Haruchika – Haruta & Chika
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika ?
In episode 9 of HaruChika, we return to a familiar conceit: the red herring conflict. Haruta and Chika's beloved teacher, Mr. Kusakabe, suddenly faints during class. The students urge them to find out what's going on with him, and they pledge to seek out Mr. Sakai, a teacher from another school who knows him well. Of course, Kusakabe's illness is brushed to the side after Haruta and Chika find a much more complicated mystery about Sakai himself. It's a good thing that Kusakabe gets better on his own, since it would be hard to believe that Haruta and Chika would drop that so easily. But does it matter so much when the mystery is this good?
Sakai is currently suspended from his job, so the students divert their attention to figure that out instead. This puzzle gets closer to something you might find on a more typical "mystery" show, because it involves actual criminal activity: a peeping tom. You see, after we meet Ogawara, Sakai's current student teacher and former student, the students are left with one piece of evidence: his seating arrangements changed three times in a semester. I thought at first this was a sign that something was going on mentally with Sakai—making him forgetful—but as usual, it's more about the students. With some help from Ogawara, the students quickly deduce that the class's leader has been moving around, related to an anonymous peeping tom known only as "Asmodeus" (the demon of lust). The class leader was moving around partly to get away from Asmodeus, but also to figure out who this peeping kid was.
I say "kid," not "boy," because we quickly learn that Asmodeus is a girl. We never learn what our mysterious peeper's motives are, but we do learn how it cost Sakai his job. Originally, he came in determined to reveal the culprit for the class leader's sake, but Asmodeus has something on him instead—or someone he cares about—that keeps the teacher quiet. That person, of course, is Ogawara.
Ogawara was a wild kid when she was in high school. When the students ask why she delayed college so long (as Ogawara is in her 30s), she reveals that she was a troublemaker who had been encouraged to drop out of school, only coming back later after she got through her problems. We don't get many more details as to what happened, except that Sakai always stood up for her. She still pushed him away, since she was so rebellious, but she did eventually take his advice and make something of herself. Once she did, Sakai still extended his hand to help her get a student teaching job. It's too bad that Asmodeus's infrared camera discovered something under Ogawara's clothes that could doom her prospects: a tattoo.
To American viewers, it might seem puzzling that merely "having a tattoo" would be enough to get Ogawara in trouble. Does the tattoo symbolize some bad past, like gang membership? Maybe it does, but one thing to keep in mind is that tattoos are more stigmatized in Japan than they are in the United States, even banned from some public pools and hot springs. They're seen as a connection with organized crime, like the yakuza. With that context, it makes more sense that Ogawara would be so ashamed of students finding out that she had a tattoo. Luckily, Sakai still makes sure that she's able to continue student-teaching, and presumably everyone gets back to school and it ends happily. Kusakabe even comes back to school at the end, fully recovered, to "collect" his kids from their spying mission.
The caper doesn't reveal much about our current students, other than providing further evidence that Haruta is gay even outside of his crush on Kusakabe. He admits confusion at what Asmodeus would get out of taking pictures of girls in school and posting them online: "Are boys turned on by that?" (He asks Chika, but of course she's none the wiser.) It's a sweet, revealing moment that shows that under Haruta's cool, deductive mask, he's actually very innocent. Other than that, the focus remains squarely outside our main cast, on characters we likely won't see in future episodes. That's fine, because it's still an engaging mystery, and unlike last week's, it satisfies all the curiosity we could have about the story. We never quite find out why Kusakabe was sick, but the situation resolves itself—and if it's a more chronic problem, it will likely come up in future episodes.
There have definitely been more exciting episodes of HaruChika, but this stands out as one of the easiest to recommend to more traditional "mystery" fans. While HaruChika has shown an adeptness at making smaller human dramas tense and compelling, it's still fun when it returns to a more traditional mystery well. With only a basic knowledge of the premise and Haruta and Chika's crush on their teacher, this could work pretty well as a stand-alone episode. That's what makes HaruChika so much fun; even when its ongoing conflicts seem predictable and pedestrian, it's great at getting you swept up in the puzzle-of-the-week.
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika is currently streaming on Funimation.
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