Dark Waters: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 35

Heartache and bracket upsets abound in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 35.

Summary

After being rejected by Kousei, Shion is emotionally devastated. Yukina asks why Kousei would word his rejection so harshly, while Jin correctly (and inappropriately) brings up Kousei’s mom as the reason he doesn’t like to deal with girls.  At the same time, seeing Shion confess to Kousei has put Akira into a funk, which impacts his singing as a part of Tsuyama’s group in the school music competition (once again, Akira got roped into participating with them as well). Combined with a lack of practice and a focus on girls over music, the “Tsuyama All Stars” are defeated by a group of otaku singing an iDOLM@STER song. 

Dropping out in Round 1, all of their girlfriends instantly reject them as losers, and Tsuyama is on the verge of kicking Akira’s ass. However, Kurotaki Mai steps in to defend Akira by pointing out that Tsuyama and company’s song choice betrayed them, as they clearly lacked the conviction they showed when singing a Spitz cover at the previous competition against the Chorus Appreciation Society. The Tsuyama crew then realize the “error” of their ways and go back to worshipping Mimi-sensei. But Mai also criticizes Akira, and relays something that Jin taught her: the low notes are the foundation of harmonizing, and as possessors of deep voices, they’re vital to the success of their respective groups’ performances.

But right when everyone expects the Light Music Club to win their round, they’re actually beaten by a mysterious masked group calling themselves “Basso Masters.” Who are they, and why are there 52 of them?!

Oh, Mai

With all the romantic drama coming out over the past few chapters, it’s no surprise that a look into Mai’s inner thoughts would reveal that she has feelings for Akira as well. Sure, all the blushing and gratefulness since her introduction into Hashikko Ensemble was a pretty strong hint, but after giving Akira advice, she thinks to herself, “Liking someone who likes someone else…It happens all the time.” In a different context, it might come across as more ambiguous, but then it’s followed up by Himari seeing everything and reacting with a thought of her own: “…Ugh. Looks like she’s gonna be a real pain.” Himari is clearly seeing something there, though I’m still not sure how Himari herself feels. Being Akira’s childhood friend, is there something more? The love web somehow gets more defined and more convoluted as the story continues.

Meanwhile, Akira’s mom is there in person and seeing this tangled web of emotions in action, thrilled at her darling son experiencing the ups and downs of youth. As with the last chapter, I love how supportive she is, and when I think about something like Genshiken, the sheer parental presence in Hashikko Ensemble sticks out all the more.

Shallow Love

It’s ironic that Tsuyama’s crew, the ones who made it look like music was the key to dating success and the most visible symbol that the school had changed, were mercilessly tossed aside by their girlfriends and are now back to square one. It’s a humorously tragic moment, simple in its brutality, but also speaking to the dangers of romance through prestige. Both the guys and the girls involved likely got into it for shallow reasons, though in what ways they were shallow changed. I could see Tsuyama and the others jumping at the very first opportunity to have some cute girlfriends, while the girls merely liked the cool cache brought to them by dating these guys. When Mai is telling them off, she mentions that their song choice was clearly made in order to please their girlfriends, who know nothing about music and shouldn’t have been such a significant factor. 

It’s implied that their devotion to Mimi-sensei was on a whole other level, and that whatever they were feeling for their girls just wasn’t quite the same. I feel sorry for Mimi-sensei for having to deal with them again, and it’s not exactly a happy ending, but i am amused by how confused she is in the aftermath. 

Jin Is Never Smooth

Some chapters ago, I wrote about how I think he’s supposed to be a non-neurotypical person, which came through in his inability to understand the more emotional and subjective aspects of music. Now, he seems incapable of reading the room, and loudly blurts out something that hits at Kousei’s greatest sore spot: his neglectful and abusive mother. I can’t quite recall if Jin has all the details about Kousei’s life, but just about anyone else would have known to keep quiet about it. Although nowhere near as terrible, Jin doesn’t have the best relationship with his own mom, and I wonder how much his social awkwardness (whether or not it’s due to a psychological or physiological condition) contributes to that tension.

Songs

Tsuyama All Stars: “Pretender” by Official Hige Dandism

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

Half Monks: “Guts Daze!!” by Ulfuls

Electrical First-Years Acapella Group: “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” by Yoko Takahashi (electronic version using Vocaloid software)

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

Light Music Club: “Ai Uta” (Love Ballad) by GReeeeN

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

I appreciate that the competition has a nice mix of genres and sources—including pop, rock, anime, and classical—from across the decades. The performances themselves also showcase different ways to make music, and I would love to see the electronic version of “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” if this ever got made into an anime.

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

Final Thoughts

A group of 52 singers showing up incognito is sure to cause a stir, but it also makes me wonder if they’re actually another school in disguise—maybe Nishigafuchi. The combination of their song choice and their sheer numbers makes me think they’re not from around these parts.

What a Dream Boat: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 25

Another new character brings further insight into Jin’s history in Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 25.

Summary

The Hashimoto Tech Chorus Appreciation Society has arrived at M-Con, nervous about competing. Day One is just for observation, though, and they see Nishigafuchi (the school they visited previously) succeed. They’re also worried about Shuusuke not showing up after he tore down Jin so thoroughly, but luckily, he arrives. However, another figure appears as well: a girl named Shouji Yumerun, a classmate of Jin’s when they were kids, and when she looked very different.

Yumerun mentions becoming a pupil of Jin’s mom, and that this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—words meant to comfort, it seems, but which have the opposite effect. Jin begins to think about why it is he’s so unable to be naturally expressive, and how he gathers people who make up for this weakness. The chapter ends with him getting ready to ask Akira a question.

Jin’s Intuition

I’m actually surprised to discover that Jin sees himself as talentless, and that all of his singing ability comes from hard work and study, if only because he has come across as such a natural in previous chapters. In Naruto terms, he’s the Rock Lee everyone thinks is a Sasuke, and it makes him more relatable in some ways.

Another character Jin reminds me of is Mike from Monsters, Inc. Like Mike, Jin has the theory down but can only take it so far due to a lack of natural ability. The fact that Jin has such an eye for talent further reinforces this image while also adding an extra wrinkle to his character. He finds people with the raw potential he himself lacks, almost to an intuitive degree.

Yumerun

We get another new character in Yumerun, who drops some hints about Jin’s past and his relationship with his mom. Apparently, Jin and Yumerun were classmates, and he helped bring her into music. Now, she’s studying under Jin’s mom, and she thinks this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—implying perhaps that Jin felt pressure to succeed his mom, and that maybe Yumerun has a thing for him?

I’m struck by Yumerun’s words, particularly when she says to Jin, “You won’t be told anymore to stop escaping into the chorus just because you lack talent.” What I interpret this to mean is that Jin likes singing in a group because it better hides his deficiencies. Rather than just being a passion, it’s also a defense mechanism.

In the Mind But Not in the Heart

Every chapter review, I record all the music terms that crop up, partially because they’re in Japanese and not necessarily common knowledge even for fluent speakers. But it’s also because I have little to no musical knowledge or ability, so I feel the need to try and understand. The fact that Jin has a somewhat similar struggle makes these sections take on a new meaning of sorts. As someone not musically inclined, it’s hard for me to tell if these flaws of his are really that basic or if it’s the difference between being decent and being elite, though the fact that no one at Nishigafuchi said anything makes me think the latter.

In this instance, Yumerun brings up all the things Jin has trouble with: enunciating s, k, and z sounds; the nuances of syncopation;  and techniques for emotional expression. Apparently, he can understand it on paper, but has trouble doing it himself. Syncopation is “a shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats.”

Songs

No songs this month, but the fact that the previous storyline is officially known as the “Spitz arc” amuses me.

Final Thoughts

The Chorus as a place where people who lack in certain areas can support one another feels like the story of a team sports manga, as opposed to ones about individual competitors. Hashikko Ensemble might not have the attractive characters or the pizzazz to attract regular sports manga readers, but I wonder if this possible theme of “the sum being greater than the parts” might resonate still.

You Are, All of a Sudden, a Mechanical Man: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 24

A new character flips everything upside down in Chapter 24 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Shion has sprained her wrist, and the Chorus Appreciation Society is forced to do something about it. Given a few options, they ultimately land on getting an alternate pianist to accompany them, though Akira expresses that he doesn’t think anyone could really replace her. Shion pulls a favor with her mom, and gets an old acquaintance/friend to take her place: Mashino Shuusuke, a guy who carries around a sun umbrella and who just has an aura that screams “elite.”

However, after just one song, Shuusuke finds the Hashikko boys to be fundamentally inadequate. He critiques each of their weaknesses one by one—and actually declares Jin to be the most hopeless of all! While the rest of the group is eager to prove Shuusuke wrong, Jin seems uncharacteristically glum.

Their Unique Problems

It’s interesting to see where each character’s singing flaws are, as pointed out by Shuusuke. It’s not easy to convey in comics, so the exposition is welcome. Also, it might be a hint at how the characters might develop over time.

Akira is trying too consciously to sing low, and his enunciation is suffering. He’s pushing his vowels out at the expense of his consonants.

Kousei doesn’t sing with purpose. According to Shuusuke, Kousei comes across as someone who thinks passion and feeling can make up for that, but it can’t.

Shinji is a total beginner, so there’s not much to be done there. Shuusuke says this as if there’s nothing specific he could say to help, which makes Shinji all the angrier

Jin knows how to “sing,” but what comes out of him isn’t “music.” In terms of criticisms, this one hits the hardest.

A Hurdle for Jin

I find the introduction of Shuusuke to be one of my favorite story developments so far because it’s the first time that Jin has been challenged as a character. Up to this point, Jin has always been the fount of knowledge who knows more about sound and music than anyone else. To have that called into question, to have someone say that Jin’s singing is merely technically proficient, is a major change-up. Adding to this is the fact that Shuusuke is clearly a legitimate talent at the piano.

The only times in the past that Jin has looked even remotely that taken aback is when he mentions his mom. We have the sense that there’s something messy underlying his interest in music, and I have to wonder if Shuusuke’s comments are related in any way.

Shuusuke and Shion (and Akira?)

As implied by the chapter’s title page, there’s a history between Shuusuke and Shion dating back to their piano concert days (Shion, as we see, has always been herself). There’s a clear frustration he has over her choosing to go to a technical high school–my best guess is that he saw her as a rival, or at the very least, someone who’s wasting her talents. There might not necessarily be any romantic sparks (or at least not reciprocal ones), but the “childhood friend” history is a reliable, if not as common a trope as it used to be. Given Akira’s bit of blushing early in the chapter when he comments on Shion being irreplaceable, there might be some tension there.

Songs

“Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto make another appearance here.

Final Thoughts

In frustration, Shion says that it’s actually Shuusuke’s fault that things aren’t going well, and that they’re much better when she plays. It’s hard to tell if she’s just being stubborn or if there is some merit to her words, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the answer is in the end.