the chapter, his face shows up in one panel (see the top image), but his level of importance is still unknown. Then, when Hashimoto Chorus Club arrives, he reacts to someone’s appearance but it’s not immediately clear who he notices, creating a bit of anticipation in the story. Is it Jin, who’s presumably somewhat infamous in local music circles? Is it Shion, who competed in piano? The fact that it turns out to be Akira is both surprising and intriguing.

So what is the relationship between Akira and Kidamoto? Is it just that Kidamoto knows about how Akira pretended to sing in middle school during class performances? I’m looking forward to getting the answer, as well as seeing how this challenges Akira.

Character Humor Deluxe

There’s a lot of excellent humor this character-based humor in this chapter that I enjoyed immensely. One is Hanyama (the bald student) expressing his sudden urge to join the Chorus Club just from watching Mimi-sensei’s adorable conductor practice. Another involves one of the students at Nishigafuchi wondering if everyone from Hashimoto is going to be delinquents (on account of it being a technical/vocational school), only to have her expectations simultaneously subverted and affirmed by the contrast between Jin and Orihara.

My favorite of all, however, is seeing Shion constantly get distracted in class by Takano-sensei’s piano across the hall. As mentioned by Takano herself, her specialty is the violin, so even as a music teacher she’s not going to be impeccable on the ivory. Seeing Shion jerk her head at every flub Takano makes (summed up entirely in one panel) is such a perfect little character moment for Shion. It not only speaks to her own piano skills, but also hints at the same personality underlying her attitude towards the Chorus Club in the earlier chapters.

Overall, much of Chapter 15 emphasizes what an eclectic hodgepodge of people are at the center of this story. I expect to see Jin upend the Nishigafuchi students’ expectations with his vocal range, as well as other similar surprises.

Songs

The song they’re practicing for competition, “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto, appears again in this chapter. It’s to be expected moving forward.

Another song, one that Shion decides to play on piano (and thus not helping with practice) is Friedrich Bürgmuller’s 25 Études faciles et progressives, Op.100 (25 studies for piano) L’Arabesque. It’s part of a series of pieces designed to help young pianists improve their skills.

Final Thoughts

I often wonder if I’m actually doing this manga justice. There are a lot of little details in the panels that can seem frivolous but also add a lot to the core character dynamics that fuel the series. Hashikko Ensemble grows in fits and starts, but that’s also what makes it so appealing.

 

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Infinite Potential: Aikatsu Friends! Kagayaki no Jewel

I’m unsure of what kids’ marketing research took place, but I doubt it’s a coincidence that both Precure and Aikatsu!—two major girls’ anime franchises—somehow both ended up on a space theme this year. But while Star Twinkle Precure is kind of expected given how every season has a gimmick or three, it’s much more surprising that Aikatsu Friends! Kagayaki no Jewel would establish the concept of “Space Idol Activities” in its own universe. Fitting, perhaps, but surprising nevertheless.

There’s a certain level of absurdity that permeates Aikatsu! as a whole—more than enough to make “Aikatsu in space” not seem like such a bizarre direction. In fact, I think it’s what has allowed the franchise to stand the test of time as a work of art and media, independent of the arcade game it’s based on. Aikatsu Friends! Kagayaki no Jewel leans into that, whether it’s maintaining old traditions (e.g. scaling cliffs) or trying something new. So when the first episode begins with an astronaut entering the stratosphere, the main reaction from me is “sure.” In a way, it feels more fitting than something like, Yu-Gi-Oh!, which now has a history of highlighting card games in different settings—in ancient Egypt, in school, on motorcycles, in space, and so on.

The new season also takes place in a new semester where the Aine and friends are now in the high school division, and I always enjoy seeing the signs of progress that come with such transitions. In this case, it’s seeing the underclassmen pale in terms of aerobic an anaerobic training alike, as well as…idols in spaaaaace.

My only wish is that they push this concept as far as it can go. Why limit it to space-esque idol performances? Why not have an idol school aboard a shuttle? Why not have zero-g dancing? Please take this to the absolute limit, Aikatsu!

P.S. Did you know the best Aikatsu! characters introduce themselves by parachute? It’s true.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’d like to request a topic for Ogiue Maniax (or support it in general), check out the Patreon.

Hip Hop Manga: “Change!” and “Wondance”

Whether by chance or perhaps some broad editorial intent, it’s a curious thing that hip hop culture would be a prominent theme in two currently serialized Kodansha manga in Japan. Change!, running in Monthly Shounen Magazine, is the story of a Japanese poetry-loving girl named Shiori who ends up being drawn into the world of rap battling. Wondance, from Monthly Afternoon, focuses on an athletic boy with a stutter who discovers hip hop dance as a way to express himself. Each series, almost by necessity, takes a very different approach to their respective subjects, and juxtaposing the two highlights the power each work possesses.

Change! naturally places great emphasis on verbal dexterity, and as a series about Japanese rapping, there are also certain aspects to the language that make it differ from English. Japanese has fewer vowel sounds, which means that many more things in the language can technically rhyme, which in turn means that the rhymes that do occur can be even more varied yet precise aurally. The heavy emphasis on syllables also gives Japanese a certain sense of rhythm, especially because extending those sounds can change the meaning of a word entirely.

All of this needs to be effectively conveyed in the manga, and the approach Change! takes is to place more emphasis on word balloons than most manga. Words and syllables can appear larger or more erratic in order to highlight what key words in one line are being correlated with in the next line. The classic staple of many manga, furigana to aid in the reading of difficult kanji, take on added importance due to both the sheer number of homonyms that exist in Japanese and to make sure the reader keeps track of what’s being said syllable by syllable.In the images above, the male rapper connects the word “underground” with “Alice in Wonderland,” working off the fact that andaaguraundo and Arisu in Wandaaraando both start with an “a” and have the similar raundo vs. rando. He then follows up on the next page with Atama no naka made pinku iroka? / Orera no otogibanashi wa Kingu Gidora!, or, “Is even the inside of your head the color pink? / Our fairytale is King Ghidorah!” Pinku iroka lines up perfectly vowel-wise with Kingu Gidora, and the talk of fairy tales follows up to his comparison of Shiori as being as out of her depth as Alice is in her story. While the passionate expressions and the metaphorical imagery shown contribute to the atmosphere and to hammer home the meanings behind the words, the actual word balloons do a great deal of heavy lifting.

In contrast, although Wondance can be fairly wordy at times, when it comes to dancing, the manga is very much in the “show, don’t tell” category. Characters move with grace and intensity, and panels highlighting their steps litter the pages, turning them into virtual collages that practically crackle with energy. Text is sparse, and primarily brief glimpses into how the characters are thinking in the heat of the moment.In the pages above, the main character and Hikaru—the girl who brings him into the world of dancing—are dancing together in a class. The paneling supports the character artwork, emphasizing a sense of the two as a duo in sync with each other on some deeper level. This visual approach calls to mind the elaborate paneling of 1970s shoujo manga such as Swan, where panels cascade and climax in beautiful ways. The drawings capture not just the dance but the emotions of the dancers as well, making their moves the central vehicle for storytelling. In a sense, one doesn’t even need to know Japanese (or have a translation handy) to get the essence of Wondance.

Thus, on the one hand, you have a series where the words are of the utmost importance and another where images hold the power. However, they both draw upon the visual language of comics and especially manga in fundamental ways through their particular emphases. Change! and Wondance capture some of the magic of hip hop culture itself as a multi-medium, multi-angle fusion of various ingredients.

“Tales of Eternia: The Animation” and the Adapting of RPGs

I was asked via Patreon to look at the Tales RPG series, which I have very little experience with. Given time constraints, I decided to focus my energy on an anime version, knowing full well that such adaptations often do not fully capture what makes the source material appealing. With that in mind, I chose to go in blind on the earliest Tales anime: Tales of Eternia.

My immediate feeling from the first couple of episodes was that the core cast is a fun and likable bunch, and that they stood out above all else. My favorite is Farah Oersted, the martial arts tomboy with an oddly familiar an appropriate voice—turns out she shares a voice with Videl from the Dragon Ball franchise. The show at times felt beholden to its RPG origins, especially during fight scenes, which is not helped by the roughness of the early-2000s digital animation.

But as I kept watching, I wondered just how much ground they were covering from the original Tales of Eternia. Halfway in, it seemed more like they were on their very first missions, when you’re still kind of learning the ropes. By the time a major plot twist comes in, it feels strangely paced—like either the story was moving too slow for something like this, or it had been skipping over too much. At this point, I decided to look at just how this anime maps onto the game.

The answer is that it doesn’t—at least not exactly. The central characters are more or less the same, except drawn in an early-2000s anime style as opposed to the softer designs of the game (or its squat sprites), but the story of the Tales of Eternia anime does not take place anywhere in the actual RPG. Suddenly, it made sense, and the feeling I was getting from the anime version was all too familiar: the Tales of Eternia anime is basically a filler arc.

The challenge of adapting an RPG is tricky because there’s not necessarily enough time to cover everything, so I can see why they took this approach. Shoving the game’s story into 13 episodes probably wouldn’t have done it justice, so going for a wholly original story is an interesting solution. However, the reason it feels so much like filler is because it straddles the line a little too much. The anime tries not to touch the main story so there are no real stakes, but it also seems to assume that this somewhere into it, so the anime isn’t terribly free to take liberties. All that remains is the charm of the characters.

Rokudou no Onna-tachi: When Krillin Wins

In 2016, I found out about Rokudou no Onna-tachi, a new manga that was a fresh and interesting take on the well-worn harem genre. As I continued, my opinion of it only grew. Even now, I find myself regarding Rokudo no Onna-tachi more highly than ever. There are many aspects of this series that contribute to its success, but fundamental to all of it is the portrayal of its protagonist, Rokudou Tousuke, as a true underdog. In a sense, he’s the Krillin of the series, but Rokudou no Onna-tachi is a story where Krillin is the main character, and he succeeds because he’s not the strongest, or the toughest, or the smartest.

To recap, Rokudo no Onna-tachi is about Rokudou Tousuke, a meek high school kid who casts a spell on himself to be more popular with girls. However, what he didn’t know was that the spell was very specific: it only attracts delinquents and “bad girls.” Most notable among them is Himawari Ranna, the strongest and most terrifying brawler in town. It turns out that bullies are a lot friendlier when your ostensible girlfriend can shatter concrete with her fists, but Rokudou is the last person to want to encourage violence, so he actively tries to prevent Ranna from sending every person they meet to the hospital. Along the way, Rokudou manages to befriend an eclectic group of people and through a combination of friendship, guts, and kindness, accidentally becomes the “shadow boss” of his school.

I call Rokudou no Onna-tachi a delinquent harem work, but it leans much more toward the former descriptor than the latter, and I think the series is all the better for it. While there is a romantic aspect of sorts, as the series has progressed, a majority of the focus has been on Rokudou’s shounen protagonist-esque ability to win over his antagonizers with or without the attraction spell (which he can’t get rid of, no matter how hard he tries). And even when it comes to the delinquent girls who fall head over heels for him. What’s more, “being hot to bad girls” doesn’t give him much of a leg up in a fight, so his ability to stand up to bigger and bigger threats speaks more to his qualities as a human being than anything else.

And yet, while romance doesn’t define the series, the central relationship between Rokudou and Ranna is still interesting and vitally important the tone of the narrative. If Rokudou is indeed a Krillin, that sort of makes Ranna the Android 18 of this story, in that she’s the more powerful of the two. However, her role is arguably closer to that of Goku, or even Saitama in One Punch Man. She’s an unstoppable force in a fight, and many physical conflicts in Rokudo no Onna-tachi are a matter of anticipating the carnage to come as soon as she gets where she needs to be. She’s not a heroine with a tragic backstory or a brash amazon with a hidden soft side, and even those moments of loving infatuation toward Rokudou humorously highlight a central tenet of Ranna’s being: violence is everything. That dynamic of contrasting personalities between Rokudou and Ranna fuel both the comedic and the dramatic parts of the manga, and it’s all the better for it.

If Rokudou no Onna-tachi had just stuck to pure silliness, making jokes about how an endless parade of nasty girls were getting googly-eyed over a tiny loser, then it would have worn out its welcome far too quickly. But if it had swung too deep into the serious and dramatic, then I believe it would have had a harder time standing out from the pact. It’s because Rokudou can be portrayed as this unlikely hero, and that the series can swing between silly and serious so effectively by using his constantly being out of his depth, that the manga is such a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

Oh My God, Becky, Look at His Hands: Teasobi

One of my favorite manga in recent memory has been Mogusa-san by Ootake Toshitomo, about a girl with an unstoppable appetite. Its sequel, Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite, concluded last year, leaving me to wonder where I might see Ootake show up next. The answer is his brand-new series: Teasobi, or “Hand Play.”

Plain-looking Shijima “Shijimi” Nagisuke seems an unlikely boyfriend for the attractive and popular Fuchizumi, but she sure doesn’t see it that way. After all, in her eyes, he’s gorgeous and manly—or at least his hands are. That’s right: Fuchizumi is really, really into hands and fingers, to the extent that Shijima’s not sure if she even sees him from the wrists up.

To a degree, Teasobi resembles Mogusa-san—a normal guy, an eccentric girl, and a strange connection between the two. However, it actually reminds me more of the bizarre romance manga that I’m rather fond of, series that focus on the idea that a unique bond between two individuals is somehow deeper, more powerful, and more sensual than just a normal physical relationship. Think Nozoki Ana (centered around a peephole), Sundome (about avoiding climax), and one of my absolute favorites, Mysterious Girlfriend X (features literal spit swapping).

But whereas those series all delve into the sensual in graphic or at least eyebrow-raising ways, what sets Teasobi apart is that it’s focused on that most seemingly innocent of loving interactions: hand-holding. There’s nothing rated X about the physical contact between Shijima and Fuchizumi, which ranges from clasping fingers to thumb wrestling to high fives, but Fuchizumi’s enthusiasm makes it seem somehow more taboo. It’s fun, silly, and a bit thrilling.

Only a few chapters are currently out in Japan, but I’m definitely enjoying Teasobi. It brings a new meaning to the concept of “secret handshakes.”

An Odd Fusion: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 13

The club finally comes together, sort of. What lies ahead is to find a common goal!

Summary

With Shion joining in and Mimi-sensei as their advisor, the Chorus Club is officially formed! …Except technically, they’re an appreciation society, one step below a true school club in terms of legitimacy. So the Chorus Appreciation Society doesn’t even have access to the music room.

On top of that, to keep Shinji in the group, the Chorus Appreciation Society’s members all join his Mountain Castle Appreciation Society…but with one exception: Shion refuses because she doesn’t care about that sort of thing. In order to make everyone happy, two sideline spectators decide to join Shinji: Hasegawa–first name Kozue–and her previously unnamed friend, Katou Kanon.

Even the “appreciation society” status is tenuous, so Mimi-sensei suggests that they get some results by entering the MHK Chorus Concours (aka M-Con). While Jin doesn’t really care one way or another about it (there are separate competitions throughout the year, so it’s not like one big tournament, baseball-style), Akira actually does, to everyone’s surprise. He can notice how unpracticed and limited he is, and he wants to improve. His quiet enthusiasm manages to convince everyone else, so they agree to try. The only problem, as Mimi-sensei points out, is that the deadline for submitting songs is today!

Katou Kanon

At last, we have a name! A couple of chapters ago, I had to write about her interactions with the other characters, and I kept having to say “Hasegawa’s friend” and the like while hoping it wouldn’t seem awkward. Thankfully, that’s finally over–and Hasegawa got a first name too! This certainly isn’t the first time that a manga, let alone a Kio Shimoku manga, has withheld character names until later. The bully trio in Eyeshield 21 took forever and a half to get names, and Asada Naoko in Genshiken was known for the longest time as either “Nyaako” or “cat-mouth girl.” At least Kanon got her name revealed in the original manga, and fans didn’t have to suss out Asada’s name in one of the anime’s episode credits!

In any case, this probably means Kanon is going to be a more prominent character. Still, I wonder how often are the Kanons of the world are just background characters who happen to fall into more involved roles, and how often that’s planned well in advance.

Chimera Clubs

I’m quite fond of the trope where two clubs with insufficient members have to join together to stay alive. It was fun in Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!, and while a group that discusses mountain castles isn’t as absurd as a napping society, I’m confident Hashikko Ensemble will make it entertaining. I do hope we get to see them visit a castle at some point in the story–maybe as part of a training camp?

As for why they have be an Appreciation Societies, it’s rather telling to me that the real reason is basically a transfer of burden. According to the Wood Ensemble Club’s advisor, Ochi-sensei, it took them forever to get that coveted “club” status, so Mimi’s new club should have to go through a similar ordeal. In a way, it’s like an extremely light form of hazing that you’d see elsewhere–earning your place and all that–only applied on a slightly broader scale.

Where Do Their Motivations Lie?

Jin’s initial rejection of M-Con is one thing, but his reasoning for agreeing provides even more insight into his mind. He cares little for competitions, but the sheer amount of singing a group has to go through to even get ready for one is more or less his idea of paradise. To him, the actual recital portion is just icing on the cake. In other words, here you have a guy who just loves singing for the sake of singing.

But on the flipside, I’m not sure how much Akira is motivated by a simple desire to improve and how much he’s being influenced by guilt. As shown in the chapter, Akira still remembers being in middle school and only pretending to sing, and he still feels pretty bad about it. He’s slowly learning to embrace his extremely deep voice thanks to all his singing, but I wonder if he’ll grow to appreciate music and singing all on their own.

Music

Continuing from last chapter, Akira and Jin continue to sing “Kanade” by Sukima Switch. While that particular song has been featured multiple times throughout the manga so far, it’s interesting to note the part that’s highlighted in Chapter 12.

君が僕の前に現れた日から
何もかもが違くみえたんだ
朝も光も涙も、歌う声も
君が輝きをくれたんだ

Ever since the day you appeared before me
I see everything differently
Morning, light, tears, even a singing voice
You gave me your shining brilliance

In other words, the lyrics of “Kanade” pretty much set the theme for all of Hashikko Ensemble.

Final Thoughts

Two last things, each about a different character:

The more I see Kurata Shion, the more I realize that she’s a ponkotsu character–essentially someone who seems capable on the surface but is really a comedic wreck. Just about everything she does in this chapter makes me laugh, from her goofy face while playing piano to her innocently mentioning how lacking Akira’s singing is without realizing how tactless she’s being.

Orihara appears in this chapter to talk about how he won’t do any dumb songs (which means he’ll do them if they’re not dumb). When I see him talking, I picture a specific voice in my head: Jotaro from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. If ever there’s an anime adaptation of Hashikko Ensemble, I hope they get Ono Daisuke.