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.