Haruchika – Haruta & Chika
Episodes 1-3

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Haruchika – Haruta & Chika ?

The beginning of high school is a time for reinvention, for fresh starts. No one knows this better than Chika, who has decided that she's going to revamp her image. She quits volleyball, where she was a star in junior high, to take up the flute in the brass band. Chika wants to be a feminine "cute girl" so the flute is, obviously, a much more fitting hobby. When she joins the band, though, Chika gets more than she bargained for: her childhood friend Haruta playing the French horn! He's super-smart and a bit of a snob, and the two can't help but go at loggerheads when they reconnect.

Haruchika is essentially P.A. Works's answer to Kyoto Animation's hit Sound! Euphonium. This series lacks the other's strong visual language, and it's a big step down for its studio in animation and direction. However, it's buoyed by strong character writing, and like Sound! Euphonium, anchored by a turbulent but strong central relationship. Where it differs story-wise is the focus on solving mysteries, like in the first episode when the students try to decode an ominous musical message left for their teacher.

I wrote last year about how Sound! Euphonium nails the band-geek experience in a way few other music anime even approach, but Haruchika may be even geekier in a very different way. The first episode delves into "musical signatures" or cryptograms, where composers match the letter notes of their music to a secret message. It's a popular technique for composers from Bach to Dmitri Shostakovich, but deciphering it requires some knowledge of how note-names differ in other languages, primarily German (where our B-natural is called H, making "B.A.C.H." possible to spell). It's not something every high school music geek would find interesting, so of course we get all this information through know-it-all Haruta, but it still demands a level of engagement from viewers beyond that of the more pastoral Sound! Euphonium. It's an interesting conceit for a mystery, and the show promises more in that vein going forward.

The second and third episodes deliver further, introducing more puzzles focused on the private lives of band recruits. Episode two is about Narushima, a talented oboist who refuses to join the club, but her stellar performance at a previous national competition means Haruta won't take no for an answer. Throughout the episode, the group learns that she quit after her competition coincided with the death of her younger brother, making Narushima feel she abandoned him in his final moments. Her brother loved puzzles, and the band digs through to the truth of his feelings—that he was proud of, not punishing, his sister—by cracking an all-white Rubik's cube that he left behind for her. The third episode's mystery, about a Chinese boy named Maren who was adopted by American parents to secure him a better life in another country, is harder to connect to his reluctance to join the band. (Maren is a talented saxophonist). This episode doesn't build as well as the other two, with Maren's dilemma seemingly coming out of nowhere at the end, making it more difficult for the audience to follow how Haruta "cracks the case." Still, it's a heartfelt endeavor that adds another compelling character to the lineup.

All these mysteries still take a backseat to the melodrama. So far, they're all low-stakes affairs, focused on the emotional crises of high school students. Therefore, it's difficult to recommend to mystery fans unless the investment is purely in trying to decipher clues before the characters do. If you prefer the faster-paced thrillers more typical of the genre, watch ERASED instead. This show appeals more to fans of music and slice-of-life anime who might want a fresh take on those genres. If that's you, and you don't mind HaruChika's unimpressive visuals, then this series just might be up your alley.

The secret is all in the character writing. Haruchika gives us fun and simple archetypes that still feel believable. In fact, that brings me to one of the most unexpected pluses Haruchika has over Sound! Euphonium: clear and positive LGBT representation. The first episode ends with Chika revealing that she has a crush on their (male) teacher, and that she knows Haruta does too. He admits that she's right, and that he won't back down from his feelings just because she shares them. After being disappointed by Sound! Euphonium's queerbaiting, it was refreshing to see a show depict a teenager with a same-sex crush without trying to disguise the reality of those feelings. Haruta is also refreshingly non-stereotypical as a gay character. Being gay is just one facet of who he is, but the focus remains on his intelligence and sharp tongue. Their mutual crush on their teacher becomes just another front in Haruta and Chika's frenemy relationship. It's also refreshing to see a central relationship between a boy and a girl that shows no sign of romantic tension, in a genre rife with the implication that boys and girls can't just be friends. Let's hope Haruchika keeps it that way.

Haruchika certainly isn't without missteps. Episode 3 gets lost in goofy antics with the theater club, and its mystery is difficult to follow. The show's production values are disappointing from the studio behind Shirobako and The Eccentric Family. Luckily, there's also a lot to love here. Haruchika has a ton of potential, full of fresh twists on a familiar genre. I can't wait to see how Haruta, Chika and the rest of the brass band grow.

Rating: A-

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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