The Desires of Haruhi Suzumiya

by eternal on June 15, 2010

[Noizi Ito]

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.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan A June 15, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Sounds like some good feelings left in retrospect. It’s been so long since I’ve dealt with this series, but it’s only a matter of time before it comes back onto radar.


Yumeka June 16, 2010 at 11:51 am

Excellent review here. You’ve pointed out many of Haruhi’s appealing aspects. It really is a series that has a little bit (and sometimes a lot) of everything. The plot may appear a bit convoluted in the beginning of the series, with Haruhi almost seeming like the antagonist, but in later volumes the antagonism starts to come from outside the SOS Brigade.

I didn’t fall in love with this series until I watched it the second time around in mid-2007, and it soon became my favorite :) Since then I’ve read all the novels at least twice and watch both seasons of the anime a few times.

I too do not know how Tanigawa plans to end it, or even what he has planned for the (slowly) publishing volume 10. Not knowing is part of the excitement!


Krozam June 17, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Personally, I’m more interested in the fandom than the story itself. I like the story, mostly its unpredicatability and Kyon’s narration, but it’s far from being one of my favourites. It’s too boring for the most of the time.

But the fandom, that’s interesting. The amount and quality of fanart dedicated to just the gender-bent versions of the characters is astounding. I laughed my ass off to the gender-bender rewrite of the first few chapters somebody wrote, as well as to the comic strips and even the character songs that were edited so that they sounded like they were sung by the gender-bent characters.

I also got a great deal of amusement from reading Animesuki forums at the time of the Endless Eight arc. All that rage, and yet they watched every episode. Every time some people predicted that it’d finally end in the next episode. Many came to the conclusion that Haruhi is the only series in the history of anime that could get away with a joke like that – I’m still amazed that they actually had the balls to pull it off. Yet in the end, I also found it strangely enjoyable to watch each of those episodes and compare their animation and storytelling quality.

Oh, and I found one of my favourite quotes in one of those topics: “Let’s face it. God Level Trolling is still God Level.” – Jintor

It’s far more interesting to wonder why a slightly above average slice of life story gave birth to all this than it is to wonder how the story ends.


Krozam June 17, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Oh, and Kyonko is damn cute in some of those pics… :P


ETERNAL June 26, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Yep, Haruhi fandom is great all right. This novel was my chance to experience the story the way it was meant to be experienced, but I was caught up in the fandom for a while back when the anime first aired, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable place. I think it owes a lot of its success to KyoAni’s crazy adaptation, what with the first episode parody and the non-chronological airing schedule and all.


Jinx July 2, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Really? I think that the non-chronologically is simply an artistic excuse for Kyoani to ignore the fact that the first novel could not be stretched into the space of one season.

Kyon is the true star of the show, and it’s refreshing to hear him after the amount of loser-type and childhood-friend-type character that seemed to be around… Hmmm, perhaps a moon is a better word to use than star. All of the main characters shine bright with eccentricity, special powers, and (most of the time) over the top personality, and Kyon, who probably wouldn’t be interesting alone, shines beautifully under their light.


ETERNAL July 2, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Indeed, Kyon would make for a fairly boring protagonist in a lot of stories, so it’s a good thing he picked the right one to star in :P


Cid July 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

This is really one of the gems of anime I never really even touched. I don’t know why I just didn’t seem that attracted to it but, Now with an in dept look into the story from the characters perspective I might actually start watching it.


Dom July 13, 2010 at 11:48 am

Funniest point of Haruhi was always that Kyon is surrounded by over-the-top female characters and that he’s not driven mad by it. He always came across more a zen buddhist monk trapped in Haruhi’s distorted world than a man-bitch with a heart of gold.

Really is a gem of anime community.


Orisha December 21, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I hope you’ll make a review for the movie.^^


eternal January 4, 2011 at 6:27 am

As a matter of fact, I just did! Look here and here.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: