“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” —Neil Armstrong
Haruchika (alternatively “Haruka & Chika“) is one of the winter 2016 anime offerings that follows Chika Homura and Haruta Kamijō, childhood friends who reunite during high school and join the concert band club, which is on the brink of termination on account of a low member count. With the aim of participating in the regional competition, Chika and Haruta strive to recruit new members, while solving the various mysteries that begin appearing. By the third episode, Haruchika has seen Haruta reason out a solution to a mysterious message appearing on the music room’s chalkboard. Haruta quickly deduces that it’s directed at Shinjirō Kusakabe, the concert band’s lead instructor, and in subsequent episodes, successfully uses his deductive powers to recruit Miyoko Narushima and Maren Sei into the concert band. The former lost interest in music and was guilt-ridden following her bother’s death, while Maren is a Chinese-American whose biological parents had put him up for adoption as a result of the One-Child policy, in the hopes of giving him a better life. In both cases, Haruta helps them figure out messages that people no longer in their lives had left them, prompting them to join the concert band. In doing so, Haruta hopes to make his own dream of watching Shinjirō conduct again. Haruchika appears to stand out to viewers on virtue of Chika’s homosexuality and the anime’s superficial similarities to Hibike! Euphonium in that both anime deal with pushing a band to a competition in the end-game.
After three episodes, it becomes clear that these observations do not hold any bearing on what Haruchika presently has done. Concerning Haruta’s homosexuality, it appears to merely serve as his motivation in succeeding as a member of the concert band to catch Shinjirō’s attention. Insofar, it has not impacted Haruchika’s plot progression with respect to recruiting new members or Haruta’s methodical but hitherto unexplored reasoning behind his solution strategy. Similarly, most discussions elsewhere claim that Haruchika is merely a “poor man’s Hibike! Euphonium”, but this could not be further from the truth. In fact, Haruchika’s source light novel was first published back in 2008, while Hibike! Euphonium comes much later, being released in 2013. Consequently, it is outright impossible that Haruchika could have derived any materials from Hibike! Euphonium. Moreover, while Hibike! Euphonium is about the drive for self-improvement and contribution to a team effort in a band that’s already quite sizeable, Haruchika seems to focus more how Haruta incorporates the mystery elements to recruit members into an ailing band. The differences are noticeable: with the source material’s initial publishing dates in mind and thematic elements in mind, it is quite unfair to dismiss Haruchika as a cheap knockoff in comparison to Hibike! Euphonium: both anime are quite different in their own rights.
Screenshots and Commentary
- It’s been a “mere” three days since I finally caught up with Aokana and set my sights on Haruchika. While this post is somewhat unexpected, I’ve finally got a small bit of breathing room in my schedule now that I’ve submitted my second conference paper and finished building the first prototype for my term project. Thus, I’ve found time to accrue twenty screenshots nonetheless and discuss things as I have for most shows.
- One of the aspects about Haruchika that strikes me as a little strange are the designs of the characters’ eyes: in particular, Chika’s eyes are quite vivid. Her eyelashes are visible, and the irises are given a noticeable colour separation: one might even say that the design is a little wild, befitting her fiery personality.
- Similar to Shirobako, Haruchika does not make extensive use of world reflections and volumetric lighting to as did Hanasaku Iroha, Tari Tari, Nagi no Asukara and Glasslip, anime that I remember best for their exceptional visual impact. With that being said, the artwork and animation are consistent.
- One of the biggest exceptions I have to take with one existing Haruchika review does not even deal with its assessment of Haruchika: instead, it has to do with the author’s comparison of Haruchika with Tari Tari, going so far as to claim that “Tari Tari wasn’t a great show”. Concerning the former, nothing in Haruchika has demonstrated that this anime is similar to Tari Tari in any way. For the latter, I have an older reflection that succinctly and soundly disproves that misconception: Tari Tari stands out for being able to present a relatable and relaxed story, encapsulating everything with superb visuals and music.
- In my books, Tari Tari is a masterpiece not for doing anything innovative, but because it is able to accurately capture the ups and downs of high school life, weaving into its narrative themes of friendship and how relying on one another isn’t always a bad thing. I’d be quite willing to engage the author of that claim in discussion, but for the present, we return to Haruchika. In the beginning, the concert band club is very small. Besides Haruta and Chika, there are only three other members: president Keisuke Katagiri (trumpet), Sae Asahina (bass tuba) and Kae Asahina (clarinet).
- There was quite a bit of talk about Haruta’s sexual orientation: in the context of the anime, it has not done anything to damage Haruchika in any way so far, instead, serving to drive a rather interesting dynamic where Chika does her best to stop Haruta from spending time of any sort with Shinjirō, with humourous results. As a result, most of the discussions have now died down.
- That Haruchika introduced Haruta as a homosexual and presents him to be highly talented for solving riddles and puzzles means he greatly resembles Alan Turing (1912-1954), one of the greatest mathematicians and logicians of the past century. After his contributions to breaking the Enigma code during World War II, he designed the forerunners to modern computers and provided insights on their logical workings that are still widely studied today (e.g. Turing Completeness).
- The second episode delves straight into Haruta’s efforts to recruit Miyoko Narushima, an oboe player who gave up her passion for music after her younger brother’s passing. Consumed with guilt that she had diverted her parents’ attention from her brother when he had died (they were attending one of her competitions), she feels that he must’ve died unhappy.
- While generally a friendly individual, Haruta does not mince words and will state things as he sees them, viewing this approach as necessary means to an end. While Haruta is no Alan Turing, their similarities first become apparent when he applies his brand of logic towards solving the puzzle that Miyoko presents them: should they succeed, she will join the concert band.
- Owing to the way Haruta solves mysteries, one might compare him to Hōtarō Oreki of Hyōka, who had a similar propensity to spot minute details and solve common, every-day problems. Thus, while I regard Haruchika as being quite different than Hibike! Euphonium and Tari Tari, the anime does seem to resemble Hyōka to a much greater extent, although Haruta’s intents to solve each the mystery has a rather different motivation.
- The second episode is probably the strongest of the first three, setting the stage for what Haruchika is built around. Miyoko is distraught at Haruta’s seemingly casual handling of her brother’s puzzle, being quite convinced the final puzzle lacks a solution owing to her guilt. However, Haruta continues moving on, revealing that her brother’s final emotions were of appreciation and encouragement.
- Moved to tears and finally able to accept what’s happened, Miyoko picks up the oboe again and agrees to join the concert band. It’s quite the story, and for me, this acted as the magic moment in Haruchika that convinced me to give it a go.
- Subsequently, with a Miyoko on board, other students begin expressing interest in joining the concert band, as well. A complete novice with the flute, Chika requests additional lessons so she’s able to keep up with the rest of the band, but Haruta, sensing that Chika might be competing with him for Shinjirō, promptly suggests that Chika learn under a particularly tough instructor.
- Besides some short interactions with Haruta and the other students, I feel that Chika’s role in Haruchika have been quite minor so far: her actions indirectly help Harutain solving mysteries more quickly than he would have otherwise, but beyond this, her contributions to the band and plot have not been substantial. This comes across as somewhat unusual, given that the anime is called haruchika, which means that Chika must have a more significant role than what is presently seen.
- The third episode follows the band’s efforts to recruit Maren after learning of his skill as a saxophone player. Adopted by new parents, Maren is Chinese-American and quite uncomfortable with his past, wondering if his original parents hated him enough to put him up for adoption. He’s haunted by these thoughts despite his skill with the saxophone and reputation as a top student, and is said to be in the drama club because he had no other interests.
- Haruta challenges the drama club to a show down of sorts for Maren, putting on a mini-skit where the participants are divided into two teams and concoct different situations to push the other team’s members off-stage. Despite their lack of acting skills, Haruta’s cunning again manages to push the drama club into a situation where they can push Maren out of the game, leading to the concert band’s victory.
- It turns out that the entire event was staged to convince Maren of one fact, that his biological parents loved him very much and put him up for adoption because they weren’t certain of providing a good life for him on account of his leg disability. As proof of this, the suitcase he owns has a unique combination, “2099”. Though seemingly trivial in Japanese (“ni rei kyū kyū”), in Mandarin, it’s phonetically similar to the phrase “愛你久久”, which translates roughly to “love you forever” (the former is pronounced “Èr líng jiǔ jiǔ”, and the latter, “Ài nǐ jiǔ jiǔ”). I am a Cantonese speaker, but I do have some background in Mandarin: things check out.
- As with Miyoko, Maren grows to accept his current situation, now that he’s seen that his biological parents do indeed love him. It seems quite the coincidence that the same progression is seen for both Maren and Miyoko, but as Maren’s entry into the concert band brings in more new members, I am willing to accept this turn of events, since it seems like solving mysteries does have a nontrivial contribution to getting the concert band back on its feet.
- Another limitation I’m finding in Haruchika, besides those mentioned in the final paragraph, is that some steps in how Haruta solves a particular mystery are skipped over, giving the sense that things work out by luck. This forces viewers to assume that Haruta has access to more information than is available to the audience, and that he does some work off-screen. In Maren’s case, people have wondered how Haruta knows that much about Maren, when elsewhere, it’s noted that the two are familiar with one another.
- So ends this after-three on Haruchika, and with the three episode-mark passed, I will continue watching this anime. It’s enjoyable for what it is, and for me, the most important element will be how the concert band reaches the point where it’s competition ready, as well as how closely the mysteries continue to be incorporated into the concert band’s fate. Haruchika is going for a different approach that’s proven quite enjoyable for me, and I’ll stick around to see whether or not this P.A. Works title delivers.
With the myths (hopefully) dispelled, I turn to my own thoughts on Haruchika after three episodes have passed. With P.A. Works at the helm, Haruchika looks and sounds solid. The incorporation of simple mysteries resembling those of Hyōka in conjunction with musical elements seen in Hibike! Euphonium runs the risk of diluting the anime’s focus: the anime must divide its time between solving the mysteries and preparing for competition. Insofar, the mysteries are bog-standard, but they aren’t (and shouldn’t) be the focus; that the mysteries are used to recruit the band members is a clever solution, and gives the anime a sense of focus quite distinct from other anime that specialises in music or mysteries. One of the aspects that are less agreeable is that Chika seems to be pushed aside as a side character: despite being armed with her self-stated goal of presenting herself as a proper and “cute” high school girl, her role in helping Haruta solve the mysteries has been relatively minor insofar. As such, it would be nice to see her take on a more substantial role in upcoming episodes, especially given that her name is in the title. Moreover, the episodes presently appear to be compactifying parts of the narrative that received more detail in the light novel. With this being said, I’m quite willing to look past constraints in the anime if the end result is consistent with the journey Haruta and Chika have taken to reach said point. Consequently, after three episodes, I offer Haruchika a weak recommend. That is to say, there’s enough in Haruchika to lead me to wonder where the endgame is, although given that Haruchika appears to be employing a hybrid approach, this anime is not for individuals looking for an anime dedicated towards solid execution of mystery or music elements.