Hammerman, Hammer: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 23

 Summary

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

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

Working to Music

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

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

When Anime Haircuts Die

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

Shion Is Great

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

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

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

Songs

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

Final Thoughts

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

 

Make Some Noise: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 22

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

Summary

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

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

Look Into My Eyes

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

The Science of Noise

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

Oh Shion

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

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

The Girl with the Deep Voice

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

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

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

Songs

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

Final Thoughts

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

 

 

Do It, Akirapella: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 21

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

Summary

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

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

Takano-sensei’s Lessons

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

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

Akira’s Doo-Wops in Art

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

Songs

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

“Cherry” by Spitz

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

Final Thoughts

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

 

 

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

Not the Best Handling of Rape as a Subject

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

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

Anyone Can Improve Their Singing

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

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

Friendship Between Misfits

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

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

Songs

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

“Cherry”

“Robinson”

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Problematic Fans: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 19

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

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

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

Chapter Summary

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

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

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

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

The Mimi-sensei Fan Club

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

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

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

Another New Character! What Could It Mean?

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

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

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

Deep Breath Languages and Non-Integer Overtones

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

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

Wonder Cooooore!

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

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

Songs

No songs this month. Only conflict!!!

Final Thoughts

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

Bringing It All Together: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 18

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

Summary 

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

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

Akira Did It

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

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

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

Culmination of Ideas

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

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

Four in Unison

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

Songs

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

 

His Master’s Voice: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 17

We learn a lot—maybe too much—about Nishigafuchi’s students in Chapter 17 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Nishigafuchi lead tenor Saiga (first name Shinnosuke) is in a funk, and the reason is that Shindou Yui, the lead soprano. Shindou mentioned that she sometimes doesn’t want to thing about how they’re breathing in the same space, and that with the way he keeps panting, he should just run around outside like a dog. To prove himself, he plans on challenging Jin to a competition, but gets punched in the mouth by Orihara instead. Shinji wonders if Orihara did it to defend Jin, but Orihara claims it was because he wanted to sing more Brahms. The punch actually makes Saiga want more because it reminds him of Shindou’s sadistic behavior.

Instead of competing, Jin actually helps Saiga with his singing and breathing (so he didn’t have to breathe the same air as her!), and the results are noticeable. Even Shindou is impressed, though she’s no slouch herself. Afterwards, Saiga goes up to Shindou and asks her…if she can be his master. Shindou happily gives him commands like a dog, everyone is confused (especially Kurata), and the Nishigafuchi adviser awkwardly comments that there are all kinds of relationships these days.

As they’re singing, however, Akira doesn’t, and his old middle school classmate Sadamoto notices again. But before he could say anything, Jin asks if the Hashimoto Chorus Club could perform for everyone on their own. Will Shinji finally sing here?

All Kinds

In the last chapter, Nishigafuchi student Andou described Shindou as appearing gentle but actually having a nasty tongue, and she certainly lives up to reputation. I figured that would be the case, but she far exceeds my expectations. I have to wonder if it’s like an entire club of masochists who enjoy the verbal lashing.

Meanwhile, Orihara’s punching Saiga (potentially) in defense of Jin is kind of a serious tsundere move by way of delinquent behavior. Maybe Orihara really does see him as a friend.

Great Teacher Kimura

According to Jin, Saiga tries too hard to keep his head from lifting up and tries to create too much space in his mouth—things that are generally considered good form in singing, but an area where Saiga overcompensates. The consequence is that the surrounding throat muscles to be overly tense and rigid, and this results in him breathing oddly while performing. To Jin, this might be why Shindou made her dog comment.

To help all of the tenors with this, Jin has everyone do an exercise where they “play catch” with their voices. The idea is that they breathe out like you’re trying to form a parabola, and like it’s coming out the top of your head—like they’re “throwing” their voice to the other team.

Jin is thus portrayed as someone who can teach even an elite singer from an elite school, and it furthers the idea that he’s on another level when it comes to understanding sound and music. It’s not clear what his power level is, but when Saiga challenges him, I was expecting a shounen manga moment where Jin can show his stuff and make clear the size of the disparity between them, but it didn’t happen. Yet.

 

Songs

Referenced last chapter too, they sing Johannes Brahms’s “O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf, Op. 74, No. 2.”

Final Thoughts

Is Jin purposely requesting a Hashimoto-only performance so that Akira will feel more comfortable singing, or does he have a different motivation?

Also, Kurata’s utter bewilderment over the Saiga-Shindou thing is the cutest thing.

First and Second Impressions: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 16

More time at Nishigafuchi leads to some interesting personal connections in Chapter 16 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

The Hashimoto Chorus Appreciation Society continues their joint-practice session at the prestigious Nishigafuchi High School, and they’re making quite an impression.

Mimi-sensei is getting conducting advice. Shinji learns the personalities of all the Nishigafuchi part leaders (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) from a first-year tenor named Andou who wishes he could sing bass. Jin is enthusiastically giving the other students voice lessons and even tips for pronouncing German. Kousei is scaring everyone away, especially because he refuses to sing anything he doesn’t want, but also surprises everyone when he jumps at the chance to sing some Brahms. Akira talks to Sadamoto, the guy from his old school who recognized him, but it seems that despite Akira’s worries, Sadamoto holds no animosity towards him.

However, Sadamoto makes a rather cryptic statement in reference to their past singing together: “We still won even though you didn’t sing, so that turned out well. But sometimes I think, even if we all sang and couldn’t win, that would’ve been good too.”

German Elocution

Jin’s brief lesson on German is that while things like umlauts and diphthongs matter, ultimately good German pronunciation comes down to position of the tongue and shape of the mouth. I figure that applies to a lot of languages, but it’s interesting to note what Jin would concentrate on first, as well as what he assumes is already common knowledge. The response from the other students is basically “We don’t follow.”

What Happened to Akira’s Voice

We know that Akira’s voice got hit by a lightning bolt of puberty back in middle school, but based on his exchange with Sadamoto, I have some conjecture. To me, it seems like in whatever competition they were a part of, Akira decided to lip sync because his voice had changed so much as to 1) be embarrassing 2) shift him out of whatever range he was supposed to sing. It’s even possible he went from soprano or alto to bass, based on what Himari has said about Akira’s childhood voice.

As for Sadamoto’s words, not only does it seem like he holds no grudge against Akira, but it even looks like he has some regret over Akira feeling the need to pretend to sing. I’m curious as to how this will develop.

The Nishigafuchi Elite Four

Andou basically fanboys over the Nishigafuchi club leaders, and it’s cute to see. He lays out their personalities as follows.

Shindou Yui: Soprano leader, has a gentle smile but a sadistic personality

Hisamura Nozomi: Alto leader, appears harsh but is actually kind and gentle

Honma Tadashi: Bass leader, started off as a regular member but rose to the top through practice and effort

Kouno: The sub-leader of the tenors, who isn’t important (according to Andou) because of…

Saiga: Tenor leader, a fop who’s prone to giving up easily

We were briefly introduced to most of them last chapter, with Saiga being the big exception. Was saving his appearance for this chapter just to make his eccentric personality stand out that much more, or is he going to be a more prominent character compared to the others? Either way, I like that these characters are getting established, though I do think the quick summaries provided by Andou are very different from how Hashikko Ensemble has been introducing its characters thus far. Up to now, they’ve mostly been more “show” than “tell.”

I also find it quite interesting that they’re being treated like idols or manga-style “popular students,” but they actually look quite normal—even Saiga. Compared to making them suddenly larger than life, it keeps the series grounded and humble, even though it can get fairly absurd.

While it’s mostly Andou talking about this, I did feel that the chapter spent more time on Shinji than normal, and his role as the straight-man among a cavalcade of eccentrics is getting more firmly established. I also wonder how Andou, who thinks Akira is a kindred spirit, is actually the naturally strong bass singer that Andou wishes he was.

Songs

The song Nishigafuchi is performing at the beginning of the chapter is “Hitotsu no Asa” (A Single Morning), composed by Hirayoshi Takekuni with lyrics by Kataoka Teru.

The song that Orimura really wants to sing is Johannes Brahms’s “O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf, Op. 74, No. 2.”

Lastly, the song Shion is playing on piano is “Chopin Nocturne – No 5 in F Sharp Major Op. 15-2.”

Final Thoughts

This has nothing to do with the ongoing story, but I wish fanart of this series existed. I know the characters don’t have the most iconic appearances, but I think they’re worthy of some love

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.

 

Stars: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 14

The Chorus Appreciation Society has its first big argument in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 14.

Summary

With only one day to submit an application to enter the MHK Concours, the Chorus Appreciation Society is struggling to decide on a song for both practical and personal reasons. Among the considerations: available members, song familiarity, and taste. After a great deal of arguing and even a near-fight between Orihara Kousei and Hachida Shinji (!), they finally land on a song they can all agree on: “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto.

Those Pesky Song Rights

One of the practical considerations that the group has to account for is that any rewriting or adapting of compositions, for the sake of better matching the performers, has to be approved by the original creator. With less than 24 hours to decide, that means this option is out of the question.

Kio didn’t have to place that limitation on his characters—he could’ve written the situation to have more leeway. It does add a bit of tension, however, and it gives ample opportunity for the manga to go into detail about the typical statement of a chorus or ensemble.

What is Normal? What is Otaku?

One of the barriers is Kousei, who refuses to do any songs he considers embarrassing, which rules out all J-pop. Others are ease of performance and familiarity. Akira suggests they do a Studio Ghibli song, seeing how popular, well known, and tasteful they are. Hasegawa Kozue’s eyes light up at the prospect, but she’s shocked and appalled to discover that some of the members have never seen a Ghibli film—namely Jin and Kousei, though Jin has performed some of the songs. Shion also reveals that she’s never watched one, though Kozue is much gentler and more forgiving with her.

This little interaction highlights a number of character aspects. First, the question of whether gruff judoka Kozue is actually an otaku is brought up by the other characters. There’s no clear answer, but at the very least, we know she’s not the kind of otaku to scoff at Miyazaki films. As for why those three in particular are Ghibli virgins, Jin and Shion can be attributed to strict households—Jin’s never even had TV. As for Kousei, it’s likely due to his traumatic, neglect-filled childhood.

Grump and Not-So-Grump

I find there are some similar trajectories for Kousei and Shion, in that both come across as hardasses at first but are softened up as they spend more time with the rest of the characters. The big difference is that while Shion just seems gruff but turns out to just be a goof, Kousei’s “lighter” side only comes out in tiny doses which are then exaggerated by everyone else. More broadly, there is a general theme of the Chorus Club/Appreciation Society helping people deal with or overcome their personal challenges.

The title of the chapter, “Ore ni Totte” [To Me], actually comes from a line uttered by Kousei: “To me, singing’s…” Here, he’s expressing what may be some poetic or powerful view of music, and the other members try to eagerly egg him on to express what he means.

It’s also telling that Kousei eventually says he wants to leave because it’s his tastes that are getting in the way, and that he’ll be fine with whatever—there’s a considerate person in there. However, Akira stops him because he wants a song everyone will be happy to work on. Both Kousei and Akira gain points in my eyes.

Songs

As mentioned above, the song they pick is “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto. The way the characters described it as basically something everyone knows prompted me to do some research because I was unfamiliar with both the singer and the song.

It turns out that Kyu Sakamoto is one of the most famous musicians ever, inside and outside of Japan. In 1963, he became the first Japanese performer to hit #1 on the US Billboard Top 100, and in 1985, he tragically died in the deadliest single plane crash in history.

Other songs mentioned in the chapter include “Kanade” by Sukima Switch (of course), and the Ghibli songs brought up by Jin: “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Stroll” from My Neighbor Totoro, “Carrying You” from Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and “Country Roads” from Whisper of the Heart.

Final Thoughts

Kio actually made a chart showing all the characters who’ve appeared thus far with names and classes. It’s a lot! It also makes me wonder who we’ll see more of in the future, especially now that we know what to call every one of them.