I have a strange history with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I first watched the anime series shortly after it aired, but since I had only just started venturing beyond shounen and modern sci-fi/mecha at the time, I never really understood why I liked it. I memorized the Hare Hare Yukai lyrics and proudly gave the show a 10/10, but I couldn’t really point to one specific aspect of it and say “this is why this story is a masterpiece”.
Thankfully, that problem is now solved. I recently decided to go through the first of the nine published novels, and just as I expected, the memories from four years ago came back in a flash – except this time I’m not hindered by blind fandom.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a good book. I believe you already know that. Tanigawa’s prose plays a huge role in the story’s success: the narration flows naturally through Kyon, and the atmosphere is built without having to draw attention to itself. Last I checked, Kyon is one of the most popular protagonists in the general romance/comedy/slice-of-life genres, and for good reason – his sarcastic, down-to-earth view of the world is amusing when it needs to be, and it stops the story from getting lost in its thinly constructed sci-fi elements. It’s easier to take things at face value when you see the world through his eyes. Much like his role in the SOS Brigade, his “ordinary” point of view is a reminder that Haruhi isn’t just a wild, comedic amalgamation of clichés.
I mentioned the novel’s atmosphere a moment ago, and I think it’s a noteworthy topic that’s easy to overlook in the face of the obvious factors. With a bizarre plot like Haruhi‘s, the story’s tone could be anything from melodramatic to outright satirical. The novel takes somewhat of a middle ground, which is clearly visible after a few chapters, but there’s a familiar air of bittersweet longing that hangs above that. It’s not quite romance, but the story captures the realistic, usually maudlin youthful conflict between desires and reality, which is amusing considering how over-the-top it is in terms of presentation. It gets bonus points for tackling these potentially melodramatic issues without even a hint of said melodrama. The scene when Kyon and Haruhi are walking home after examining Ryoko’s apartment sticks out in my memory as a perfect example of this: you enter the scene wondering about the truth behind the mysteries that Kyon is wrestling with, not caring much for the afternoon adventure, but you leave it thinking about the meaning of life.
I’m tempted to call the story’s use of serious, relatable issues in an otherwise illogical plot ironic, but considering the emphasis of the story, any irony is fully intentional. After all, Haruhi’s desire to be unique and fight conformity lies at the center of Yuki’s sci-fi jargon and Itsuki’s armageddon theories. Everything that happens in the story happens because one girl decided that her life would only be meaningful if she became “special” and did things that no one else could do. This ties in to Kyon’s opening monologue on Santa Claus; Haruhi doesn’t just want to be different, she wants to believe in the intangible and magical. At this point, it’s hard to say if the emphasis will fall on her wish to be unique or her wish for childish fantasies to come true, but either way, the story’s thematic issues are clear. As for Tanigawa’s message, only the final book can reveal that.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya works in a lot of ways, and perhaps that’s why it’s so popular. We have the comedy laced with satire; we have Kyon’s narration injected into even the most serious scenes, creating a permanent sense of laid-back apathy; we have the mystery from three years ago and a bizarre plot that just might have a reasonable solution; and above all, we have the good old bittersweet discontentment of youth. Instead of focusing on the transition between teenage idealism and the realities of adulthood, Haruhi tells a story about the magic of childhood and the conflicts of conformity. I don’t know where Nagaru Tanigawa is headed with the series or what he plans for its conclusion, but I know for a fact that I want to hear more about this world of aliens, time travelers, and espers.