Operating on Different Scales: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 37

An electrifying performance dazzles the audience in this chapter of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Hot off another victory, the Chorus Appreciation Society moves on to the semifinals of the school’s Cultural Festival music competition. This time, having experienced some kind of epiphany, Kousei reacts to Shion with a powerful blush, leading everyone to respond with a mix of confusion and curiosity. A heart-to-heart of sorts with Yukina helps him see what he wants, and at the moment, it’s to sing with Shion.

While the remaining groups are impressive in their own right, the Society’s fierce rendition of the song “Etupirka” bowls everyone over. However, Jin’s mom fails to see this performance too, as she and Yumerun are stuck in traffic.

Yukina’s Maturity and Kousei

After Kousei heads outside by himself, Yukina comes up to him and drops some heavy statements in a surprisingly casual way by discussing a possible future with Kousei, including who would work and how many kids they would have (two or three!). Kousei doesn’t seem bothered in any way by this conversation, though his response is “Right now, I’m having plenty of fun singing with her”—a rejection, at leat for the time being.

This whole conversation is full of unexpected words and responses, and while I don’t know if “realistic” is the right word, the dialogue between Kousei and Yukina has a kind of depth and dimensionality to it because of how they seem to be thinking about the concept of time relative to their wants and desires. Kousei essentially has a choice between the rough-and-tumble girl who’s more like him or the classy girl who’s his complete opposite, and his feelings about it are rooted in the possibility of stepping into a world he long thought cut off from him due to his upbringing. But Yukina takes the long view, and appears to be thinking, “Even though Kousei’s all about the cute girl now, there’s always a chance he’ll come back around eventually.” I find Yukina’s particular brand of maturity interesting, like she’s somewhere between Saki and Keiko in Genshiken.

Kousei’s “Right now” is an interesting choice of words. What I think it implies is that, rather than being about love and seeing oneself with someone for a long time, it’s about Kousei figuring out his emotions in the moment. Does he value the ability to connect with Shion through song more than the inherent mutual understanding he shares with Yukina? The way Shion seems to instantly know what Kousei has on his mind when he hesitates to communicate what he wants out of her piano-playing for the next song, it speaks to a potential deeper connection through music. But whether that bond goes beyond music is something I’m looking forward to seeing.

ETUPIRKA! ETUPIRKA! ETUPIRKA!

Just like in the last chapter, we have an amazingly drawn scene of a Chorus Appreciation Society performance. What stands out to me about their “Etupirka” is that even if you don’t know what the song actually sounds like, Kio’s artwork conveys its sheer intensity. It’s not just the trembling line effects throughout the performance, but the way the characters are drawn with such dynamism even while they’re standing still, as well as the choice to use that initial extreme angle to depict Shion’s piano-playing (as seen in the top image) makes it seem like the ground is trembling. It borders on a more exaggerated representation that one might find in an action-packed shounen manga that uses music as its gimmick the way Yakitate!! Japan and Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma approach food.

(And if you want to hear a performance of “Etupirka,” it’s in the “Songs” section below.)

Hanyama’s “Tone Deafness” Isn’t

At one point, the subject of Hanyama’s inability to sing on-key comes up, and Jin reveals that what everyone assumed to be a case of being tone deaf is actually something else entirely. He recounts having tested Hanyama, and it turns out that the guy unconsciously sings on a scale different from the traditional Western music scales due to his family running a Buddhist temple. Instead, Hanyama sings according to what the Japanese calll junpachi gyakuroku (“upward eight, lower six”) or sanpun son’eki ho, which is also known as the Chinese 12-tone musical scale—which coincidentally is also the same as Pythagorean tuning. It results in the kind of music you get from Buddhist chants (shoumyou) and Japanese imperial court music (gagaku).

If this is all Greek to you, you’re not alone. Akira in the manga is completely baffled by everything Jin says, and so am I. But the gist of it—as much as I can understand, anyway—is that Hanyama has internalized that particular understanding of music, and it makes his attempts to sing more conventional popular songs go awry. Even if I don’t fully grasp everything, I find that pretty fascinating, and I’m glad Hashikko Ensemble goes into it, however briefly.

Songs

Half Monks: “Guts Daze!!” by Ulfuls. This is the song in a flashback to Hanyama’s singing in the competition while they’re explaining the quirks of his musical sense.

Electrical First-Years A Capella Group: “Racing into the Night” by YOASOBI

This is noted as being a Vocaloid song performed using six voices. While there’s no available equivalent online, there are Vocaloid covers of this song.

Wind Instrument Club: “The Galaxy Express 999” by Godiego

Chorus Appreciation Society: “Etupirka” composed by Hirose Ryouhei

Final Thoughts

Though we only got brief glimpses of them this chapter, I quite enjoyed the presence of both Akira and Jin’s mom. I’m still entertained by Akira’s mom and her delight over her son having friends, and I’m further anticipating the arrival of Jin’s mom at the school. I do get the feeling nothing Jin does will impress her, and I wonder if Yumerun will have any role to play in terms of bridging their strained mother-son relationship.

Also, Volume 6 of Hashikko Ensemble comes out next month! I wonder what store-exclusive bonuses we’ll get this time.

Superdimensional Forte: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 36

The Chorus Appreciation Society is performing "Do You Remember Love?" All the members are portrayed as standing apart, but also as if they're bing connected by the music.

Everyone gets hit by a Minmay Attack in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 36.

Summary

The next round is on, and the Chorus Appreciation Society takes the stage once again. Before that, though, Kozue asks Kousei why he doesn’t try to cheer Shion up after his rejection of her, and he replies that they’re just from different worlds: a safe rich girl vs. a delinquent with a lot of baggage.

This time, it’s “Do You Remember Love?” from the anime film Macross: Do You Remember Love. Akira and the others deliver a powerful performance that doesn’t just wow the audience, it seems to actually bond the members (and those close to them) together in a way that only music can. As they finish, Kousei seems to have Shion on his mind as he thinks, “Maybe our worlds aren’t so far apart after all.”

Elsewhere, Yumerun is pacing frantically, when finally the person she’s waiting for arrives: Jin’s mother, Kimura Reika, who turns out to be a highly eccentric 31-year-old soprano. The chapter ends as the two head out to Hashimoto Tech (Reika reluctantly so) in order to see Jin and the others sing.

Darkness and Light

Hashikko Ensemble is a series that’s high on levity, but the glimpses of darkness are astoundingly brutal. As Kousei is talking about his past, the first image shown is what appears to be a first-person perspective of one of his abusers (his mom’s lover, I think) rearing for a punch. This then transitions into Kousei throwing a punch at someone on the street in a fight. There’s a lot of trauma in his life, and the manga conveys a link between the violence inflicted on him and his rough attitude. 

Kousei is singing "Do You Remember Love" as Yukina suddenly sheds a tear.

That’s also what makes the portrayal of the society’s “Do You Remember Love?” all the more powerful. You can see in Kousei all this internalized fear, anger, and self-loathing, and it seems to just wash away as he sings. During the performance, Yukina (the arm wrestling champ who has a thing for Kousei) suddenly begins to cry during his performance, and she isn’t sure why. The way I see it, what she’s sensing is how strongly Kousei’s feelings are reaching out to Shion, and she’s realizing they’re not for her. Only in song is Kousei able to be honest.

I Love You So

I’m not well-versed in music, let alone the sheer breadth of what’s thus far been presented in Hashikko Ensemble. Many times, what this means is that outside of seeing the lyrics on the pages, I don’t always fully internalize what the songs are conveying in a chapter. This is not the case with “Do You Remember Love?”—it’s a song I know all too well, and it’s a staple of my karaoke sessions. In other words, I can really “feel” this chapter in ways that I haven’t been able to before. 

“Do You Remember Love?” is indeed a love song, but it’s also about reaching out to others and connecting. “I hear you calling out to me.” “I’m no longer alone, because you’re here.” Characters make mention of how well Akira and Kousei are harmonizing, as if they’re on the same page emotionally; most likely, it’s because they’re both singing to Shion. 

Questions are asked throughout the chorus of the song: “Do you remember when our eyes met?” “Do you remember when we held hands?” And while these lyrics are more romantic, their juxtaposition against Kousei’s traumatic memories makes me think that he’s actually, in a sense, remembering what it’s like to love The contrast between the beauty of the song and the violence of Kousei’s past is very fitting for a song played during the climactic battle of the Macross movie.

Jin’s Mom Is a Surprise

A comics page introducing Kimura Jin's mom, Reika. She definitely looks related to Jin, but is much more fierce in demeanor. She's complaining that it doesn't matter if she's late to see a bunch of amateurs singing, but also accidentally almost walks into glass because of her nearsightedness.

Kimura Reika is very different from what I pictured. When Jin described her in previous chapters, I was expecting an older strict woman—perhaps an unforgiving taskmaster with many years of experience and even a few wrinkles. In contrast, we get this weirdly aggressive and intense ball of energy who’s similar enough to Jin that you can see the familial relation, but also different to the point that you wouldn’t mistake the two. During her introduction, Yumerun asks why in the world Reika isn’t wearing her contacts, and she responds that she forgot them but also thinks it’s too much of a hassle to go back to retrieve them. When asked why she won’t just wear glasses, Reika claims that when she has them on, it makes her feel like her voice won’t fly out properly. That’s the sort of person Jin has to deal with in his home life.

And I have to point out the elephant in the room: Assuming that Reika is Jin’s biological mother, it also means she got teen pregnant! This isn’t the first time that the author, Kio Shimoku, has explored that topic (see his two-volume baby-raising manga Jigopuri), but I’m still surprised to see it pop up here. Just what kind of life has Reika gone through?

Songs

It’s noted that most of the groups only prepared one or two songs for the competition, so there are a number of repeats from previous chapters.

Basso Masters: “Daichi Kinshou” (Hymn of the Earth) from the cantata “Tsuchi no Uta” (Song of the Land)

Team “Promise” (a bunch of otaku): “Yakusoku” (Promise) from The iDOLM@STER

Yukio feat. Mayomyon: “Shibuya at 5 o’clock” by Suzuki Masuyuki and Kikuchi Momoko (You might recognize Suzuki as the singer of the opening to Kaguya-sama: Love Is War)

Noi Majo (Kurotaki Mai’s quartet): “Hakujitsu” (“White Day”) by King Gnu

Chorus Appreciation Society: “Do You Remember Love?”

You can find the above songs, along with previous references, in my Hashikko Ensemble Youtube playlist.

Final Thoughts

I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Jin’s mom. I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of what she’s really like.

Mai’s group, Noi Majo, has moved on in the competition as well. I wonder if the groups will end up against each other. 

I named a previous chapter review “More Like ‘Protoculture Festival,’” and I wished I saved it for this one. Oh well.

Multi-Talented Competition: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 34

The competitive escalates in an unexpected way in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 34.

Summary

After the Rugby Club’s surprisingly strong rendition of a Radwimps tune in the high school’s cultural festival singing competition, the Chorus Appreciation Society fires back with a performance of their own. They win handily, showing the fruits of their training camp. However, even though the Rugby Club captain accepts the results, he has one last request as a third-year soon to graduate: he wants to challenge Jin to an arm wrestling competition! 

Jin accepts, but thinks it should be a best-of-three. Sora (the guy who confessed to Kozue) immediately challenges Kousei, and Yukina (who was last year’s school-wide arm wrestling champion) jumps in to be the third participant for the Chorus Appreciation Society. The impromptu matchup ends with a 2-1 victory for the Chorus Appreciation Society, with Jin putting in an impressive but ultimately losing effort against the Rugby Club captain. Reactions differ among the crowd, ranging from hype to Yumerun’s utter disinterest.

As Yukina is celebrating the win and talking with Kousei, Shion can’t help but think that they look great together. Suddenly, she sticks her arm between them and confesses directly to Kousei: “I like you. Go out with me?” Kousei’s response: “What? No.” That rejection is also the title of the chapter.

Yukina’s Turbo Controller

I genuinely thought that Yukina’s arm wrestling prowess wouldn’t really factor into the story beyond some displays of strengths, but here we are, with a sudden arm wrestling match. It almost makes regret making an Over the Top reference already. The surprise is welcome, however, and it adds to something I really enjoy about Hashikko Ensemble: the series is somehow both extremely predictable and unpredictable at the same time, and where those cards fall seems to just make for a more enjoyable manga most of the time.

All this arm wrestling talk also makes me think of my childhood playing the Track & Field II arm wrestling minigame. Whenever any arm wrestling happens in media, I just think of the background music and the grunting faces.

The Performance

As the guys are singing, Takano-sensei makes mention of how much they’ve all improved (as well as Kozue’s excellent conducting). In particular, she remarks about their successful balancing of both the lyrics-heavy nature of J-pop with getting the right musical accents. She also uses a couple terms that I think are worth noting—mostly for my sake, as someone who’s not musically inclined.

The first is legato, which is singing in a smooth and connected way; the opposite of staccato. It is not, in fact, simply a Trigun villain.

The second is syncopation, which is singing on the weak beats. 


The general idea, from what I can tell, is that they’ve managed to adapt a J-pop tune into something that utilizes the musical training they’ve all been going through. I wonder if the goal is to strike a middle ground between doing appealing songs to get more members and doing something technically impressive for Jin’s mom and her high standards.

Romantic Perceptions

It’s poetic that Akira has these dramatic nightmares about Kousei and Shion, but to Shion, Kousei and Yukina are the picture-perfect couple. There’s a self-consciousness at work in each case, where one sees themselves as somehow not looking “right” for their love interest. 

I feel like this is a fear that Kio Shimoku tends to express and explore in his works. In Gonensei (The Fifth-Year), one of the core conflicts is how the boyfriend feels a level of inadequacy because he couldn’t graduate at the same time as his girlfriend, and the two drift further apart. In Spotted Flower, the husband similarly panics when he just lays eyes on his wife interacting with her ex-boyfriend, believing that he pales in comparison, despite the fact that he and his wife  just had a daughter. I don’t think it’ll be anywhere near as dark and ugly in Hashikko Ensemble, but I’m interested in seeing how the love web continues to get tangled.

The chapter further contrasts how Shion and Yukina each see Kousei—the former as a strong hero and the latter as an adorable underclassman. As Yukina watches the performances, she recalls happening upon Kousei practicing his singing in private. Unbeknownst to Kousei, Yukina actually sat hidden behind a staircase, listening to him the whole time. It’s as if both girls have feelings because they’ve managed to see what’s on the inside, only it’s two different aspects of the “real Kousei.” If I had to give a preference, I like Kousei/Yukina, only because it’s more hilarious.

When the Tsun and the Dere are Indistinguishable

Right before the arm wrestling match begins, Kozue tells Sora to do his best. When he gets trounced by Kousei, she thinks, “Ah. Figures it was impossible.” While I originally thought that there was a possibility that Kozue might end up on a date with Sora reluctantly, it now looks like she might actually feel something for him after all. I don’t know if you’d call this tsundere, as I think that Kozue doesn’t have that characteristic loss of control of her own emotions, but maybe the childhood friend connection is real. Also, we haven’t seen what Sora looks like shirtless, but maybe he has the buffness she looks for in guys.

Or maybe being into musclemen is more of a fantasy fetish and not something she necessarily wants in a partner.

Songs

This month’s song is “March 9” by Remioromen, which the Chorus Appreciation Society performs against the Rugby Club.

Final Thoughts

During their performance, Akira’s mom is in the crowd. I don’t know why exactly, but seeing her cheer her son on and react like such a doting parent really sticks with me. Perhaps it’s just the way she seems so wholeheartedly excited about her Akira doing this new and different thing by getting into singing. I can sense the love in their relationship.

16 Bands Enter: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 33

Fierce (?) competitors lie in wait in Chapter 34 of Hashikko Ensemble!

Summary

The school’s cultural festival has suddenly turned into a battle of the bands, and the Chorus Appreciation Society is in a 16-band bracket to see who comes out on top. Among the groups participating are a number of familiar faces: Kurotaki Mai (the deep-voiced girl who once saved Akira), Tsuyama’s crew, Mimi-sensei and a group of teachers (with Takano-sensei on piano), and even the Rugby Club that tried to recruit Kousei. 

During this, Shion is visibly bothered by Yukina’s presence and closeness with Kousei, all but confirming her having romantic feelings for him. But when Kozue asks why Yukina’s into Kousei, her answer absolutely flabbergasts Shion: “Cuz he’s cute.” 

Mai’s band wins, and the teachers forfeit their match because all they really wanted to do was put on a single performance. The Rugby Club is going directly against the Chorus Appreciation Society in the first round, and to everyone’s surprise, one of the players, Sora, asks Kozue to go out with him if the Rugby Club wins. She agrees but only as a form of rejection—she actively encourages the audience to reject their opponents and Sora’s convenient love story in the making. However, the Rugby Club turns out to be better singers than she anticipated, meaning it might not be such an easy win after all.

A School Tournament?!

It’s not surprising to see tournaments happen in Hashikko Ensemble. After all, if they’re going to eventually be in bigger events, the Chorus Appreciation Society is going to have to see some long competitions. However, this is quite different from the more refined environment and structure of the M-Con, the inter-school event they had previously they participated in as an exhibition.

I really like this direction, particularly that the series has suddenly become more about music in an interesting way by having music fever take over the school and generate all this excitement and energy. Also, while it’s indeed looking to be a tournament arc after all, “winning” seems less important than having all the characters reach their personal goals. Looming overhead is the powerful shadow of Jin’s mom (despite the fact that she hasn’t even shown up yet), and in a sense, she’s the real boss fight.

Love Bonanza

The increasing presence of romance in Hashikko Ensemble is all but undeniable. It’s not even that Shion’s interest in Kousei is clear as day now, but also the strange love polygon that now exists between her, Akira, Kousei, Yukina, and maybe even Mai. What’s more, there’s also the lovey dovey couple team (Yukio feat. Mayomyon) metaphorically tossing hearts into the air, and a public confession to Kozue from the kid who tried to warn his classmates about her judo skills?!  And the latter’s going to be the most pressing plot point leading into Chapter 34?!

It’s not nearly as messy a relationship web as good ol’ Spotted Flower, but it sure is getting increasingly complicated.

Knowing this manga, I could see Kio swerving the readers by having the Chorus Appreciation Society lose in Round 1, and having Kozue reluctantly start dating Sora. There’s maybe one path of hope for the rugby player, which is that a person can earn Kozue’s respect through skill and power. In this chapter, she basically gushes over Yukina’s high proficiency in a huge array of industrial skills (including gas and arc welding, crane operating, etc.), so if the poor guy can show similar prowess (in singing or otherwise), maybe he can impress her. That said, it’s probably more realistic to see Kozue be into Yukina.

Divergent Feelings

I was thrilled to see Mai show up again in this chapter—doubly so to see her singing. All signs have pointed to her becoming a more important character as the series went on, and while it’s still uncertain that she’s going to join the Chorus Appreciation Society, I’m still rooting for it. There’s also the matter of her previous interactions with Akira, and while he has Shion on the brain currently, I could see a future where these two get together instead. 

I think Hashikko Ensemble has been emphasizing how different potential relationships can potentially end up being in terms of interpersonal dynamics. Chapter 33 highlights this by the ways that Shion and Yukina each view Kousei; the former sees him as brave, cool, and strong, while the latter looks at him like a cute underclassman. When picturing those two possible couples, they’re just so fundamentally different. But this is also the case imagining Akira with Shion versus Akira with Mai, which has a similar dynamic of two very different individuals on the one hand, and two very similar people on the other. 

Songs

This time, I’ve included each of the groups participating in the tournament this chapter, followed by what song they perform.

Nighttime Festival Club 2.1: Itoshii no Ellie” (“Beloved Ellie”) by Southern All Stars

Noi Majo (Kurotaki Mai’s quartet): “Hakujitsu” (“White Day”) by King Gnu

Yukio feat. Mayomyon: “Shibuya at 5 o’clock” by Suzuki Masuyuki and Kikuchi Momoko (You might recognize Suzuki as the singer of the opening to Kaguya-sama: Love Is War)

Teachers’ Angel (Mimi-sensei + other faculty): “Boku no Koto” (“About Me”) by Mrs. Green Apple

Rugby Club A Capella Group: “Zenzenzense” (“Past Past Past Life”) by RADWIMPS (as heard in Your Name)

Final Thoughts

Back in the pre-pandemic times, I used to go karaoke somewhat often. One of the most common songs among one of the groups was actually “Zenzenzense.” This chapter makes me want to learn all these other songs and bring them out someday. May there be a future where we can karaoke to our hearts’ content.

Over the Top: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 32

A new story arc begins in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 32!

Summary

Summer is over, and the students at Hashimoto Tech are back to school. While things seem mostly the same, there are some differences. For the Chorus Appreciation Society, they can now use the music room to practice. Tsuyama’s crew, the Mimi-sensei-obsessed guys who had previously competed against the Chorus Society, now all have girlfriends. And for some reason, there seems to just be a lot more singing at school overall. It turns out that the latter two things are related: Tsuyama and co.’s performance in front of the school is the reason they got girls, and now all the boys think a capella is the key to popularity.

Back with the main characters, Jin is naturally beyond excited about more singers at school, Mimi-sensei is having a bit of a crisis over losing her place as conductor to Hasegawa Kozue, and Shinji wonders why the girls aren’t coming to them. Right then, a tough-looking girl shows up next to Kousei, and when he tries to shoo her away (assuming that she doesn’t care about music), she puts his hand in a death grip and overpowers him. Kozue identifies her as Kawamura Yukina, a third-year construction major and the school’s reigning arm wrestling champion—a title she won by beating both guys and girls.

The chapter ends with students remarking about how many damn a capella clubs are springing up. It all looks to be headed in one direction: a singing tournament!

Excitement

I love this chapter.

I thought I knew where this manga was going, with Jin trying to prove his mom wrong and Akira fretting over Shion. However, the way the school has changed feels like a subtle yet still seismic shift, as if they’re entering a new environment where the rules are different. What’s more, this all stems from their singing! This series is delightfully hard to predict at the best times.

It’s typical of an action or sports series to up the stakes or expand its scope, and this feels similar yet noticeably different in terms of fallout. Genshiken didn’t really do story arcs in the traditional sense, and I find Hashikko Ensemble to be somewhere in the middle in a good way.

Mama Mimi

I do feel for Mimi-sensei, but what I’ll probably remember more about her in this chapter is her hilarious interaction with Shion. No longer conductor, she tries to let Shion be comforted by her, but Shion responds by asking, “Are pecs boobs?”

Later, Mimi wonders if this like a child being weaned from their mother’s breast.

The ridiculousness of Shion’s question followed by the wordplay from Mimi is top-notch.

Yukina is a Badass

Yukina is technically not a new character, but might as well be. It’s not 100% certain if Yukina is a delinquent, but she certainly has that energy. 

I really want her to join the group.

While she’s not the only physically strong girl around (Hasegawa is a skilled judo player), Yukina adds a certain level of cool. Not only would she be the oldest among the students, but her connection to Kousei—whatever it may be—seems intriguing. At the very least, we haven’t seen anyone treat him so lightly 

Is there an element of romance between the two? The characters are certainly entertaining the possibility. Akira thinks Shion might have a crush on Kousei, so he immediately tries to see how Shion reacts to Yukina, but it’s not entirely clear. I can practically feel Akira’s incredible self-consciousness, though I still think he’s somehow mistaken.

Songs

In this chapter, they practice “March 9” by Remioromen, which is Shinji’s pick for the Festival.

They also sing the official school song, though there’s no audio resource for that.

Final Thoughts

When Shinji asks why they’re not getting any girls, Kanon responds that 1) the Society already has girls and 2) a capella is cooler. It makes me think about how I’ve been translating gasshou as “chorus,” but “glee” could work just as well. And one particular TV show aside, it’s true that glee clubs are not exactly considered exciting. I do wonder if I should have been translating it as glee all along, but I can live with my choice.