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. 

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.