Haruchika – Haruta & Chika
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika ?
One of the areas where anime excels as a medium is how it prioritizes emotional satisfaction. When shows reach their end, writers often must decide if they should focus on tying up loose plot ends or focus on what will be emotionally satisfying for the viewer. There's not often enough time to do both, so one or the other may be left hanging after the final episode's credits roll. While Western shows tend to prefer making sure no plot stone is left unturned, anime often prefers the emotional route. Few anime endings demonstrate this better than HaruChika's.
When the HaruChika finale suddenly ends (the credits rolled earlier, so it's extremely abrupt, without even a "Thank you for watching!" end card), there are still quite a few questions buzzing around in viewers' brains. Okay, so we basically know why Kusakabe left his conducting career behind when he did. But who was this important person who died? What about their death made him leave it behind for good, as opposed to a temporary pause to process his grief? Why did he ultimately choose the Shimizu High School Brass Band Club over his post at the Hamamatsu Symphony? We never get clear answers to any of these things in this episode of HaruChika, and many of those questions were raised in this same half-hour.
What we do get is emotional closure. The writers know we want to see the brass band club live to fight another day, especially after they only get bronze in their competition (a good compromise between giving them a realistic outcome and not crushing their spirits too much). They know we want Kusakabe to keep his position as a conductor. So that's the focus of the episode: satisfying the characters' curiosities just enough and leaving a future open for their group (and a potential sequel to the show). Serizawa also finally decides to join the club, suggesting even further greatness for the band should HaruChika get another season. I don't know how the show will do in Japan, but I know that I enjoyed it well enough to want more.
HaruChika surprised me. I was a fan of the show from the beginning, but I expected it to slow down a little bit as it went. Instead, it kept on making me smile, and its mysteries sometimes put me on the edge of my seat. Not every anime needs to shake up the world. Despite its often sloppy animation and uninspired art style, HaruChika achieved exactly what it set out to do: be a pleasant piece of weekly nostalgia and escapism, particularly for those of us who were in high school band. While it could never reach the aesthetic heights of Sound! Euphonium, it managed to do its own thing with its weekly mystery format, giving viewers' brains something to chew on that kept us returning week after week.
The biggest selling point for this show was always the characters. This episode gave us another great showcase of their ensemble, particularly our two leads Haruta and Chika, but also other valuable players like Serizawa. She fulfills her role as the tough-love coach to Chika, letting her know how much she's improved in a roundabout discussion of the band's strengths and weaknesses. We know Chika is better because she sounds better, but Serizawa sandwiches it into a larger statement about how the band's performance makes people "comfortably tired." They can tell that a lot of the heavy lifting comes from a handful of star players, but they're all putting everything into making it sound as good as they can—especially Kusakabe, who Serizawa identifies as the one holding everything together. He has a special knack for bringing out the band's strengths and dampening its weaknesses, and perhaps this is the first indication we get that he'll stay with them after all. His strengths as a conductor come out the most when he's working with a struggling high school brass band. Kusakabe has found his calling.
Chika manages to take Serizawa's weird mix of compliments and criticism extremely well, surprising the rest of the group when she returns to practice in a chipper mood. That moment alone demonstrates how much they've come to know and understand each other. Chika and Serizawa have learned more about one another, and the rest of the group knows Chika well enough to predict her reactions. They've also come to appreciate her cheerfulness and encouragement, making the final scenes where they join in praising her feel earned, rather than just cheap sentimentality. As with their competition score, HaruChika also knows how to keep this resolution from feeling unrealistic; the band care about Chika and celebrates her unique strengths, but it's not enough to delude them into thinking she'd be a better club president than someone like Maren.
Haruta also shows his more sensitive side in this episode. He confesses to Chika that he will admit his feelings to Kusakabe before he leaves. Not to be outdone, Chika of course insists on following him as they trail Kusakabe on a train, expecting him to get off at Hamamatsu (to accept the position) and find themselves shocked when he disembarks at the earlier Tanikawa stop instead. This is when Kusakabe visits the grave of his mysterious loved one who died on August 1st, when he quit the Berlin Symphony. Haruta suddenly realizes that he cares more about Kusakabe's well-being and career than keeping him around as their teacher. Instead of doing the selfish thing by confessing his feelings and pleading with Kusakabe to stay, Haruta instead encourages him to take the position at Hamamatsu if that's what he really thinks he should do.
Both of these moments demonstrate how much our leads have grown and changed throughout the series. Haruta, the determined busybody who normally wouldn't let anything stand between him and the man he loves, learns to put the needs of others he cares about before his own. Chika demonstrates more discipline and responsibility, and her peers reward her for it. Serizawa finally decides to join the club, her mother's wishes be damned. This final episode achieves strong emotional closure by giving us what we want most from each of these characters in a slow, satisfying, natural way.
Still, it's frustrating that we don't get all the answers we want. Plot closure is still important, and I'm still annoyed that we have so many questions left hanging. HaruChika could have easily taken a few extra minutes away from something else (like its extended performance/credits sequence) to solve those mysteries. It's not a perfect finale by any means, but it is satisfying and emotional in ways that go above and beyond my expectations for this series. At the same time, it crystallizes so many of the reasons that HaruChika has worked well throughout its runtime. It hasn't always given us what we thought we wanted, but it exceeded expectations we didn't know we had and achieved its own goals.
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika is currently streaming on Funimation.
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