Haruchika – Haruta & Chika
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika ?
Episode 7 of HaruChika starts out very strangely. We meet a girl we've never seen before as she sits brooding in her room. It's obvious that she's in a dark place—very literally, since the girl is surrounded by darkness and shadows, the room around her nothing but blue and black shades. She calls into a radio hotline (who knew teens still listened to the radio?) to discuss her problem: she's suicidal. She has little motivation or hope for anything—she doesn't even go to school much—and wants to end her life. It's an unusual advice hotline though; when we expect them to suddenly get serious, they continue joking and laugh off her concern. The hosts remark on how they're all getting old and should consider dying soon too. When the girl gets frustrated, one of them finally chimes in with a piece of advice: "change the way you look at the light."
From there, we jump back to our main characters, which only further leaves our heads spinning. What to make of this opening scene? We have no context for who the girl is in that moment or what her connection is to the brass band club. Presumably we'll learn within the half-hour (and we do), but usually HaruChika doesn't dunk viewers in that hard and fast. We get to know someone through our title characters and then start to piece the mystery together along with them. That makes this episode's structure an adventurous choice for a series that usually plays it extremely safe. Luckily, it's a choice that really works.
With this, the audience is invited into the mystery-solving even before the main characters take their parts. HaruChika encourages us to start looking around for clues to the girl's identity. When the characters meet up with a rival band, I thought she might be among their group, but that was a red herring scene that ended too soon. We only get to know the girl in the opening through a seemingly irrelevant, time-stalling detail about the brass band club getting a low budget from the student council. The "geological research" club has turned down their budget, and if they can track down its elusive president, the brass band might be able to get their money. Naturally, that president is Misato Aso, the girl from the opening scene.
HaruChika is increasingly structured like a sitcom, starting with everyday hijinks only for the "real" plot of the episode to slowly creep in under our noses. This episode was no different—but the addition of that opening scene helped keep the audience on their toes, knowing that something big was about to happen in this week's mystery. That's helpful for audience members who might not be invested in this show beyond the whodunits. I personally could watch some (though not all) of Haruta and Chika's arguments on their own, as well as the trials and tribulations of the club as they improve their technique and search for members. Still, those elements are a dime-a-dozen in anime, so there's less reason to stick around for this underanimated version. Especially with the getting-the-band-together elements, which were done much better and prettier last year by Sound! Euphonium. HaruChika keeps audiences invested instead by dangling the promise of the real plot in its first scene.
Aso as a character is a little flat once the characters meet her again. She loves gems because they're a very literal reminder of that advice from the radio show to look at the light from a different angle (what with how gems reflect light in different colorful patterns). It's a little simplistic for a motivation, even by the standards of HaruChika's other one-episode focus characters, and it might be that hinging her recovery on such a small thing makes light of depression and suicide. I didn't see it that way only because it was clear to me that we were at the end of Aso's story. We didn't get to see her recovery or how she built herself up from that dark place to the more driven girl she is now. We just get to see the finished product. The audience is given room to fill in the blanks, and we can assume there's more to her journey than what meets the eye.
Ultimately, Aso's story isn't even the real focus of the episode. She's yet another red herring, serving more as a conduit to meet another new brass band club member. Last week's episode hinted at him when the clarinetist mentioned a percussionist friend she wanted to bring back to school. As soon as the club mentioned that there was one boy who got away, who Aso couldn't talk into joining her club, I wondered if it was him. We've seen this quirky drummer in the OP, and I figured he was our mysterious percussionist. (Even if real-life bands usually have more than one, shows like this tend to focus on one character per instrument.) So when his face appeared behind an open door, I wasn't surprised. I was, however, shocked that Kaiyu was the host of the radio advice show, along with the old people in his ersatz nursing home.
The way this episode tied together the different characters and plots elements was superb. The radio show was impressive connecting tissue, providing more conflict in Haruta and Chika's friendship as well as bringing this week's characters into the story. For once, HaruChika took some big chances that seriously paid off in making this episode that much more exciting. Now we also have a new band member who promises to give his own fun, quirky spin to the group.
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika is currently streaming on Funimation.
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