Settling the Score: Hashikko Ensemble, Final Chapter

Akira and Jin are singing as the lyrics to "Kanade" by Sukima Switch appear as if they're reverberating from the harmony. Mai looks on in awe.

48 chapters later, friends compete for the first time in this conclusion to Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

It’s shortly after the start of the new school year at Hashimoto Tech, and all the clubs are presenting to recruit first-years. While the freshmen predictably look a little too rough-and-tumble to sing chorus/glee-style, Jin declares his confidence that they’ll find new members.

The chapter jumps back one month in time to White Day, where the last chapter left off. Akira and Jin both sing “Kanade” by Sukima Switch, but unlike the previous two times they’ve done this song together, this time they’re in a one-on-one “exhibition match.” For those familiar with Jin, especially Yumerun, it’s highly uncharacteristic to see Jin singing against someone rather than with them. At the end, with no clear victor, Jin proudly announces that he’s going to apply for music college just like Akira. Smiling, Jin calls Akira his rival, to which Akira happily agrees. 

Then, Jin reciprocates Kozue’s romantic Valentine’s chocolate with a White Day chocolate of his own, and says he likes her too. Kozue is happy, but notices Yumerun staring daggers into her, leading to a bit of off-panel comedic fury. 

The story then shifts forward again to the recruitment, and the group is going to be next on stage. Shion is nervous because all of her work to pass her classes has made her extremely competent at all that vocational work, but made her forget how to play. Kousei just says that she has to play decently, and it’ll be fine. The other members notice that they’ve gotten a bit closer, while Mai wishes she had the courage to give Akira chocolate.

As the announcer calls for them, Akira and the others come out to the audience as the official, full-fledged Chorus Club. The freshmen notice that there are an unusual number of delinquents in it—as well as girls—before the club starts their song.

The entire Chorus Club walks out after being officially announced, and freshmen in the audience notice both the heavy presence of delinquents among their members, as well as the girls present.

Concluded or Canceled?

Having Hashikko Ensemble all end here feels both well-timed and abrupt, and the actual answer is that it’s a little bit of both. On Twitter, Kio Shimoku said that he was told to begin wrapping up at the start of the Culture Festival arc, and he was able to get enough time to finish that arc and wrap things up, ending the series at Volume 8. It’s not quite the same, but it reminds me a bit of what happened to the original Mobile Suit Gundam: It was slated to be a 52-episode series, only to be canceled early and revised to be a 39-episode show, but the staff managed to convince the higher-ups to at least make it 43.

That, in turn, makes me think of that old Genshiken anime episode preview where the characters talk about how so many great series got canceled early—like Gungal (Gundam) and Dizner (Layzner). Madarame turns it around and says that maybe it’s the opposite, and a series is only truly great if it gets canceled.

I feel that Hashikko Ensemble is a story that had plenty more room to grow, and I would have enjoyed seeing them at least get to the end of high school, if not further beyond that. Still, there was at least enough room to resolve things well enough, and the main thrust of the relationship between Akira and Jin ends at an interesting and uplifting point.

Unrequited or Unseen?

Jin gives chocolate to Kozue and declares that he likes her back. Kozue blushes but turns to Yumerun, who looks like a ghost out for revenge.

Of the many romantic threads in the series, It’s funny that Jin x Kozue was the only one that resulted in a definitive couple. Hashikko Ensemble largely didn’t dwell on their relationship, and a lot of their interactions didn’t even indirectly hint at the subject. This can be chalked up to their personalities—Kozue is not prone to flights of fancy, and oblivious Jin probably didn’t even think about romantic love at any point in his life until Kozue’s confession. Giving the least prominent romance closure but not the others feels like a troll of sorts, but one I welcome for it’s unexpectedness.

And even then, others are somewhat open-ended. Kousei and Shion appear to be closer, and that development is likely a direct response to Shion proving that she can successfully perform the physical labor tasks involved in passing her classes—and by extension someday live the kind of life Kousei envisions for himself. Mai regrets not confessing to Akira, but it’s not like there was any sort of rejection. In the world of the story, they’ve still got at least another couple of years. If this were a series that had people writing fanfiction about it, this would probably be a prime topic.

Learning to Be Selflessly Selfish

Jin tells Akira in front of everyone that he's going to take the test for music college, and that he now considers the two of them rivals.

It feels appropriate that things would essentially boil back down to Akira and Jin. What’s fascinating is the journey they both took to get here.

The lesson Jin learns in the end is one that runs almost opposite of what is typical in anime and manga. Stories are often about someone discovering the power of teamwork, but what Jin needs in order to grow is the capacity to individually compete and outperform. His match against Akira isn’t about trying to win, but to see if he can actually use his singing as a tool to raise himself rather than support another. To go from “teammates” to “rivals” is, again, sort of counter to the standard narrative of manga about high school clubs. 

As Akira states in his thoughts, he’s grateful for all he’s gained thanks to Jin. He originally was woefully self-conscious about the deep voice he suddenly developed in middle school, and it was something he sought to hide and minimize. But Jin encouraged him to go out of his comfort zone and embrace the bass in his voice, and here, Akira brings not only his gratitude but everything Jin ever taught him.

Poetically, Jin himself turns out to have been forced outside his comfort zone by Akira’s rapid progress, which is how we get to their relationship in the final chapter. Rather than the student becoming the master, the two recognize each other as true equals.

Songs

As stated, the last and only song for Chapter 48 is “Kanade” by Sukima Switch. As with every time “Kanade” appears, I’ve linked the official music video above, but there’s a very special treat this time as well.

Kio actually uploaded a version of “Kanade” that’s supposed to be an approximation of how the song would sound as a duet performed by Akira and Jin! According to his tweets, Kio stated that he made it himself because it didn’t exist, and that he accomplished it with the help of a couple music programs.

One thing I never really did with all these Hashikko Ensemble reviews over the years is provide analyses of the lyrics for the various songs used in the manga. This was partly for space and time reasons, but they often add meaning to each chapter, so it has been a bit of a glaring omission. 

For this final chapter, I think it’s worth looking at “Kanade” and what the song is saying. The lyrics are largely about someone getting close to a person and guiding them, only to see them growing into an adult and changing. But even though things aren’t going to be the same, they’ll use their voice to protect the other.

How fitting for Akira and JIn, and perhaps the entirety of Hashikko Ensemble. So much of the series is about the characters finding support in one another, and watching them grow beyond what anyone expected.

Final Thoughts

The series is ending literally one month short of its fourth anniversary, and looking back, there are many questions about Hashikko Ensemble left unanswered and open to exploration. Mai, who ended up becoming my favorite character, never got enough time to fully shine, but I appreciate the fact that she ended up becoming a more prominent character towards the end. I also have to wonder if Jin’s mom was introduced during the Culture Festival because Kio knew the manga was set to finish. It feels somewhat like an appearance that resulted from things having to wrap up, and a longer series might have had her shadow (rather than her physical self) loom in the background for a greater amount of chapters. Would Jin ever learn that his mom thinks highly of his singing ability? I could see it going either way.

Hashikko Ensemble is notably different from pretty much all of Kio’s previous works in the way that there’s a concrete underlying goal for its cast. Whether it’s Genshiken or any of the series that have preceded or followed it, Kio’s stories have always been more about exploring character relationships in spaces devoid of strong ambition. Hashikko Ensemble is very much about the characters and how they connect with one another, but the theme of music and an in-story goal of forming a proper club (and a proper chorus) means that there’s a good deal of forward momentum that’s absent in Kio’s other manga—with the arguable exception of Kujibiki Unbalance. Seeing that relatively more “focused” Kio Shimoku manga makes me wonder how things would go if he took it a step further, maybe even into a more adventure-type work, or something like palace intrigue.

Akira, Jin, and the rest are so charming and authentic as characters. Their personalities contain both simplicities and complexities, and as they grow, they gain new dimensions while remaining true to their cores. It reminds me of past Kio series to be sure, but there’s a kind of enthusiasm that I think is indicative of the high school setting—a mark of youth and the potential that lies ahead. Yet, with all the adult figures in the background, there are characters even those who feel far removed from their younger days can relate to. The fact that Kio actually joined Twitter as this serialization was happening even lends an air of trying to communicate with an audience that’s both younger and older. It’s not TikTok, but maybe that’d be a step too far.

Hashikko Ensemble ends up feeling like it has the perspectives of both teens in the midst of their days and adults looking at youth in action, and that interaction has been a joy to read.

Standing with Jin after finishing singing, Akira thinks about how he went from trying to hide his voice to learning to use it thanks to Jin. Flashback panels appear all over the background.

Thank you for another great series, Kio-sensei.

Prelude to the End: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 47

Jin has a breakthrough and Kozue reveals another side of herself in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 47. 

Summary

Kozue catches up to Jin, who has left the clubroom because he’s lost the music inside of him. As the two walk and talk, Kozue helps Jin put words to what’s been bothering him: He’s frustrated over what he hasn’t been able to do, and it’s eating him up inside. In particular, Jin is frustrated over Akira being putting on such powerful performances despite being so inexperienced, and over Akira being recognized by Jin’s mom before Jin himself. 

As Kozue leaves, however, she nonchalantly gives Jin a romantic (as opposed to platonic) Valentine’s chocolate before walking off with a flushed face and singing “Haru yo, Koi.” The lyrics seem to trigger something in Jin, but rather than it being a realization about his potential romantic feelings, it helps him clarify why exactly he’s so frustrated when it comes to Akira. He both wants to acknowledge and deny Akira’s accomplishments—a contradiction has stopped his heart from moving and by extension, stopped the music within Jin. 

Jin rushes past Kozue while loudly declaring that he needs to “tell everyone,” which Kozue assumes is about her confession. Beet-red, she chases after Jin to stop him, only for the thing he wants to tell everyone about is his desire to put on that Whie Day concert in response to the girls’ Valentine’s Day performance. In addition, Jin has a special request for Akira.

The story skips ahead to White Day, where all the guys put on a show while dressed in bright and shiny tuxedos. However, the real event is a special “exhibition match” between Akira and Jin—the request Jin wanted. As Jin prepares to unleash his full singing might for the first time, the chapter ends…and reveals that the next chapter will be the end of Hashikko Ensemble!

Wait. Really?

So here we are at what turns out to be the penultimate chapter. I knew that the story was getting to a major point, but I didn’t expect it to be leading to the finale! Thematically, the story has come full circle with Jin going from recruiting Akira to competing against him, but I thought they’d overcome this and then move on to the next challenge. If this is really it, though (and there’s no sequel being announced), I think the manga is ending with at least some closure.

Got a Feeling So Complicated

Jin’s mix of pride in Akira and jealousy towards him is profound. They’re both such powerful feelings, and the dimensions they add to Jin turn him from a fascinatingly eccentric character to a truly human one. This is all the more the case because it’s kind of unsurprising given where the story has been going over the past six months or so. Jin wants to both love and hate Akira, but he can’t bring himself to do either. 

It makes sense that Jin has never gone all-out when singing. He chafes at the idea of competition and comparison that his mother, Reika, values so much, and he has rebelled in his own way by eschewing such notions. But perhaps this is also why Jin has never been verbally acknowledged by her, even though we know she thinks he has talent. To be able to not just cooperate but also fight could be the difference. The capacity to do both (and to know which is the right choice) might be even more valuable.

I don’t think this friendship will end on bad terms, but I think there are a few more twists and turns left.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

One thing I’ve enjoyed in this series is that characters are attracted to multiple people. It’s often the case in manga that only major characters (or harem leads) have feelings towards more than one character at a time. Here, though, you can see all these potential connections abound. Kozue previously showed at least a small interest in that judo club boy, but she also expresses a crush on Jin here. At the same time, Kozue is not the only one who likes Jin, seeing as Yumerun just confessed in the last chapter—and Kozue also feels at odds with herself knowing that. I just keep thinking about how affection can be a spectrum.

They’re the kind of romances that one is more likely to see in an actual high school (and probably beyond), and the fact that it’s a significant but not major part of the story also lends itself to this sense of authenticity. Multiply this across the whole cast, and you get Hashikko Ensemble. I love seeing the dramady of these singing fools, and even if none of these relationships actually resolve.

Just Gorgeous

Hashikko Ensemble always looks good, but there’s just something about this chapter’s artwork and paneling that’s downright amazing. Kio’s just an ace at portraying cascades of emotions, and the simultaneous sense of heaviness and humorous frivolity that comes from his artwork and composition really puts his talents on display. In the pages above, Kozue’s rollercoaster of emotions jumps right off the page, and the way Jin takes her for a ride with this earnest denseness makes me feel a kind yet pained smile form on my face. 

And when Jin shows that he’s going to get serious for his “exhibition match” with Akira, the way the panels build up to such sheer intensity actually startled me a bit. Kio has never really done a competitive manga—in fact, Hashikko Ensemble is the closest he’s ever gotten—but it makes me genuinely wonder what he could pull off if he decided to do a sports or fighting manga.

If this is what Kio has pulled off before the conclusion, I can’t wait to see what he’s got up his sleeve for the final chapter.

Songs

“Haru yo, Koi” (“Come, Spring”) by Matsutouya Yumi. This is one of the songs the girls sang in the last chapter.

“Yakusoku” (Promise) from The iDOLM@STER. This was one of the songs performed by the otaku group during the big competition.

“Kanade” by Sukima Switch. This song is what brought Akira and Jin together all the way back in Chapter 1!

Final Thoughts

I still feel that there’s so much more story that could be told. They haven’t even entered another M-Con yet! I don’t know if the story was made to end early or if Kio thinks this is the right time, but I could keep reading about these characters living their lives for a long time. To Kio’s credit, that’s part of his magic as a manga creator.

As for predictions, the safe bet is that they’ll finally become an official club. I’m also still rooting for an Akira x Mai ending. 

And who knows? Maybe we’ll see their doppelgangers show up in Spotted Flower

What Is Love?: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 46

Jin is on one heck of an emotional arc in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 46.

Summary

The girls of the Chorus Appreciation Society (plus Yukina and Yumerun) start on their Valentine’s Day mini-concert—Kozue’s idea for bringing Jin out of his musical funk. But within himself, all he can seem to hear are their flaws. Still, while they’re lacking either skill, group coordination, or both, they seem to have the very music in them that he’s lost.

Right before they can start their encore, however, Shion brings out her Valentine’s chocolate for Kousei and makes another confession. Kousei deflects by asking Jin if she has any hope of getting into a music college and having a career (the chances are rough. Kousei further comments that Shion’s not that good with the technical work needed for their high school either—as if to imply that Shion wouldn’t be prepared for the hardship of dating him. 

At that point, Yukina cuts in and remarks that Kousei is underestimating Shion, and promises to help Shion with her schoolwork. Yukina actually only has a month until she graduates, which prompts the two girls to leave the concert and get started practicing. Losing its alto in Yukina and its accompaniment in Shion, the concert comes to an impromptu end, to Kozue’s chagrin.

Yumerun tries to brighten the mood by delivering an intense confession of her own to Jin (“Please go out with me with the intent of marriage!”). While she says her feelings for him were likely always obvious, Jin (ever oblivious) mentions that he never even noticed. When Jin asks what kind of feeling “love” even is, Yumerun replies that it’s to treasure someone—while also thinking inside that it’s about wanting to have someone all to yourself—Jin curtly replies, “I don’t think I’m worth that much,” and leaves. Akira immediately gets up to chase, but Kozue stops him, saying that he shouldn’t be the one, and goes off after Jin herself.

The Details of Drama

The above summary is a lot wordier than I would typically prefer, but I felt that the contours of this chapter are important this month—especially because of how serious Hashikko Ensemble is getting. The drama has ramped up in many ways even if there’s still a dose of levity, with the Jin-Yumerun interaction emphasizing that contrast. In some ways, it reminds me of the Karuizawa story in Genshiken (where Ogiue finally pours her turbulent heart out to Sasahara), but the difference is that Ogiue started out full of pain, and Jin’s recent turn is more drastic compared to how we first meet him back in Chapter 1.

Jin and Love

Jin is the main focus throughout here, and I love what they’re doing with his character. The conflict that’s broiling inside him feels so real. Jin’s impressions of the girls’ performance come after Akira’s, and their differences in this moment really drive home how out-of-sorts Jin feels. Akira’s perspective comes from a less experienced place: He can tell how strong Yumerun is, that Kanon sings like it’s karaoke, and how Kozue is uncharacteristically not that great at it.  Jin’s analysis, on the other hands, is very cynical and clinical, which feels so unlike what we expect of him. It’s like he’s turned a harsher ear on others as a consequence of becoming harsher on himself.

Then, when he’s asking Yumerun what it means to “love,” I get the impression that he’s not just talking about people. I suspect that he’s doubting whether he truly ever understood what it means to love music. Perhaps he feels that he’s been confusing his highly dedicated study and time poured into singing with genuine passion. When he says he isn’t worth that much, I think it might be because he seems himself as something of a fraud.

Master Yukina

Kousei continues to resist his interest in Shion, but one fun development out of this is Yukina and Shion’s friendship! I’m a fan of how Yukina and Shion quickly lose track of what they were talking about in the first place—It’s like watching a real and genuine friendship grow. Shion starts to call Yukina Shisou (“Master”), and I hope we get more of this in the future.

Jin, Kozue, Yumerun

Given the tiny bit of blushing, I can’t help but wonder if Kozue feels something for Jin beyond his surprisingly muscular body. The fact that she has a thing for that childhood friend of hers already means she’s potentially into multiple guys—a nice change of pace from so many other manga. The story seems to be going towards forging a bond between Jin and Kozue, and I think maybe it’s precisely because Kozue can’t sing all that well that she’s the right person to talk to Jin. Akira might very well drive Jin further down the hole, while Kozue’s lack of skill means that “having the music inside yourself” isn’t necessarily tied to one’s ability.

The fact that Jin was entirely unaware of Yumerun’s love for him is completely unsurprising, and I still wonder if he might be somewhere on the spectrum. Yumerun’s near-yandere romantic emotions are equally unsurprising. If there is some kind of love triangle at work here, I don’t know which I would cheer for. All possibilities are excellent, even the less orthodox ones.

Songs

“Haru yo, Koi” (“Come, Spring”) by Matsutouya Yumi.

“Mugi no Uta” (“Song of Wheat”) by Nakajima Miyuki. The lyrics of this song in particular feel like they’re talking to Jin and his current problems. “Even if the wheat loses its wings, songs have their wings.”

Final Thoughts

Akira refers to Yumerun as “Yumeru” in this chapter, and I can’t entirely tell if that’s actually her name or if Akira is just misremembering it. If it’s the latter, it’s a reminder that they barely met each other.

All Eyes On: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 45

Akira asks everyone whether they think a beginner can get into music college.

So much of what I’ve been wanting and anticipating has finally hit in what is one of the most impactful chapters of Hashikko Ensemble yet.

Summary

At a meeting, Akira openly asks the Chorus Appreciation Society members if they think he has what it takes to get into a music college. While Tsuyama gets mad at him for bringing that up among students at a vocation-focused technical high school, Jin points to Akira’s many impressive qualities as a singer. However, while Jin’s words are filled with praise, his demeanor barely hides his conflicted emotions. But even though Jin doesn’t understand what exactly he’s feeling, it has a real effect on him physically and psychologically—Upon attempting a rehearsal, his voice cuts out, and he finds himself unable to sing. To everyone’s surprise, Jin takes a break from chorus activities.

Without Jin, the society’s general mood turns sour, and as Valentine’s Day approaches, Kozue gets an idea: Hold a private Valentine’s Day performance in their meeting room, with all the girls—even the normally non-participatory Kanon and Mimi-sensei—as the singers. The girls give the guys their chocolate (including certain romantic hopefuls trying their luck), but the “concert” itself has a couple twists. First, as per Japanese tradition, this Valentine’s Day event is to be reciprocated by the guys via a White Day performance. Second, a couple of guests are included among the girls: Hashimoto Tech’s resident arm wrestling champion,Yukina, and Jin’s childhood friend and ace soprano, Yumerun. As the performance begins, the chapter ends.

Jin Reaches the Breaking Point

Jin starts to sing but then suddenly stops, and it almost looks like his entire being is shattering from around the throat area.

Jin’s spiral was more a matter of “when” than “if,” and it signals a crucial moment in Hashikko Ensemble. Up to this point, the friendship between him and Akira has been the lynchpin of both the manga and the Chorus Appreciation Society within. To see a serious metaphorical fracture is the most direct drama we’ve seen as of yet.

Jin’s inner conflict seems clear to me: His mind and his heart are at odds with each other. On the one hand, he intellectually understands on a deep level everything about Akira’s talents and continuous improvement, and even wants him to succeed as both a friend and a person undeniably passionate about music. On the other hand, seeing Akira accomplish so much more in such a short period (even earning praise from Jin’s infamously blunt mother) must fill him with an envy that’s hard to isolate from his other emotions. As Jin states in his thoughts, he feels proud that he’s the one who discovered Akira and who first recognized his potential, but for the master to have been surpassed by the student so soon is itself a blow to Jin’s pride in himself that he achieved through hard work. It’s like Jin wants Akira to both succeed and fail, and this has compromised his ability to approach music itself.

I live for this kind of complex emotional richness in manga.

The Girls Do Their Thing

Kozue announces Yumerun as the special guest.

I’ve been hoping to see the girls do their own thing. It’s not just for some arbitrary requirement to fulfill, but simply that there are so many excellent female characters that I feel they could use a spotlight that’s founded in the very gimmick of Hashikko Ensemble: music. I did not expect Yukina or Yumerun to show up, but their presence is welcome.

I suspect that the reason Yumerun is part of the performance is because this is, in part, Kozue’s plan to get Jin out of his funk, and she’s been in regular contact with Yumerun ever since M-Con. The way Jin instantly beams upon seeing Yumerun shows a connection that’s different from what he has with everyone in the main group, including Akira, and I think Kozue recognizes that bond. The deal about the guys having to return the favor on White Day only adds to the idea of this performance being a way to encourage Jin to find back.

Speaking of Yumerun, I love the reaction to her from Mai. While Hashikko Ensemble is full of eccentric personalities, there’s something about Yumerun that exudes “odd duck” vibes. It’s not just the fancy dress either, as her mere presence—especially that “anxious confidence” look she always has on her face—kind of feels like a disco ball in human form.

Mai, Yukina, Kanon, Kozue, Yumerun, and Mimi-sensei singing.

I also love this image of all the girls singing together because you can really see their personalities shining through. Kanon is nervous and unsure of herself. Kozue is earnest but also in an unfamiliar situation. Yumerun is, well, Extremely Extra.

Songs

“III. Blue” from “The Wings of Mind”

“Haru yo, Koi” (“Come, Spring”) by Matsutouya Yumi. This is the song the girls start performing at the end of the chapter.

Final Thoughts

Volume 7 of the manga is on sale in Japan and worth checking out. There’s a picture of Mai and Yumerun together in swimsuits, and the fact that it came out before this chapter (which is their official first meeting) is interesting. 

Orihara Kousei Has a Posse: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 44

All the members of the Chorus Appreciation Society singing together intensely.

Summary

The Christmas-themed concert at Kousei’s orphanage continues, with the two sides (Christmas crew vs. Namahage Tsuyamers) joining together to sing a couple of songs as one. Kozue (still dressed as God) announces them as the Hashimoto High Chorus Appreciation Society, or “Hashi-kou Ensemble” for short.

The kids in the audience enjoy their performance, while Rikurou (the delinquent kid) is especially surprised by Kousei’s impressive singing. The orphanage’s assistant director thinks back to when a young Kousei first listened to a chorus concert himself. Later, Kousei has a heart-to-heart with Rikurou, where he talks about his dream: to buy a relatively inexpensive plot of land in a rural area, and use the architecture skills he’s learning in high school to build a house of his own where he can invite people over to listen to music.

During the concert, Jin notices Akira’s continued improvement in his singing—even in relatively higher notes, as opposed to the low notes that are Akira’s especially. Afterward, Akira casually mentions wanting to study music, which takes Jin by surprise. The caption at the end wonders how Jin will handle Akira potentially doing what Jin felt he never could.

They Said the Thing

Kozue, dressed as God, announces the group as the "Hashi-kou Ensemble"(Hashi High Ensemble).

This is the first time that the title of the series is (more or less) mentioned by the characters themselves, and it feels like a real milestone. What I think about is the sheer size of the group at this point, going from just Akira and Jin to around a dozen members. They’re on the verge of transitioning from appreciation society to full-fledged club, and I get a real sense of growth looking back at what’s transpired. 

At this point, there’s only one girl among the actual singers, and I see that changing as the story progresses. 

A Dream of a Home

Rikurou and Minori, kids at orihara's orpanage, being impressed by the singing.

Kousei is a character with a lot of layers, and I really love the reveal as to what he’s been working towards all this time. It’s strong and sweet, and encapsulates both the pain and healing that Kousei has been through. 

There’s potentially a conversation about toxic masculinity to be had here, though I don’t know if it’s necessarily limited to perceptions of manhood. What I do see is Rikurou’s previous anger towards Kousei for doing something decidedly uncool and unmanly in his eyes, and then how Kousei manages to change Rikurou’s mind about everything. Kousei’s masculinity is complex, and even though he’s quick to get into a fight, he’s also kind and caring in his own way, and even a bit vulnerable—like his bashfulness over Shion. During his talk with Rikurou, asks if Shion is his girlfriend, which Kousei strongly denies. We know, though, that he’s held back by the belief that he’s from a world too different from hers.

Songs

“My Neighbor Totoro” from the Studio Ghibli film

“Let It Go” (Japanese) from Frozen

Niji” (“Rainbow”) from “Itsu kara No ni Tatsute” (“Standing in the Field, Lost in Time”)

Kamome” composed by Kinoshita Makiko

As always, I have an ever-growing Youtube playlist of most of the songs featured in Hashikko Ensemble.

Final Thoughts

This was a good spotlight on Kousei, though I think the manga’s going to focus on other characters after this.

The series keeps building to some kind of confrontation between Akira and Jin, and I have to wonder when things will come to a head. 

It’s the ’Hara Knock Life: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 43

Akira, Jin, and Mai singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to little kids

We get a glimpse of Kousei’s home life (and a Christmas concert!) in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 43.

Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society is visiting the orphanage where Kousei’s been raised, and they plan to hold a Christmas concert for the kids there. ItThere, Akira and the others meet three people in particular: Zenba Yoshimi, the assistant director of the orphanage; Hayase Minori, a 6th grader; and Sawamura Rikurou, a middle school delinquent. Rikurou clearly looks up to Kousei, and he doesn’t understand why Kousei would hang out with the Chorus Appreciation Society or take up singing.

The day of the concert, members of the Appreciation Society are dressed for the occasion, with Kousei taking on the role of Santa Claus himself. The Tsuyamers then come in as namahage (New Year’s demons) to “scare” the children, only for a fight between Santa Kousei and Hage Tsuyama to be interrupted by Kozue dressed as God. Though part of the show, the tension between Kousei and Tsuyama is all too real. 

God Kozue proposes a singing competition instead. Tsuyamers go with “My Neighbor Totoro,” while Akira’s group sings “Let It Go.”

Happy Holidays

Kozue, dressed as God, declares a sing-off between Santa Kousei and Namahage Tsuyama

I appreciate the particular blend of cultures we see around Christmas and New Year’s in Japan, between the Santa stuff, the namahage, and Kozue as the Judeo-Christian God with stereotypical white beard and all. The fact that they didn’t go with Jesus probably says a lot.

Imagination Station

I find it noteworthy how this chapter is how it starts, which is right at the orphanage. There was no scene in the previous chapter showing Kousei explaining his past to the other characters, nor was there any discussion regarding singing at his orphanage. And yet, because the characters have such strong and rich portrayals, it’s easy to imagine how this ended up happening. In particular, because Kousei has opened up over time, one gets the sense that he barely okayed this because he’s easily embarrassed but would like to give back to the place where he grew up. 

It’s also through the new characters we meet that we can get a glimpse of what Kousei’s life has been like since he was rescued from his abusive mother. 

The People in Kousei’s Life

Yoshimi, the assistant director of the orphanage, mentions that Kousei used to cry into her chest at night

Yoshimi, Minori, and Rikurou each make quite strong first impressions, and it’s easy to see how they’ve affected and been affected by having Kousei in their lives. 

At the start of the chapter, Kozue asks Yoshimi what Kousei was like as a kid, and despite Kousei angrily telling Yoshimi to keep shut, she nonchalantly mentions him often crying at night. She seems like a tough lady who takes no shit from anyone, and someone who’s accustomed to handling children like Kousei and Rikurou. I can also easily see her attitude rubbing off on Kousei. The orphanage itself also seems well run.

Minori tries to act mature, explaining that she’s not like the other little kids there. Yoshimi explains to the group that she’s smart, but she’s also in a hurry to grow up. From the little we see of her, she does come across as actively trying to have a good head on her shoulders, even dispensing advice to the older Rikurou. Minori is the one who points out that Kousei established the rule about not hitting anyone younger than you at the orphanage, and calls out Rikurou’s anger as jealousy over possibly losing Kousei.

Rikurou is the closest in demeanor to Kousei, to the point that much of it is probably him trying to emulate his role model. The kid clearly thinks the world of Kousei, and he’s threatened by the Chorus Appreciation Society the way an only child might feel about a new sibling. There’s fear and pain there, and Rikurou likely tries to compensate for it with his tough-guy persona. 

Speaking of Jealousy…

There are a few moments concerning the ever-so-slightly icier relationship between Jin and Akira. Jin mentally notes how much Akira has improved, while Akira realizes he kind of likes the change in attitude from Jin towards him. While not explained why Akira sees an upside to this, it’s probably because Jin has always been this larger-than-life figure when it comes to singing. For Jin to look at Akira with any kind of envy is, in a certain sense, a sign of Akira’s own progress.

Songs

Because they’re singing for an orphanage, all the tunes this month are for kids.

(Note that Youtube doesn’t let you add children-oriented videos to playlists, so many of these won’t be included on the big Hashikko Ensemble playlist).

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Japanese)

“Awatenbou no Santa Claus” (Hasty Santa Claus) is a Christmas song of Japanese origins.

“Jingle Bells (Japanese)”

“My Neighbor Totoro” from the Studio Ghibli film

“Let It Go” (or “Ari no Mama de” in Japanese) from Frozen

Final Thoughts

It’s interesting that the three characters we meet at the orphanage are all different age groups compared to Kousei. Their interactions show less of a peer dynamic and more of a somewhat intergenerational one. Because these three aren’t high school age, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a whole lot of them, but I’m sure they’re going to pop up from time to time even after this specific story ends.

Kanon Indeed: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 42

Kozue commences a competition among the boys to do push-ups while singing

The Chorus Appreciation Society bolsters its ranks, but not all is smooth sailing.

Summary

In a small change of pace, this chapter is largely from the point of view of Kanon. Despite the big win and Kozue’s fiery speech, the only students who have decided to join the Chorus Appreciation Society are Tsuyama’s crew (aka the Tsuyamars) because Mimi-sensei is their advisor. And right as Kanon is resigned to not participating more actively because this Appreciation Society is guy-focused, Kurotaki Mai shows up both asking to join and clearly having her eyes on Akira. 

After some exercise (during which Kozue explains that theirs is basically an athletics club in terms of physical conditioning), things escalate into a competition between the current guys and the Tsuyamars to see who will be part leaders. In particular, Tsuyama and Kousei have a particularly fiery rivalry, on account of their both being baritones and delinquents quick to violence. Thanks to the conditioning of the veteran members, they all retain their spots, but within the little conversations happening, Kanon senses an increased awkwardness from Jin to Akira.

Kanonical Perspective

Kanon looks back toward the reader while sitting in the back of the clubroom

I’m appreciative of the fact that Kio was willing to switch things up and give Kanon a spotlight of sorts. So far, she’s largely been the relatively normal friend of Shion and Kozue, and one might uncharitably call her “boring.” But in addition to the manga emphasizing that she’s feeling a greater desire to participate more actively in some way, Kanon is also shown to have the keenest eye when it comes to social dynamics. She immediately recognizes Mai as the girl with a huge crush on Akira. She notices a greater closeness between Shion and Kousei, as well as Jin and Kozue. And, as mentioned, she can tell that Jin’s viewing Akira differently—though it’s not certain if she’s making the connection to Jin’s mom publicly recognizing Akira’s talent in front of her son.

I’ve compared Kozue a bit to Kasukabe Saki from Genshiken because of their no-nonsense attitudes, but because of Kanon’s ability to recognize shifting relationships, I think she might fit that role better in certain respects. The fact that Kozue is kind of an oddball in her own right also means that she can’t play the straight man the way Saki would. Perhaps Kanon is more like a less abrasive Sasahara Keiko? In any case, I’d like to see at least a few more Kanon-centric chapters in the future—perhaps even one where she’s the actual center instead of just the POV character.

Mai Joins the Party!

Kurotaki Mai asks if they’re accepting female members

Ever since her introduction, I have been hoping and predicting that Kurotaki Mai would eventually join the club, and now it’s finally happened. But while she’s been a potential love interest for Akira from the get-go, I really did not expect her to be waging an active campaign for his affections! As Kanon notices, not only does Mai enter the clubroom with a clear intent and purpose (even making a beeline straight for Akira), but she went as far as shortening her skirt. I think a part of me might be a little too used to a certain greater level of old-fashioned indirectness in these story situations, but I welcome whatever this is.

Kanon is surprised to see Akira react so casually and obliviously to Mai turning up the charm, to which she begins to wonder if Akira is into “bratty” girls like Shion and Himari. Kanon is portrayed as being especially observant, but I’m not certain she has an accurate peg on him, and I still believe Mai has a chance. Also, I like how right towards the end of the chapter, we get a little glimpse into more of Mai’s personality when she urges Akira and Ogawa to keep competing. While Ogawa is willing to forfeit because he has no particular desire to be the part leader for the bass section, Mai responds with, “Huh…? But there’s no point if this isn’t a serious competition?” It’s as if she wants Akira to live up to her lofty and romantic expectations of him. In other words, we’ve got another weirdo in the group, and that means my fondness for Mai only grows stronger.

Songs

This month’s sole song is “Sora mo Toberu hazu” by Spitz. It’s only natural, because of Mimi-sensei’s love of the band and, in turn, the Tsuyamars’ worship of Mimi-sensei.

Final Thoughts

First, I think this manga is going to get even better now that we’ll be seeing more Mai. I might be biased, though.


Second, while it barely got mentioned in this chapter, I’m really expecting a greater exploration of Jin’s new tension when it comes to Akira. The idea of intra-club volatility is new to Hashikko Ensemble—not only with Jin and Akira or Tsuyama and Kousei, but also Mai and Shion—and I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of drama and silliness arise. 

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.