Heel Behavior: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 39

Reika, Jin's Mom, telling the Basso Masters to sing from the heels

Jin’s mom continues to be a tour de force in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 39.

Summary

It’s now the finals of the Culture Festival’s music competition, and the Chorus Appreciation Society is up against the mysterious masked Basso Masters. However, not everything is as it seems. The leader of the Basso Masters isn’t anyone special or known—just a friendly third-year named Satou who was inspired by Jin to follow his interest in music. And even though Jin’s mom, Reika, gave Jin a deal to let him go to music college if they win, Jin himself doesn’t really care about that. In fact, he likes applying his match and science skills in electrical engineering, and simply wants to show Reika the merits of singing as a group.

The Basso Masters go first, but just as they begin their performance, Reika interrupts them to rearrange the singers’ positions to group them according to roles (Bass I, Bass II, Tenor I, Tenor II). She also provides some advice on how to sing from the entire body instead of just from the throat. The difference is so immediately noticeable and significant that even the members of the Chorus Appreciation Society can’t help but applaud by the end.

The Basso Masters singing intensely after taking Reika's advice

As Jin, Akira, and the others get ready for their turn, a student from electrical engineering brings to Jin an LED display meant to show the lyrics to their next song, “Kokoro no Tsubasa.” Here, we learn that Himari has been hard at work getting this done, going so far as to learn how to program. Akira, seeing how many people Jin has touched and changed with his passion for music (Akira himself included), encourages Jin to consider music college after all.

The Power of Reika

Once again, Reika steals the show, as she presents an interesting obstacle for Jin. I think the really challenging thing about her from Jin’s perspective is that her talent, as well as her ability to recognize talent, are undeniable. While Reika believes group singing is less important than solo performances, it’s not as if she dismisses it outright. In fact, it’s thanks to her immense understanding of chorus dynamics that the Basso Masters are able to put on an amazing performance. She also specifically tells Satou, the Basso Leader, that he’s actually pretty good at conducting, so it’s not as if she has an ego about it. Reika is simply incredibly unfiltered—another similarity she has with her son, even if they manifest differently. At one point, Reika puts on a spare pair of glasses, and the students at school instantly recognize her as Jin’s mom. The way the Kimura family carry themselves is unmistakable.

Reika’s advice for how to sing better explains a lot as well. Essentially, she says that the common folk breathe from the throat, the experienced breathe from the spine, and the true masters breathe from the heels. So, when you sing, your feelings should erupt forth like magma—through the butt, then the spine, then the throat, then the forehead, then the top of your head. Not only is it a vivid visual metaphor (especially for a song called “Hymn of the Earth”) but it explains why Reika believes that an exposed forehead makes for better singing.

Himari Working Behind the Scenes

I had been wondering about Himari’s lack of presence in recent chapters, and I’m glad that it wasn’t just her being outshone by other characters. The fact that she hasn’t been in the spotlight is also quite fitting for her personality, and in hindsight I think it was the smart move overall. She’s trying to help in her own way, and she doesn’t make a big fuss out of it because she doesn’t want the attention. This likely goes all the way back to Jin leaving Himari’s apartment (and the inevitable misinterpretation of events that occurred): she was probably helping Jin with this LED display. Moreover, Akira points out that Himari has always been fond of picture books and poetry and such, so the lyrics of “Kokoro no Tsubasa” must have resonated with her. 

Himari isn’t a writer, as far as we know, but could her appreciation of the written world lead to her eventually joining the Chorus Appreciation Society? Either direction would work, and would indicate where her character has headed.

Songs

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

“Kokoro no Tsubasa” (“The Wings of Mind”) composed by Kitagawa Noboru

Final Thoughts

I’m worried that something disastrous is going to happen to Akira and Jin! Something tells me the conflict with Reika isn’t over by a mile.

Breakers Revenge: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 38

A new chapter shows Jin’s mom, Reika, in all her glory. But before I dive into the review, a few important pieces of news:

First, Volume 6 of Hashikko Ensemble is currently on sale in Japan. This volume doesn’t appear to have any limited edition extras, which is good for my wallet.

Second, Kio Shimoku is finally on Twitter! Follow him @kioshimoku1. In addition to posting art on occasion, he also tweets stories about his life both past and present. For example, did you know his family only had Betamax instead of VHS growing up, and he used the money from winning the Afternoon Four Seasons Award in college to buy a VCR? I’m thinking of making occasional posts summarizing interesting tweets from Kio. 

Third, today is Ogiue’s birthday! Happy birthday to the best girl ever.

Now, on to Chapter 38!

Summary

Despite a fantastic performance by Mai and her group, Noi Majo, the Chorus Appreciation Society beats them and moves on to the finals of the School Culture Festival tournament. Stepping away from the stage to take a break, Jin’s mom (with Yumerun) finally arrives at the high school. Shuusuke immediately recognizes her as the world-famous soprano, Kimura Reika, who has sung in operas across the globe. She’s also infamous for her selfish attitude that has earned her the nickname “Breaker”—a portmanteau of burei (rude) and Reika. The members see a lot of her qualities in Jin.

Jin is bothered by his mom’s attitude, feeling that she allows her immense talent to be her excuse for poor behavior. Jin tells a story from middle school, about Reika agreeing to sing with his boys’ and girls’ choir—only to never come to practice until the very last day, put on an astounding performance at rehearsal, recognize Yumerun’s ability, and then skip out on the actual day of the recital in order to perform for an Italian conductor. 

While Reika explains that she 1) called to cancel rather than bail without warning 2) ended up making way for Yumerun’s rise 3) didn’t want to take away from a performance that was supposed to focus on the kids, Jin still can’t accept how much she inconveniences others because music is something people create together. Reika responds that music is about self-expression and the passion of the moment, and points out that there are no “chorus majors” at any music colleges, showing how important individuals are in the field. But when she questions the usefulness and motives of Jin joining a technical high school just to form this group, Akira comes to his defense to talk about how much discovering singing thanks to Jin has helped him change and grow. Reika then decides on a deal: if they can win the entire competition, then she will let Jin go to a music college. Jin seems more confused than pleased.

Giga Drill

Reika was introduced two chapters ago, but her “true” debut (i.e. meeting Akira and the others) exceeds my expectations in nearly every way. This manga has great moms, and I don’t mean it in that way. 

In my Chapter 36 review, I mentioned how I had originally imagined Reika as much more strict and demanding, but everything about her screams the opposite. She’s like pure “id,” doing whatever she wants whenever she wants. And while she seems to have this in common with her son, the finer details of their respective approaches and philosophies regarding music do reveal a profound divide between the two. 

Jin sees music as a product of effort, and cooperation; Reika sees it as spontaneous artistic expression. Whereas Jin has broken down music scientifically in order to master its ins and outs, Reika utilizes intuition and natural sense. There’s a part in the flashback where Jin thinks, after hearing his mom sing with the group during rehearsal, “Why couldn’t I have inherited that talent?” To put it in Naruto terms, it’s sort of like if Neji had a Rock Lee for a kid.

(Though, incidentally, Rock Lee’s actual situation in Boruto is the opposite of Reika’s. His son, Metal Lee, is a born genius. But I digress…)

I really love this conflict in the Kimura family because it’s simple on the surface yet has so many layers in terms of the characters’ respective personalities and views of the world. Neither of their respective views on music are necessarily wrong, but they’re clearly a product of what does and doesn’t come naturally to them. Yet, while Jin is trying to make up for what he lacks and doesn’t have that innate understanding of song, his ability to thoroughly analyze and break down music can be considered a talent in and of itself. Jin’s forcefulness doesn’t fall far from the tree, further highlighting the ways Kimura is influenced by his mom both consciously and subconsciously.

I also am beginning to wonder if I should reevaluate my thoughts that Jin might be somewhere on the autism spectrum. It’s not been stated outright at all, but Jin’s personal admission to not being able to interpret song lyrics without outside help, his scientific breakdown of music, as well as his seeming ignorance about social mores all seemed to point in that direction. However, now that we’ve seen Reika on full display, there’s a chance that he’s comparing himself to the ridiculous standard set by his world-renowned operatic soprano mother. Of course, there’s a chance he could be neuroatypical and also have to deal with a genius mother, so the jury’s still out.

Romance Odds and Ends

While Reika dominated the chapter, Akira does get some small moments. When seeing Mai perform, he’s in awe of her ability to sing both boy’s and girl’s roles. He even blushes a little, but he seems to blush all the time. And when Akira begins to defend Jin in front of Reika, Shion can be seen enthralled by Akira’s passion, giving him more courage as well. I don’t know how that love web is going to end up, but I hope they’ll all be happy.

Songs

Noi Majo: “Zenryoku Shounen” (“All-Out Boy)” by Sukima Switch

Electrical First-Years: “Moonlight Densetsu” (aka the Sailor Moon opening)

The song Reika sang with the kids is “Origami” Suite, for Soprano Solo with Girls’ Choir and Piano by Kobayashi Hideo (not available on Youtube).

Final Thoughts

If it isn’t obvious, I think Reika is a fantastic character as both an adult figure and foil for Jin.

As for her nickname, if it were to be translated in English, I think I would go for Breaker standing for “Brazen Reika.”

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.