Haruchika – Haruta & Chika
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika ?
Community score: 3.8
Even though HaruChika is out of people to add to the club for its weekly mysteries, it's clearly still okay looking outside the band. This week, we meet a middle-school trombonist who has heard of Haruta's reputation with puzzles and seeks him out to solve one for her. It's a little contrived, but Haruta is smart and leaves strong impressions on people, so I'm willing to go with it. Especially because it leads us to one of the show's best stories so far—and one of its best "mysteries."
The story of Akari Goto's grandfather has all the marks of a good mystery: a complex set of puzzle pieces that are difficult to piece together at first, but ultimately fit beautifully. It even has a red herring! At the same time, it's also a heartfelt family story that we're hoping will end happily, even though we just met these characters in this episode. With one significant exception (that I will get to later), this is one of the episodes that makes me more hopeful for where HaruChika is going.
After Goto comes to the group, she reveals the mystery as "the color of Elephant's Breath." It is apparently a famous color that has never been seen—and yet her grandfather claims he's seen it. She also reveals that she has a lot of baggage with this grandfather, after he got her grandmother pregnant but then disappeared to America for decades. They presumed he was dead until his recent stay in a hospital, where he was revealed to have a terminal illness. Goto thinks he's taking advantage of their family and expresses her anger every chance she gets. As the viewer might suspect, that is not the case, but the eventual resolution is still surprising enough to be satisfying.
The students begin by looking at the paintings that her grandfather drew, noticing a focus on elephants, unusual colors that seem to indicate times of day, and pointillism. The latter leads to their red herring: he loves La Grande Jatte, the famous Seurat painting that hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. (You may remember it from the famous scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.) Goto's grandfather has amnesia about what he experienced in America, but they piece together that he was likely in Chicago and saw it hanging in the museum. This leads them to believe he encountered elephants (and learned how to paint them) in the Lincoln Park Zoo. After Maren volunteers info about race riots that Japanese-American students were caught up in in California, they theorize that he lost his job, escaped to Chicago, and lived homeless in the zoo. They deduce that this is "his sadness and his curse" after they connect the scenario to a Rudyard Kipling story (the grandfather mentions his name) about an elephant burdened with chains which keep him away from other herds. After he raises an abandoned baby and that elephant grows up to hear his story, he breaks the old elephant's chains. This suggests that Goto will need to play a role in helping her grandfather come to terms with his past.
That's a lot to digest all on its own, although it fits together better than many of HaruChika's previous mysteries. However, it's still only the tip of the iceberg. Their band teacher is disturbed by the kids' investigations, imploring them to go no further. That piece still isn't solved after Haruta and the grandfather's cathartic confrontation in the hospital room. There's an entirely new piece to all this that they didn't consider: you don't see elephants sleeping in zoos. They sleep in shelters. To see one sleeping, Goto would have to be in the wild, which is when they realize he was drafted into the Vietnam War. (There were apparently a significant number of international students drafted.) Additionally, the colors signified the spread of Agent Orange, White, and Blue, poisons used by the U.S. military that affected their soldiers as well as the Vietnamese, leading to memory loss and delusions. Goto's grandfather likely inhaled some of it when he went to observe the sleeping elephant, which explains his amnesia as well as his PTSD.
It's dark stuff, but it's a poignant place for the series to go. Most of HaruChika's mysteries deal with personal issues, including depressing ones like grief (as in episode 2), but I think this episode—based on real world history and serious psychological issues like PTSD—feels not only darker, but also more resonant. It's a powerful choice at the end not to show Goto's attempt to "break her grandfather's chains." We don't need to see a quick and tidy wrap-up to something this heavy. The real gradual healing process would probably make for difficult storytelling anyway. It just leaves us with a happy message after a sad story, about the power human connections have to heal our burdens.
The show takes a step up technically, though not enough. There are irritating off-model shots throughout the episode. However, I really liked what the show managed to achieve with lighting, adding a great deal to the pathos of Goto's grandfather's story. HaruChika can be overly bright and sunny even when its subject matter is not, so I'm glad to see this episode move away from that pattern.
The one big frustration I have with the episode comes during the picnic scene. Goto bursts in during one of Haruta and Chika's frequent arguments to wonder if they're dating. They both get flustered and deny it, and the scene read to me as an emphasis of Goto's naïveté, that she doesn't understand how dating works and just jumps to conclusions when she sees two opposite-sex high school kids acting a certain way. (This is further emphasized by her assumption that the other two students in the room are dating too, calling the whole thing a "double date.") At the same time, anime loves its conflicted couples who eventually come together, and I'm worried that it might be setting up Haruta and Chika to fall into each other's arms. This episode is also the first not to mention either party's crush on their teacher. That dynamic is so firmly established at this point that I would consider it a major drawback if the show were to eventually go in a more cliché direction. HaruChika is doing such a good job at writing a non-stereotypical gay character whose feelings are still undeniable, so taking that away would be frustrating. While Haruta could indeed be bisexual, that would also need to be re-established with the awareness that it's not just an assumption to be made of anyone who expresses desire toward the same gender, as if it's something they can "grow out of."
That's my big caveat with HaruChika. There is a very real worry that it will eventually undo its excellent LGBTQ representation for no good reason. I've simply seen it too many times in anime not to be concerned. Other than that one scene, there is not much cause for concern yet though. Haruta still seems more exasperated by Chika than anything. In every other respect, this episode of HaruChika is a promising step up, indicative of what I would like to see going forward. This show is far from the best of the season, but it has a lot going for it that I would like to see come to fruition.
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