Episode 11 – “Tiny Haruhiko-kun”
As the series nears the end, we hop into yet another vignette rather than focusing on the story, which is actually not necessarily all that terrible since we finally get some development for Haruhiko, who has largely been ignored considering his role as the protagonist of the show. I really wish Phantom World sacrificed quantity in favor of spending more time developing character arcs because as fun as it is seeing the gang fight hot spring apes and thespian spirits, specific episodes could have been so much better if they were spread over at least two episodes. I enjoy the breadth of material that we’ve gotten, but some of the more personal themes, like family, would be better expressed with more time.
That theme of familial ties comes up once again this episode as the question of where Haruhiko’s parents are becomes an issue when he suddenly turns into a child of his former self, forcing poor Mai to be the mother figure that neither of them really have anymore. Turning into a kid is a goofy trope that appears in a bunch of anime and Western cartoons, typically without any real consequence, but here it’s used to highlight the estranged relationships that the protagonists have with their respective parents and the empty childhoods they’ve had. The precocious Haruhiko even makes a reference to “The Metamorphosis,” in which the unfortunate Gregor Samsa finds himself in a strained relationship with his family after waking up as a hideous insect and ultimately dies from severe depression.
While not quite as chilling as Kafka’s novella, Haruhiko’s childhood experience with his family isn’t really anymore happy, so much to the point that he writes a fake diary entry detailing a dream day playing with his parents. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have the closest relationship with parents either, but thinking about a young Haruhiko, whose only real comfort at that point is reading books, wanting to play with his parents so badly that he fabricates a lie for himself just tears me up. This is another instance of the underlying backbone of thematic probing shining through, making me wish the entire series was more focused to capitalize on moments like these.
“I guess it’s better than waking up as a monstrous insect…like from Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’.”