Amuro and Aina’s Excellent Adventures: Otakon 2019

Otakon has long been the anime convention I look forward to most every year. I like how it’s always had an great balance between fan and industry where neither side feels neglected, as well as a panel track that encourages in-depth exploration of topics. This year was no exception, with both great guests and a variety of interesting fan panels. Otakon has also settled into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center quite comfortably at this point, and I have few if any complaints about the logistics of the actual location. The only gaffe I will point out is that there’s still a good deal of miscommunication when it comes to autograph lines, but other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing.

With that said, on to the rest of the con report!

Interviews

I conducted interviews with two voice actors at Otakon: industry veteran Inoue Kikuko (Belldandy, Aina Sahalin, Kazami Mizuho) and legend Furuya Toru (Amuro Ray, Tuxedo Mask, Pegasus Seiya). They’ve been getting some traction on Japanese Twitter, which I find thrilling.

As an aside, I love the press area at Otakon in DC. Not only is it a prime cosplay photography space, making it a lively aspect of the con, but it’s so much more convenient than the old one, and makes it significantly easier to schedule activities.

Panels

Frequent Otakon guest and anime industry super veteran Maruyama Masao had a couple of panels where he went through pretty much every anime he’s ever produced. Most of it was fairly mainstream work from his three studios—Madhouse, Mappa, and M2—but there were a few rare gems like a short by Rintaro and Otomo about them bicycle racing each other. He also mentioned at what point he first started working with various directors and creators. Another thing I came away with was how the sex-and-violence-laden Kawajiri Yoshiaki OVAs of the 80s and 90s had hilarious trailers that would abruptly shift from non-stop action to claiming a beautiful love story was in there, complete with cheesy romantic pop.

Anime in Non-Anime was a fun and entertaining panel from Anime World Order‘s Gerald. Not only was it full of laughs, especially when it came to the news coverage of the Naruto run for the Storming Area 51 Facebook group, but it put into perspective how deceptively large the anime industry really is in terms of reach.

Am I Too Old for This? was a pleasant surprise. Rather than being nostalgic commiseration or an empty pep talk, the panel was an informed look at how the concept of adulthood can coexist with the seeming childishness of fandom. The main takeaway was that managing responsibility, whether that’s taking care of yourself or others (or acknowledging when you need help from others), is the contemporary benchmark of adulthood, and that fandom is compatible with this. There was also an important point about not revealing your power level immediately to uninitiated acquaintances, because you have to deal with the reality of how anime fans are perceived in general society.

Animation in Anime by Evan Minto and Nate A.M. was a varied look at both the history and implementation of conveying the illusion of movement in Japanese animation. I think the panel did a good job of dispelling the notion that there is only one good way to animate, and detailing how the particular challenges of animating in Japan (primarily budget and labor issues) resulted in creators having to do more with less. I wonder how many people came out of it eager to learn about legendary animator Kanada Yoshinori, whose distinct style lives on in the likes of Obari Masami, Studio Trigger, and others.

In 20 Years Ago: Anime in 1999 Daryl Surat of Anime World Order looked back on the year 1999, and the fact that it’s been twenty years alarms and frightens me. Regardless of my own insecurity over the passage of time, it was an effective panel at putting anime’s history into perspective. Some tech hiccups interfered with the panel somewhat, but it didn’t impact the overall enjoyment. He also showed a willingness to not put creators on an unnecessary pedestal, as he called out a famous director who likely exploited one of his voice actors.

My Panels

Nine years ago, I did a panel about this blog’s namesake, Ogiue from Genshiken, and since then, I hadn’t touched my favorite manga as a panel topic prior to Otakon 2019. But thanks to a series of rereleases of Kio Shimoku’s older manga, I was inspired to do a panel that didn’t just cover Kio’s most famous title but his entire manga career. Thus was born Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku.

Creator spotlights are not the most popular panels, so there wasn’t a large audience at first, and the next panel being JoJo’s meant those seated at the end weren’t necessarily there to see me, but I think I accomplished what I wanted in going over Kio’s varied and daring manga works. To my pleasant surprise, I even won over a harsh critic on the Otakon feedback forums.

I had a second panel as well, Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots! with Patz from The Cockpit and Alain from Reverse Thieves. It was a more relaxed panel than my Kio one, and was built around looking at various robot anime that highlight romance amid conflict. My hope is that the panel got people thinking, even a little.

For those who attended my panels, thank you, and I hope to see you next year. I’ve got some ideas in the works…!

Bradio Concert

Having watched the anime Death Parade and enjoyed its high-energy opening theme, I was looking forward to Bradio’s live performance at Otakon, and it delivered in spades. Their attitude and presentation drew me in, and their unique jazz/funk/disco-fusion style is hard not to enjoy. I loved the hell out of every song, and it’s clear the crowd did too, as I could see people practically compelled to dance to the groove. Bradio’s irresistible music is made all the better by the singer’s excellent vocals and sheer range—he pretty much did one song entirely in falsetto without losing any power.

I would see Bradio again, no doubt.

As an aside, I stopped in briefly for the Nujabes Tribute Concert, but wasn’t able to stay long enough to get a good idea of it overall.

Other Notes

I briefly stopped by the Saturday Morning Cartoons subtitled video room. Along with the dubbed video room, the idea was to replicat watching anime from the 90s with commercials. I watched Sailor Moon in Japanese, and like with so many other shows with a merchandise engine behind them, there were tons of Sailor Moon commercials during the actual show. I also got to see a commercial starring the best video game mascot ever: Segata Sanshiro. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stay there a bit more.

Also, shout-outs to the dealer’s room booth that was selling Precure, Doremi, and classic magical girl stuff I got this fine piece of Princess Comet/Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san merchandise, and I was definitely tempted to get more. A rare find!

And lastly, some cosplay.

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Bringing It All Together: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 18

Can Akira overcome himself and finally sing in front of an audience alongside his peers? That’s the big question of Chapter 18 of Hashikko Ensemble. 

Summary 

Still at Nishigafuchi High School’s elite Chorus Club, Jin has declared that the Hashimoto High School Chorus Appreciation Society will put on a small performance of their own in front of the other school’s members. Orihara is against it, having noticed that Akira didn’t sing during their prior practice. Still, Hashimoto ends up going along with it anyway.

While there are clear strengths to the group, notably Jin’s singing and Shion’s piano-playing, it’s clear to the members of Nishigafuchi that they’re still not organized as an ensemble—it’s like four different people merely singing at the same time instead of together. Even then, it’s not really four, as Akira continues to stay quiet to the extent that Orihara takes over the entirety of the bass part. But as his club mates continue to sing, even Akira’s timidity begins to recede inch by inch, until he comes in at the very end, unifying the various sounds for a brief moment. Akira inadvertently matches the subject of their song, a star that’s small but manages to shine.

Akira Did It

As I read through this chapter, I really wanted to see Akira overcome his fear, but I genuinely didn’t know if he would. Page after page, they kept singing while Akira kept his mouth closed, and I found myself cheering for him to break through this wall. When it finally happened, I almost felt like I wanted to grab him by the shoulders, and yell, “You did it!!!”

Between suggesting Hashimoto sing in front of Nishigafuchi and encouraging Orihara to just do the bass part himself if need be, Jin is the main reason Akira is in a position to do more than lip sync. Putting him on the spot like that can seem somewhat mean, but I’d like to think that Jin notices Akira’s genuine desire to sing. Just having attention on Akira wouldn’t work, so it’s crucial that Akira be surrounded by his club mates putting their all into their performance—an open invitation to join them.

I believe Jin is clever and cunning enough for all this to be his plan. He can act naïve at times, and in certain ways he is, but there’s a sharp mind behind those eyes.

Culmination of Ideas

Near the end, when Akira finally joins in, Jin’s thinks about how everything is come together for their group. In doing so, he brings up a lot of the terms that have come up in previous chapters—high-pitched tones, low-pitched tones, overtones, and singer’s formant. It’s as if this chapter is there to bring together all these concepts, and to show that the Chorus Appreciation Society has managed a breakthrough. The rough direction that the series has been taking has tightened up.

I read a bit more about singer’s formant—the ability for a singer to sound louder than an accompanying orchestra despite that seeming impossible—and realized that a less technical explanation works in introducing the idea. Essentially, singer’s formant is what opera singers are trained to have, and Akira more or less has this quality to his voice without any sort of practice required. It’s his nine-tailed fox, one might say.

Four in Unison

An interesting thing about the art in this chapter is how it shows the characters at different angles in a way that emphasizes how uncomfortable Akira is, as well as how they’re all over the place as a group. The key angle, however, is when they’re facing left, as it gradually goes from being only able to see Jin and Shinji, to an imagine situation of all four silent, to eventually Akira joining in and completing the group. It’s not easy to convey the impact of a song through image and text alone, but I can really feel that unity and harmony (pun somewhat intended) in the spread above.

Songs

The only song this chapter is “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto. It’s the song they’re planning on singing for the MHK competition.

Final Thoughts

Akira seems to have finally found himself. Now I’m just wondering if his childhood friend Himari is eventually going to sing as well, or if she’s going to be outside the club forever.

I also continue to be entertained by Andou, the sadistic soprano. At the beginning of the chapter, she mentions wanting to here Hashimoto’s performance, but it’s clear that she’s motivated by a desire to see them flounder. To her, something like an out-of-tune band that knows how bad they’re doing is probably the ultimate pleasure. The core group of Hashikko Ensemble is plenty quirky, but this makes it seem like there’s a whole ocean of weirdoes out there.

 

His Master’s Voice: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 17

We learn a lot—maybe too much—about Nishigafuchi’s students in Chapter 17 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Nishigafuchi lead tenor Saiga (first name Shinnosuke) is in a funk, and the reason is that Shindou Yui, the lead soprano. Shindou mentioned that she sometimes doesn’t want to thing about how they’re breathing in the same space, and that with the way he keeps panting, he should just run around outside like a dog. To prove himself, he plans on challenging Jin to a competition, but gets punched in the mouth by Orihara instead. Shinji wonders if Orihara did it to defend Jin, but Orihara claims it was because he wanted to sing more Brahms. The punch actually makes Saiga want more because it reminds him of Shindou’s sadistic behavior.

Instead of competing, Jin actually helps Saiga with his singing and breathing (so he didn’t have to breathe the same air as her!), and the results are noticeable. Even Shindou is impressed, though she’s no slouch herself. Afterwards, Saiga goes up to Shindou and asks her…if she can be his master. Shindou happily gives him commands like a dog, everyone is confused (especially Kurata), and the Nishigafuchi adviser awkwardly comments that there are all kinds of relationships these days.

As they’re singing, however, Akira doesn’t, and his old middle school classmate Sadamoto notices again. But before he could say anything, Jin asks if the Hashimoto Chorus Club could perform for everyone on their own. Will Shinji finally sing here?

All Kinds

In the last chapter, Nishigafuchi student Andou described Shindou as appearing gentle but actually having a nasty tongue, and she certainly lives up to reputation. I figured that would be the case, but she far exceeds my expectations. I have to wonder if it’s like an entire club of masochists who enjoy the verbal lashing.

Meanwhile, Orihara’s punching Saiga (potentially) in defense of Jin is kind of a serious tsundere move by way of delinquent behavior. Maybe Orihara really does see him as a friend.

Great Teacher Kimura

According to Jin, Saiga tries too hard to keep his head from lifting up and tries to create too much space in his mouth—things that are generally considered good form in singing, but an area where Saiga overcompensates. The consequence is that the surrounding throat muscles to be overly tense and rigid, and this results in him breathing oddly while performing. To Jin, this might be why Shindou made her dog comment.

To help all of the tenors with this, Jin has everyone do an exercise where they “play catch” with their voices. The idea is that they breathe out like you’re trying to form a parabola, and like it’s coming out the top of your head—like they’re “throwing” their voice to the other team.

Jin is thus portrayed as someone who can teach even an elite singer from an elite school, and it furthers the idea that he’s on another level when it comes to understanding sound and music. It’s not clear what his power level is, but when Saiga challenges him, I was expecting a shounen manga moment where Jin can show his stuff and make clear the size of the disparity between them, but it didn’t happen. Yet.

 

Songs

Referenced last chapter too, they sing Johannes Brahms’s “O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf, Op. 74, No. 2.”

Final Thoughts

Is Jin purposely requesting a Hashimoto-only performance so that Akira will feel more comfortable singing, or does he have a different motivation?

Also, Kurata’s utter bewilderment over the Saiga-Shindou thing is the cutest thing.

First and Second Impressions: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 16

More time at Nishigafuchi leads to some interesting personal connections in Chapter 16 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

The Hashimoto Chorus Appreciation Society continues their joint-practice session at the prestigious Nishigafuchi High School, and they’re making quite an impression.

Mimi-sensei is getting conducting advice. Shinji learns the personalities of all the Nishigafuchi part leaders (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) from a first-year tenor named Andou who wishes he could sing bass. Jin is enthusiastically giving the other students voice lessons and even tips for pronouncing German. Kousei is scaring everyone away, especially because he refuses to sing anything he doesn’t want, but also surprises everyone when he jumps at the chance to sing some Brahms. Akira talks to Sadamoto, the guy from his old school who recognized him, but it seems that despite Akira’s worries, Sadamoto holds no animosity towards him.

However, Sadamoto makes a rather cryptic statement in reference to their past singing together: “We still won even though you didn’t sing, so that turned out well. But sometimes I think, even if we all sang and couldn’t win, that would’ve been good too.”

German Elocution

Jin’s brief lesson on German is that while things like umlauts and diphthongs matter, ultimately good German pronunciation comes down to position of the tongue and shape of the mouth. I figure that applies to a lot of languages, but it’s interesting to note what Jin would concentrate on first, as well as what he assumes is already common knowledge. The response from the other students is basically “We don’t follow.”

What Happened to Akira’s Voice

We know that Akira’s voice got hit by a lightning bolt of puberty back in middle school, but based on his exchange with Sadamoto, I have some conjecture. To me, it seems like in whatever competition they were a part of, Akira decided to lip sync because his voice had changed so much as to 1) be embarrassing 2) shift him out of whatever range he was supposed to sing. It’s even possible he went from soprano or alto to bass, based on what Himari has said about Akira’s childhood voice.

As for Sadamoto’s words, not only does it seem like he holds no grudge against Akira, but it even looks like he has some regret over Akira feeling the need to pretend to sing. I’m curious as to how this will develop.

The Nishigafuchi Elite Four

Andou basically fanboys over the Nishigafuchi club leaders, and it’s cute to see. He lays out their personalities as follows.

Shindou Yui: Soprano leader, has a gentle smile but a sadistic personality

Hisamura Nozomi: Alto leader, appears harsh but is actually kind and gentle

Honma Tadashi: Bass leader, started off as a regular member but rose to the top through practice and effort

Kouno: The sub-leader of the tenors, who isn’t important (according to Andou) because of…

Saiga: Tenor leader, a fop who’s prone to giving up easily

We were briefly introduced to most of them last chapter, with Saiga being the big exception. Was saving his appearance for this chapter just to make his eccentric personality stand out that much more, or is he going to be a more prominent character compared to the others? Either way, I like that these characters are getting established, though I do think the quick summaries provided by Andou are very different from how Hashikko Ensemble has been introducing its characters thus far. Up to now, they’ve mostly been more “show” than “tell.”

I also find it quite interesting that they’re being treated like idols or manga-style “popular students,” but they actually look quite normal—even Saiga. Compared to making them suddenly larger than life, it keeps the series grounded and humble, even though it can get fairly absurd.

While it’s mostly Andou talking about this, I did feel that the chapter spent more time on Shinji than normal, and his role as the straight-man among a cavalcade of eccentrics is getting more firmly established. I also wonder how Andou, who thinks Akira is a kindred spirit, is actually the naturally strong bass singer that Andou wishes he was.

Songs

The song Nishigafuchi is performing at the beginning of the chapter is “Hitotsu no Asa” (A Single Morning), composed by Hirayoshi Takekuni with lyrics by Kataoka Teru.

The song that Orimura really wants to sing is Johannes Brahms’s “O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf, Op. 74, No. 2.”

Lastly, the song Shion is playing on piano is “Chopin Nocturne – No 5 in F Sharp Major Op. 15-2.”

Final Thoughts

This has nothing to do with the ongoing story, but I wish fanart of this series existed. I know the characters don’t have the most iconic appearances, but I think they’re worthy of some love

Menagerie, Menagerie: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 15

In this chapter, we see our first school outside of Hashimoto Tech! How will these students react to the eccentricities of the main cast?

Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society is running into a few walls. This is partly because so many of its members lack experience, partly because of clashes in personality (especially between Orihara and Shinji), and partly because Mimi-sensei herself doesn’t know much about music. Thanks to the reluctant help of music teacher Takano-sensei, however, the Chorus Club gets a chance to do some inter-school practice. They visit Nishigafuchi Private High School, a strong music school with numerous accomplishments in competition and automatic entry into the elite Nankan University. It’s the Hakone Academy of choruses, in Yowamushi Pedal terms, perhaps.

The Nishigafuchi students are surprised at the wildly varying appearances and demeanors of the Hashimoto students. The Hashimoto students split off into their respective vocal sections, but when Akira goes to meet the other bass vocalists, he’s recognized by a student from his middle school days, Kidamoto, who asks what he’s doing there.

Pronunciation 101

There’s an interesting demonstration of some tongue exercises led by Jin. Namely, he shows how while Japanese people are typically taught vowels in the order of “A, I, U, E, O,” the more natural and comfortable order for the mouth would be “I, E, A, O, U.” I rather like how the manga drops bits of knowledge like this, as it both lends an air of authenticity while also making a kind of narrative sense given Jin’s scientific approach to music.

Too Many (?) New Characters

A lot of characters are introduced in this chapter, namely students at Nishigafuchi. Because there are so many, including the leaders of each of their club’s chorus section, I wonder which of them will be important down the line. It’s hard to tell with Hashikko Ensemble, given how we already have some minor characters ascend. I get the feeling that the bass leader, Honma Tadashi, will play a role in helping Akira improve.

As for Takano, she reminds me of the characters from FLCL, and not just in terms of her full lips and pouty face. She has a kind of laid-back slyness that feels like a mix between Haruko and Mamimi.

Kidamoto

Possibly the most important new character is Kidamoto. While he doesn’t stand out at first blush, but I do like how Hashikko Ensemble is utilizing him. At the very beginning of the chapter, his face shows up in one panel (see the top image), but his level of importance is still unknown. Then, when Hashimoto Chorus Club arrives, he reacts to someone’s appearance but it’s not immediately clear who he notices, creating a bit of anticipation in the story. Is it Jin, who’s presumably somewhat infamous in local music circles? Is it Shion, who competed in piano? The fact that it turns out to be Akira is both surprising and intriguing.

So what is the relationship between Akira and Kidamoto? Is it just that Kidamoto knows about how Akira pretended to sing in middle school during class performances? I’m looking forward to getting the answer, as well as seeing how this challenges Akira.

Character Humor Deluxe

There’s a lot of excellent humor this character-based humor in this chapter that I enjoyed immensely. One is Hanyama (the bald student) expressing his sudden urge to join the Chorus Club just from watching Mimi-sensei’s adorable conductor practice. Another involves one of the students at Nishigafuchi wondering if everyone from Hashimoto is going to be delinquents (on account of it being a technical/vocational school), only to have her expectations simultaneously subverted and affirmed by the contrast between Jin and Orihara.

My favorite of all, however, is seeing Shion constantly get distracted in class by Takano-sensei’s piano across the hall. As mentioned by Takano herself, her specialty is the violin, so even as a music teacher she’s not going to be impeccable on the ivory. Seeing Shion jerk her head at every flub Takano makes (summed up entirely in one panel) is such a perfect little character moment for Shion. It not only speaks to her own piano skills, but also hints at the same personality underlying her attitude towards the Chorus Club in the earlier chapters.

Overall, much of Chapter 15 emphasizes what an eclectic hodgepodge of people are at the center of this story. I expect to see Jin upend the Nishigafuchi students’ expectations with his vocal range, as well as other similar surprises.

Songs

The song they’re practicing for competition, “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto, appears again in this chapter. It’s to be expected moving forward.

Another song, one that Shion decides to play on piano (and thus not helping with practice) is Friedrich Bürgmuller’s 25 Études faciles et progressives, Op.100 (25 studies for piano) L’Arabesque. It’s part of a series of pieces designed to help young pianists improve their skills.

Final Thoughts

I often wonder if I’m actually doing this manga justice. There are a lot of little details in the panels that can seem frivolous but also add a lot to the core character dynamics that fuel the series. Hashikko Ensemble grows in fits and starts, but that’s also what makes it so appealing.

 

Stars: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 14

The Chorus Appreciation Society has its first big argument in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 14.

Summary

With only one day to submit an application to enter the MHK Concours, the Chorus Appreciation Society is struggling to decide on a song for both practical and personal reasons. Among the considerations: available members, song familiarity, and taste. After a great deal of arguing and even a near-fight between Orihara Kousei and Hachida Shinji (!), they finally land on a song they can all agree on: “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto.

Those Pesky Song Rights

One of the practical considerations that the group has to account for is that any rewriting or adapting of compositions, for the sake of better matching the performers, has to be approved by the original creator. With less than 24 hours to decide, that means this option is out of the question.

Kio didn’t have to place that limitation on his characters—he could’ve written the situation to have more leeway. It does add a bit of tension, however, and it gives ample opportunity for the manga to go into detail about the typical statement of a chorus or ensemble.

What is Normal? What is Otaku?

One of the barriers is Kousei, who refuses to do any songs he considers embarrassing, which rules out all J-pop. Others are ease of performance and familiarity. Akira suggests they do a Studio Ghibli song, seeing how popular, well known, and tasteful they are. Hasegawa Kozue’s eyes light up at the prospect, but she’s shocked and appalled to discover that some of the members have never seen a Ghibli film—namely Jin and Kousei, though Jin has performed some of the songs. Shion also reveals that she’s never watched one, though Kozue is much gentler and more forgiving with her.

This little interaction highlights a number of character aspects. First, the question of whether gruff judoka Kozue is actually an otaku is brought up by the other characters. There’s no clear answer, but at the very least, we know she’s not the kind of otaku to scoff at Miyazaki films. As for why those three in particular are Ghibli virgins, Jin and Shion can be attributed to strict households—Jin’s never even had TV. As for Kousei, it’s likely due to his traumatic, neglect-filled childhood.

Grump and Not-So-Grump

I find there are some similar trajectories for Kousei and Shion, in that both come across as hardasses at first but are softened up as they spend more time with the rest of the characters. The big difference is that while Shion just seems gruff but turns out to just be a goof, Kousei’s “lighter” side only comes out in tiny doses which are then exaggerated by everyone else. More broadly, there is a general theme of the Chorus Club/Appreciation Society helping people deal with or overcome their personal challenges.

The title of the chapter, “Ore ni Totte” [To Me], actually comes from a line uttered by Kousei: “To me, singing’s…” Here, he’s expressing what may be some poetic or powerful view of music, and the other members try to eagerly egg him on to express what he means.

It’s also telling that Kousei eventually says he wants to leave because it’s his tastes that are getting in the way, and that he’ll be fine with whatever—there’s a considerate person in there. However, Akira stops him because he wants a song everyone will be happy to work on. Both Kousei and Akira gain points in my eyes.

Songs

As mentioned above, the song they pick is “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto. The way the characters described it as basically something everyone knows prompted me to do some research because I was unfamiliar with both the singer and the song.

It turns out that Kyu Sakamoto is one of the most famous musicians ever, inside and outside of Japan. In 1963, he became the first Japanese performer to hit #1 on the US Billboard Top 100, and in 1985, he tragically died in the deadliest single plane crash in history.

Other songs mentioned in the chapter include “Kanade” by Sukima Switch (of course), and the Ghibli songs brought up by Jin: “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Stroll” from My Neighbor Totoro, “Carrying You” from Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and “Country Roads” from Whisper of the Heart.

Final Thoughts

Kio actually made a chart showing all the characters who’ve appeared thus far with names and classes. It’s a lot! It also makes me wonder who we’ll see more of in the future, especially now that we know what to call every one of them.

An Odd Fusion: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 13

The club finally comes together, sort of. What lies ahead is to find a common goal!

Summary

With Shion joining in and Mimi-sensei as their advisor, the Chorus Club is officially formed! …Except technically, they’re an appreciation society, one step below a true school club in terms of legitimacy. So the Chorus Appreciation Society doesn’t even have access to the music room.

On top of that, to keep Shinji in the group, the Chorus Appreciation Society’s members all join his Mountain Castle Appreciation Society…but with one exception: Shion refuses because she doesn’t care about that sort of thing. In order to make everyone happy, two sideline spectators decide to join Shinji: Hasegawa–first name Kozue–and her previously unnamed friend, Katou Kanon.

Even the “appreciation society” status is tenuous, so Mimi-sensei suggests that they get some results by entering the MHK Chorus Concours (aka M-Con). While Jin doesn’t really care one way or another about it (there are separate competitions throughout the year, so it’s not like one big tournament, baseball-style), Akira actually does, to everyone’s surprise. He can notice how unpracticed and limited he is, and he wants to improve. His quiet enthusiasm manages to convince everyone else, so they agree to try. The only problem, as Mimi-sensei points out, is that the deadline for submitting songs is today!

Katou Kanon

At last, we have a name! A couple of chapters ago, I had to write about her interactions with the other characters, and I kept having to say “Hasegawa’s friend” and the like while hoping it wouldn’t seem awkward. Thankfully, that’s finally over–and Hasegawa got a first name too! This certainly isn’t the first time that a manga, let alone a Kio Shimoku manga, has withheld character names until later. The bully trio in Eyeshield 21 took forever and a half to get names, and Asada Naoko in Genshiken was known for the longest time as either “Nyaako” or “cat-mouth girl.” At least Kanon got her name revealed in the original manga, and fans didn’t have to suss out Asada’s name in one of the anime’s episode credits!

In any case, this probably means Kanon is going to be a more prominent character. Still, I wonder how often are the Kanons of the world are just background characters who happen to fall into more involved roles, and how often that’s planned well in advance.

Chimera Clubs

I’m quite fond of the trope where two clubs with insufficient members have to join together to stay alive. It was fun in Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!, and while a group that discusses mountain castles isn’t as absurd as a napping society, I’m confident Hashikko Ensemble will make it entertaining. I do hope we get to see them visit a castle at some point in the story–maybe as part of a training camp?

As for why they have be an Appreciation Societies, it’s rather telling to me that the real reason is basically a transfer of burden. According to the Wood Ensemble Club’s advisor, Ochi-sensei, it took them forever to get that coveted “club” status, so Mimi’s new club should have to go through a similar ordeal. In a way, it’s like an extremely light form of hazing that you’d see elsewhere–earning your place and all that–only applied on a slightly broader scale.

Where Do Their Motivations Lie?

Jin’s initial rejection of M-Con is one thing, but his reasoning for agreeing provides even more insight into his mind. He cares little for competitions, but the sheer amount of singing a group has to go through to even get ready for one is more or less his idea of paradise. To him, the actual recital portion is just icing on the cake. In other words, here you have a guy who just loves singing for the sake of singing.

But on the flipside, I’m not sure how much Akira is motivated by a simple desire to improve and how much he’s being influenced by guilt. As shown in the chapter, Akira still remembers being in middle school and only pretending to sing, and he still feels pretty bad about it. He’s slowly learning to embrace his extremely deep voice thanks to all his singing, but I wonder if he’ll grow to appreciate music and singing all on their own.

Music

Continuing from last chapter, Akira and Jin continue to sing “Kanade” by Sukima Switch. While that particular song has been featured multiple times throughout the manga so far, it’s interesting to note the part that’s highlighted in Chapter 12.

君が僕の前に現れた日から
何もかもが違くみえたんだ
朝も光も涙も、歌う声も
君が輝きをくれたんだ

Ever since the day you appeared before me
I see everything differently
Morning, light, tears, even a singing voice
You gave me your shining brilliance

In other words, the lyrics of “Kanade” pretty much set the theme for all of Hashikko Ensemble.

Final Thoughts

Two last things, each about a different character:

The more I see Kurata Shion, the more I realize that she’s a ponkotsu character–essentially someone who seems capable on the surface but is really a comedic wreck. Just about everything she does in this chapter makes me laugh, from her goofy face while playing piano to her innocently mentioning how lacking Akira’s singing is without realizing how tactless she’s being.

Orihara appears in this chapter to talk about how he won’t do any dumb songs (which means he’ll do them if they’re not dumb). When I see him talking, I picture a specific voice in my head: Jotaro from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. If ever there’s an anime adaptation of Hashikko Ensemble, I hope they get Ono Daisuke.