Haruchika – Haruta & Chika
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika ?
For a show with a tight fit between two very different genres of anime, Haruchika had a solid formula behind its first three episodes. In episode four, the show takes an ax to one of them while solidifying the other. It's a big move for a series that's mostly distinguished itself by playing it safe. It's hard to assess if this will help or hurt HaruChika, because based on episode 4, it could go either way.
The previous three episodes of Haruchika followed the most familiar trajectory for music shows: getting the band together. Most music anime do a version of this. Western music-themed TV shows (such as Glee) dedicate whole seasons to it. Haruchika's first episode introduced the group, while episodes 2 and 3 centered on recruiting new members. However, the beginning of this episode dissolves the whole conflict of Haruta and Chika's brass band worrying about getting enough members. It turns out Maren is so good-looking that girls flocked to follow him in joining the band, filling up the roster. It's disappointing how much of a handwave this is: Maren's personal crisis last week was unrelated to his instrument (unlike Narushima's), yet he not only joins up quickly, but becomes the savior of the band. Additionally, it wasn't established until this moment that Maren was popular with the ladies. It feels like a cop out. On the other hand, it's encouraging that HaruChika is willing to dispense with the formula to try out new plots related to other characters already in the band.
So what does Haruchika offer up for this first deviation from the norm? It zeroes in on Haruta as he tries to find his own apartment. Haruta has been living on his own for a while, to keep away from his overbearing older sisters. The sister we meet works as an architect and decides to help Haruta find his own place, after he repeatedly refuses to return home. She's a confusing, unrealistic character, alternating between sage advice delivered with a cool demeanor and sudden cartoonish outbursts at her brother over minor problems. It's a good thing that even when helping Haruta pick an apartment, she's a background character. We also likely won't revisit her often, now that Haruta has secured his living situation.
The route to a new apartment is the episode's big mystery. Haruta finds a place that has everything he wants: the right space, the right price, it's even soundproof for his practice sessions! (My dorm in music school didn't even have that.) Unfortunately, it's developed a sinister reputation: numerous former residents have complained and then suddenly left, because of ghostlike sounds. HaruChika takes its time revealing exactly what the concern is, and after all the hype, it sounds relatively benign: they're hearing "bells from a priest's robe." We all probably thought the same thing Haruta does: why do they jump to that conclusion? Ringing, clanging sounds could be anything. So the episode focuses on finding out what's making those noises and how to stop them.
In that sense, it does follow the more familiar pattern of previous weeks. Like episode 1, the setup suggests a far more disturbing conclusion than the one that actually awaits us. The man who owned the building was using the walls to save up money for his nephew, who stood to inherit his property. He built it so he could drop coins through the wall into a secret vault. It's a convoluted, strange solution (and inefficient—how is the nephew supposed to get all those coins to the bank?), but it works as a mystery that takes time for both the audience and characters to solve. It's not as closely linked to the music theme or the brass brand, but it still focuses on a major character. With these pieces in place, HaruChika solidifies the other half of its formula and gives viewers a clearer idea of what to expect going forward.
Unfortunately, there are still some major drawbacks. The visuals in this show leave much to be desired, especially from P.A. Works. In the episode's climax, the coins that come pouring out of the building after the vault is opened looked like a shiny CGI silver-pink mess, artistically jarring compared to the rest of the scene. This studio has pulled off some impressive animation work with other productions, so it's a shame that it's giving this series its Z-team.
Haruta's sister spends a few minutes teaching the characters (and audience) about "vernacular modernism": a style of architecture featuring construction designs and materials that reflect the local environment or culture. Haruta suggests this very personal addition to the complex makes it the "ultimate example" of this technique. In a sense, you could describe HaruChika as the anime equivalent of this philosophy: perfectly tailored to be the middle-ground between two very different anime genres. It will need more than that to keep the audience it initially attracted around for its entire run though. Fixing some of that ugly animation would be a fine start.
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika is currently streaming on Funimation.
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