First Look: Haruchika

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Alternative Titles: Haruchika: Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru, Hyouka v. Sound! Euphonium: Dawn of Youth
Novel Adaptation by Kyoto Animation P.A. Works
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

Tired of dedicating her life to volleyball, ex-tomboy Chika Homura decides to join the woodwind ensemble in some misguided attempt to become a ‘cute girl’. There, she gets reacquainted with her long-lost childhood friend Haruta Kamijou, an eerily perfect boy with a knack for solving mysteries and a surprising secret.

Aqua’s verdict: I’m Curious!

When P.A. Works aren’t ripping themselves off, they like to rip off Kyoto Animation. Haruchika bears more than a passing resemblance to Kyoto Animation’s most recent masterpieces, with its focus on ambitious band geeks (hello, Sound! Euphonium) solving trivial mysteries in a high school setting (hello, Hyouka) with the visual presentation of Sherlock and some good old love triangle thrown in for good measure. It’s a bizarre combination that doesn’t entirely justify itself. Haruchika doesn’t really seem to have figured out whether its wants to be a detective series or a character-driven slice-of-life, and its individual aspects appear to be working against each other to prevent the final product from resembling anything coherent at all cost. Compared to the nuanced character-building and multi-faceted approach of Shirobako, Haruchika‘s fleeting, insubstantial beigeness shows that P.A. Works still haven’t quite figured out where their strengths lie.

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It doesn’t help that the main characters aren’t exactly the most endearing people around. Chika (voiced by Sarah Emi Bridcutt, which I’m only mentioning because, well, her name is Sarah Emi Bridcutt) seemed to be a way more interesting person in the past, and her entire shtick revolving around wanting to be more feminine in spite of her own passions and personality reeks of a conservative author tract more than of genuine character progression. Haruta, on the other hand, is an uptight jerk, constantly soliciting a flute up his backside with his underhanded jabs at Chika’s behaviour while otherwise reveling in an aura of insufferable perfection. The visuals aren’t exactly up to scratch either. The character designs are simultaneously generic and bizarre, with Chika’s planetarium-sized peepers and antigravity hair making her look only slightly more psychopathic than everyone else, and the already lackluster art design is further marred by hideous CGI that makes the dance sequences from Million Doll look like a Pixar film. Wherever all those sweet yens P.A. Works made with Shirobako went I don’t know, but it certainly wasn’t here.

So why that verdict, then? Well, there is that ending. That baffling, unexpected ending, the kind of twist we joke about, only to see it actually happen mere seconds later. It was Haruta who left the love letter for Mr. definitely-not-Taki, and that puts his behaviour throughout the entire episode in an all-new light. Not only did he convey his feelings without embarrassing himself — and, given that this is Japan, probably getting bullied for the rest of his school career — he actually managed to make himself look like a genius in front of his crush. While chances are rather high Haruta’s sexuality will never be mentioned again, I’d love for the show to go through with this love triangle, if only because it’d make him the first gay anime character who isn’t a punchline or a wish-fulfilment fantasy for straight women in, well, ever. Haruchika is not a particularly good show, but at the very least it is an interesting one, and for P.A. Works standards, that’s already quite an achievement.

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Jel’s verdict: Hyouka! Euphonium

I know Aqua and any other human that has seen all three shows has made the comparisons, but wow there were a lot of similarities in this episode to those two other shows. You’d think smashing together two great shows would make something equally great but that’s not necessarily the case. For one, this reminded me the mysteries were easily the worst part of Hyouka as the mystery presented here was the same kind of meaningless, unnecessarily elaborate non-problem that takes way more time to explain than it’s worth. At least Hyouka had a great cast and amazing animation to dull the pain, this show does not. The Euphonium comparisons are much more interesting, particularly the unconventional love triangle twist at the end. Obviously Chika is on a path to discover who she really is, or in this case acknowledge that she doesn’t need to change herself, and that can always make for a decent character growth story. So the episode ends with several nice pieces to work with, but will P.A. Works manage to craft anything interesting out of it? I’m leaning toward no as I’ve been burned by too many of their middle of the road Tari Tari’s over the past decade, but at least there’s enough here to give the show a chance.

Zigg’s verdict: Charming and Possibly More

PA Works have pretty much cornered the market in ‘cute shows I don’t really care much about’ but this one has a bit more of a chance thanks to the bizarre cocktail of music and mystery that they go with, and the equally bizarre love triangle that they set up at the end. I’m hoping they don’t play it entirely for laughs, since we really need more representation of LGBT people in anime that isn’t just played for crushingly offensive comedy, and the generally well balanced tone of the revelation leaves me optimistic for that. If handled with a light touch, this could end up being a surprisingly enjoyable sleeper hit, but it could also sink easily into shoujo mush. Still, definitely worthy of being given a second episode.

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