Finishing Strong: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 41

Akira singing as the audience (including his mom) stares on while impressed

The end of the current arc paves the way for the next!

Summary

As the Chorus Appreciation Society’s finals’ performance continues, the boys pour everything they have into their singing, Kozue has actually begun conducting the audience more than the singers on stage. With a strong finish, the Chorus Appreciation Society is declared the winner of the Culture Festival’s singing competition.

Soon after, Jin and the other members confront his mom, Reika. After a brief pause, Reika goes up to the group…only to focus on Akira, rather than her son. She remarks that Akira has talent, and that he should contact her because she knows a good music teacher for him. Jin is stunned into silence.

Later, as Reika and Yumerun are leaving by car, Yumerun comments that she thinks Jin has actually improved a lot. She asks why Reika thinks Jin has no talent, to which Reika responds that she never said any such thing. Rather, what she has meant to say is, why would someone with his talent join a chorus or choir, where people go to hide their lack of ability? When asked why she’s never said this outright, Reika answers that calling your own kid talented is embarrassing.

“Relative” Talent

Reika: “But I’ve never once said Jin has no talent.”

The way Jin’s mom really feels about him is something of a revelation, and like the characters themselves, I completely misinterpreted the situation. But I had also previously wondered about whether Jin truly is “untalented” or if he’s just holding himself to a ridiculously high benchmark in Reika, and I believe we have our answer here. Simply because Jin has to study and learn what comes intuitively to his mom, he perceives himself as needing to make up for some deficiency. 

On some level, Jin might be what you call a Larry Hemsworth—an exceptional individual who assumes they’re unexceptional because he constantly compares himself to others close to him who arguably shine even more. But also like Larry, who believes his being a pediatric surgeon pales in comparison to his three brothers’ acting skills, the question of who’s more talented between Jin and Reika is subjective. Jin’s ability to break music down, analyze it scientifically, and put it into practice is amazing in its own right, but he seems to be unable to see it from that perspective.

It remains to be seen whether Reika’s glowing words about Akira create a rift between him and Jin, but I doubt that it’s going to result in any sort of high drama. Perhaps like his mom, though, Jin might be surprisingly indirect in specific situations—as in her conversation with Yumerun in the car.

Yumerun and Jin

The audience getting into the song, and Yumerun seemingly being captivated by Jin’s singing

The chapter has a moment where Yumerun is looking at Jin perform, and she seems to be quite taken by him. They’re childhood friends, and she seems to have some sort of unusual fondness for the guy, but given that everyone is blushing all the time in Hashikko Ensemble, it can be kind of hard to tell what’s romance and what’s not. However, given their history, I feel like something may develop…or at least turn into some Boa Hancock and Monkey D. Luffy situation like in One Piece: a comedically one-sided love where the lack of reciprocation is more due to empty-headedness than incompatibility.

To the Next Story

The image of Akira wowing the audience with his powerful bass feels like a turning point of some kind. His classmates already knew he had a deep voice, and he’s sung in public on multiple occasions at this point, but I predict that he’s gonna gain a whole new reputation after this.

The likely thing is that we’re going to see enough new members join them for the Chorus Appreciation Society to gain proper Chorus Club status, and I expect there to be familiar and unfamiliar faces alike. In my view, Mai is the most likely one, but I think there are probably going to be some real curveballs in there. Might there be any unnamed audience members from this even who will end up as recurring characters?

Songs

“The Wings of Mind” continues and concludes from the previous chapter.

Final Thoughts

Great artwork in this chapter. I continue to enjoy the fact that the portrayals of singing feel intense but don’t go deep into the realm of exaggeration. Not that I mind it in general, but I think it works well for the relatively subdued quality of Hashikko Ensemble.

Also, I don’t think I recall this event being called the “Hashi High Acapella King/Anything-Goes Decisive-Battle Tournament,” but maybe I just glossed over it. In any case, I give props to Kio Shimoku’s first-ever tournament arc. 

Wild Wings: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 40

As Akira and Jin sing, they remember their first encounter in the classroom when Jin asks Akira to join his Chorus Club.

It’s time for the Chorus Appreciation Society to sing in their last song of the School Culture Festival, and Jin is nervous about being onstage in front of his mom. Fortunately, Kozue delivers a confident speech about their happiness spreading music through the school, which calms Jin down—though she then turns it into a taunting preemptive declaration of victory. 

Their performance of “The Wings of Mind” begins, and the four guys harmonize perfectly, the beauty of the song causing emotions to well up in nearly everyone listening. The LED display Himari programmed displays the lyrics, and before everyone realizes it, the entire audience is doing the same as she is: singing along and being drawn into the performance. However, the chapter ends with Reika with an ambiguous expression that seems to read as her not being terribly impressed.

Song, Singular

This month, there’s only one song, and it’s the centerpiece of the entire chapter. The power of “The Wings of Mind” seems to be its ability to resonate on a very personal level with everyone listening to it. The song brings about a range of emotions: hope and disappointment, nostalgia and discovery, past and future. The two flashbacks indicate this strongly: Akira remembers meeting Jin in the classroom and being introduced to the world of music, while the senior members of the Rugby Club recall looking at the younger teammates as they themselves have to move on to the next phase of life. 

This potentially ties into a previous conversation Akira had with Jin about individual interpretations of a song’s meaning. It’s something Jin has trouble with, and to see “The Wings of Heart” hitting people in different places highlights the notion that we bring a part of ourselves into the songs we hear. “Art is how you interpret it,” or something like that.

Thanks to the LED display of the lyrics, the audience is singing along with the Chorus Appreciation Society.

Perhaps this is why the audience gets swept on in singing. As explained in the chapter, it’s not just that the lyrics are visible, but that it’s as if everyone is being compelled to follow along by the song. Everyone, that is, except Reika. 

1v1 Me, Son

The bit of nervousness (or self-consciousness) Jin feels before the performance is not just understandable—it speaks to the core of Jin’s internal conflict. His mom thinks he’s not trying to prove that talent doesn’t matter so much as he’s hiding his own lack of, and Jin is afraid that she’s right. In this respect, I think the whole “sing-along” plan he thought up might actually backfire, as I suspect Reika sees it all as a gimmick: more camouflage for Jin’s comparatively mediocre vocals. 

Reika and Jin’s contrasting priorities reminds me of arguments made about competitive games. Players of 1v1 games will point to the fact that in a 1v1 scenario, you own all your wins and losses, whereas team games soften the blow of failure by giving players the excuse of blaming their teammates. At the same time, there are impressive things achieved through the group cooperation of team games that 1v1 games can’t touch. All of it is true at the same time, making it so that neither side is inherently correct.

The Hasegawa Kozue Show

Kozue provokes the other groups by saying they knocked everyone else the hell out the tournament, and they're here to win.

This comes as a shock to Mimi-sensei, who thought Kozue was going somewhere kinder.

Kozue carries such power in this manga, being a kind of motivational force that can redirect the inertia of the other members, not unlike Saki from Genshiken. The confidence in her speech, the way she sets Jin back on course, she’s proving more and more how invaluable her friendship can be.

Even if he never said so outright, it’s clear at this point that Kozue is one of Kio’s favorite characters. One thing I like about her character and the emphasis given to her is that she’s nowhere near a traditional “bishoujo” by manga standards, and I like that it bucks expectations and stereotypes. Even her romance (of sorts) with poor Sora from the Rugby Club feels refreshing and new. 

She gets thanked by Kousei and blushes a bit, but I don’t yet see it as anything special. It feels more like Kozue is unaccustomed to such direct gratitude, especially from a guy like Kousei.

Final Thoughts

This sort of feels like the series could end soon, but I really hope it doesn’t. I want to see the club officially form, and for some new faces to give opportunities for more interesting storytelling and drama. 

Heel Behavior: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 39

Reika, Jin's Mom, telling the Basso Masters to sing from the heels

Jin’s mom continues to be a tour de force in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 39.

Summary

It’s now the finals of the Culture Festival’s music competition, and the Chorus Appreciation Society is up against the mysterious masked Basso Masters. However, not everything is as it seems. The leader of the Basso Masters isn’t anyone special or known—just a friendly third-year named Satou who was inspired by Jin to follow his interest in music. And even though Jin’s mom, Reika, gave Jin a deal to let him go to music college if they win, Jin himself doesn’t really care about that. In fact, he likes applying his match and science skills in electrical engineering, and simply wants to show Reika the merits of singing as a group.

The Basso Masters go first, but just as they begin their performance, Reika interrupts them to rearrange the singers’ positions to group them according to roles (Bass I, Bass II, Tenor I, Tenor II). She also provides some advice on how to sing from the entire body instead of just from the throat. The difference is so immediately noticeable and significant that even the members of the Chorus Appreciation Society can’t help but applaud by the end.

The Basso Masters singing intensely after taking Reika's advice

As Jin, Akira, and the others get ready for their turn, a student from electrical engineering brings to Jin an LED display meant to show the lyrics to their next song, “Kokoro no Tsubasa.” Here, we learn that Himari has been hard at work getting this done, going so far as to learn how to program. Akira, seeing how many people Jin has touched and changed with his passion for music (Akira himself included), encourages Jin to consider music college after all.

The Power of Reika

Once again, Reika steals the show, as she presents an interesting obstacle for Jin. I think the really challenging thing about her from Jin’s perspective is that her talent, as well as her ability to recognize talent, are undeniable. While Reika believes group singing is less important than solo performances, it’s not as if she dismisses it outright. In fact, it’s thanks to her immense understanding of chorus dynamics that the Basso Masters are able to put on an amazing performance. She also specifically tells Satou, the Basso Leader, that he’s actually pretty good at conducting, so it’s not as if she has an ego about it. Reika is simply incredibly unfiltered—another similarity she has with her son, even if they manifest differently. At one point, Reika puts on a spare pair of glasses, and the students at school instantly recognize her as Jin’s mom. The way the Kimura family carry themselves is unmistakable.

Reika’s advice for how to sing better explains a lot as well. Essentially, she says that the common folk breathe from the throat, the experienced breathe from the spine, and the true masters breathe from the heels. So, when you sing, your feelings should erupt forth like magma—through the butt, then the spine, then the throat, then the forehead, then the top of your head. Not only is it a vivid visual metaphor (especially for a song called “Hymn of the Earth”) but it explains why Reika believes that an exposed forehead makes for better singing.

Himari Working Behind the Scenes

I had been wondering about Himari’s lack of presence in recent chapters, and I’m glad that it wasn’t just her being outshone by other characters. The fact that she hasn’t been in the spotlight is also quite fitting for her personality, and in hindsight I think it was the smart move overall. She’s trying to help in her own way, and she doesn’t make a big fuss out of it because she doesn’t want the attention. This likely goes all the way back to Jin leaving Himari’s apartment (and the inevitable misinterpretation of events that occurred): she was probably helping Jin with this LED display. Moreover, Akira points out that Himari has always been fond of picture books and poetry and such, so the lyrics of “Kokoro no Tsubasa” must have resonated with her. 

Himari isn’t a writer, as far as we know, but could her appreciation of the written world lead to her eventually joining the Chorus Appreciation Society? Either direction would work, and would indicate where her character has headed.

Songs

Basso Masters: “Daichi Kinshou” (Hymn of the Earth) from the cantata “Tsuchi no Uta” (Song of the Land)

“Kokoro no Tsubasa” (“The Wings of Mind”) composed by Kitagawa Noboru

Final Thoughts

I’m worried that something disastrous is going to happen to Akira and Jin! Something tells me the conflict with Reika isn’t over by a mile.

Breakers Revenge: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 38

A new chapter shows Jin’s mom, Reika, in all her glory. But before I dive into the review, a few important pieces of news:

First, Volume 6 of Hashikko Ensemble is currently on sale in Japan. This volume doesn’t appear to have any limited edition extras, which is good for my wallet.

Second, Kio Shimoku is finally on Twitter! Follow him @kioshimoku1. In addition to posting art on occasion, he also tweets stories about his life both past and present. For example, did you know his family only had Betamax instead of VHS growing up, and he used the money from winning the Afternoon Four Seasons Award in college to buy a VCR? I’m thinking of making occasional posts summarizing interesting tweets from Kio. 

Third, today is Ogiue’s birthday! Happy birthday to the best girl ever.

Now, on to Chapter 38!

Summary

Despite a fantastic performance by Mai and her group, Noi Majo, the Chorus Appreciation Society beats them and moves on to the finals of the School Culture Festival tournament. Stepping away from the stage to take a break, Jin’s mom (with Yumerun) finally arrives at the high school. Shuusuke immediately recognizes her as the world-famous soprano, Kimura Reika, who has sung in operas across the globe. She’s also infamous for her selfish attitude that has earned her the nickname “Breaker”—a portmanteau of burei (rude) and Reika. The members see a lot of her qualities in Jin.

Jin is bothered by his mom’s attitude, feeling that she allows her immense talent to be her excuse for poor behavior. Jin tells a story from middle school, about Reika agreeing to sing with his boys’ and girls’ choir—only to never come to practice until the very last day, put on an astounding performance at rehearsal, recognize Yumerun’s ability, and then skip out on the actual day of the recital in order to perform for an Italian conductor. 

While Reika explains that she 1) called to cancel rather than bail without warning 2) ended up making way for Yumerun’s rise 3) didn’t want to take away from a performance that was supposed to focus on the kids, Jin still can’t accept how much she inconveniences others because music is something people create together. Reika responds that music is about self-expression and the passion of the moment, and points out that there are no “chorus majors” at any music colleges, showing how important individuals are in the field. But when she questions the usefulness and motives of Jin joining a technical high school just to form this group, Akira comes to his defense to talk about how much discovering singing thanks to Jin has helped him change and grow. Reika then decides on a deal: if they can win the entire competition, then she will let Jin go to a music college. Jin seems more confused than pleased.

Giga Drill

Reika was introduced two chapters ago, but her “true” debut (i.e. meeting Akira and the others) exceeds my expectations in nearly every way. This manga has great moms, and I don’t mean it in that way. 

In my Chapter 36 review, I mentioned how I had originally imagined Reika as much more strict and demanding, but everything about her screams the opposite. She’s like pure “id,” doing whatever she wants whenever she wants. And while she seems to have this in common with her son, the finer details of their respective approaches and philosophies regarding music do reveal a profound divide between the two. 

Jin sees music as a product of effort, and cooperation; Reika sees it as spontaneous artistic expression. Whereas Jin has broken down music scientifically in order to master its ins and outs, Reika utilizes intuition and natural sense. There’s a part in the flashback where Jin thinks, after hearing his mom sing with the group during rehearsal, “Why couldn’t I have inherited that talent?” To put it in Naruto terms, it’s sort of like if Neji had a Rock Lee for a kid.

(Though, incidentally, Rock Lee’s actual situation in Boruto is the opposite of Reika’s. His son, Metal Lee, is a born genius. But I digress…)

I really love this conflict in the Kimura family because it’s simple on the surface yet has so many layers in terms of the characters’ respective personalities and views of the world. Neither of their respective views on music are necessarily wrong, but they’re clearly a product of what does and doesn’t come naturally to them. Yet, while Jin is trying to make up for what he lacks and doesn’t have that innate understanding of song, his ability to thoroughly analyze and break down music can be considered a talent in and of itself. Jin’s forcefulness doesn’t fall far from the tree, further highlighting the ways Kimura is influenced by his mom both consciously and subconsciously.

I also am beginning to wonder if I should reevaluate my thoughts that Jin might be somewhere on the autism spectrum. It’s not been stated outright at all, but Jin’s personal admission to not being able to interpret song lyrics without outside help, his scientific breakdown of music, as well as his seeming ignorance about social mores all seemed to point in that direction. However, now that we’ve seen Reika on full display, there’s a chance that he’s comparing himself to the ridiculous standard set by his world-renowned operatic soprano mother. Of course, there’s a chance he could be neuroatypical and also have to deal with a genius mother, so the jury’s still out.

Romance Odds and Ends

While Reika dominated the chapter, Akira does get some small moments. When seeing Mai perform, he’s in awe of her ability to sing both boy’s and girl’s roles. He even blushes a little, but he seems to blush all the time. And when Akira begins to defend Jin in front of Reika, Shion can be seen enthralled by Akira’s passion, giving him more courage as well. I don’t know how that love web is going to end up, but I hope they’ll all be happy.

Songs

Noi Majo: “Zenryoku Shounen” (“All-Out Boy)” by Sukima Switch

Electrical First-Years: “Moonlight Densetsu” (aka the Sailor Moon opening)

The song Reika sang with the kids is “Origami” Suite, for Soprano Solo with Girls’ Choir and Piano by Kobayashi Hideo (not available on Youtube).

Final Thoughts

If it isn’t obvious, I think Reika is a fantastic character as both an adult figure and foil for Jin.

As for her nickname, if it were to be translated in English, I think I would go for Breaker standing for “Brazen Reika.”

Operating on Different Scales: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 37

An electrifying performance dazzles the audience in this chapter of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Hot off another victory, the Chorus Appreciation Society moves on to the semifinals of the school’s Cultural Festival music competition. This time, having experienced some kind of epiphany, Kousei reacts to Shion with a powerful blush, leading everyone to respond with a mix of confusion and curiosity. A heart-to-heart of sorts with Yukina helps him see what he wants, and at the moment, it’s to sing with Shion.

While the remaining groups are impressive in their own right, the Society’s fierce rendition of the song “Etupirka” bowls everyone over. However, Jin’s mom fails to see this performance too, as she and Yumerun are stuck in traffic.

Yukina’s Maturity and Kousei

After Kousei heads outside by himself, Yukina comes up to him and drops some heavy statements in a surprisingly casual way by discussing a possible future with Kousei, including who would work and how many kids they would have (two or three!). Kousei doesn’t seem bothered in any way by this conversation, though his response is “Right now, I’m having plenty of fun singing with her”—a rejection, at leat for the time being.

This whole conversation is full of unexpected words and responses, and while I don’t know if “realistic” is the right word, the dialogue between Kousei and Yukina has a kind of depth and dimensionality to it because of how they seem to be thinking about the concept of time relative to their wants and desires. Kousei essentially has a choice between the rough-and-tumble girl who’s more like him or the classy girl who’s his complete opposite, and his feelings about it are rooted in the possibility of stepping into a world he long thought cut off from him due to his upbringing. But Yukina takes the long view, and appears to be thinking, “Even though Kousei’s all about the cute girl now, there’s always a chance he’ll come back around eventually.” I find Yukina’s particular brand of maturity interesting, like she’s somewhere between Saki and Keiko in Genshiken.

Kousei’s “Right now” is an interesting choice of words. What I think it implies is that, rather than being about love and seeing oneself with someone for a long time, it’s about Kousei figuring out his emotions in the moment. Does he value the ability to connect with Shion through song more than the inherent mutual understanding he shares with Yukina? The way Shion seems to instantly know what Kousei has on his mind when he hesitates to communicate what he wants out of her piano-playing for the next song, it speaks to a potential deeper connection through music. But whether that bond goes beyond music is something I’m looking forward to seeing.

ETUPIRKA! ETUPIRKA! ETUPIRKA!

Just like in the last chapter, we have an amazingly drawn scene of a Chorus Appreciation Society performance. What stands out to me about their “Etupirka” is that even if you don’t know what the song actually sounds like, Kio’s artwork conveys its sheer intensity. It’s not just the trembling line effects throughout the performance, but the way the characters are drawn with such dynamism even while they’re standing still, as well as the choice to use that initial extreme angle to depict Shion’s piano-playing (as seen in the top image) makes it seem like the ground is trembling. It borders on a more exaggerated representation that one might find in an action-packed shounen manga that uses music as its gimmick the way Yakitate!! Japan and Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma approach food.

(And if you want to hear a performance of “Etupirka,” it’s in the “Songs” section below.)

Hanyama’s “Tone Deafness” Isn’t

At one point, the subject of Hanyama’s inability to sing on-key comes up, and Jin reveals that what everyone assumed to be a case of being tone deaf is actually something else entirely. He recounts having tested Hanyama, and it turns out that the guy unconsciously sings on a scale different from the traditional Western music scales due to his family running a Buddhist temple. Instead, Hanyama sings according to what the Japanese calll junpachi gyakuroku (“upward eight, lower six”) or sanpun son’eki ho, which is also known as the Chinese 12-tone musical scale—which coincidentally is also the same as Pythagorean tuning. It results in the kind of music you get from Buddhist chants (shoumyou) and Japanese imperial court music (gagaku).

If this is all Greek to you, you’re not alone. Akira in the manga is completely baffled by everything Jin says, and so am I. But the gist of it—as much as I can understand, anyway—is that Hanyama has internalized that particular understanding of music, and it makes his attempts to sing more conventional popular songs go awry. Even if I don’t fully grasp everything, I find that pretty fascinating, and I’m glad Hashikko Ensemble goes into it, however briefly.

Songs

Half Monks: “Guts Daze!!” by Ulfuls. This is the song in a flashback to Hanyama’s singing in the competition while they’re explaining the quirks of his musical sense.

Electrical First-Years A Capella Group: “Racing into the Night” by YOASOBI

This is noted as being a Vocaloid song performed using six voices. While there’s no available equivalent online, there are Vocaloid covers of this song.

Wind Instrument Club: “The Galaxy Express 999” by Godiego

Chorus Appreciation Society: “Etupirka” composed by Hirose Ryouhei

Final Thoughts

Though we only got brief glimpses of them this chapter, I quite enjoyed the presence of both Akira and Jin’s mom. I’m still entertained by Akira’s mom and her delight over her son having friends, and I’m further anticipating the arrival of Jin’s mom at the school. I do get the feeling nothing Jin does will impress her, and I wonder if Yumerun will have any role to play in terms of bridging their strained mother-son relationship.

Also, Volume 6 of Hashikko Ensemble comes out next month! I wonder what store-exclusive bonuses we’ll get this time.

Superdimensional Forte: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 36

The Chorus Appreciation Society is performing "Do You Remember Love?" All the members are portrayed as standing apart, but also as if they're bing connected by the music.

Everyone gets hit by a Minmay Attack in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 36.

Summary

The next round is on, and the Chorus Appreciation Society takes the stage once again. Before that, though, Kozue asks Kousei why he doesn’t try to cheer Shion up after his rejection of her, and he replies that they’re just from different worlds: a safe rich girl vs. a delinquent with a lot of baggage.

This time, it’s “Do You Remember Love?” from the anime film Macross: Do You Remember Love. Akira and the others deliver a powerful performance that doesn’t just wow the audience, it seems to actually bond the members (and those close to them) together in a way that only music can. As they finish, Kousei seems to have Shion on his mind as he thinks, “Maybe our worlds aren’t so far apart after all.”

Elsewhere, Yumerun is pacing frantically, when finally the person she’s waiting for arrives: Jin’s mother, Kimura Reika, who turns out to be a highly eccentric 31-year-old soprano. The chapter ends as the two head out to Hashimoto Tech (Reika reluctantly so) in order to see Jin and the others sing.

Darkness and Light

Hashikko Ensemble is a series that’s high on levity, but the glimpses of darkness are astoundingly brutal. As Kousei is talking about his past, the first image shown is what appears to be a first-person perspective of one of his abusers (his mom’s lover, I think) rearing for a punch. This then transitions into Kousei throwing a punch at someone on the street in a fight. There’s a lot of trauma in his life, and the manga conveys a link between the violence inflicted on him and his rough attitude. 

Kousei is singing "Do You Remember Love" as Yukina suddenly sheds a tear.

That’s also what makes the portrayal of the society’s “Do You Remember Love?” all the more powerful. You can see in Kousei all this internalized fear, anger, and self-loathing, and it seems to just wash away as he sings. During the performance, Yukina (the arm wrestling champ who has a thing for Kousei) suddenly begins to cry during his performance, and she isn’t sure why. The way I see it, what she’s sensing is how strongly Kousei’s feelings are reaching out to Shion, and she’s realizing they’re not for her. Only in song is Kousei able to be honest.

I Love You So

I’m not well-versed in music, let alone the sheer breadth of what’s thus far been presented in Hashikko Ensemble. Many times, what this means is that outside of seeing the lyrics on the pages, I don’t always fully internalize what the songs are conveying in a chapter. This is not the case with “Do You Remember Love?”—it’s a song I know all too well, and it’s a staple of my karaoke sessions. In other words, I can really “feel” this chapter in ways that I haven’t been able to before. 

“Do You Remember Love?” is indeed a love song, but it’s also about reaching out to others and connecting. “I hear you calling out to me.” “I’m no longer alone, because you’re here.” Characters make mention of how well Akira and Kousei are harmonizing, as if they’re on the same page emotionally; most likely, it’s because they’re both singing to Shion. 

Questions are asked throughout the chorus of the song: “Do you remember when our eyes met?” “Do you remember when we held hands?” And while these lyrics are more romantic, their juxtaposition against Kousei’s traumatic memories makes me think that he’s actually, in a sense, remembering what it’s like to love The contrast between the beauty of the song and the violence of Kousei’s past is very fitting for a song played during the climactic battle of the Macross movie.

Jin’s Mom Is a Surprise

A comics page introducing Kimura Jin's mom, Reika. She definitely looks related to Jin, but is much more fierce in demeanor. She's complaining that it doesn't matter if she's late to see a bunch of amateurs singing, but also accidentally almost walks into glass because of her nearsightedness.

Kimura Reika is very different from what I pictured. When Jin described her in previous chapters, I was expecting an older strict woman—perhaps an unforgiving taskmaster with many years of experience and even a few wrinkles. In contrast, we get this weirdly aggressive and intense ball of energy who’s similar enough to Jin that you can see the familial relation, but also different to the point that you wouldn’t mistake the two. During her introduction, Yumerun asks why in the world Reika isn’t wearing her contacts, and she responds that she forgot them but also thinks it’s too much of a hassle to go back to retrieve them. When asked why she won’t just wear glasses, Reika claims that when she has them on, it makes her feel like her voice won’t fly out properly. That’s the sort of person Jin has to deal with in his home life.

And I have to point out the elephant in the room: Assuming that Reika is Jin’s biological mother, it also means she got teen pregnant! This isn’t the first time that the author, Kio Shimoku, has explored that topic (see his two-volume baby-raising manga Jigopuri), but I’m still surprised to see it pop up here. Just what kind of life has Reika gone through?

Songs

It’s noted that most of the groups only prepared one or two songs for the competition, so there are a number of repeats from previous chapters.

Basso Masters: “Daichi Kinshou” (Hymn of the Earth) from the cantata “Tsuchi no Uta” (Song of the Land)

Team “Promise” (a bunch of otaku): “Yakusoku” (Promise) from The iDOLM@STER

Yukio feat. Mayomyon: “Shibuya at 5 o’clock” by Suzuki Masuyuki and Kikuchi Momoko (You might recognize Suzuki as the singer of the opening to Kaguya-sama: Love Is War)

Noi Majo (Kurotaki Mai’s quartet): “Hakujitsu” (“White Day”) by King Gnu

Chorus Appreciation Society: “Do You Remember Love?”

You can find the above songs, along with previous references, in my Hashikko Ensemble Youtube playlist.

Final Thoughts

I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Jin’s mom. I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of what she’s really like.

Mai’s group, Noi Majo, has moved on in the competition as well. I wonder if the groups will end up against each other. 

I named a previous chapter review “More Like ‘Protoculture Festival,’” and I wished I saved it for this one. Oh well.

Dark Waters: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 35

Heartache and bracket upsets abound in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 35.

Summary

After being rejected by Kousei, Shion is emotionally devastated. Yukina asks why Kousei would word his rejection so harshly, while Jin correctly (and inappropriately) brings up Kousei’s mom as the reason he doesn’t like to deal with girls.  At the same time, seeing Shion confess to Kousei has put Akira into a funk, which impacts his singing as a part of Tsuyama’s group in the school music competition (once again, Akira got roped into participating with them as well). Combined with a lack of practice and a focus on girls over music, the “Tsuyama All Stars” are defeated by a group of otaku singing an iDOLM@STER song. 

Dropping out in Round 1, all of their girlfriends instantly reject them as losers, and Tsuyama is on the verge of kicking Akira’s ass. However, Kurotaki Mai steps in to defend Akira by pointing out that Tsuyama and company’s song choice betrayed them, as they clearly lacked the conviction they showed when singing a Spitz cover at the previous competition against the Chorus Appreciation Society. The Tsuyama crew then realize the “error” of their ways and go back to worshipping Mimi-sensei. But Mai also criticizes Akira, and relays something that Jin taught her: the low notes are the foundation of harmonizing, and as possessors of deep voices, they’re vital to the success of their respective groups’ performances.

But right when everyone expects the Light Music Club to win their round, they’re actually beaten by a mysterious masked group calling themselves “Basso Masters.” Who are they, and why are there 52 of them?!

Oh, Mai

With all the romantic drama coming out over the past few chapters, it’s no surprise that a look into Mai’s inner thoughts would reveal that she has feelings for Akira as well. Sure, all the blushing and gratefulness since her introduction into Hashikko Ensemble was a pretty strong hint, but after giving Akira advice, she thinks to herself, “Liking someone who likes someone else…It happens all the time.” In a different context, it might come across as more ambiguous, but then it’s followed up by Himari seeing everything and reacting with a thought of her own: “…Ugh. Looks like she’s gonna be a real pain.” Himari is clearly seeing something there, though I’m still not sure how Himari herself feels. Being Akira’s childhood friend, is there something more? The love web somehow gets more defined and more convoluted as the story continues.

Meanwhile, Akira’s mom is there in person and seeing this tangled web of emotions in action, thrilled at her darling son experiencing the ups and downs of youth. As with the last chapter, I love how supportive she is, and when I think about something like Genshiken, the sheer parental presence in Hashikko Ensemble sticks out all the more.

Shallow Love

It’s ironic that Tsuyama’s crew, the ones who made it look like music was the key to dating success and the most visible symbol that the school had changed, were mercilessly tossed aside by their girlfriends and are now back to square one. It’s a humorously tragic moment, simple in its brutality, but also speaking to the dangers of romance through prestige. Both the guys and the girls involved likely got into it for shallow reasons, though in what ways they were shallow changed. I could see Tsuyama and the others jumping at the very first opportunity to have some cute girlfriends, while the girls merely liked the cool cache brought to them by dating these guys. When Mai is telling them off, she mentions that their song choice was clearly made in order to please their girlfriends, who know nothing about music and shouldn’t have been such a significant factor. 

It’s implied that their devotion to Mimi-sensei was on a whole other level, and that whatever they were feeling for their girls just wasn’t quite the same. I feel sorry for Mimi-sensei for having to deal with them again, and it’s not exactly a happy ending, but i am amused by how confused she is in the aftermath. 

Jin Is Never Smooth

Some chapters ago, I wrote about how I think he’s supposed to be a non-neurotypical person, which came through in his inability to understand the more emotional and subjective aspects of music. Now, he seems incapable of reading the room, and loudly blurts out something that hits at Kousei’s greatest sore spot: his neglectful and abusive mother. I can’t quite recall if Jin has all the details about Kousei’s life, but just about anyone else would have known to keep quiet about it. Although nowhere near as terrible, Jin doesn’t have the best relationship with his own mom, and I wonder how much his social awkwardness (whether or not it’s due to a psychological or physiological condition) contributes to that tension.

Songs

Tsuyama All Stars: “Pretender” by Official Hige Dandism

Team “Promise” (a bunch of otaku): “Yakusoku” (Promise) from The iDOLM@STER

Half Monks: “Guts Daze!!” by Ulfuls

Electrical First-Years Acapella Group: “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” by Yoko Takahashi (electronic version using Vocaloid software)

Wind Instrument Club: “The Galaxy Express 999” by Godiego

Light Music Club: “Ai Uta” (Love Ballad) by GReeeeN

Basso Masters: “Daichi Kinshou” (Hymn of the Earth) from the cantata “Tsuchi no Uta” (Song of the Land)

I appreciate that the competition has a nice mix of genres and sources—including pop, rock, anime, and classical—from across the decades. The performances themselves also showcase different ways to make music, and I would love to see the electronic version of “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” if this ever got made into an anime.

You can find the above songs, along with previous references, in my Hashikko Ensemble Youtube playlist.

Final Thoughts

A group of 52 singers showing up incognito is sure to cause a stir, but it also makes me wonder if they’re actually another school in disguise—maybe Nishigafuchi. The combination of their song choice and their sheer numbers makes me think they’re not from around these parts.

Multi-Talented Competition: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 34

The competitive escalates in an unexpected way in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 34.

Summary

After the Rugby Club’s surprisingly strong rendition of a Radwimps tune in the high school’s cultural festival singing competition, the Chorus Appreciation Society fires back with a performance of their own. They win handily, showing the fruits of their training camp. However, even though the Rugby Club captain accepts the results, he has one last request as a third-year soon to graduate: he wants to challenge Jin to an arm wrestling competition! 

Jin accepts, but thinks it should be a best-of-three. Sora (the guy who confessed to Kozue) immediately challenges Kousei, and Yukina (who was last year’s school-wide arm wrestling champion) jumps in to be the third participant for the Chorus Appreciation Society. The impromptu matchup ends with a 2-1 victory for the Chorus Appreciation Society, with Jin putting in an impressive but ultimately losing effort against the Rugby Club captain. Reactions differ among the crowd, ranging from hype to Yumerun’s utter disinterest.

As Yukina is celebrating the win and talking with Kousei, Shion can’t help but think that they look great together. Suddenly, she sticks her arm between them and confesses directly to Kousei: “I like you. Go out with me?” Kousei’s response: “What? No.” That rejection is also the title of the chapter.

Yukina’s Turbo Controller

I genuinely thought that Yukina’s arm wrestling prowess wouldn’t really factor into the story beyond some displays of strengths, but here we are, with a sudden arm wrestling match. It almost makes regret making an Over the Top reference already. The surprise is welcome, however, and it adds to something I really enjoy about Hashikko Ensemble: the series is somehow both extremely predictable and unpredictable at the same time, and where those cards fall seems to just make for a more enjoyable manga most of the time.

All this arm wrestling talk also makes me think of my childhood playing the Track & Field II arm wrestling minigame. Whenever any arm wrestling happens in media, I just think of the background music and the grunting faces.

The Performance

As the guys are singing, Takano-sensei makes mention of how much they’ve all improved (as well as Kozue’s excellent conducting). In particular, she remarks about their successful balancing of both the lyrics-heavy nature of J-pop with getting the right musical accents. She also uses a couple terms that I think are worth noting—mostly for my sake, as someone who’s not musically inclined.

The first is legato, which is singing in a smooth and connected way; the opposite of staccato. It is not, in fact, simply a Trigun villain.

The second is syncopation, which is singing on the weak beats. 


The general idea, from what I can tell, is that they’ve managed to adapt a J-pop tune into something that utilizes the musical training they’ve all been going through. I wonder if the goal is to strike a middle ground between doing appealing songs to get more members and doing something technically impressive for Jin’s mom and her high standards.

Romantic Perceptions

It’s poetic that Akira has these dramatic nightmares about Kousei and Shion, but to Shion, Kousei and Yukina are the picture-perfect couple. There’s a self-consciousness at work in each case, where one sees themselves as somehow not looking “right” for their love interest. 

I feel like this is a fear that Kio Shimoku tends to express and explore in his works. In Gonensei (The Fifth-Year), one of the core conflicts is how the boyfriend feels a level of inadequacy because he couldn’t graduate at the same time as his girlfriend, and the two drift further apart. In Spotted Flower, the husband similarly panics when he just lays eyes on his wife interacting with her ex-boyfriend, believing that he pales in comparison, despite the fact that he and his wife  just had a daughter. I don’t think it’ll be anywhere near as dark and ugly in Hashikko Ensemble, but I’m interested in seeing how the love web continues to get tangled.

The chapter further contrasts how Shion and Yukina each see Kousei—the former as a strong hero and the latter as an adorable underclassman. As Yukina watches the performances, she recalls happening upon Kousei practicing his singing in private. Unbeknownst to Kousei, Yukina actually sat hidden behind a staircase, listening to him the whole time. It’s as if both girls have feelings because they’ve managed to see what’s on the inside, only it’s two different aspects of the “real Kousei.” If I had to give a preference, I like Kousei/Yukina, only because it’s more hilarious.

When the Tsun and the Dere are Indistinguishable

Right before the arm wrestling match begins, Kozue tells Sora to do his best. When he gets trounced by Kousei, she thinks, “Ah. Figures it was impossible.” While I originally thought that there was a possibility that Kozue might end up on a date with Sora reluctantly, it now looks like she might actually feel something for him after all. I don’t know if you’d call this tsundere, as I think that Kozue doesn’t have that characteristic loss of control of her own emotions, but maybe the childhood friend connection is real. Also, we haven’t seen what Sora looks like shirtless, but maybe he has the buffness she looks for in guys.

Or maybe being into musclemen is more of a fantasy fetish and not something she necessarily wants in a partner.

Songs

This month’s song is “March 9” by Remioromen, which the Chorus Appreciation Society performs against the Rugby Club.

Final Thoughts

During their performance, Akira’s mom is in the crowd. I don’t know why exactly, but seeing her cheer her son on and react like such a doting parent really sticks with me. Perhaps it’s just the way she seems so wholeheartedly excited about her Akira doing this new and different thing by getting into singing. I can sense the love in their relationship.

16 Bands Enter: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 33

Fierce (?) competitors lie in wait in Chapter 34 of Hashikko Ensemble!

Summary

The school’s cultural festival has suddenly turned into a battle of the bands, and the Chorus Appreciation Society is in a 16-band bracket to see who comes out on top. Among the groups participating are a number of familiar faces: Kurotaki Mai (the deep-voiced girl who once saved Akira), Tsuyama’s crew, Mimi-sensei and a group of teachers (with Takano-sensei on piano), and even the Rugby Club that tried to recruit Kousei. 

During this, Shion is visibly bothered by Yukina’s presence and closeness with Kousei, all but confirming her having romantic feelings for him. But when Kozue asks why Yukina’s into Kousei, her answer absolutely flabbergasts Shion: “Cuz he’s cute.” 

Mai’s band wins, and the teachers forfeit their match because all they really wanted to do was put on a single performance. The Rugby Club is going directly against the Chorus Appreciation Society in the first round, and to everyone’s surprise, one of the players, Sora, asks Kozue to go out with him if the Rugby Club wins. She agrees but only as a form of rejection—she actively encourages the audience to reject their opponents and Sora’s convenient love story in the making. However, the Rugby Club turns out to be better singers than she anticipated, meaning it might not be such an easy win after all.

A School Tournament?!

It’s not surprising to see tournaments happen in Hashikko Ensemble. After all, if they’re going to eventually be in bigger events, the Chorus Appreciation Society is going to have to see some long competitions. However, this is quite different from the more refined environment and structure of the M-Con, the inter-school event they had previously they participated in as an exhibition.

I really like this direction, particularly that the series has suddenly become more about music in an interesting way by having music fever take over the school and generate all this excitement and energy. Also, while it’s indeed looking to be a tournament arc after all, “winning” seems less important than having all the characters reach their personal goals. Looming overhead is the powerful shadow of Jin’s mom (despite the fact that she hasn’t even shown up yet), and in a sense, she’s the real boss fight.

Love Bonanza

The increasing presence of romance in Hashikko Ensemble is all but undeniable. It’s not even that Shion’s interest in Kousei is clear as day now, but also the strange love polygon that now exists between her, Akira, Kousei, Yukina, and maybe even Mai. What’s more, there’s also the lovey dovey couple team (Yukio feat. Mayomyon) metaphorically tossing hearts into the air, and a public confession to Kozue from the kid who tried to warn his classmates about her judo skills?!  And the latter’s going to be the most pressing plot point leading into Chapter 34?!

It’s not nearly as messy a relationship web as good ol’ Spotted Flower, but it sure is getting increasingly complicated.

Knowing this manga, I could see Kio swerving the readers by having the Chorus Appreciation Society lose in Round 1, and having Kozue reluctantly start dating Sora. There’s maybe one path of hope for the rugby player, which is that a person can earn Kozue’s respect through skill and power. In this chapter, she basically gushes over Yukina’s high proficiency in a huge array of industrial skills (including gas and arc welding, crane operating, etc.), so if the poor guy can show similar prowess (in singing or otherwise), maybe he can impress her. That said, it’s probably more realistic to see Kozue be into Yukina.

Divergent Feelings

I was thrilled to see Mai show up again in this chapter—doubly so to see her singing. All signs have pointed to her becoming a more important character as the series went on, and while it’s still uncertain that she’s going to join the Chorus Appreciation Society, I’m still rooting for it. There’s also the matter of her previous interactions with Akira, and while he has Shion on the brain currently, I could see a future where these two get together instead. 

I think Hashikko Ensemble has been emphasizing how different potential relationships can potentially end up being in terms of interpersonal dynamics. Chapter 33 highlights this by the ways that Shion and Yukina each view Kousei; the former sees him as brave, cool, and strong, while the latter looks at him like a cute underclassman. When picturing those two possible couples, they’re just so fundamentally different. But this is also the case imagining Akira with Shion versus Akira with Mai, which has a similar dynamic of two very different individuals on the one hand, and two very similar people on the other. 

Songs

This time, I’ve included each of the groups participating in the tournament this chapter, followed by what song they perform.

Nighttime Festival Club 2.1: Itoshii no Ellie” (“Beloved Ellie”) by Southern All Stars

Noi Majo (Kurotaki Mai’s quartet): “Hakujitsu” (“White Day”) by King Gnu

Yukio feat. Mayomyon: “Shibuya at 5 o’clock” by Suzuki Masuyuki and Kikuchi Momoko (You might recognize Suzuki as the singer of the opening to Kaguya-sama: Love Is War)

Teachers’ Angel (Mimi-sensei + other faculty): “Boku no Koto” (“About Me”) by Mrs. Green Apple

Rugby Club A Capella Group: “Zenzenzense” (“Past Past Past Life”) by RADWIMPS (as heard in Your Name)

Final Thoughts

Back in the pre-pandemic times, I used to go karaoke somewhat often. One of the most common songs among one of the groups was actually “Zenzenzense.” This chapter makes me want to learn all these other songs and bring them out someday. May there be a future where we can karaoke to our hearts’ content.

Over the Top: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 32

A new story arc begins in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 32!

Summary

Summer is over, and the students at Hashimoto Tech are back to school. While things seem mostly the same, there are some differences. For the Chorus Appreciation Society, they can now use the music room to practice. Tsuyama’s crew, the Mimi-sensei-obsessed guys who had previously competed against the Chorus Society, now all have girlfriends. And for some reason, there seems to just be a lot more singing at school overall. It turns out that the latter two things are related: Tsuyama and co.’s performance in front of the school is the reason they got girls, and now all the boys think a capella is the key to popularity.

Back with the main characters, Jin is naturally beyond excited about more singers at school, Mimi-sensei is having a bit of a crisis over losing her place as conductor to Hasegawa Kozue, and Shinji wonders why the girls aren’t coming to them. Right then, a tough-looking girl shows up next to Kousei, and when he tries to shoo her away (assuming that she doesn’t care about music), she puts his hand in a death grip and overpowers him. Kozue identifies her as Kawamura Yukina, a third-year construction major and the school’s reigning arm wrestling champion—a title she won by beating both guys and girls.

The chapter ends with students remarking about how many damn a capella clubs are springing up. It all looks to be headed in one direction: a singing tournament!

Excitement

I love this chapter.

I thought I knew where this manga was going, with Jin trying to prove his mom wrong and Akira fretting over Shion. However, the way the school has changed feels like a subtle yet still seismic shift, as if they’re entering a new environment where the rules are different. What’s more, this all stems from their singing! This series is delightfully hard to predict at the best times.

It’s typical of an action or sports series to up the stakes or expand its scope, and this feels similar yet noticeably different in terms of fallout. Genshiken didn’t really do story arcs in the traditional sense, and I find Hashikko Ensemble to be somewhere in the middle in a good way.

Mama Mimi

I do feel for Mimi-sensei, but what I’ll probably remember more about her in this chapter is her hilarious interaction with Shion. No longer conductor, she tries to let Shion be comforted by her, but Shion responds by asking, “Are pecs boobs?”

Later, Mimi wonders if this like a child being weaned from their mother’s breast.

The ridiculousness of Shion’s question followed by the wordplay from Mimi is top-notch.

Yukina is a Badass

Yukina is technically not a new character, but might as well be. It’s not 100% certain if Yukina is a delinquent, but she certainly has that energy. 

I really want her to join the group.

While she’s not the only physically strong girl around (Hasegawa is a skilled judo player), Yukina adds a certain level of cool. Not only would she be the oldest among the students, but her connection to Kousei—whatever it may be—seems intriguing. At the very least, we haven’t seen anyone treat him so lightly 

Is there an element of romance between the two? The characters are certainly entertaining the possibility. Akira thinks Shion might have a crush on Kousei, so he immediately tries to see how Shion reacts to Yukina, but it’s not entirely clear. I can practically feel Akira’s incredible self-consciousness, though I still think he’s somehow mistaken.

Songs

In this chapter, they practice “March 9” by Remioromen, which is Shinji’s pick for the Festival.

They also sing the official school song, though there’s no audio resource for that.

Final Thoughts

When Shinji asks why they’re not getting any girls, Kanon responds that 1) the Society already has girls and 2) a capella is cooler. It makes me think about how I’ve been translating gasshou as “chorus,” but “glee” could work just as well. And one particular TV show aside, it’s true that glee clubs are not exactly considered exciting. I do wonder if I should have been translating it as glee all along, but I can live with my choice.