What Is Love?: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 46

Jin is on one heck of an emotional arc in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 46.

Summary

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.

Master Yukina

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.

Songs

“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.”

Final Thoughts

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.

All Eyes On: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 45

Akira asks everyone whether they think a beginner can get into music college.

So much of what I’ve been wanting and anticipating has finally hit in what is one of the most impactful chapters of Hashikko Ensemble yet.

Summary

At a meeting, Akira openly asks the Chorus Appreciation Society members if they think he has what it takes to get into a music college. While Tsuyama gets mad at him for bringing that up among students at a vocation-focused technical high school, Jin points to Akira’s many impressive qualities as a singer. However, while Jin’s words are filled with praise, his demeanor barely hides his conflicted emotions. But even though Jin doesn’t understand what exactly he’s feeling, it has a real effect on him physically and psychologically—Upon attempting a rehearsal, his voice cuts out, and he finds himself unable to sing. To everyone’s surprise, Jin takes a break from chorus activities.

Without Jin, the society’s general mood turns sour, and as Valentine’s Day approaches, Kozue gets an idea: Hold a private Valentine’s Day performance in their meeting room, with all the girls—even the normally non-participatory Kanon and Mimi-sensei—as the singers. The girls give the guys their chocolate (including certain romantic hopefuls trying their luck), but the “concert” itself has a couple twists. First, as per Japanese tradition, this Valentine’s Day event is to be reciprocated by the guys via a White Day performance. Second, a couple of guests are included among the girls: Hashimoto Tech’s resident arm wrestling champion,Yukina, and Jin’s childhood friend and ace soprano, Yumerun. As the performance begins, the chapter ends.

Jin Reaches the Breaking Point

Jin starts to sing but then suddenly stops, and it almost looks like his entire being is shattering from around the throat area.

Jin’s spiral was more a matter of “when” than “if,” and it signals a crucial moment in Hashikko Ensemble. Up to this point, the friendship between him and Akira has been the lynchpin of both the manga and the Chorus Appreciation Society within. To see a serious metaphorical fracture is the most direct drama we’ve seen as of yet.

Jin’s inner conflict seems clear to me: His mind and his heart are at odds with each other. On the one hand, he intellectually understands on a deep level everything about Akira’s talents and continuous improvement, and even wants him to succeed as both a friend and a person undeniably passionate about music. On the other hand, seeing Akira accomplish so much more in such a short period (even earning praise from Jin’s infamously blunt mother) must fill him with an envy that’s hard to isolate from his other emotions. As Jin states in his thoughts, he feels proud that he’s the one who discovered Akira and who first recognized his potential, but for the master to have been surpassed by the student so soon is itself a blow to Jin’s pride in himself that he achieved through hard work. It’s like Jin wants Akira to both succeed and fail, and this has compromised his ability to approach music itself.

I live for this kind of complex emotional richness in manga.

The Girls Do Their Thing

Kozue announces Yumerun as the special guest.

I’ve been hoping to see the girls do their own thing. It’s not just for some arbitrary requirement to fulfill, but simply that there are so many excellent female characters that I feel they could use a spotlight that’s founded in the very gimmick of Hashikko Ensemble: music. I did not expect Yukina or Yumerun to show up, but their presence is welcome.

I suspect that the reason Yumerun is part of the performance is because this is, in part, Kozue’s plan to get Jin out of his funk, and she’s been in regular contact with Yumerun ever since M-Con. The way Jin instantly beams upon seeing Yumerun shows a connection that’s different from what he has with everyone in the main group, including Akira, and I think Kozue recognizes that bond. The deal about the guys having to return the favor on White Day only adds to the idea of this performance being a way to encourage Jin to find back.

Speaking of Yumerun, I love the reaction to her from Mai. While Hashikko Ensemble is full of eccentric personalities, there’s something about Yumerun that exudes “odd duck” vibes. It’s not just the fancy dress either, as her mere presence—especially that “anxious confidence” look she always has on her face—kind of feels like a disco ball in human form.

Mai, Yukina, Kanon, Kozue, Yumerun, and Mimi-sensei singing.

I also love this image of all the girls singing together because you can really see their personalities shining through. Kanon is nervous and unsure of herself. Kozue is earnest but also in an unfamiliar situation. Yumerun is, well, Extremely Extra.

Songs

“III. Blue” from “The Wings of Mind”

“Haru yo, Koi” (“Come, Spring”) by Matsutouya Yumi. This is the song the girls start performing at the end of the chapter.

Final Thoughts

Volume 7 of the manga is on sale in Japan and worth checking out. There’s a picture of Mai and Yumerun together in swimsuits, and the fact that it came out before this chapter (which is their official first meeting) is interesting. 

Finishing Strong: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 41

Akira singing as the audience (including his mom) stares on while impressed

The end of the current arc paves the way for the next!

Summary

As the Chorus Appreciation Society’s finals’ performance continues, the boys pour everything they have into their singing, Kozue has actually begun conducting the audience more than the singers on stage. With a strong finish, the Chorus Appreciation Society is declared the winner of the Culture Festival’s singing competition.

Soon after, Jin and the other members confront his mom, Reika. After a brief pause, Reika goes up to the group…only to focus on Akira, rather than her son. She remarks that Akira has talent, and that he should contact her because she knows a good music teacher for him. Jin is stunned into silence.

Later, as Reika and Yumerun are leaving by car, Yumerun comments that she thinks Jin has actually improved a lot. She asks why Reika thinks Jin has no talent, to which Reika responds that she never said any such thing. Rather, what she has meant to say is, why would someone with his talent join a chorus or choir, where people go to hide their lack of ability? When asked why she’s never said this outright, Reika answers that calling your own kid talented is embarrassing.

“Relative” Talent

Reika: “But I’ve never once said Jin has no talent.”

The way Jin’s mom really feels about him is something of a revelation, and like the characters themselves, I completely misinterpreted the situation. But I had also previously wondered about whether Jin truly is “untalented” or if he’s just holding himself to a ridiculously high benchmark in Reika, and I believe we have our answer here. Simply because Jin has to study and learn what comes intuitively to his mom, he perceives himself as needing to make up for some deficiency. 

On some level, Jin might be what you call a Larry Hemsworth—an exceptional individual who assumes they’re unexceptional because he constantly compares himself to others close to him who arguably shine even more. But also like Larry, who believes his being a pediatric surgeon pales in comparison to his three brothers’ acting skills, the question of who’s more talented between Jin and Reika is subjective. Jin’s ability to break music down, analyze it scientifically, and put it into practice is amazing in its own right, but he seems to be unable to see it from that perspective.

It remains to be seen whether Reika’s glowing words about Akira create a rift between him and Jin, but I doubt that it’s going to result in any sort of high drama. Perhaps like his mom, though, Jin might be surprisingly indirect in specific situations—as in her conversation with Yumerun in the car.

Yumerun and Jin

The audience getting into the song, and Yumerun seemingly being captivated by Jin’s singing

The chapter has a moment where Yumerun is looking at Jin perform, and she seems to be quite taken by him. They’re childhood friends, and she seems to have some sort of unusual fondness for the guy, but given that everyone is blushing all the time in Hashikko Ensemble, it can be kind of hard to tell what’s romance and what’s not. However, given their history, I feel like something may develop…or at least turn into some Boa Hancock and Monkey D. Luffy situation like in One Piece: a comedically one-sided love where the lack of reciprocation is more due to empty-headedness than incompatibility.

To the Next Story

The image of Akira wowing the audience with his powerful bass feels like a turning point of some kind. His classmates already knew he had a deep voice, and he’s sung in public on multiple occasions at this point, but I predict that he’s gonna gain a whole new reputation after this.

The likely thing is that we’re going to see enough new members join them for the Chorus Appreciation Society to gain proper Chorus Club status, and I expect there to be familiar and unfamiliar faces alike. In my view, Mai is the most likely one, but I think there are probably going to be some real curveballs in there. Might there be any unnamed audience members from this even who will end up as recurring characters?

Songs

“The Wings of Mind” continues and concludes from the previous chapter.

Final Thoughts

Great artwork in this chapter. I continue to enjoy the fact that the portrayals of singing feel intense but don’t go deep into the realm of exaggeration. Not that I mind it in general, but I think it works well for the relatively subdued quality of Hashikko Ensemble.

Also, I don’t think I recall this event being called the “Hashi High Acapella King/Anything-Goes Decisive-Battle Tournament,” but maybe I just glossed over it. In any case, I give props to Kio Shimoku’s first-ever tournament arc. 

What a Dream Boat: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 25

Another new character brings further insight into Jin’s history in Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 25.

Summary

The Hashimoto Tech Chorus Appreciation Society has arrived at M-Con, nervous about competing. Day One is just for observation, though, and they see Nishigafuchi (the school they visited previously) succeed. They’re also worried about Shuusuke not showing up after he tore down Jin so thoroughly, but luckily, he arrives. However, another figure appears as well: a girl named Shouji Yumerun, a classmate of Jin’s when they were kids, and when she looked very different.

Yumerun mentions becoming a pupil of Jin’s mom, and that this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—words meant to comfort, it seems, but which have the opposite effect. Jin begins to think about why it is he’s so unable to be naturally expressive, and how he gathers people who make up for this weakness. The chapter ends with him getting ready to ask Akira a question.

Jin’s Intuition

I’m actually surprised to discover that Jin sees himself as talentless, and that all of his singing ability comes from hard work and study, if only because he has come across as such a natural in previous chapters. In Naruto terms, he’s the Rock Lee everyone thinks is a Sasuke, and it makes him more relatable in some ways.

Another character Jin reminds me of is Mike from Monsters, Inc. Like Mike, Jin has the theory down but can only take it so far due to a lack of natural ability. The fact that Jin has such an eye for talent further reinforces this image while also adding an extra wrinkle to his character. He finds people with the raw potential he himself lacks, almost to an intuitive degree.

Yumerun

We get another new character in Yumerun, who drops some hints about Jin’s past and his relationship with his mom. Apparently, Jin and Yumerun were classmates, and he helped bring her into music. Now, she’s studying under Jin’s mom, and she thinks this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—implying perhaps that Jin felt pressure to succeed his mom, and that maybe Yumerun has a thing for him?

I’m struck by Yumerun’s words, particularly when she says to Jin, “You won’t be told anymore to stop escaping into the chorus just because you lack talent.” What I interpret this to mean is that Jin likes singing in a group because it better hides his deficiencies. Rather than just being a passion, it’s also a defense mechanism.

In the Mind But Not in the Heart

Every chapter review, I record all the music terms that crop up, partially because they’re in Japanese and not necessarily common knowledge even for fluent speakers. But it’s also because I have little to no musical knowledge or ability, so I feel the need to try and understand. The fact that Jin has a somewhat similar struggle makes these sections take on a new meaning of sorts. As someone not musically inclined, it’s hard for me to tell if these flaws of his are really that basic or if it’s the difference between being decent and being elite, though the fact that no one at Nishigafuchi said anything makes me think the latter.

In this instance, Yumerun brings up all the things Jin has trouble with: enunciating s, k, and z sounds; the nuances of syncopation;  and techniques for emotional expression. Apparently, he can understand it on paper, but has trouble doing it himself. Syncopation is “a shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats.”

Songs

No songs this month, but the fact that the previous storyline is officially known as the “Spitz arc” amuses me.

Final Thoughts

The Chorus as a place where people who lack in certain areas can support one another feels like the story of a team sports manga, as opposed to ones about individual competitors. Hashikko Ensemble might not have the attractive characters or the pizzazz to attract regular sports manga readers, but I wonder if this possible theme of “the sum being greater than the parts” might resonate still.