The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006 episodes)

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA (2006 episodes)

Watched via fansubs/DVD/Crunchyroll

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya sums up the boom of 2006 perfectly. This series takes parody to a whole new level while breaking the fourth wall repeatedly. Kyon, your everyday high schooler with little aptitude and tolerance for the unusual, gets caught up in a strange mix of characters all fixated on entertaining Haruhi, to protect the current version of the world they inhabit. Totally doesn’t make sense right? Not only does it make little to no sense, but even the story telling of the series (how it was broadcast) is mixed up chronologically so that you have to piece together the episodes to get the gist of the series. The DVD on the other hand shows the episodes all chronologically, which I found to be a let down as it gets rid of the climatic feel of the series as a whole.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is based off of light novels, and the first season (or episodes made in 2006) feature stories from the first several novels. I found the anime to be a great adaptation of the novels as they heightened the drama of the story and made it feel less episodic. There were times in the novels in which I felt confused by the dialogue, and having the actions animated helped to break up the monotony of the story. That said, the pacing of the dialogue is rather slow and laborious to watch. There are moments when the characters do nothing but monologue for what feels like the majority of an episode.

The best feature of the series, which I hinted briefly at before, is its use of parody. The characters are all stereotyped, even the idea of a series focused on a school club is far from original. Throughout the show we find out that the characters, their personalities, and every aspect of the series is all a front used to deceive Haruhi (who has god like powers) in order to entertain her imagination, while still creating the illusion of living in a mundane world. Haruhi is never made aware of her powers or the true identities of anyone surrounding her. I found this perspective an amazing angle in regards to an all powerful main character.

Upon my latest rewatch, I was struck by how much people monologue! Maybe it’s because I already know the plot twists, but Itsuki philosophizing about stuff is a little less interesting now.

PLOT: Kyon’s a deliberately average teen who’s entering high school. While he used to hope that aliens, time travelers, and espers were real, he’s given up on all of that nonsense and has decided to grow up. And then he meets Haruhi Suzumiya.

Haruhi’s eccentric, self-centered, and bored. She believes that all of those fantastical things are real, and she’s only interested in finding them. Kyon ends up sitting in front of this font of weirdness in class, and from then his fate is sealed. He’s Haruhi’s lackey, begrudging friend, and potential romantic interest, if they both could get over themselves and admit it.

Following Kyon’s off-hand suggestion, Haruhi creates her own school club, the SOS Brigade, with the purpose of finding aliens, time travelers, and espers to hang out with them. This in and of itself is a fairly interesting premise for a series, but Haruhi turns out to have the power to shape the world. Under her subconscious influence, Yuki Nagato (alien), Mikuru Asahina (time traveler), and Itsuki Koizumi (esper) all join her club, meaning her club’s actually successful, though Haruhi knows nothing about it.

The original 14 episodes of this series cover the first long arc of the show, “Melancholy,” where Kyon learns all about Haruhi’s powers and those around her. The rest of the episodes, naturally, feature the adventures the club experiences while trying to keep Haruhi happy, like going to an island on summer vacation or competing with the computer club. The episodes were broadcast with the long arc and stand-alone episodes intermixed and out of chronological order, which I always found super entertaining, especially since it uses the climax of “Melancholy” to finish out the show. The DVD order, though, is chronological, and anyone approaching the franchise now pretty much has to watch these episodes in that order because of the 2009 episodes. This is still a fun (and less confusing) way to experience the series, but it takes some of the addictive craziness away for me.

SETTING: Just like the story set up, the setting is a total parody of school dramas. The series continually reminds us that North High high school is located at the top of an incredibly tall hill, that Kyon has to trek up every day. When Haruhi discovers that all of the school organizations are too ordinary, she of course makes her own student organization, the SOS Brigade! Her mission being to find aliens, espers, and time travelers. Throughout the series Haruhi orchestrates typical club activities, like field trips, while subconsciously wrecking havoc on a more … spiritual/energy level.

Haruhi has the power to recreate the world in any way that she imagines, however the logic, that society has forced her to understand, limits her ability to consciously make a difference to the world around her. Therefore the anxiety and disappointment she feels at the world not having “magical” properties (like having aliens, Santa Claus, espers, time travelers, etc.) is acted out subconsciously. This allows for the world to have aliens, time travelers, and other supernatural beings, so long as she remains unaware of their presence. This is where the real drama of the series takes place as it’s up to the other members of the SOS Brigade to follow along with their Brigade Leader’s desires while fixing all the problems she unknowingly creates with her imagination. I really enjoyed the setting of this series as it created a very fluid idea of time and space based on one’s perception of what it is.

SETTING: The school of this series, North High, is standard for the sake of having Haruhi and Kyon in a boring, everyday world that they’d like to escape. Plus, it’s up a huge hill, which makes walking to school a giant pain. The school’s realistically fleshed out and like a real school, which helps with the setting and contrasts with all of the ridiculous events that occur over time.

Because of the series’ sci-fi elements, though, there are some other settings that are very intriguing. The one that stands out the most is the closed space that Haruhi creates when she’s angry. Only espers can enter these, and they do so to destroy the giant monsters that destroy everything within closed space. These spaces are incredibly visually striking and pretty scary, adding impact to the narrative and emphasizing the world’s peril during the climax of “Melancholy.”

I’m glad you mentioned the closed spaces that Haruhi’s subconscious seems to control. They seem a little tacked on, but without them the threat of entertaining Haruhi just wouldn’t be enough to keep the SOS Brigade doting on her every whim. It also adds on the allure of not knowing everything about Itsuki and the other espers.

CHARACTERS: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is such a great study on reality and characters. As a viewer you can’t take anything for granted that you are told. Every character in the series is playing a part in the show in order to appease Haruhi’s desires. “In reality” Yuki is an alien, Mikuru is a time traveler, and Itsuki is an esper. Kyon is the only SOS Brigade member who is completely “normal.” Growing up, he states he used to want to believe in aliens and other supernatural beings, but he had to face the facts that these things just don’t exist. He has to re-evaluate these beliefs when he ends up mixed in with Haruhi and her school organization. There is a train of thought circling around the interwebs that speculates that it is in fact Kyon who is subconsciously affecting things and projecting his ideas onto Haruhi as a way to remain outside of the situation. I personally am most drawn to this idea, however the series never comments on this, so you’ll have to decide that on your own. If you think about it though, the world does kind of revolve around Kyon. How else would everyone always wanna talk to him?

The other characters are painfully stereotyped. Luckily it’s as a front for deceiving Haruhi, but it can be quite painful to watch Mikuru and the blatant exploitation of her physical assets and “meek” personality. Throughout the series we never get concrete evidence that her personality is “fake”, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s secretly a mastermind behind the blank face and huge breasts.

Yuki is more obviously “fake,” being an alien “robot” and all. She tailors her personality just enough to fit the needs of the situation. Her style and personality type are a total rip off of characters to come before her, which is pretty brilliant considering she’s trying to fit Haruhi’s idea of what an alien should be like. Let’s just say this series has total meta win.

I totally hate Itsuki. He’s soooo fake. This is another reason why I feel that Kyon is the one with the actual power rather than Haruhi. The series is built as if it’s a harem show trying to appeal to all the various types Kyon may be interested in. Itsuki acts like the doting effeminate male, who always goes along with Haruhi, but there has to be more to his character than that.

I think Kyonism doesn’t ultimately work out, but I’m amused by the idea. It combines the egocentrism and fetishes of so many male otaku, while also allowing these male otaku to sound cool and apathetic in their heads.

CHARACTERS: As I’ve grown older, I’ve decided that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is best approached as a parody. If you take most of the characters at face value, you might hate everyone, even though the point of the series is that the characters fit into certain stereotypes to appease Haruhi’s expectations. Once you understand everyone’s situations, I think that becomes clear, but the series might do better with a parody warning.

Kyon, the narrator and main character of this series, is my favorite character for always having a snide remark to make. He’s a very stereotypical boy, but he also doesn’t take any of Haruhi’s crap (at least in his head), which makes him hilarious to follow along with. For all of Haruhi’s continual bitchiness, Kyon’s always got a cutting comeback, which makes Haruhi more palatable when she’s really going overboard.

As I mentioned, Haruhi’s pretty much a bitch. She has no regard for societal or personal boundaries, which means she often gropes Mikuru and forces her brigade members to do things they don’t want to do. I thought this was hilarious as a teen, but now that I’m older I cringe and remember that the character’s supposed to be parodic. See this section’s first paragraph. She has a great smile, though.

Yuki, Mikuru, and Itsuki are also all best taken as parodies most of the time, because they’re mostly putting on façades to keep Haruhi happy. Every now and then the viewer sees glimpses of the intelligent, less-stereotypical personalities behind the masks, but those don’t go very far in this set of episodes.

Gotta agree with Crystal, the show isn’t as funny as watching it back when we were teenagers. I’d much rather see the true personalities of Mikuru and Itsuki, rather than laugh at the parodies they are acting out.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: What could be more famous than the first episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya? I can’t think of an episode that worked worse as a pilot. That said, it worked amazing as a hook, how could you not wanna watch more after the hilarity of an amateur film pursuit of a mystery club? You get no idea of what the series is about until several episodes into the series. Thank goodness this show had a great budget and wonderful comedic timing, or else the chronological confusion might have been enough to do it in.

Again, stereotyping is at the heart of the character designs. Everyone fits perfectly into their own little niche. Mikuru has big boobs and long hair, while Yuki has light purple hair and glasses that fit her quiet, mouse-like personality. Kyon fits the “every man” type, while Itsuki has a more stylish flair to his design.

The animation is generally excellent, with some pretty extreme fan service, all for the sake of parody, or so they’d have you believe. As I mentioned before there are some pretty bad uses of monologuing, and I’m ever grateful for the beautiful animation for getting us through those horrid dialogue moments. I just can’t sit still whenever Yuki starts going on and on about her weird alien knowledge. :/

“Endless Eight”’s got to be more notorious, as far as episodes go. Also, Yuki is a Rei clone if I ever saw one.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: The first episode that aired of this series, “The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00,” is an amateur film made by the SOS Brigade and animated to look cheaply filmed. I was immediately hooked by this episode, both because it had a hilariously awful plot and acting, but also because of the effort put into making it look bad. Kyoto Animation (got famous because of this show) drew all of the awkward body shifts and distracting things in the background that show up in amateur films. Heck, they even played with the camera’s focus and thought up some ridiculous cuts and pans! Amazing.

The rest of this series looks just as detailed and imaginative as that first episode. Some sequences, like the culture festival band performance, received huge budgets and look great, but even when the show cut costs it did so with extreme camera angles or some other gimmick to keep it entertaining. This show show be used as a textbook example of the many ways to pander to an otaku audience.

The character designs also look nice, though they seem a little dated now. Due to the parody elements of the show, Yuki and Mikuru have very stereotypical character designs that immediately let you know their personalities. Side characters who appear are all instantly recognizable and have their own individual traits, but these characters are allowed to play with stereotypes a little more.

OVERALL: I love everything this series has to offer. It really stands out as a gem of 2006. The parody, meta moments, comedy, characters, animation, all are perfect examples of what anime was like in the mid ‘00s. This was the beginning of moe really taking its hold, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya not only pandered to its audience, but took stereotyping to whole new levels by making a farce out of it.

Looking back on the series, there are a lot of slow talking moments. I can hardly re-watch an episode without surfing twitter at the same time. That said, nothing quite lives up to the hype that was The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I only wish that they could have made more of it, and done a better job of the remaining plot elements. I’m still anxious to read more of the novels and to see what sort of potential it continues to have. Don’t watch this if you’re new to anime, but if you are a seasoned pro, you’ll get a kick out of this series if you haven’t already.

OVERALL: For years, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was my favorite anime. I rewatched it multiple times after it aired, bought the LE DVDs from Bandai, and began collecting figures for this show. Seven years later, the shine’s come off the show a little bit, but it’s still a great time. I may not find Haruhi as easily lovable as I did before, but I can appreciate other aspects of the show, like the use of Touch’s theme song in the baseball episode or Itsuki’s character development. Furthermore, this show reminds me of why I love anime so darn much and all the excitement I had for the medium back in 2006. It might not have the most widespread appeal or be the best thing to show to a newbie, but I think this show definitely has a place in anime history as showing the heights anime fandom can reach and the lows that can occur later on, even with a proven hit.

In short, go watch this! Haruhi says so.

FINAL SCORE: (9/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)
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One thought on “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006 episodes)

  1. I tried watching Haruhi again a couple months back, but I was a lot more blaise about it. It felt fresh and relatively novel the first time around, but now it feels like Love Hina or Urusei Yatsura to me – a show whose novelty has been cloned and made so normal in anime that it’s kind of tough to want to watch it again after an episode or two. Especially since there weren’t really many moments that thrilled me, in hindsight. I never really connected with the characters, so it was really about the novelty of the mystery, which no longer exists to tide me over. Oh well, glad others are still hyped about it.

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