Studio: P.A. Works
Streaming: Daisuki.net, Funimation
Alternative Titles: Haruta & Chika
P.A. Works might be a big name and have pushed out some great hits in their time, but due to their similarities they have obtained a stigma of being Kyoto Animation’s younger sibling. Nothing changes here with HaruChika, a story which loosely brings together elements from KyoAni hits Sound! Euphonium and Hyouka.
Based on a series of light novels by Sei Hatsuno, the story follows Chika Haruno and her childhood friend Haruta Kamijō who reunite in their high school’s instrumental band, which for good measure is at risk of being shut down due to the lack of members. Through Haruta’s love of mysteries, the two end up involved in a string of mysterious events that only they can solve.
On paper this synopsis sounds pretty contradictory – you’d expect this to be about saving the band or something wouldn’t you? That’s where you’d be wrong, as this show follows a soft mystery-of-the-week format, with the club serving as a catalyst to draw our protagonists together and start solving mysteries. In that sense this is more comparable with Hyouka, although in that case at least a literary club makes more sense for mystery solving than a half-baked school band.
The first episode all feels a bit contrived and set-up, just to get things moving along. A mysterious music score appears on the clubroom blackboard overnight, written in red paint. Haruta steps up to the task of trying to figure out who wrote it and what it means, dragging Chika and the rest of the band with him. While Haruta and Chika are at least somewhat identifiable, the rest of the cast at this point are generic bit-part characters who you will struggle to remember. This isn’t helped at all by the cookie-cutter visual design that follows typical anime tropes. Young looking pretty boy? Check. Friendly faced teacher? Check. At least Chika has pretty edgy eyes to mix things up.
The majority of the action takes place in school, so you have your typical classroom environments presented with P.A. Work’s soft visual style. Colours lack vibrancy but it works to create a slower, more muted atmosphere. There’s some nice detail in home scenes, with books and toys stacked on bookcases in episode one, and close detail on the puzzles in episode two. There’s a lack of balance in effort between the backgrounds and character detail, and I feel that if more of the effort had been put into the latter, we would have a much better looking show.
The character building is also hit-and-miss, with there being nothing particularly interesting about Chika apart from her past as a bit of a tomboy, who now in high school wants to be more feminine. It would be nice to get some explanation on why she wants to become more feminine, but from where we stand it just looks like a natural progression; as in “I fooled around as a kid but I’m growing up now and I’m a girl so let’s be good and proper”.
Despite his generic looks, Haruta is a lot more interesting as P.A. Works tackles at least two issues mentioned off-hand in Kyoto Animation’s Sound! Euphonium – the student-teacher romance and homosexuality. While the latter was only implied in Sound! Euphonium (resulting in inevitable fan shipping), HaruChika states it in a very simplistic but effective manner that’s a positive representation of LGBT in anime. We never really see decent LGBT relations in this medium apart from parodies or through explicit hentai works; so this is making a surprising but worthwhile step in the right direction. Yes he’s gay, but he’s also your normal high schooler who is pretty intelligent to boot. All in all a good combination.
At this point it’s very difficult to see where this series will go. Will the mystery-of-the-week evolve into something a lot deeper that will climax in the final episodes, or will we get a rousing slice-of-life character drama? Both are possible but there needs to be a lot more work in both areas to carry this forward. I’d like to see them go down the former route, as they have pulled such things off well before with their adaptation of Another (despite how predictable it was); perhaps having this feeling more like Hyouka. The main problem with mystery anime though, and especially light ones like this, is having enough there to hold your attention over time. That’s going to be a real challenge and I’m afraid this may drop like a stone half way in. That said, there’s still a chance that it’ll all hold together, and it may give P.A. Works something different from their main line of melodramatic teen romance shows. For that potential alone, HaruChika is worth a look.