Not many Kio tweets in September, so this is a pretty sparse entry this month. That said, there are some drawings that notably use Kozue from Hashikko Ensemble as Kio’s avatar. It’s interesting that he regards her (or at least her design) so fondly.
Kio retweeted an image describing an idea from a Tokyo University professor, who says that motivation comes from a specific part of the brain, but in order to activate it, you have to actually start doing it. Kio comments that even if he knows this, he’s still not able to work up the motivation. He then mentions drinking the energy drink Lipovitan D, and that he seems to be putting a lot of faith in it.
A drawing of Not-Kohsaka dressed as Not-Hato from Spotted Flower. Kio comments that sometimes he does have the motivation to do a big, high-quality drawing to his satisfaction.
His right wrist hurts, but he can’t figure out what’s the matter. It doesn’t seem to be tendonitis. Kio ends up wondering if it might be that he’s using a different mouse.
This past summer, Kio’s pet tortoise started leaking some kind of snot-like liquid. To take the tortoise to the vet, he placed it in a cooler bag filled with ice, and also carried a sun umbrella. Kio remarks that this made him look like an ice cream vendor.
Apparently, the tortoise is 21 years old!! While it’s doing better, Kio thinks the issue might be a change in environment, as Kio recently moved to a place with no yard.
Kio realizes he promoted a sale for Spotted Flower too late…
48 chapters later, friends compete for the first time in this conclusion to Hashikko Ensemble.
It’s shortly after the start of the new school year at Hashimoto Tech, and all the clubs are presenting to recruit first-years. While the freshmen predictably look a little too rough-and-tumble to sing chorus/glee-style, Jin declares his confidence that they’ll find new members.
The chapter jumps back one month in time to White Day, where the last chapter left off. Akira and Jin both sing “Kanade” by Sukima Switch, but unlike the previous two times they’ve done this song together, this time they’re in a one-on-one “exhibition match.” For those familiar with Jin, especially Yumerun, it’s highly uncharacteristic to see Jin singing against someone rather than with them. At the end, with no clear victor, Jin proudly announces that he’s going to apply for music college just like Akira. Smiling, Jin calls Akira his rival, to which Akira happily agrees.
Then, Jin reciprocates Kozue’s romantic Valentine’s chocolate with a White Day chocolate of his own, and says he likes her too. Kozue is happy, but notices Yumerun staring daggers into her, leading to a bit of off-panel comedic fury.
The story then shifts forward again to the recruitment, and the group is going to be next on stage. Shion is nervous because all of her work to pass her classes has made her extremely competent at all that vocational work, but made her forget how to play. Kousei just says that she has to play decently, and it’ll be fine. The other members notice that they’ve gotten a bit closer, while Mai wishes she had the courage to give Akira chocolate.
As the announcer calls for them, Akira and the others come out to the audience as the official, full-fledged Chorus Club. The freshmen notice that there are an unusual number of delinquents in it—as well as girls—before the club starts their song.
Concluded or Canceled?
Having Hashikko Ensemble all end here feels both well-timed and abrupt, and the actual answer is that it’s a little bit of both. On Twitter, Kio Shimoku said that he was told to begin wrapping up at the start of the Culture Festival arc, and he was able to get enough time to finish that arc and wrap things up, ending the series at Volume 8. It’s not quite the same, but it reminds me a bit of what happened to the original Mobile Suit Gundam: It was slated to be a 52-episode series, only to be canceled early and revised to be a 39-episode show, but the staff managed to convince the higher-ups to at least make it 43.
That, in turn, makes me think of that old Genshiken anime episode preview where the characters talk about how so many great series got canceled early—like Gungal (Gundam) and Dizner (Layzner). Madarame turns it around and says that maybe it’s the opposite, and a series is only truly great if it gets canceled.
I feel that Hashikko Ensemble is a story that had plenty more room to grow, and I would have enjoyed seeing them at least get to the end of high school, if not further beyond that. Still, there was at least enough room to resolve things well enough, and the main thrust of the relationship between Akira and Jin ends at an interesting and uplifting point.
Unrequited or Unseen?
Of the many romantic threads in the series, It’s funny that Jin x Kozue was the only one that resulted in a definitive couple. Hashikko Ensemble largely didn’t dwell on their relationship, and a lot of their interactions didn’t even indirectly hint at the subject. This can be chalked up to their personalities—Kozue is not prone to flights of fancy, and oblivious Jin probably didn’t even think about romantic love at any point in his life until Kozue’s confession. Giving the least prominent romance closure but not the others feels like a troll of sorts, but one I welcome for it’s unexpectedness.
And even then, others are somewhat open-ended. Kousei and Shion appear to be closer, and that development is likely a direct response to Shion proving that she can successfully perform the physical labor tasks involved in passing her classes—and by extension someday live the kind of life Kousei envisions for himself. Mai regrets not confessing to Akira, but it’s not like there was any sort of rejection. In the world of the story, they’ve still got at least another couple of years. If this were a series that had people writing fanfiction about it, this would probably be a prime topic.
Learning to Be Selflessly Selfish
It feels appropriate that things would essentially boil back down to Akira and Jin. What’s fascinating is the journey they both took to get here.
The lesson Jin learns in the end is one that runs almost opposite of what is typical in anime and manga. Stories are often about someone discovering the power of teamwork, but what Jin needs in order to grow is the capacity to individually compete and outperform. His match against Akira isn’t about trying to win, but to see if he can actually use his singing as a tool to raise himself rather than support another. To go from “teammates” to “rivals” is, again, sort of counter to the standard narrative of manga about high school clubs.
As Akira states in his thoughts, he’s grateful for all he’s gained thanks to Jin. He originally was woefully self-conscious about the deep voice he suddenly developed in middle school, and it was something he sought to hide and minimize. But Jin encouraged him to go out of his comfort zone and embrace the bass in his voice, and here, Akira brings not only his gratitude but everything Jin ever taught him.
Poetically, Jin himself turns out to have been forced outside his comfort zone by Akira’s rapid progress, which is how we get to their relationship in the final chapter. Rather than the student becoming the master, the two recognize each other as true equals.
As stated, the last and only song for Chapter 48 is “Kanade” by Sukima Switch. As with every time “Kanade” appears, I’ve linked the official music video above, but there’s a very special treat this time as well.
Kio actually uploaded a version of “Kanade” that’s supposed to be an approximation of how the song would sound as a duet performed by Akira and Jin! According to his tweets, Kio stated that he made it himself because it didn’t exist, and that he accomplished it with the help of a couple music programs.
One thing I never really did with all these Hashikko Ensemble reviews over the years is provide analyses of the lyrics for the various songs used in the manga. This was partly for space and time reasons, but they often add meaning to each chapter, so it has been a bit of a glaring omission.
For this final chapter, I think it’s worth looking at “Kanade” and what the song is saying. The lyrics are largely about someone getting close to a person and guiding them, only to see them growing into an adult and changing. But even though things aren’t going to be the same, they’ll use their voice to protect the other.
How fitting for Akira and JIn, and perhaps the entirety of Hashikko Ensemble. So much of the series is about the characters finding support in one another, and watching them grow beyond what anyone expected.
The series is ending literally one month short of its fourth anniversary, and looking back, there are many questions about Hashikko Ensemble left unanswered and open to exploration. Mai, who ended up becoming my favorite character, never got enough time to fully shine, but I appreciate the fact that she ended up becoming a more prominent character towards the end. I also have to wonder if Jin’s mom was introduced during the Culture Festival because Kio knew the manga was set to finish. It feels somewhat like an appearance that resulted from things having to wrap up, and a longer series might have had her shadow (rather than her physical self) loom in the background for a greater amount of chapters. Would Jin ever learn that his mom thinks highly of his singing ability? I could see it going either way.
Hashikko Ensemble is notably different from pretty much all of Kio’s previous works in the way that there’s a concrete underlying goal for its cast. Whether it’s Genshiken or any of the series that have preceded or followed it, Kio’s stories have always been more about exploring character relationships in spaces devoid of strong ambition. Hashikko Ensemble is very much about the characters and how they connect with one another, but the theme of music and an in-story goal of forming a proper club (and a proper chorus) means that there’s a good deal of forward momentum that’s absent in Kio’s other manga—with the arguable exception of Kujibiki Unbalance. Seeing that relatively more “focused” Kio Shimoku manga makes me wonder how things would go if he took it a step further, maybe even into a more adventure-type work, or something like palace intrigue.
Akira, Jin, and the rest are so charming and authentic as characters. Their personalities contain both simplicities and complexities, and as they grow, they gain new dimensions while remaining true to their cores. It reminds me of past Kio series to be sure, but there’s a kind of enthusiasm that I think is indicative of the high school setting—a mark of youth and the potential that lies ahead. Yet, with all the adult figures in the background, there are characters even those who feel far removed from their younger days can relate to. The fact that Kio actually joined Twitter as this serialization was happening even lends an air of trying to communicate with an audience that’s both younger and older. It’s not TikTok, but maybe that’d be a step too far.
Hashikko Ensemble ends up feeling like it has the perspectives of both teens in the midst of their days and adults looking at youth in action, and that interaction has been a joy to read.
Jin is on one heck of an emotional arc in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 46.
The girls of the Chorus Appreciation Society (plus Yukina and Yumerun) start on their Valentine’s Day mini-concert—Kozue’s idea for bringing Jin out of his musical funk. But within himself, all he can seem to hear are their flaws. Still, while they’re lacking either skill, group coordination, or both, they seem to have the very music in them that he’s lost.
Right before they can start their encore, however, Shion brings out her Valentine’s chocolate for Kousei and makes another confession. Kousei deflects by asking Jin if she has any hope of getting into a music college and having a career (the chances are rough. Kousei further comments that Shion’s not that good with the technical work needed for their high school either—as if to imply that Shion wouldn’t be prepared for the hardship of dating him.
At that point, Yukina cuts in and remarks that Kousei is underestimating Shion, and promises to help Shion with her schoolwork. Yukina actually only has a month until she graduates, which prompts the two girls to leave the concert and get started practicing. Losing its alto in Yukina and its accompaniment in Shion, the concert comes to an impromptu end, to Kozue’s chagrin.
Yumerun tries to brighten the mood by delivering an intense confession of her own to Jin (“Please go out with me with the intent of marriage!”). While she says her feelings for him were likely always obvious, Jin (ever oblivious) mentions that he never even noticed. When Jin asks what kind of feeling “love” even is, Yumerun replies that it’s to treasure someone—while also thinking inside that it’s about wanting to have someone all to yourself—Jin curtly replies, “I don’t think I’m worth that much,” and leaves. Akira immediately gets up to chase, but Kozue stops him, saying that he shouldn’t be the one, and goes off after Jin herself.
The Details of Drama
The above summary is a lot wordier than I would typically prefer, but I felt that the contours of this chapter are important this month—especially because of how serious Hashikko Ensemble is getting. The drama has ramped up in many ways even if there’s still a dose of levity, with the Jin-Yumerun interaction emphasizing that contrast. In some ways, it reminds me of the Karuizawa story in Genshiken (where Ogiue finally pours her turbulent heart out to Sasahara), but the difference is that Ogiue started out full of pain, and Jin’s recent turn is more drastic compared to how we first meet him back in Chapter 1.
Jin and Love
Jin is the main focus throughout here, and I love what they’re doing with his character. The conflict that’s broiling inside him feels so real. Jin’s impressions of the girls’ performance come after Akira’s, and their differences in this moment really drive home how out-of-sorts Jin feels. Akira’s perspective comes from a less experienced place: He can tell how strong Yumerun is, that Kanon sings like it’s karaoke, and how Kozue is uncharacteristically not that great at it. Jin’s analysis, on the other hands, is very cynical and clinical, which feels so unlike what we expect of him. It’s like he’s turned a harsher ear on others as a consequence of becoming harsher on himself.
Then, when he’s asking Yumerun what it means to “love,” I get the impression that he’s not just talking about people. I suspect that he’s doubting whether he truly ever understood what it means to love music. Perhaps he feels that he’s been confusing his highly dedicated study and time poured into singing with genuine passion. When he says he isn’t worth that much, I think it might be because he seems himself as something of a fraud.
Kousei continues to resist his interest in Shion, but one fun development out of this is Yukina and Shion’s friendship! I’m a fan of how Yukina and Shion quickly lose track of what they were talking about in the first place—It’s like watching a real and genuine friendship grow. Shion starts to call Yukina Shisou (“Master”), and I hope we get more of this in the future.
Jin, Kozue, Yumerun
Given the tiny bit of blushing, I can’t help but wonder if Kozue feels something for Jin beyond his surprisingly muscular body. The fact that she has a thing for that childhood friend of hers already means she’s potentially into multiple guys—a nice change of pace from so many other manga. The story seems to be going towards forging a bond between Jin and Kozue, and I think maybe it’s precisely because Kozue can’t sing all that well that she’s the right person to talk to Jin. Akira might very well drive Jin further down the hole, while Kozue’s lack of skill means that “having the music inside yourself” isn’t necessarily tied to one’s ability.
The fact that Jin was entirely unaware of Yumerun’s love for him is completely unsurprising, and I still wonder if he might be somewhere on the spectrum. Yumerun’s near-yandere romantic emotions are equally unsurprising. If there is some kind of love triangle at work here, I don’t know which I would cheer for. All possibilities are excellent, even the less orthodox ones.
“Haru yo, Koi” (“Come, Spring”) by Matsutouya Yumi.
“Mugi no Uta” (“Song of Wheat”) by Nakajima Miyuki. The lyrics of this song in particular feel like they’re talking to Jin and his current problems. “Even if the wheat loses its wings, songs have their wings.”
Akira refers to Yumerun as “Yumeru” in this chapter, and I can’t entirely tell if that’s actually her name or if Akira is just misremembering it. If it’s the latter, it’s a reminder that they barely met each other.
An electrifying performance dazzles the audience in this chapter of Hashikko Ensemble.
Hot off another victory, the Chorus Appreciation Society moves on to the semifinals of the school’s Cultural Festival music competition. This time, having experienced some kind of epiphany, Kousei reacts to Shion with a powerful blush, leading everyone to respond with a mix of confusion and curiosity. A heart-to-heart of sorts with Yukina helps him see what he wants, and at the moment, it’s to sing with Shion.
While the remaining groups are impressive in their own right, the Society’s fierce rendition of the song “Etupirka” bowls everyone over. However, Jin’s mom fails to see this performance too, as she and Yumerun are stuck in traffic.
Yukina’s Maturity and Kousei
After Kousei heads outside by himself, Yukina comes up to him and drops some heavy statements in a surprisingly casual way by discussing a possible future with Kousei, including who would work and how many kids they would have (two or three!). Kousei doesn’t seem bothered in any way by this conversation, though his response is “Right now, I’m having plenty of fun singing with her”—a rejection, at leat for the time being.
This whole conversation is full of unexpected words and responses, and while I don’t know if “realistic” is the right word, the dialogue between Kousei and Yukina has a kind of depth and dimensionality to it because of how they seem to be thinking about the concept of time relative to their wants and desires. Kousei essentially has a choice between the rough-and-tumble girl who’s more like him or the classy girl who’s his complete opposite, and his feelings about it are rooted in the possibility of stepping into a world he long thought cut off from him due to his upbringing. But Yukina takes the long view, and appears to be thinking, “Even though Kousei’s all about the cute girl now, there’s always a chance he’ll come back around eventually.” I find Yukina’s particular brand of maturity interesting, like she’s somewhere between Saki and Keiko in Genshiken.
Kousei’s “Right now” is an interesting choice of words. What I think it implies is that, rather than being about love and seeing oneself with someone for a long time, it’s about Kousei figuring out his emotions in the moment. Does he value the ability to connect with Shion through song more than the inherent mutual understanding he shares with Yukina? The way Shion seems to instantly know what Kousei has on his mind when he hesitates to communicate what he wants out of her piano-playing for the next song, it speaks to a potential deeper connection through music. But whether that bond goes beyond music is something I’m looking forward to seeing.
ETUPIRKA! ETUPIRKA! ETUPIRKA!
Just like in the last chapter, we have an amazingly drawn scene of a Chorus Appreciation Society performance. What stands out to me about their “Etupirka” is that even if you don’t know what the song actually sounds like, Kio’s artwork conveys its sheer intensity. It’s not just the trembling line effects throughout the performance, but the way the characters are drawn with such dynamism even while they’re standing still, as well as the choice to use that initial extreme angle to depict Shion’s piano-playing (as seen in the top image) makes it seem like the ground is trembling. It borders on a more exaggerated representation that one might find in an action-packed shounen manga that uses music as its gimmick the way Yakitate!! Japan and Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma approach food.
(And if you want to hear a performance of “Etupirka,” it’s in the “Songs” section below.)
Hanyama’s “Tone Deafness” Isn’t
At one point, the subject of Hanyama’s inability to sing on-key comes up, and Jin reveals that what everyone assumed to be a case of being tone deaf is actually something else entirely. He recounts having tested Hanyama, and it turns out that the guy unconsciously sings on a scale different from the traditional Western music scales due to his family running a Buddhist temple. Instead, Hanyama sings according to what the Japanese calll junpachi gyakuroku(“upward eight, lower six”) or sanpun son’eki ho, which is also known as the Chinese 12-tone musical scale—which coincidentally is also the same as Pythagorean tuning. It results in the kind of music you get from Buddhist chants (shoumyou) and Japanese imperial court music (gagaku).
If this is all Greek to you, you’re not alone. Akira in the manga is completely baffled by everything Jin says, and so am I. But the gist of it—as much as I can understand, anyway—is that Hanyama has internalized that particular understanding of music, and it makes his attempts to sing more conventional popular songs go awry. Even if I don’t fully grasp everything, I find that pretty fascinating, and I’m glad Hashikko Ensemble goes into it, however briefly.
Half Monks: “Guts Daze!!” by Ulfuls. This is the song in a flashback to Hanyama’s singing in the competition while they’re explaining the quirks of his musical sense.
Electrical First-Years A Capella Group: “Racing into the Night” by YOASOBI
This is noted as being a Vocaloid song performed using six voices. While there’s no available equivalent online, there are Vocaloid covers of this song.
Wind Instrument Club: “The Galaxy Express 999” by Godiego
Chorus Appreciation Society: “Etupirka” composed by Hirose Ryouhei
Though we only got brief glimpses of them this chapter, I quite enjoyed the presence of both Akira and Jin’s mom. I’m still entertained by Akira’s mom and her delight over her son having friends, and I’m further anticipating the arrival of Jin’s mom at the school. I do get the feeling nothing Jin does will impress her, and I wonder if Yumerun will have any role to play in terms of bridging their strained mother-son relationship.
Also, Volume 6 of Hashikko Ensemble comes out next month! I wonder what store-exclusive bonuses we’ll get this time.
Everyone gets hit by a Minmay Attack in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 36.
The next round is on, and the Chorus Appreciation Society takes the stage once again. Before that, though, Kozue asks Kousei why he doesn’t try to cheer Shion up after his rejection of her, and he replies that they’re just from different worlds: a safe rich girl vs. a delinquent with a lot of baggage.
This time, it’s “Do You Remember Love?” from the anime film Macross: Do You Remember Love. Akira and the others deliver a powerful performance that doesn’t just wow the audience, it seems to actually bond the members (and those close to them) together in a way that only music can. As they finish, Kousei seems to have Shion on his mind as he thinks, “Maybe our worlds aren’t so far apart after all.”
Elsewhere, Yumerun is pacing frantically, when finally the person she’s waiting for arrives: Jin’s mother, Kimura Reika, who turns out to be a highly eccentric 31-year-old soprano. The chapter ends as the two head out to Hashimoto Tech (Reika reluctantly so) in order to see Jin and the others sing.
Darkness and Light
Hashikko Ensemble is a series that’s high on levity, but the glimpses of darkness are astoundingly brutal. As Kousei is talking about his past, the first image shown is what appears to be a first-person perspective of one of his abusers (his mom’s lover, I think) rearing for a punch. This then transitions into Kousei throwing a punch at someone on the street in a fight. There’s a lot of trauma in his life, and the manga conveys a link between the violence inflicted on him and his rough attitude.
That’s also what makes the portrayal of the society’s “Do You Remember Love?” all the more powerful. You can see in Kousei all this internalized fear, anger, and self-loathing, and it seems to just wash away as he sings. During the performance, Yukina (the arm wrestling champ who has a thing for Kousei) suddenly begins to cry during his performance, and she isn’t sure why. The way I see it, what she’s sensing is how strongly Kousei’s feelings are reaching out to Shion, and she’s realizing they’re not for her. Only in song is Kousei able to be honest.
I Love You So
I’m not well-versed in music, let alone the sheer breadth of what’s thus far been presented in Hashikko Ensemble. Many times, what this means is that outside of seeing the lyrics on the pages, I don’t always fully internalize what the songs are conveying in a chapter. This is not the case with “Do You Remember Love?”—it’s a song I know all too well, and it’s a staple of my karaoke sessions. In other words, I can really “feel” this chapter in ways that I haven’t been able to before.
“Do You Remember Love?” is indeed a love song, but it’s also about reaching out to others and connecting. “I hear you calling out to me.” “I’m no longer alone, because you’re here.” Characters make mention of how well Akira and Kousei are harmonizing, as if they’re on the same page emotionally; most likely, it’s because they’re both singing to Shion.
Questions are asked throughout the chorus of the song: “Do you remember when our eyes met?” “Do you remember when we held hands?” And while these lyrics are more romantic, their juxtaposition against Kousei’s traumatic memories makes me think that he’s actually, in a sense, remembering what it’s like to love The contrast between the beauty of the song and the violence of Kousei’s past is very fitting for a song played during the climactic battle of the Macross movie.
Jin’s Mom Is a Surprise
Kimura Reika is very different from what I pictured. When Jin described her in previous chapters, I was expecting an older strict woman—perhaps an unforgiving taskmaster with many years of experience and even a few wrinkles. In contrast, we get this weirdly aggressive and intense ball of energy who’s similar enough to Jin that you can see the familial relation, but also different to the point that you wouldn’t mistake the two. During her introduction, Yumerun asks why in the world Reika isn’t wearing her contacts, and she responds that she forgot them but also thinks it’s too much of a hassle to go back to retrieve them. When asked why she won’t just wear glasses, Reika claims that when she has them on, it makes her feel like her voice won’t fly out properly. That’s the sort of person Jin has to deal with in his home life.
And I have to point out the elephant in the room: Assuming that Reika is Jin’s biological mother, it also means she got teen pregnant! This isn’t the first time that the author, Kio Shimoku, has explored that topic (see his two-volume baby-raising manga Jigopuri), but I’m still surprised to see it pop up here. Just what kind of life has Reika gone through?
It’s noted that most of the groups only prepared one or two songs for the competition, so there are a number of repeats from previous chapters.
Basso Masters: “Daichi Kinshou” (Hymn of the Earth) from the cantata “Tsuchi no Uta” (Song of the Land)
Team “Promise” (a bunch of otaku): “Yakusoku” (Promise) from The iDOLM@STER
Yukio feat. Mayomyon: “Shibuya at 5 o’clock” by Suzuki Masuyuki and Kikuchi Momoko (You might recognize Suzuki as the singer of the opening to Kaguya-sama: Love Is War)
Noi Majo (Kurotaki Mai’s quartet): “Hakujitsu” (“White Day”) by King Gnu
Chorus Appreciation Society: “Do You Remember Love?”
You can find the above songs, along with previous references, in my Hashikko Ensemble Youtube playlist.
I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Jin’s mom. I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of what she’s really like.
Mai’s group, Noi Majo, has moved on in the competition as well. I wonder if the groups will end up against each other.
Heartache and bracket upsets abound in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 35.
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?!
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
The competitive escalates in an unexpected way in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 34.
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.
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.
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.
This month’s song is “March 9” by Remioromen, which the Chorus Appreciation Society performs against the Rugby Club.
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.
A new character flips everything upside down in Chapter 24 of Hashikko Ensemble.
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.
“Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto make another appearance here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kurata Shion’s history with piano and some lewd humor make up Chapter 12 of Hashikko Ensemble.
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.
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.
Once again, “Kanade” by Sukima Switch. It’s the song Shion plays.
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.