Haruchika – Haruta & Chika
Episode 8

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika ?

Episode 8 of Haruchika, "First Love Sommelier," has to be one of the strangest episodes of the series yet. On the plus side though, Serizawa is back to forge stronger relationships with the main cast—particularly Chika.

Serizawa is hanging around school again, getting up in the face of the brass band club members, particularly Chika. When Chika rightly deduces that something is up (Haruta's influence has clearly rubbed off on her), Serizawa spills the beans: her aunt has been hanging around school too, and Serizawa wants to find out what is up. It turns out her aunt has returned from Australia in an attempt to find her "first love," and she's at their school to visit a student named Asagiri who calls himself the "first love sommelier." He offers Serizawa's aunt a visit to their "First Love Research Club" when his family's business fails to turn up results for her. (Is it just me, or does this school have some of the strangest clubs, even by anime standards?)

So Serizawa, Chika, and Haruta follow her aunt to the First Love Research Club's room, where her aunt is in the middle of a reading. The group uses smells/tastes in order to help trigger the memories associated with them. (This is a real thing, by the way.) Serizawa's aunt's taste of choice is an onigiri, as she treats the students to a fable about a lost girl who comes upon a group of talking animals calling themselves the "Children of the Forest." She helps a bear named Benjant prepare onigiri for them: one group for the birds and herself, and one for Benjant and the other Children. When she tries to eat one of Benjant's onigiri, however, he lashes out violently and banishes her from the forest. It is some sort of metaphor for her real life encounter with a man named Benjant, who was her first love—but when she eats the onigiri and notes that it doesn't taste the same (despite being prepared perfectly), she runs off to the prefecture where her first encounter took place.

The three students follow her there, where they find out that it didn't taste right because Benjant had originally poisoned it. He wanted to kill the Children of the Forest for revenge (Haruta figures out his real name is the Esperanto word for "avenger," Venganto, after noticing an Esperanto pun in the Hanamaki train station) and also killed himself out of guilt. He stopped Serizawa's aunt from eating the onigiri to protect her, then banished her so she would not see the results of the onigiri she helped make. This helps her to finally let go of her first love, now that she has solved the mystery and the reasons for his death. That's where the story concludes, as Chika and Serizawa bond on their train ride back home.

At least, that's where it wants to leave us. My issue with this episode is that there are still so many other unanswered questions. We know that the anthropomorphic animals of the story are not the real Children of the Forest: Haruta explains to Chika that it's a metaphor, and this isn't the sort of anime to bend reality and embrace fantasy to such a degree. The weirdest idea it's foisted on us before is that the U.S. government somehow drafted international university students into the Vietnam War. So who was the actual Benjant, and who were the actual Children of the Forest? Why was he angry enough at them to want to kill them? How did Serizawa's aunt actually meet them and get involved in this group, and why did she fall in love with Benjant? The story never tells us. It is ancillary to her arc and her conclusion that she's going to live on with Serizawa. Still, after dangling all those hints, viewers naturally want to know the full story.

Haruchika has always been good about giving us the full story. While they might have hinged on strange coincidences and other questionable facts (like the aforementioned Vietnam War story), the internal story logic is always extremely consistent. It dangles red herrings, but always manages to switch every last one out for the real answer by the end. It fully completes the story picture by the end of each episode. In fact, I've praised it in the past for managing to explain every twist and turn of the plot, no matter how weird they are. So the way this week's episode leaves so much dangling is a disappointment. I was struck by how many things I had to infer or even outright imagine that this show would explicitly confirm or deny in other episodes. (Were the Children of the Forest a sort of cult?)

Since the weekly puzzle is a major draw to the show, that was a serious letdown. On the plus side, we see more genuine character growth from our main characters this week. This episode showed how much Chika has learned from the past seven mysteries, gaining some of Haruta's deductive skills. Episode 1 Chika would not have been so automatically suspicious of Serizawa's motives, even if she already knew her as she does here. I also like the way that Chika and Serizawa bond over the course of this episode, growing close enough to hold hands in tense moments and lean on each other on the train. For all my previous worries about Haruta and Chika being paired off at the end, I saw more chemistry between Chika and Serizawa this episode than between our main two in the whole series. That was an exciting twist!

Still, I can't help but feel frustrated by this week's mystery. I'm not sure when the episodic capers became as important to my enjoyment as the ongoing character drama, but they did. While Haruchika can stumble on many other elements of its stories, its mysteries and puzzles are always tight as a drum. This episode's reversal of fortune is stunning, and not in a good way.

Rating: B-

Haruchika – Haruta & Chika is currently streaming on Funimation.

Rose is a music Ph.D. student who loves overanalyzing anime soundtracks. Follow her on her media blog Rose's Turn, and on Twitter.

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