R.I.P. Nerd? More like RIPPED Nerd: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 5

I’ve liked Hashikko Ensemble well enough so far, but this is the first time I’ve found myself laughing over and over again while reading.

Summary

The rugby club has their eyes set on recruiting Orihara, but he doesn’t want anything to do with them. Jin wants Orihara for the ensemble club, but when the rugby boys claim that their sport is perfect for strapping young fellows, Jin reveals a secret: he’s actually incredibly ripped!

Jin and the rugby captain decide to settle it with a competition: who can do the most push-ups while reciting the school anthem? But while they seem even, Jin has a trick: harmonizing with the captain to throw him off! Jin’s ploy is successful, and he wins the right to Orihara, but the guy doesn’t care. An altercation with the rugby captain, who demands Orihara honor the bet, causes Orihara to take a swing, accidentally breaking his earphones in the process. An incensed Orihara leaves the classroom, only to run into Akira.

Singing is a Man’s Sport

Who would’ve thought that Kimura Jim was that built? He’s practically Muten Roshi from Dragon Ball or the Incredible Hulk! I simply did not expect this twist, and while I assume it’ll not alter the general story in any crazy way, it does highlight just how into music Jin really is. He got that body just so he could sing better!

Funny thing: as I started this chapter, I thought to myself how Hashikko Ensemble showcases Kio’s knack for depicting realistic characters, where the humor doesn’t feel overtly “manga-esque.”

Then the shirts started coming off. Between the reaction from Hasegawa (whose clear preference for macho bodies comedically contrasts with her friend’s interest in more handsome types) and the “singing push-up” competition, the chapter hit a certain level of absurd that both deviates from Kio’s norm and reinforces that strength in characterization. It’s ridiculous but still somehow down to earth, and not in that healing slice-of-life way.

Orihara’s Part-Time Job?

Orihara has a part-time job of some kind, and it appears to have major implications. Orihara himself states that it’s the reason he can’t join any clubs. Jin guesses—correctly, it seems—that the job has something to do with his voice. I have no idea what that could be, but perhaps he works the loudspeaker at a supermarket or something.

Also, according to Jin, it’s work that probably requires Orihara to be heard, and he theorizes that Orihara has developed a rich baritone where his facial movements allow him to transmit sound more clearly without having to be as loud. This is also some solid storytelling, as it connects one of the first scenes in the chapter, the face exercises Akira and Jin are doing on the title page, with this new information.

The Girls

It might seem unusual that I bring up the female characters in every review, but that’s mainly because their purposes in the story are nowhere near as obvious compared to Akira, Jin, and even Orihara fall into the general flow of the narrative. Gradually, chapter by chapter, they come more into view. In Chapter 5, we learn about Kurata’s antagonistic perspective on club activities, which in her eyes serve no purpose in a high school devoted to tech and engineering—especially not music. Is her path continued opposition of the Ensemble Club? If so, would it be more active or passive? Questions, questions.

I actually didn’t recognize Kurata at first, because she’s only shown up so far with her hair tied up and an intense look in her eye as she tries to master subtlety and control with her tools. The fact that she looks so serious and together in this chapter contrasts somewhat with her previous depictions. The only thing that makes it crystal clear it’s the same girl is the closeup on her eye. If there’s any way to describe her, it might be “serious business to the point of comedy.”

Hasegawa seems pretty nonchalant in general, so seeing her freak out over some hard bodies adds an extra wrinkle to her character. I find it noteworthy that she can talk to Orihara so naturally when he’s implied to be just as buff. Does she really only react to bare muscles, or is there something else? I also wonder if Hasegawa’s going to be into Jin, or if the fact that there’s plenty of muscles to go around means no direct romance.

The Science of Hearing

When Jin is talking to Orihara about the latter’s cryptic “I can’t hear it but I can” statement, he brings up two terms: “phoneme restoration” and “aural harmonic.”

Phoneme restoration, or the phoneme restoration effect, refers to when a listener somehow hears a sound during speech that wasn’t actually present. Under the right conditions, a word could be pronounced with noise replacing or overlapping certain consonants, and our brains fill them in as if they were there.

Aural harmonic is “an overtone that is heard by the normal ear when a pure tone of suitable frequency and intensity is sounded and that is presumably due to the nonlinear response of the ear mechanism.”

In other words, both refer to effects that alter listening and make you hear things that aren’t necessarily there. It’s unclear as to whether or not this applies to Orihara, though.

Songs

No special songs this month! Just the school song again, albeit done by buff guys doing push-ups.

Final Thoughts

I wonder if Orihara’s presumed ability to make his voice heard despite not speaking very loudly means he’s going to be a teacher of sorts for Akira. And as for Jin, I wonder if everyone in school will see him differently now.

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That Distant Roar: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 4

As I continue to read this manga, I continue to find it hard to predict. That’s all part of the fun, though. There’s also much to be admired about the characters, especially Jin—even if he’s a bit lacking in social tact.

By the way, I was lucky enough to be in Japan when this new issue of Monthly Afternoon came out! That’s why the images are photos this month, instead of digital screenshots.

Summary

Jin’s found the perfect place for Akira to practice projecting his voice, and it’s an open stairwell at school with plenty of foot traffic. Acoustically, the location is ideal, and Jin does his best to break down how singing works. But Akira’s easily embarrassed, so they only get so far.

Jin’s still got his eye on the prize, though, and needs at least three more members to make the Ensemble Club a reality. To that end, he has his sights on two classmates: Hanyama (that jokester son of a Buddhist priest), and the burly, delinquent-looking Orihara. Meanwhile, Orihara himself is getting into fights after getting accosted by a classmate. During this incident, Orihara’s heard uttering something cryptic: “I can’t hear it, but I can.”

Jin might be intrigued by Orihara’s statement, but it seems the rugby club also has their eyes set on him. Can the nascent Ensemble Club get to Orihara before they can?

What’s in a Name?

Up to this point, I didn’t quite realize why the series is called Hashikko Ensemble. Turns out it was pretty much staring at me in the face the whole time! Much like how Genshiken is short for Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyuukai (“The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture”), the full title of this manga is Hashikko Ensemble: Hashimoto Kougyou Koukou Gasshuubu, or “Hashimoto Technical High School Ensemble Club.” So that clears up one mystery!

Another interesting tidbit I noticed is that the kanji for “Hashimoto” (端本) can also be pronounced as hahen, which means “incomplete.” Given how the characters are currently without a full club, I wonder if this is intentional.

Arts and Sciences

While I mentioned the technical high school setting of Hashikko Ensemble as an interesting backdrop for this manga’s narrative, it’s with this chapter that the juxtaposition of arts (music) and science (technical engineering) comes into the forefront. I think this is what makes Jin such a fascinating character. He takes a scientific approach to art, but his passion is anything but robotic.

Jin gives two different explanations for how voices work: a human one, and a technical one. The first one is “breath, vibration, and resonance.” The second one is “compression, oscillation, reverberation.” Akira seems to find something of an answer, but it’s not clear what did the trick.

A few years ago, I took some classes to help with speaking in public, and one of the lessons I learned was making “SHHH” sounds like I’m trying to shoot something down with my breath. In this chapter, Jin advises something similar to Akira as a way to train projecting his voice. I knew already that Kio does research for this series—it’s evident in the content—but it’s nice on a personal level seeing it line up with my own life experiences.

Orihara’s Secret

Orihara’s line has me curious too, but I’m just as curious as to why Jin responded to it so positively. Just what is it that Jin sees in him?

With only a layman’s understanding of sound and music, I can only guess at what the answer is. Perhaps Orihara has excellent hearing, and can detect sounds that most cannot. The beginning of the chapter features a lesson on how lower sounds remain longer, so maybe Orihara can hear those really low tones—the kind that Akira can produce.

What About the Girls?

Two female characters are featured in this chapter. Interestingly, both are in the same woodworking class as Orihara, and have scenes that involve him either directly or indirectly.

Kurata was introduced in the previous chapter, using more strength than necessary to saw through some wood, and we see in Chapter 4 that this is a persistent characteristic. She’s like a bull in a china shop, lacking in grace and trying to make up for it with energy and power. She’s shown right before Orihara, who’s much more in control even with his enormous strength, making a comparison between what Orihara does right and Kurata does wrong all the more noticeable.

The other girl is Hasegawa, who nonchalantly asks Orihara how she can complete the woodworking assignment in class more smoothly. As the other characters note, her lack of fear is impressive. I have to wonder if either of them will join the Ensemble Club, especially given their proximity to the main cast at this point.

Songs

No songs again this month, only a lot of shouting, “AH!”

[Insert Akira Tozawa chants here]

Final Thoughts

Kurata’s only appeared twice, but I’m already enjoying her character. There’s something about a spaz who gets way too pumped that speaks to me. Both her and Orihara bring a lot of facial expressions that weren’t common in Genshiken, so it’s nice to see Kio’s expressive range in his artwork.

Make It Happen: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 3

Small steps lead to lots of self-resolution in Chapter 3 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Jin has discovered that Akira has a natural Singer’s Formant, and wants more than ever to sing with him despite the fact that Singer’s Formant isn’t terribly practical in an ensemble because it can drown out voices out. What’s more, Akira can’t seem to replicate it! So Jin tries to find a way to trigger it, including putting himself in harm’s way and finding a room where Akira will feel comfortable. Neither go as planned, but one important development through all this is that Akira genuinely wants to sing now!

Bass of the Diamond

The fact that Singer’s Formant is considered impractical in a vocal ensemble is all the more intriguing because of Jin himself. Since Chapter 1, it’s been established that he’s a loud singer—a point further reinforced in this chapter. When Jin starts singing along with the school rugby team and actually overpowers all of them simultaneously, it shows his lungs are a cut above the rest. Could it be that while Singer’s Formant typically overshadows other singers in groups, that Jin can “keep up” with and possibly complement it? Is this like a baseball manga with an ultimate pitcher and an ultimate catcher (no BL puns outright intended)?

The Atypical School Setting

Manga set in high schools are a dime a dozen, but the background emphasis of their school as a technical and engineering school feels refreshing. It hasn’t played a major role yet, but it’s just different enough from the vaguely define manga norm and just prominent enough that it makes me curious about the school as a whole. Seeing boys and girls joking around but also trying their hands at different areas like woodworking gives a certain sense of realism that can sometimes feel lost in the idealized school settings of other manga.

In Genshiken, we don’t even really know what characters’ majors are. Here, we’re clearly seeing the kind of education they’re getting, even if it’s not the focus of the story.

Students and Teachers

In this chapter, as Jin continues to try and find a club adviser, we find out that one of the teachers is into classical music… because of Sound! Euphonium. There’s something charming about seeing not just teens or students being affected by anime but full-fledged adults as well.

Hanmoto (the buddhist priest’s son) talks about how he would fend off Orimura (the guy who almost punched Jin for taking his earphones), in order to get a hug from “Mimi-sensei.” That seems to be Kitano-sensei from last chapter—maybe Mimi is her first name? I’m either case, it appears that Kitano-sensei has a reputation; her physical endowment is not lost among the boys.

I also keep wondering if guys like Hanmoto will actually join, or if they’ll remain side characters.

Songs

No new songs this month! There’s only the Hashimoto Technical High School’s official song.

Final Thoughts

There’s a scene where Jin sees an old classmate who’s joined the rugby club despite being downright scrawny. Akira’s thoughts in response—if he can do it, maybe I can too!—highlights that Akira is actually surprisingly positive. It’s as if he’s previously fooled himself into thinking he easily gives up, but there’s a fire inside.

Ensemblers Assemble: Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 2

It’s the second chapter (and the first regular-sized chapter) of Shimoku’s new manga!

Summary

Kimura Jin wants members for his ensemble club, and he’s asking the quiet yet unusually deep-voiced Fujiyoshi Akira to join. Akira’s reluctant, but Jin has a proposition: if he can help Akira speak more loudly, Akira will join the club. Akira tentatively agrees.

But while Jin calls it an ensemble “club,” it’s more of an “appreciation society” at the moment—the distinction being that a group only gets club status if it has five or more members and an advisor. Jin’s first choice for advisor, Takano-sensei, refuses because she’s more of a violin specialist than a vocal one.

Jin’s also not the only one trying to get a club off the ground, as a friendly (?) rival in Hachida Shinji, who has dreams of forming a “mountain castle club.” Shinji is skeptical of Akira’s chances of speaking at a normal level, to which Jin replies that Akira’s body will understand.

As the three continue to talk/argue, they run into the Class 5 teacher, Kitano-sensei, who’s lecturing a blond delinquent-looking student named Orihara. Unbeknown to Kitano, Orihara is actually wearing noise-canceling earphones. Jin pulls out of Orihara’s ears to have a listen, prompting Orihara to start swinging at Jin, which then causes Akira to instinctively yell out. His voice is so deep and resonates so much that it astounds everyone. Jin’s first thought: Akira has “singer’s formant,” i.e. the ability to sing both loudly and clearly, which usually only comes with musical training.

Story in Motion

So now we’ve established the initial goal, and it’s the classic “getting enough club members” story—a tried and true trope that I don’t mind one bit.

If things go as typically expected, Orihara is on track to becoming a member. I have to wonder what his for might be, both character-wise and voice-wiser. Hachida Shinji is a potential member as well. Maybe they’ll pull the “combined club” trick, a la Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai with its “eastern magic and napping society.”

Shinji

As an aside, the idea of a club dedicated to studying mountain castles is tremendous, and I hope Shinji gets his wish.

I also think Kitano-sensei will be their advisor, but that might just be wishful thinking. Her brief appearance has already made me a fan. She’s adorable!

Another character I think is going to make a splash is a female classmate named Hakamada. In this chapter, Jin asks her what music she’s listening to, and something about the way she’s framed says to me that she’ll be significant somehow.

Jin is a Character

The way that Akira ends up yelling out plays perfectly into Jin’s notion that he’ll understand what to do “with his body”—as in almost by instinct. But is Jin actually the calculating type? He sure doesn’t seem that way. And yet, he’s also the one who offered Akira exactly what he wants.

Jin might look like a typical anime otaku, but he really is a music otaku through and through. He carries around a device to measure the number of Hertz in people’s voices and appears to have both a technical and intrinsic understanding of singing. What’s more, he hears an anime song and thinks “Ghibli? Disney? Eva?” as opposed to something more hardcore.

Jin’s vocal range really is absurd. It was established in the first chapter, but here he basically shows that he can cover most of the guy parts (as well as some girl parts) and only really needs Jin for the deepest registers.

By the way, Akira is actually a bass, not a baritone! I madea mistake in my description last review. Chalk that up to me having no real music knowledge.

Singer’s Formant

Speaking of being a total newbie when it comes to music, I’m still not entirely sure I understand Singer’s Formant. As far as I can tell, certain sounds don’t carry as well, so singers train to be able to project loudly and clearly over even orchestras in large spaces. Correct me if I’m wrong!

I also found this video, which might help explain things better.

Songs

If you’re wondering what that “anime” song is that Jin is asking about at the beginning, it’s. “Trancing Pulse” by Triad Primus from The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls.

Final Thoughts

Actually, a lot of teachers are introduced quickly in this episode and they all seem full of personality. I’m looking forward to seeing which ones become more prominent as the manga progresses.

Until next time!

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Kio Shimoku and Genshiken Trivia, Courtesy of “Mou, Shimasen Kara”

Over the past year, the manga magazine Monthly Afternoon has featured interviews in comic form with its own serialized manga authors through the series Mou, Shimasen kara. Afternoon Gekiryuu-hen by Nishimoto Hideo. This past month’s issue puts the spotlight on Genshiken and now Hashikko Ensemble creator, Kio Shimoku, so I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing all of the Kio factoids in it.

-For the first time ever, Kio actually reveals his “face” (albeit in manga form). He’s known for being a private person, but he decided show himself through this manga. He reasons, “I’m over 40 now, so what does it matter if I show my face or not?”

-Kio used to work analog, but has been an all-digital artist ever since Jigopuri. He does everything, from thumbnails to color, all on his Wacom. He doesn’t customize his pen or brush settings much.

-He almost never uses assistants. Kio had one assistant on Genshiken Nidaime and none for Hashikko Ensemble, his new series. For those who don’t know, this is highly unusual.

-Kio got the inspiration for Hashikko Ensemble because his daughter joined a vocal ensemble, and he happened to listen to an all-male group.

-He was never a musician, but knew a local group, so he did do some singing for them about once a month, and even had a voice trainer. He’s a second tenor, which was the basis for Akira’s baritone in Hashikko Ensemble. Kio has a fairly deep voice himself, so he decided to exaggerate it for the manga.

-Once, in school, he saw two kids harmonizing on the way to class, providing further inspiration. “I want my manga to make readers want to sing.”

-Kio was in the softball club in elementary school, the judo club in junior high where he was the captain, and the art club in high school.

-He submitted his first manga in high school, for Shounen Sunday. It was about a high school student who works at a used bookstore and discovers an ancient text that he then tries to decipher.

He drew a lot when he was kid, and was an otaku in middle school, where he imitated Doraemon, Kinnikuman, and Captain Tsubasa.

-However, he stopped drawing between 4th grade of elementary and the start of middle school. This was because he was really into Miyazaki Hayao as a kid, and when he couldn’t copy Miyazaki successfully, he got depressed and stopped trying for those few years.

-In middle school, he helped a friend out by drawing backgrounds for his manga, only for Kio to realize he was also better at drawing the characters too. One day, when he tried to draw Miyazaki characters again, he noticed he had gotten way better.

-He wanted to be an animator, but Ghibli only wanted people 18 and up. Once, he created a manga based on the Laputa novel in a couple of notebooks.

-In college, he majored in Japanese art because he thought the pencil and brush skills would translate to manga.

-Kio’s dad worked at an insurance company, and while he wasn’t flat out against Kio’s aspirations, he would constantly ask him to consider the risk of being a manga creator. This made Kio want to quickly win a manga reward, to help his parents accept it.

-The school he went to had a club called the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, becoming the inspiration for Genshiken. Surprisingly, however, Kio was actually only a member for half a year. He didn’t quit because if anything in particular, he’s just not good with group activities.

-Despite what it might seem, the Genshiken characters are not based on any real life counterparts.

-In response to the realism of his characters, Kio says he tries to convey a sense of “presence” with them.

-Kio feels Genshiken came at the perfect time, matching the zeitgeist of the era. However, it makes him feel like a one-hit wonder. If Hashikko Ensemble fails, he’s going to feel enormous pressure.

-He didn’t attend a technical high school so he needs more research. One of he authors of Mou, Shimasen kara. did, and the other has a sister who attended one, so they try to help out.

Thoughts

Kio’s done a lot!! He sort of seems like a renaissance man.

That bit of surprise aside, it is fascinating finding out just how many aspects of his own personal life and career have made their way into his manga. The attending a Genshiken-like club is one thing, but it’s notable that he was in the judo club and then the art club—just like Hato. He also converted to using a tablet monitor for manga at some point—just like Ogiue. While his characters aren’t based on any real people in particular, he takes bits of himself and places them in his creations. While not stated outright, I think it’s pretty clear that Jigopuri (which is about raising a baby) is the product of firsthand experience.

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“I Go High, You Go Low”: Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 1

Genshiken author Kio Shimoku has debuted a brand-new manga series this month, and it’s a bit of a departure from the otaku-centric tribulations of daily life that he’s known for. Fan that i am, I’ve decided to start doing monthly reviews for it, much like my previous Genshiken Nidaime posts.

Summary

Fujiyoshi Akira and Kimura Jin are new students at Hashimoto Technical High School. Akira sports an unusually deep voice that cracks when he tries to raise it, so he generally avoids speaking if he can help it. Jin is anything but quiet. Notorious throughout the school for his undaunting enthusiasm and his loud, boisterous tunes between classes, Jin wants to recruit fellow students to form a vocal ensemble.

When Jin notices Akira’s exceptional baritone, he sees Akira’s voice as the perfect complement to his own alto-soprano range, and becomes dead-set on having Akira join, all while unaware that Akira was actually a singer himself in middle school before his voice changed. While Akira is reluctant, he ends up having second thoughts for one major reason—Jin thinks he knows how to fix Akira’s voice.

A Dynamic Duo

Although Hashikko Ensemble has only just begun, the concept of a pair that’s greater than the sum of its parts has me intrigued. It’s not exactly new territory, with titles like Haikyu!! and Kuroko’s Basketball among the more famous, but I am curious to see how this turns out in a non-sports, non-shounen narrative.

Making Akira’s voice extremely deep is a simple yet unorthodox character choice. While I’m no expert on singing manga, my experience is that main characters in such series tend to stand out because they can sing extra high (such as in the manga Shounen Note) or powerfully. It’s also uncommon, despite the commonness of teenage settings in manga, for the voice-cracking that comes part and parcel with puberty to actually come up in series.

One aspect of Akira that isn’t entirely clear is whether his reticence over his voice is because of the attention he receives from the other students (who inevitably remark how “manly” it sounds), because it’s a painful reminder of when he could sing, or some combination of the two. Whatever the reason, it helps to give Akira a strong sense of character and presence, despite his fairly generic appearance and demeanor.

In contrast, Jin stands out tremendously. Because of the way he looks, comparisons with Onoda Sakamichi from Yowamushi Pedal feel inevitable, but two differ in two important ways: Jin seems immune to embarrassment, and he’s a “music otaku” rather than an “anime otaku.” There’s something about a guy who so overwhelmingly looks like a dork while being utterly fearless in the face of his peers that instantly appeals to me. It’s what I aspired to be in my teenage years, so I find Jin quite admirable. As for what being a music otaku means, Jin has a scientific understanding of sound and voices, speaking of vocal cord vibrations and decibels, which is why he believes he can help Akira.

“Ensemble” Cast

While the main focus of this opening chapter is Akira and Jin, there are plenty of side characters with potential to enrich the story. As with Kio’s other series, realistic portrayals of human relationships look to be one of Hashikko Ensemble’s strengths, and I look forward to seeing how the cast at large develops. From the first chapter, the stand-out character has to be Hanzan, the wisecracking son of a Buddhist temple who actually wore a wig to school on day one just so he could reveal his bald head during class introductions.

One factoid about their high school is that boys outnumber girls by about 11 to 1. I have to wonder if this will play a major role in the story, or if it’s just for realistic flavor. I wouldn’t mind seeing some female characters join the cast (there’s already one who shows up briefly), but would also be fine if it remains guy-centric.

Songs

Originally, I was going to list every song that shows up in this chapter, only to realize that Jin sings so much that the number of tunes encroaches into the double digits, and I’ll leave it to someone who’s more of a music buff in general. Here’s a sample:

Hashimoto Technical High School Anthem

“My Grandfather’s Clock” (Japanese version). English lyrics by Henry Clay Work, originally performed by Johnny Cash.

“Te no Hira o Taiyou ni” (Sun in the Palm of My Hand). A children’s song originally featured on the weekly television program Minna no Uta in 1962.

“Kanade” by Sukima Switch.

“HEIWA no Kane” (Bell of Peace) by Okinawa Yukihiro.

“Country Road” (Japanese version) by John Denver. This is the version from Whisper of the Heart.

“Country Road” is particularly significant to the story, as it’s the point where Akira is finally drawn in by Jin’s singing—particularly Jin’s ability to handle traditionally women’s roles.

Final Thoughts

This series definitely has potential, and I don’t mean that just because I’m a Kio Shinoku fan. It’s somehow both low-key and energetic at the same time, reflecting the different personalities of its two central characters.

There’s another manga that also runs in Monthly Afternoon titled Mou, Shimasen kara: Afternoon Gekiryuu-hen, which features interviews with other Afternoon manga creators. This month’s is Kio Shimoku, and in it he mentions being especially invested in Hashikko Ensemble because he doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder after Genshiken. I hope Kio finds new success with this manga.

As for the rest of that interview, it’ll be the focus of my next blog post. SEE YOU NEXT POST.

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