Settling the Score: Hashikko Ensemble, Final Chapter

48 chapters later, friends compete for the first time in this conclusion to Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

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.

The entire Chorus Club walks out after being officially announced, and freshmen in the audience notice both the heavy presence of delinquents among their members, as well as the girls present.

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 TwitterKio 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?

Jin gives chocolate to Kozue and declares that he likes her back.  Kozue blushes but turns to Yumerun, who looks like a ghost out for revenge.

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

Jin tells Akira in front of everyone that he's going to take the test for music college, and that he now considers the two of them rivals.

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.

Songs

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 tweetsKio 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 providing 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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Standing with Jin after finishing singing, Akira thinks about how he went from trying to hide his voice to learning to use it thanks to Jin.  Flashback panels appear all over the background.

Thank you for another great series, Kio-sensei.

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