Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Haruchika: Haruta & Chika
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
Haruta and Chika are childhood friends who haven't seen each other in years, and are both surprised to find themselves attending the same high school – and with a crush on the same teacher, their brass band conductor. Despite their rivalry in love, the two quickly bond anew, and before long they develop a reputation for solving problems and mysteries around town. Can the two of them maintain their friendship, try to get the guy, and take their brass band to a major competition?
There are some shows that tease you with their mediocrity, occasionally showing flashes of, if not brilliance, than at least intrigue before turning around and slumping back into uninteresting and disappointing you all over again. Haruchika is one of those shows. A nominal mystery series featuring protagonists in their high school's so-called brass band, Haruchika toys with decent character interaction, episodic and series-long mysteries, and an ongoing plot about a band competition, but never fulfills any of the promise of those plot threads, ultimately going nowhere.
The story follows two high school first years (second years by the end), Haruta and Chika. The two were childhood friends who fell out of touch, and now are reunited both by being in the same school and Chika's desire to reinvent herself from the volleyball jock to a “cute girl” by learning to play the flute. (“Cute girl” is said in English and seems to be a very nebulous term.) To this end she joins the school's faltering brass band club, where Haruta is already a French horn player, and both of them develop a crush on Mr. Kusakabe, their conductor. Hoping to win over his teacher, Haruta constructs and then “solves” a mystery in the clubroom, which quickly gains him a reputation as an amateur detective. He and Chika, along with other club members, then begin solving puzzles around the school.
I use the word “puzzle” instead of “mystery” deliberately – most of what the two solve are much more in line with cryptograms, logic puzzles, and physical puzzle objects than more traditional mysteries. (For a comparison, see Gosick, where the mysteries are much more classic.) The case that comes closest to a traditional mystery is episode five, when Haruta's reputation as a detective becomes well-known and an incoming student asks him to figure out her grandfather. This case also marks the introduction of a series of very dark stories; the answer to the grandfather case is tied up in Agent Orange and the Vietnam War, episode six deals with a musician losing her hearing, and episode seven with suicide and forgotten elders. Of these the Vietnam storyline is the best done, as it not only examines the reality of what happened to some people and the resulting PTSD, but it also forces Haruta to think about what happens when he solves a case that might better have been left unanswered, a lesson he doesn't quite take to heart.
Neither Haruta nor Chika feel like they develop a whole lot over the course of the twelve episodes, although arguably Chika does a little more growing than Haruta as she outgrows her “cute girl” fixation and becomes more interested in being a good flautist for love of the instrument. Probably the best done aspect of Haruta's character is the subtle way his sexuality is handled – Haruta is gay, but it isn't harped on and he isn't a stereotype. We get a hint that he's not out to his family (and possibly only Chika really knows), which may have influenced his decision to live on his own, but otherwise, it's just a part of who he is, like the color of his hair.
Like so many of the series' other strong points, however, this is lost in the overwhelming mediocrity of the rest of the show. Sticklers may notice that the school's brass band also includes woodwinds, which are permissible in a New Orleans-style brass band, but also a bass and percussion, which really don't belong there according to my understanding of the term. Excellent details like American student Mullen's house's very American Christmas decorations are lost in the inanity of the drama club plotline, and the Tibetan mastiff episode is particularly weak. The finale, which seems to imply that Mr. Kusakabe's switch from promising young conductor to high school band teacher ought to have been the main focus all along, feels abrupt, and the background role Kusakabe had been playing up to that point renders the finale anti-climactic and a bit underwhelming.
Haruchika is a show that has a sufficient number of “good enough” moments and elements with no follow-through to render it disappointingly bad. While seeing Mr. Kusakabe more or less move on from his past with the help of Haruta and Chika is kind of nice, it doesn't feel merited by the previous eleven episodes, and there just isn't enough forward momentum to the puzzle (rather than mystery) based story. Add to that vaguely creepy eyes with odd curlicues beneath them and bright pink pupils in a few cases and some odd animation for the instrument playing and this is a show that just doesn't quite cut it in a few different ways.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B
+ Good band music, Haruta's sexuality is handled well, a couple strong episodes overall
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