The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide Harukana Receive
How would you rate episode 1 of
Harukana Receive ?
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How was the first episode?
“Pleasant” seems like an overly vague way of describing something, but that's the word that immediately jumps to mind with Harukana Receive. This premiere is neither stellar nor underwhelming, instead coasting along more or less in line with my expectations. It's significantly more laid-back than its genre stablemate Hanebado!, leaning towards generally positive character introductions instead of that show's more pointed drama. There's still competition to be found here, but it's of a relatively friendly variety at the moment. Whether or not that's a good thing will depend on what you're looking for in a sports anime.
Haruka makes a good first impression, with a personality that finds a comfortable middle ground between a couple of different archetypes. She has a bit of a “ditzy friendly girl” vibe, but stops short of being clumsy for comedy's sake, and her goofy side is balanced by an ability to take things seriously when the situation calls for it. Throughout this episode, she comes across as a genuinely upbeat person instead of just another hyper anime heroine. She also strikes a good balance of personalities with her cousin Kanata, who manages to be believably soft-spoken without seeming overly antisocial. The only character I'm not sold on at the moment is no-nonsense rival girl Narumi, who seems unrealistically eager to crush Haruka into dust after a single ill-informed comment. On the upside, Narumi's partner Ayasa does at least have the presence of mind to call her out for being overly competitive.
This episode does a plausible job of setting up the main duo of Haruka and Kanata, and there's a nice progression from their awkward taxi ride to the more amiable interactions after the impromptu volleyball match. Narumi and Ayasa seem destined to become their rivals, but the presentation of Narumi's grudge against Kanata is a bit heavy-handed. In a generally lighthearted episode like this, Narumi's constant glares just feel out of place. The dialogue also seems to feature a lot of unnecessary dead air between lines; I'm all for the occasional dramatic pause for emphasis, but there are multiple points here where there's an awkward amount of silence before the next person starts talking. As someone who did a lot of video editing in a past life, it's the kind of thing that gets on my nerves once I notice it, but I doubt it'll bug the average viewer.
Harukana Receive is generally good-looking apart from a couple instances of weird character proportions, and it hits the fanservice angle without being too obnoxious about it. Yes, there are female characters playing beach volleyball in swimsuits, but that's the extent of it; no awkward bath scenes or superfluous boob grabs so far. I don't expect this to be a particularly gripping sports series, but the characters and overall tone are charming enough to bring me back for a second episode.
Well, it's got cute girls in bikinis.
That's about all of the enthusiasm that I can muster for this series. While volleyball may be more competitive than badminton, and while the beach volleyball variant may have a certain strategic element that makes it more dramatic, it's still not a sport that I find entertaining to watch. This series' first episode certainly tries to promote the drama of the way that the match plays out, but it isn't anywhere near enough to overcome my resistance. I actually felt that it was dragging even though there weren't really any unnecessary shots. Frankly, I'm not sure if the direction could have even done much more to improve on this story.
Like with Hanebado!, the character drama looks much more interesting. Haruka is one of those instantly likable leading ladies: a cheery and aggressive go-getter who isn't going to be flummoxed for long by a challenge. She's tall, but unlike with Karen from Sword Art Online Alternative, only the opening scenes dwell on the complex she may have about that, and her height would definitely be an advantage in her chosen sport. So we'll have to see if the story bothers to do anything more with that. The opponents also seem like they have potential, and they do interact convincingly with each other, but unfortunately Kanata suffers from having debuted after Hanebado!, so her shtick about having once played at a high level but now refusing to do so seems redundant. Still, there's at least some potential for interesting character byplay. In general, the writing is decent, but it just doesn't quite capture that spark that I need.
Of course, even if the sport and character drama aspects don't draw you in, there's still the promise of girls in swimsuits. While I'm not certain that the series is actually aiming for fan service per se (although like Hanebado!, it was originally published in a seinen magazine), it certainly isn't avoiding it either; Haruka's bikini is tasteful but not tame. In general the artistic effort is solid but nothing exceptional.
Even though I like the sport Hanebado! is based around even less, its first episode did a distinctly better job of selling its concept than Harukana's. This show is distinctly lighter in spirit, but it seems like the lesser cousin.
Normally I try to start these previews with some sort of gimmicky introduction to a show's prevailing quality, but Harukana Receive is basically “pretty good” in nearly every respect, and “pretty good” does not lend itself to gimmickry. I'll just come right out with it, then: Harukana Receive seems like a reasonable enough sports narrative sprinkled with a dash of slice of life, less propulsive and thrilling than something like Hanabado, but in possession of a generally soothing atmosphere that offers its own distinctive appeal.
This first episode introduces us to our heroine Haruka, her cousin Kanata, and the two beach volleyball stars Narumi and Ayasa. Over the course of the episode, we learn that Kanata and Narumi have some painful history, and Narumi ultimately challenges the cousins to a match. After being completely routed by the two stars, Haruka only seems to have even more enthusiasm for beach volleyball, and eventually gets the reluctant Narumi to agree to a revenge match.
Harukana Receive's strongest qualities are likely its heroine Haruka, her relationship with Kanata specifically, and the show's overall aesthetic polish. Regarding Haruka, our hero came off as a somewhat scatterbrained but altogether likable lead, and her enthusiasm for beach volleyball was pretty infectious. I particularly liked how Haruka was depicted as a little spacey without the need for over-the-top gags, as well as the offhand depiction of her insecurity regarding her height. Anime heroines tend to be somewhat all or nothing in terms of their self-image, so it's refreshing to see a heroine who's only a little uncomfortable in a believable way about her appearance. I also felt this episode did a great job of naturally illustrating the growing bond between Haruka and Kanata, with Kanata's shift from barely talking to her cousin to laughing with her at dinner coming across as natural all along the way.
Unfortunately, the show's characterization of Kanata and Narumi's personal issues was much less convincing. So far, Narumi has been characterized almost solely as one of those “if you don't believe in the soul of the volleyball, you should just quit” hyper-competitors, and not really a person at all. I felt her stoney determination to demonstrate how there “are no aces in volleyball” was the show clumsily attempting to hammer its themes into theoretically human-sounding dialogue, and also felt the allusions to her and Kanata's shared history were too vaguely and melodramatically conveyed to carry much intrigue. This specific sort of dramatic clumsiness will likely fade once Narumi's circumstances become clear, but the fact that it's being handled this awkwardly now makes me hesitant to trust the show's ability to handle future drama.
Back to the positive stuff, this episode's actual match was very nicely animated, and the art design in general is colorful and attractive. Between the engaging familial bond of the two cousins, the exciting match material, and the comfortable slice of life tone, there's a fair amount to recommend in Harukana Receive. I just hope it can get a steadier grip on its heavier drama as the season continues.
There's something just really charming about Haruka, one of the eponymous protagonists of Harukana Receive. It's probably her combination of unbridled enthusiasm and determination, pretty much the perfect mix in an underdog sports story: she's got the love of the game coupled with the right attitude to get better at it. She also appears able to let bad moods and general snootiness roll right off her back, which is ultimately what makes this a more engaging show for me than the other female sports series that's premiered thus far – where Hanebado!'s characters are dark and angsty, at least two of Harukana Receive's are anything but. I want to see more of these girls, something I did not feel with Hanebado!.
When the story begins, it's clear that Haruka enjoys beaches and is athletic, and we soon learn that she's also at least passing familiar with regular volleyball. This is what immediately gets on Narumi's nerves: Haruka's frivolous comment about “aces” is a particular sore spot for her, apparently. That she gets so upset with Haruka's casual remark is probably indicative of something else in her past – I'd bet almost anything that Kanata and Narumi used to be beach volleyball partners before Kanata stopped playing. There may be a problem if Narumi is holding a grudge over that, because it seems fairly obvious that Kanata stopped playing after her parents died. (This may also be when she changed from the cheery girl of Haruka's memories into the sad, quiet young woman she is now.) If ever there was a good reason to take time off a sport, that would certainly be it, and if that's Narumi's issue, then that girl needs to do some serious thinking about her own issues.
This is, of course, all just conjecture right now. What's more pertinent to the episode is how Haruka responds to Narumi's increasingly obvious antagonism – by growing more determined. What's more, she's enjoying the game despite the fact that Narumi's clearly having some sort of grudge match instead of a friendly game; Narumi may wind up ruing the day she inadvertently got Haruka hooked on competitive beach volleyball, because if she'd been a little less vicious about it, Haruka may not have become so invested. Again, this is an appealing part of Haruka's personality: she rises to the occasion. While this isn't an unusual trait in a sports show protagonist, it's still part of what makes the genre work, and a good sign overall for the show.
The animation is there when it needs to be, although there are some very obvious CG assists in places that I find a little off-putting. The fanservice is plentiful, but it isn't a distraction from the story or action – no gratuitous jiggling, just girls in bikinis. Bodies are a little too long in the torso, especially Haruka's, but it's an attractive episode overall. If Hanebado! was too intense or angsty for your taste but you'd like to watch girls play sports this season, this is worth checking out.
Harukana Receive is the second sports anime we've gotten so far this season, and while it doesn't quite posses the glossy verve of Hanebado!, it certainly offers its fair share of entertainment. Haruka makes for an aptly enthusiastic and bubbly protagonist, and I was impressed with how her first interaction with Kanata so perfectly captures the awkwardness that comes from trying to bond with family you barely know when you're visiting a new and unfamiliar place. The show's bright, colorful aesthetics perfectly capture the glitzy shine of an island summer; even the character's eyes posses a multi-color glow to them that feels in keeping with the tones of the season.
Of course, this being a beach-volleyball anime focused on high school girls, Harukana Receive takes ample opportunity to indulge in fanservice. There were a couple of shots that felt a bit too leery for my liking, but I suppose I can't get too angry at a show for being up-front about it's goals. Based on this premiere, Harukana Receive is all about watching cute girls in swimsuits play volleyball, with some family bonding tossed in for good measure. Anyone looking for fanservice, then, will be pleased, and I imagine that sports fans will find plenty to like too. The volleyball sequences here are well directed and mostly well animated; the CGI volleyball occasionally fails to blend in with the 2D animation, and certain beats focus a bit too much on boobs-n'-butts and not quite enough on the back-and-forth of the game itself. The only particularly egregious sequence is the final set between Haruka, Kanata, Narumi, and Ayasa – This episode is so focused on showing how inexperienced and cocky Haruka is that it seems silly to play up whether or not she'll win her first ever game (she does not), but this last sequence goes into super-slow motion that is so overly dramatic that it ends up being much funnier than I think the series intended it to be.
That's all small-potatoes though; it's clear that Studio C2C is putting a lot of work into producing this show, and it performs admirably for the most part. I don't think this show is going to blow any minds, and Hanebado! seems to be a bit more up my alley when it comes to sports-drama, but Harukana Receive is a perfectly sweet piece of summer candy to indulge in between the season's more substantial offerings.
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