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.

Multi-Talented Competition: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 34

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

Summary

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

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

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

Yukina’s Turbo Controller

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

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

The Performance

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

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

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


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

Romantic Perceptions

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

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

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

When the Tsun and the Dere are Indistinguishable

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

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

Songs

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

Final Thoughts

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

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.

 

Hammerman, Hammer: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 23

 Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society has emerged triumphant over Tsuyama’s group, and now the M-Con competition is only one week away. But while that ought to be everyone’s highest priority, Shion is still trying to complete a hammer-and-chisel woodworking assignment she just can’t seem to figure out. Meanwhile, everyone else is wary that the group’s only pianist is potentially putting her own fingers in harm’s way.

Thanks to a handy demonstration by a surly Orihara and an idea from Jin and Akira to treat the process like playing piano, Shion manages to get it done. However, Shion accidentally bumps into a storage locker and sends a bunch of chisels crashing down towards her hands, only to be saved by Orihara, who accidentally grabs her chest. After a bit of awkwardness, things seem resolved…only for Shion to later fall while changing out of her workshop clothes and appear to sprain her wrist anyway.

Working to Music

Hashikko Ensemble is all about the contrast between the characters’’ vocational classes and the songs they’re singing, but most of the time, it’s the science and engineering side facilitating learning about music. This time, it’s more the other way around. The chisel work that Orihara demonstrates shows a kind of softer and more meticulous side to him as well, especially in how shaving off the wood in layers is this gradual process.

It’s also interesting to see where the different characters in this series can and can’t relate to one another. It’s Jin who suggests likening different degrees of taps of the chisel to piano terms–forte, mezzopiano, etc.–but it’s Akira who brings it all together by wondering if Shion could literally do it to a specific song. It’s like it took all three guys here to eventually connect to her way of thinking.

When Anime Haircuts Die

After Tsuyama’s group loses, they all shave their hair in preparation for finding internships, all while taunting Orihara that this is likely his head’s fate as well. Could that actually happen in this manga? Could the main characters end up losing all their nice-looking anime hair if Hashikko Ensemble goes on long enough? It would certainly be something different.

Shion Is Great

I don’t know if this is what Kio always intended, but Shion is really stealing the show at this point. From the beginning of the chapter and Shion’s Ito Junji-esque expression as she declares Akira to be a traitor to just the overall antics that follow, she’s becoming one of the most memorable parts of this series. There’s a point in the chapter

The wrist sprain is very akin to Madarame’s from Genshiken’s (he fell while at a doujin event), and it makes me wonder if Shion is actually supposed to be the Madarame of this series, only less self-aware. She has a sort of ponkotsu quality, but it’s not like she’s untalented or constantly failing. You could call her moe, but she’s less endearing and more exasperating. There’s a point in the chapter when Shion is describing how she doesn’t understand how anyone could do keep track of all the different subtleties in how hard to tap, nor how anyone could do two completely different things with their left and right hands, only for the rest of the characters to yell at her about how that’s a perfect description of playing piano.

It’s like Shion does what she wants and pushes the story along as a result, but perhaps hat describes most of the characters in Hashikko Ensemble.

Songs

The song Akira suggests Shion tap along to is the one they plan to perform for M-Con: “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto.

Final Thoughts

Orihara plays a major role in this chapter, and in it, he keeps expressing that he really hates girls. The way he says it, however, seems to speak to something deeper. Could it be that he’s expressing his anger towards the mother that let him and his deceased little brother be abused for so long? It can be hard to tell, given how Hashikko Ensemble can move between the serious and the comedic in such striking ways.

 

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.

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.