Hands-On Experience: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 12

Kurata Shion’s history with piano and some lewd humor make up Chapter 12 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

The chapter begins with Mimi-sensei recalling her past. Growing up shy due to her large chest, she was inspired by a high school teacher to go into teaching herself. Unfortunately, her students treat her more like a friend than an authority figure, leaving her unconfident.

Shion tells the classroom about her own history. Encouraged to learn the piano from a young age by her mom, she eventually developed a form of tendonitis. When she suggested to her mom that she wanted to quit, her mother’s response was that Shion has no ability otherwise—if she stops playing, she’ll have nothing left.

Jin figures out that Shion was taught poor form—a byproduct of being coached by her inexperienced mom. This lines up with everything else we know about Shion: she uses too much force for everything, whether it’s sawing or playing piano. The conversation gets heated, especially because Shion discusses quitting the school due to her seeming inability to learn how to let up on her grip.

Oumi-sensei steps in to try and convey to Shion that there’s more to Hashimoto Tech than just learning trade skills, that it’s about having new human experiences. Mimi-sensei feels the spirit of her old teacher inspiring her, so she offers herself as an open ear. Shion immediately squanders this good faith by asking for a smartphone, to which Mimi responds, “Why don’t you ask your mom?”

Shion leaves, childishly frustrated at Mimi’s response, but accidentally trips and lands with her hands on Mimi’s chest. However, squeezing them and alternating her grip strength helps her figure out what it means to have a gentle touch. Excitedly, she runs to the woodshop classroom to demonstrate her suddenly improved sawing technique. Jin then asks her to try and play piano, and using that chesty eureka moment, Shion applies her new lighter touch to the ivory as well. The Chorus Club has their pianist now.

Poor Mimi-chan

I feel for Mimi, especially how she doesn’t seem to be treated seriously as an adult. Even her heartfelt recollection of how she became a teacher was a setup for a boob joke.However, I like how this chapter revealed that she actually has a tiny bit of an edge when Shion asks her about getting a smartphone. The way the page is framed, with each of them equally prominent in separate panels, makes Mimi’s response feel immediate and somewhat terse while still conveying her generally gentle demeanor.

The Road to Hell

Shion’s past is yet another instance of conflict between parent and child, but unlike Orihara’s situation of neglect, it involves a mom with good intentions. Shion’s case is when a general approach to life (work harder!) fails to take into account the particular needs or feelings of an individual. The fact that her mom actually suggests that Shion has nothing without piano is an all-too-real sentiment from a loving but perhaps overbearing parent, and on some level I can empathize with Shion’s situation more than any other character so far. It also makes me wonder if Kio Shimoku is laying a general criticism towards parents in Japan and the different ways they can negatively impact their children’s lives. As a father himself, perhaps he’s also warning himself—like a reminder to never forget what it was like to be that age.

Because Hashimoto Tech is a vocational school, it brings to the foreground the notion that these are kids on the cusp of becoming adults. For Shion, there’s also the question of what happens when one’s passion or hobby is tied to one’s career. At one point, she reveals that she always assumed a dislike of piano meant a dislike of music in general, and it’s a window into how all the different elements involved with her starting and giving up playing are jumbled together. Decoupling them is one of the outcomes of this chapter.

Talent vs. Hard Work

The question of whether hard work can compete with talent comes up while the class is discussing Shion’s situation. We know Shion’s opinion on this—that hard work can’t compete. Jin disagrees, but what’s especially curious is that Jin doesn’t see himself as talented. The question is if his incredible vocal skills is indeed a product of constant striving, or if he’s comparing himself to some kind of titan. The fact that Jin expresses empathy with Shion growing up with an overbearing mom might say it all.

Songs

Once again, “Kanade” by Sukima Switch. It’s the song Shion plays.

Final Thoughts

When Shion accidentally trips and is about to fall, Hasegawa (the judo girl) rushes to save her but then accidentally bumps into Akira. If you look closely, Hasegawa was behind the teacher’s lectern a moment before. Either this was a mistake, or she actually slid over the lectern to get there in time.

Also, she likes puns.

Basically, Hasegawa’s awesome.

They’re all awesome.

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Tree Skills vs. Skill Trees: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 11

The path to a full Chorus Club is revealed, and the super-intense Kurata Shion gets center stage in this month’s chapter of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Orihara is now a part of the Chorus Club, and Jin needs just one more member and a faculty advisor to get formal “Appreciation Society” status. If he can, he wants someone who plays piano.

Meanwhile, Kurata is getting advice from Oumi-sensei (the gray-haired one), who suggests that she join the woodworking club to improve her skills and to relax a little. However, the over-serious Kurata (who’s also revealed to be quite the spaz) refuses, seeing it as frivolous fun that gets in the way of Hashimoto Technical’s purpose as a vocational school. Both shy towards her fellow female classmates and frustrated at her lack of talent, she runs away, only to accidentally bump into Akira and the Chorus Club. Curiously, instead of making a typical startled noise, she lets out an F♯2 note.

In judo class (apparently a staple of Hashimoto Technical), Kurata is participating along with Hasegawa and her friend. Hasegawa, it turns out, is actually the daughter of a prominent judo family, and tosses around both one of the school’s judo club members and Orihara effortlessly (while also simultaneously ogling the latter). Kurata and Hasegawa’s friend are practicing against each other, but when a sudden pain in Kurata’s hand causes her to fall over, she reveals that her tendonitis is flaring up—as a result of her piano-playing!

Kurata’s Situation

Kurata doesn’t know how to crack eggs, and can’t seem to even run on a school racetrack without going off-course. If there’s any character she reminds me of, it’s Mio from Nichijou, who can’t seem to follow rules of any kind when it comes to sports or competition. I also love the way they reveal her music background, with her unusually melodic yelp.

I might be sounding like a broken record, but Kurata’s the latest in a long line of interesting characters in Hashikko Ensemble. First, there’s the fact that her antagonism towards the Chorus Club is kept mostly to herself—in fact, Jin and Akira don’t even really recognize her. Second, is that her dislike of the Chorus Club had seemed personal on some level, but the hints we get as to why this is the case make her and her story all the more intriguing.

It’s clear that Kurata has a musical background of some kind and that it’s limited by her tendonitis. Was a potential piano career derailed by health issues, leading her to lose faith in putting her future in something as fragile as musical performance? Is it perhaps pressure from parents? How much does she actually believe what she’s saying when she declares her preference for the pragmatic, and how much is she forcing herself to think this way? I’m really looking forward to finding out more.

As for what she’ll do as a potential Chorus Club member, one would think piano, but the fact that she has trouble playing might mean she’ll be another singer instead.

Hasegawa’s Unusual Friendship

Hasegawa and the other girl who’s always with her (whose name might not even have been mentioned yet) are so different from each other that you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be close, but they say outright that it’s just a natural product of there being so few girls at the school. From what I can tell, while it likely began out of convenience, it transformed into a genuine friendship at some point. Now, they’re trying to get closer to Kurata too, but she’s as nervous and unsocial as they come.

I really enjoy how it doesn’t take much to portray Hasegawa and her friend as fleshed-out characters with an authentic-feeling history. This feeling of realism is one of Kio Shimoku’s greatest strengths.

As for Hasegawa’s judo background, I got a good chuckle out of how she actively eggs on the judo club. Also, i wonder if her love of beefy dudes is because of her family or not.

Songs

No music this chapter, aside from some basic voice lessons.

Final Thoughts

In a flashback, Kurata asks why the Japanese shorthand for “smartphone” is sumaho and not sumafo, as if it doesn’t make sense. I AGREE. IT’S ALWAYS BOTHERED ME.

For Hymn: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 10

In this chapter, the secrets of Orihara—his hearing and his traumatic past—are revealed in full.

Summary

Waking up inside the nurse’s office, Orihara explains that he suffers from a chronic high-pitched ringing in his ears. Jin figures out that Orihara suffers from a slight degree of hearing loss due to overexposure, specifically in the 3khz range—the same frequency as a baby crying or a woman screaming. Jin, however, believes Orihara’s brain is likely still picking up sounds at 3khz even if his ears aren’t, which is why Orihara can somehow “hear” things that he “can’t hear.”

During this talk, Orihara reveals two things about his past to the others. First, his little brother died. Second, the one time he was able to get rid of the ringing in his ears was in third grade, at a recital by a choir of old men, and a specific religious foreign song—hence, why he keeps listening to similar music. For this reason, Jin uses his connections to bring Orihara back to that choir from his childhood and have him repeat the same song. Hearing it again, Orihara is moved, but while Jin’s scientific explanation seems right, Akira has a simpler one: Orihara was healed by this music. Envisioning (?) a young voice from heaven speaking directly to him, Orihara smiles.

Later, at school, Jin comes barging in to get Shinji and Orihara (given name Kousei) for chorus club practice. Orihara is now an official member of the Chorus Club. The days pass, and coming up now is the MHK Concours—aka M-Con—an amateur chorus competition!

Music: When Science and Magic Collide

Orihara’s story, in my eyes, adds an interesting wrinkle to the ongoing theme of music as something that straddles the line between the known and the mysterious. Jin’s explanations make sense, yet I can’t help but wonder if Orihara’s deceased little brother might actually be trying to communicate with him. The manga itself never really says one way or the other, but regardless of the actual (meta-) physics, it’s notable that Orihara feels the song in his head and in his heart. There’s an important lesson here about how even as we might “understand” music on a theoretical level, there’s still an almost magical or spiritual quality to song that captivates the soul. As dominant as Jin is in this manga, his perspective isn’t the only one.

That being said, I doubt the manga is trying to push any sort of religious angle. It seems more an acknowledgement of the significance of the church in Western music.

Bouncing Back from Tragedy

Orihara’s story is the heaviest I’ve seen a Kio manga get, and that’s including Ogiue trying to commit suicide as a kid. There’s something really tragic about child abuse, and the degree to which Orihara’s anger is a product of his trauma. Although not said outright, it’s extremely likely that the guy suffers from PTSD. The story basically implies that Orihara can’t hear the 30khz frequency because he was constantly being subjected to the anguished screams of his mom and his brother. And somehow, the series manages to swing around into silliness not long after.

It’s really not easy for a narrative to get so serious and then switch back into lighthearted humor, but I think Hashikko Ensemble does it well by actually making the awkwardness in that transition more prominent. In particular, when Orihara mentions his deceased brother, Jin seems to obliviously bring the topic back to music and science. But is Jin as ditzy as he acts? His ambiguously strained relationship with his dad, or indeed something else, might hint at this being a willful act of feigned ignorance.

Songs

The featured song this chapter is “Viderunt Omnes,” a Gregorian chant composed in the 11th century by Protein. Gregorian chants were traditionally used in Roman-Catholic churches.

Final Thoughts

Next chapter promises to focus on Kurata, whose intensity and dislike of the frivolous has me intrigued about her. However, given how quickly the manga jumped from “Orihara’s on board” to “Competition!”, I’m worried that Hashikko Ensemble is suffering from a lack of popularity and his rushing things forward. I genuinely think this is a very strong manga from Kio Shimoku, so I hope it has a long life ahead of it.

Life on Repeat: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 9

Orihara’s hard to understand, but it might not be for the reasons anyone assumed.

Summary

It’s the Sports Festival at Hashimoto Technical High School, but the biggest spectacle isn’t any event—it’s Orihara on a rampage. Another classmate has played a prank on him by messing with his music player, so Orihara responds by going berserk and tossing him around like a ragdoll. Jin and the others suspect that the only thing that can calm him down is his music and his noise-canceling earphones, but (as revealed in a flashback), they’ve been having trouble fixing the earphones, even with Himari’s help. However, Himari reveals that she’s spent extra time to repair them. In a mad dash, the Chorus Club and the Rugby Club work together to successfully subdue Orihara.

As Orihara listens to his music player and falls unconscious, he remembers the parental abuse he and his little brother suffered as children. He remembers hearing screaming, but can’t remember if it was his or his brother’s voice. But as the police came to take away his mom and her boyfriend, he remembers thinking it was his brother’s. In fact, Orihara can still hear his brother’s voice today.

They Laughed, They Cried

This chapter kind of reminds me of the infamous soccer episode of the anime Eureka Seven, which contained, in the same episode, both athletic filler hijinks and a plot-crucial coup d’etat. The situation in Hashikko Ensemble isn’t quite the same, as what happens at the Sports Festival contributes directly to the main story, but the contrast is potent. The general wackiness of this chapter makes the dramatic reveal of Orihara’s situation much more impactful.

As comedic as Hashikko Ensemble can be, I really don’t think this reveal is an absolute tonal shift for the manga. There’s a recurring theme of among the characters of trying to deal with the emotional and physical setbacks of their pasts, and it even creeps through in Jin’s vague descriptions about his relationship with his dad. Orihara’s story seems to be the most serious by far, and I have faith that it’ll be executed well. I mean, this is the guy who wrote Ogiue from Genshiken‘s story, after all.

Orihara’s Abuse

The exact circumstances of Orihara and his little brother’s abuse is kept vague. The manga mentions that his little brother was unable to move, and the arrival of the cops clearly implies that this was not the result of illness or accidental injury. It’s unclear if the abuse was primarily physical, emotional, sexual, or any combination, and I don’t have any hypotheses at this moment. More information will likely be revealed to us over time, but the degree to which Kio holds back will be interesting to see. Whatever the case might be, the chapter is a crucial piece of the puzzle that is Orihara. He’s not just a loner, and he’s not just temperamental—his past is complicated, and having him open up to others (let alone join a club) is going to be about understanding his issues.

Himari’s Personality

Himari works hard to restore Orihara’s earphones, but I don’t get the sense that she’s doing this out of either sympathy for the guy, or out of a desire to uphold her end of the deal with Akira and Jin. She seems to me like someone who either values the technical skills needed or who has a sense of pride in her own abilities—like it’s a challenge she wants to overcome. Nothing says this more than her pantomiming the hand motions necessary to make the complicated earphone repairs. In that respect, she might make a good team with Jin, whose audio expertise potentially supplements her own strengths. His explanation of the complexities of noise-canceling earphones (like how you need to get through the urethane coating that’s meant to prevent short-circuits before you can even begin to fix them) is a perfect example in this regard.

Songs

What Orihara’s been listening to this whole time is Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem Op.48: In Paradisum.” It’s used in Catholic church funerals, which probably means that Orihara’s little brother didn’t make it.

Final Thoughts

There’s a brief mention at the beginning that Hashimoto Technical High School switch to holding their Sports Festivals on weekdays because in the old days, delinquents from rival schools would come over to pick fights on the weekends. While the culture has changed since then, they keep the scheduling. Just having this little hint at the yesteryear of the high school (as well as the fact that the one older female teacher still remembers those days) gives this funny sense of history to the school setting of Hashikko Ensemble.

Also, Hasegawa is excellent as always. I can’t help but laugh every time I see her now.

Sticky-Fingered: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 8

Love is in the air! …Or wait, that feeling might actually be “guilt.” It’s a chance to learn about Koizumi Himari in Hashikko Ensemble!

Summary

Having heard Akira’s deal—if we repair your earphones, you’ll have to join the Chorus Club—Orihara responds with disgust and tries to take a swing. Jin blocks Orihara’s fist, inadvertently breaking his finger (but not seeming terribly bothered by it). Jin wants to fix the earphones regardless of any deal, but he can’t find anyone in class who’s up to the task.

Some days later, however, Himari (Akira’s next-door neighbor) is actually in school for the first time in a while, and she turns out to be (for reasons unknown) a deft hand at soldering. Jin, who’s in the same class as Himari, tries to convince her to help repair the earphones, but she hesitates. After some conversation, mostly revolving around how she hates Akira’s puberty-induced ultra-bass voice, Jin convinces Himari to a deal: if he can show the appeal of Akira’s new voice through song, she’ll help them out.

Shinji sees this scenario as many might: a path to romance between Akira and Himari, but Himari’s initial response to Akira and Jin’s duet is to pull out an old picture book from Akira’s collection instead and apologize. Apparently, she stole it when they were young, and it’s the reason she avoided him for so long. In fact, it turns out that Himari’s really, really good at swiping things in general, which she reveals by showing off the resistors she took from class. She agrees to help, all while showing subtle hints that she might not be so unmoved by Akira’s singing after all…

The Himari Show

As the latest character to join the main cast, Himari is a major part of Chapter 8. Frankly, I think she’s fantastic, but awkward, surly girls drawn by Kio Shimoku are my aesthetic. I find that she bounces off all of the other characters quite well, and it makes me look forward to future interactions involving her.

Himari blushes a lot, but it can be hard to tell what exactly it means at any given moment. Because she seems to have a non-stop chip on her shoulder on top of being socially standoffish, her red face seems to shift from displaying embarrassment towards herself, embarrassment towards others, and maybe some feelings for Akira himself. Based on the brief glimpses of her memories, she appears to treasure her childhood with Akira—though she appears at first glance to not be especially different personality-wise back then.

One aspect of her that intrigues me is her proclivity for five-fingered discounts. It’s such an expected personality trait that she’s instantly memorable in my eyes. Also, I get the feeling that her talents in this area are related to her adeptness with a soldering iron. Something she does outside of class might make her a dexterous girl in more ways than one.

Akira’s First “Concert”

While it’s in a stairwell instead of a hall, and the audience is one childhood friend instead of an audience of many, this chapter’s performance is a huge step for Akira. We may not be seeing every single step of Akira’s development, but it’s clear that Jin’s training has been paying off. The pacing of his progress feels right.

Songs

Two previous songs are mentioned this month, specifically because Himari forbade Jin and Akira from singing them: “Believe” and “Kanade.” The song they do pick is1982’s “Tooi Hi no Uta” [Song of a Far-Off Day] by Iwasawa Chihaya. The song is actually based on Johann Pachelbel’s Canon, with Japanese lyrics added.

Final Thoughts

This is more a personal note, but when Himari pulls out the resistors she swiped, I recognized them from a digital engineering class I took back in high school. Their authenticity makes me feel that Kio is putting his best foot forward researching all aspects for Hashikko Ensemble.

Next chapter is going to focus on the school sports festival, and I’m curious to see how this shakes out at a technical high school. How much of mechanics and engineering is brain and how much of it is brawn? Whatever the case may be, it’s implied that something crazy is going to happen.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 7

Last chapter, a new girl showed up. I wondered if she was Akira’s sister, or maybe his very youthful-looking mother. Turns out the answer is “neither.”

Summary

After a bit of singing, a disheveled-looking girl has shown up at Akira’s door to tell the Chorus Club to pipe down. Akira explains that this is his next-door neighbor, Himari, who he’s known since childhood. Jin thinks she looks kind of familiar, and it turns out that she sits right behind Jin in homeroom—which means she’s been in Akira’s class all along without him even realizing it! Having not really spoken to her in a long time, Akira decides to see if she wants to walk to school with him, but when her dad answers the door instead (and tells him she’s still asleep), Akira walks away embarrassed.

At the Chorus Club “clubroom” (i.e. the corner of a stairwell), Jin teaches Akira about harmonizing, but only after a brief discussion about how the school’s been talking about Jin’s harmonizing push-ups from Chapter 5. During this time, they’re visited by two different classmates: Hasegawa, who walks away disappointed that Jin isn’t showing his muscles, and Orihara. The latter isn’t there to start trouble, but to tell Akira that he’ll be borrowing his earphones for a little while longer—noise-canceling earphones are expensive, and he needs to save up for it. Jin, however, has another idea: they’re at a school that specializing in engineering, so why not repair the things themselves? Orihara gives in, but then Akira says something that surprises everyone: “If we fix your earphones, you have to join the Chorus Club.

Sound Engineering

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews my interest in the combination of “art and science” in Hashikko Ensemble, and this chapter does a fantastic job of highlighting that aspect. It makes total sense that students of a school that specializes in engineering would try to repair earphones themselves! Combined with Jin’s generally scientific approach to singing, it means the two sides integrate more and more. His explanation of how many Western European churches are built to emphasize the “angel’s voice” phenomenon (as if Heaven itself is singing along) is fascinating.

Music and engineering are both a matter of physics, but that doesn’t take away from how impressive either one is.

New Steps for Akira

It was one thing seeing Akira singing in his room with his friends last chapter, but it’s another to see him overcome enough of his self-consciousness to actually hit a note in the stairwell. The harmonizing, even if it’s mostly thanks to Jin, feels like a major accomplishment for Akira. To then see him be assertive enough to ask Orihara to join the club, it’s as if he’s grown up immensely in the span of two chapters.

There’s also the clear parallel between how Jin got Akira to join and how Akira is trying to get Orihara to join (“If we help you with this problem, become one of us”), but we’ll see if it pans out similarly.

More Characters

This chapter gives a lot of info about Koizumi Himari: her history with Akira (they used to read picture books together!), her generally surly disposition, the fact that she hasn’t attended class in a while. Is she having some trouble in school—perhaps some form of anxiety? Moreover, Akira’s mom seems to think there’s always been some sparks between the two, which seems to be reinforced by Akira’s profuse blushing when he tries to ask Himari to walk with him to school. Or is it because Akira just gets embarrassed easily in general? And between Himari and Hasegawa, I have to wonder if the prospect of romance is starting to emerge.

Speaking of Akira’s mom, she’s wonderful! Her first appearance in the manga is such a succinct yet effective introduction to her character. Previously established as a nurse and a single mother, she’s shown haggard from a tough day at work, but purposely puts on a more cheerful appearance for her son. That one moment says so much about her person and her way of being that I hope we see more of her in the future.

Songs

No songs this month. Just folks going, “AAAAAH.”

Final Thoughts

Chapter 7 is the first to have a full character introduction page at the beginning, no doubt because the first collected volume of Hashikko Ensemble just came out. The biggest reveal here is that Kurata (the super-intense, music-hating female student) is named Shion.

Actually, I call her “super-intense,” but all of the female students at Hashimoto Technical High School seem pretty powerful. I wonder what Kio’s thinking is, though it suits me just fine. It kind of feels like different degrees of Ogiue all in one series.

Kio Shimoku’s Kagerowic Diary and Its Influence on Genshiken and Spotted Flower

A special edition of Kio Shimoku’s Kagerowic Diary (aka Kagerou Nikki) just came out last month, which prompted me to read an ebook of it I purchased ages ago. Having now finished it, I find myself reevaluating certain aspects of Kio’s more recent titles in Genshiken and Spotted Flower.

Kagerowic Diary is split into two parts. Part I concerns a female college student named Suzuki Touko (above) who seemingly has it all figured out but hides the fact that she’s a virgin from her friends. Part II follows a different woman in college, Tachihara Hatsuho (below), and the complicated web of sex, emotion, and deceit she finds herself in. To Genshiken fans, it can feel both comfortably familiar yet also exotic due to the strong emphasis on physical relationships.

Touko’s story shines new light on Genshiken, specifically the final volume of the first series. In the epilogue, the characters begin a discussion of how Saki, the sole non-otaku of the bunch and by far the most mature character, could be viewed through a moe lens. After some deliberation, Madarame says that she would have to be a virgin (Saki very clearly is not). When I previously read this scene, I thought the purpose was merely to show how Madarame’s mind works and to embarrass Saki. Now, I realize it’s actually a reference to Touko and Kagerowic Diary.

Hatsuho’s story, on the other hand, makes me feel that Spotted Flower and its adultery subplot are not as out-of-left-field as fans assumed. While it’s a far cry from Genshiken, the tangled web of love and lust in Spotted Flower is not unlike the plot of Part II in Kagerowic Diary, where Hatsuho sleeping with a male friend of pity and then discovering that her boyfriend cheated on her too (and probably has been for a while) It’s charged, it’s messy, it’s complicated. In other words, Spotted Flower is sort of a return to the old days for Kio, when writing realistic characters meant more than just realistic portrayals of awkward nerds.

In addition to Kagerowic Diary, there’s a special edition of Kio’s Yonensei (“4th-year Student”) out too. I intend to read through it and see how that other early work of his compares to his more famous material.