In Haruchika’s First Episode, A Lukewarm Open

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The winter anime season’s kicked off in earnest. For this season, I’ll be following PA Works’ new show, Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru (‘Haruta and Chika Blossom‘).

I’ve chosen Haruchika for the simple reason that I enjoy PA Works. A few years ago, PA Works was, in my mind, the best studio in the industry. They turned out show after entertaining show: Hanasaku Iroha, Tari Tari, Uchoten Kazoku, and the sublime Shirobako. Though PA’s track record is blemished here and there (GlasslipCharlotte), they have an indisputable enthusiasm for the medium, and handle the technical details of animation with an easy confidence. They remain one of my favorite studios.

Haruchika has been derisively described as ‘Hyouka meets Euphonium.’ There are superficial commonalities: Haruchika is a schoolyard mystery, like Hyouka, and concerns itself with a concert band, like Euphonium.

It’s frequently hard for me to really sink my teeth into schoolyard mysteries. There’s frequently not much at stakeー a stolen test here, a spurned lover there, a few childish examples of revenge. It’s petty stuff. When trifling motives are coupled with elaborate puzzles, I can’t help but roll my eyes a little and think, Really? You went through all this trouble? For that?

Unfortunately, Haruchika suffers this problem right in its first episode. After a quick introduction to Homura Chika, the main character (more on her later), we’re led to the ‘crime’: a musical motif, written on a blackboard in red paint, as if in blood. Our heroes are stumped, but not for longー the mystery’s solved before school lets out. A 3-5 minute explanation of the puzzle, involving QWERTY keyboards and the BACH motif, is given in fairly rushed fashion, and the episode’s over before we know it. I appreciated the thematically relevant cipher, but I found myself struggling to keep engaged.

There were bright spots, however. The titular characters have delightful chemistry. Chika didn’t strike me as the greatest character on her own― I found her ‘tomboy transforms into elegant lady by learning the flute’ schtick to be both tired and slightly insulting to flutists. Put her next to Haruta, and her little facade comes right off. Chika squirms as Haruta casually recounts childhood escapades involving dirt, mud, and pro wrestling. Haruta’s casual cruelty towards Chika conveys both familiarity and indifference. It’s a refreshing change from the usual trope of childhood friends reunifying during high school and potentially becoming an item. Haruchika makes it very clear in its first episode that Haruta is firmly not interested in Chika― though given the show’s title, there’s still twelve episodes left for me to be proven wrong. I sure hope that I’m not.

After one episode, I’m cautious about Haruchika. The overarching plot of the show seems to surround Haruta’s desire to re-build the concert band (currently, there are only five members) and compete in the National Championship. It’s difficult to see how mystery and puzzle-solving figure into the plot― there’s plenty of room here to over-engineer. I can only hope that PA Works manages to keep it simple.

Short thoughts:

  • Haruchika feels weirdly low-budget for a PA Works show. That is, with the exception of Chika’s eyes.
  • It’s good to see Omigawa Chiaki (Asahina Kae) getting some work. She’s a unique talent― maybe a bit too unique.
  • Flute― a pedestrian choice. Props to Euphonium for focusing on low brass. Those guys do a ton of work and never get thanked for it.

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