Even though it galls me to lead with it, there’s really no point in going anywhere with Haruchika until I acknowledge what happened at the end of the episode. Yes, the main character was revealed to be gay – or at least bi. And yes, that character is a boy, which sets loose the hornets nest amongst a largely hypocritical and homophobic anime fandom. And yes, I think that is important – though if that were all this episode had to make it notable I’d have dropped the series already.
What would really make me happy is if what we saw here was no big deal – which would be the case if Kamijou Haruta (a very good Saitou Souma) were a girl like his childhood friend and co-lead Homura Chika (Sarah Emi Bridcutt). But he’s not, and the simple fact that there are literally almost no examples in the past decade or more where anime have featured a gay male lead that weren’t straight BL series or cases where the characters was played as a buffoon for laughs makes this a pretty big deal. Frankly, it should concern us more that anything that the love triangle in this series involves a 26 year-old teacher and two tenth-graders – but that hasn’t stopped the peanut gallery from roaring in outrage at having a gay guy in their anime. “Dammit – we hate gay stuff! Why can’t this be more like Hibike?”
That brings us to another major topic of conversation, which is the superficial similarity of Haruchika to Kyoto Animation’s recent Hibike! Euphonium – another high school band show – and another KyoAni series, the mystery-themed Hyouka. I won’t deny that on some level Haruchika seems like an amalgam of those two shows at least thematically, but I think it too is rather missing the point.
Forget Hibike and Hyouka – the show Haruchika really resembles is another P.A. Works series, Tari Tari. And that makes sense as they share a director, Hashimoto Masakazu. Tari Tari wasn’t a great show and I don’t get the sense this will be either, but it had an easy charm to it that took its time winning you over rather than knocking you for a loop right out of the gate. One thing I really liked about Tari Tari is that it didn’t try too hard most of the time – it had a relaxed gait, and so does Haruchika. There are times when Chika’s kawaii factor is vamped up too much, but apart from that there’s an easygoing manner to this premiere that I rather liked.
A novel (not light novel) adaptation, it seems the story Haruchika is going to be telling is that of a high school brass band club (critically short-handed) and the mysteries they end up solving (which seem likely to be more often Hyouka-like rather than matters of life and death). The sensei in charge is Kusakabe Shinjirou (P.A. Works favorite Hanae Natsuki), who’s the object of both the first mystery and of both protagonists’ crush. To his credit there’s no evidence Kusakabe reciprocates the feelings of either of his would-be suitors, but their infatuation with him is certain to be a major plot point. I don’t disagree with those who’ve noted that Hanae is an odd bit of casting here – perhaps it’s merely a function of the fact that this is so different from his usual diminutive adolescent roles (Haru would have been more in his usual zone). but the voice somehow doesn’t fit the character for me. I can be won over, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I’m not going to say this premiere was any sort of masterpiece, but it did mostly win me over even before the bombshell at the end. Chika can be a bit much to take, but I appreciate that Haruta seems to be nothing like a caricature – he’s neat, smart and not especially rough around the edges (as opposed to tomboy Chika) but a dignified presence, and that’s really refreshing. The look is pretty much classic P.A. Works soft Impressionism, with beautiful characters and backgrounds – it could never be mistaken for another studio. There’s a lot to like here even without that element that makes Haruchika almost unique, but having that as a part of the series gives us one more reason to hope it will be successful.