Do you ever feel that there are certain shows you could see yourself connecting with when you were younger? That had you watched them at a particular time, they would’ve probably meant the world to you, because you had such a different way of thinking about yourself and the world back then? And then years later you finally get around to watching it, but you’re not the same person who would’ve likely connected with it and come out of with these striking revelations, and instead you’re too distant from that version of yourself to connect with it as strongly, or even at all? That’s how it felt for me watching The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
Like Kyon and the five-part arc of Haruhi, I feel the need to exhaust a sigh before I even begin. I suppose I should start by saying while I have been familiar with Haruhi for many years, it was only recently that I finally got around to watching it for the first time. So, given that a lot of the appeal of Haruhi stems from being a mega-hit period piece in anime history, it should be understandable that despite my knowledge of such context being integral to the show’s enjoyment, I still felt like I lacked that transient, visceral experience many otaku had during its airing reign between 2006-2009. Hence, why I felt more “Am I missing out on something?” than connected to any heightened experience the anime community may have felt at the time.
Please also consider that I have been both eager and willing to watch and like Haruhi for about six years until having completed it freshly within two days, and that I did try to capture a similar experience by having watched the episodes on TV. With that in mind, I present my thoughts on Haruhi – coming from the fresh perspective of having seen it approximately ten years late.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya builds an interesting world using its eccentric titular character – Haruhi, along with a blatant approach in parodying tropes of other anime, and then grounding it all in a high school setting with the help of one of the most relatable anime characters (and narrator), Kyon. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a good show. It plays on tropes in fun and interesting ways: positioning the supernatural characters Haruhi so eagerly wishes to meet right under her nose and having it so her rationality would prevent her from ever believing them to be anything other than normal. Placing the alien, time-traveller, and esper characters so close to Haruhi and maintaining her ignorance as the status quo in contrast to her ambiguous omnipotence is definitely an interesting and amusing concept, and for the most part, I believe KyoAni did a great job in executing on that idea.
What makes this all believable is how it is presented, in that it takes otherwise cliché plots within its seemingly realistic setting and twists them using its own supernatural elements in contrast. Haruhi is a literal mixed bag of sorts, considering how the characters are handpicked from classic sci-fi, while their personalities serve in contrast (for the girls – stoic (Yuki Nagato), awkward (Mikuru Asahina), and hyperactive (Suzumiya Haruhi); and for the boys – toady (Itsuki Koizumi) and levelheaded (Kyon), respectively), and how it plays around with all these different kinds of genres as though Haruhi were a kid playing in a sandbox. It’s no surprise how much of the fun feeds off everything in relation to (dated) anime culture.
Take for instance, the first episode (going by “Kyon order”) being a straight-up parody of the magical girl genre with the blending of both rom-com and sci-fi elements, and the overall presentation being done via an intentional cheaply made home video styling of a movie. Starting with this as the first episode made the tone of the series really stand out; by having Haruhi’s movie rip on various kinds of anime clichés together with Kyon’s salty monologue, it does a great job simultaneously making fun of many silly anime, as well as (in a meta sense) making for an excellent introduction to the characters and what to expect from this series.
Even though, it’s within the context of a home-made video style movie, the characters are playing actors that are playing characters of themselves more-so than actually playing their parts. Koizumi’s compulsive hand gestures, Yuki’s silent presence, Mikuru’s palpitating embarrassment, and Kyon monologuing his criticisms as a hilarious dissecting narration of the movie, with Haruhi subtly being an omnipotent behind the scenes figure, all give the audience insight into each of their personalities before being properly introduced to them.
As a plot initiator, Haruhi is great. She acts like a teenager who gets bored very easily, always wanting to do something to satiate her longing for fun in response to feeling frustrated with the uninteresting normalcy of the world. And making her this supposed omnipotent figure unbeknownst to her, just adds to her appeal in the show; it gives her another facet, rather than simply being an unbelievably domineering teenager, there is an explanation as to why she (almost) always gets her way.
To many of you, what I’m about to say will seem obvious, but the Endless Eight arc was boring. I mean, it got to the point where I sort of stopped paying attention to it, because they just kept repeating the same lines each episode, with the slight variations and subtle changes in scenes not being interesting enough to compensate for the tedium that was bound to set-in.
I understand that it was simultaneously trying to parody the time-loop plot by replacing all sense of drama from the characters through having them react in atypical ways, such as; Koizumi consistently being happy because in each repetition he feels as though realizing their circumstances is gratifying, Mikuru being upset about not being able to return to the future, Yuki remaining aloof and observant, and Kyon passing it off as deja vu. It replaces tension with humour, yeah… but not to the service of the viewer’s enjoyment, even understanding what it’s trying to do as a parody. After all, if there’s any point to Haruhi, it’s to take the medium of anime and its many genres and plots, and all the tropes that come along with that, and cleverly use them to defy expectations in fun and unusual ways.
The time-loop plot is turned on its head by having the characters forget and coming to the same revelations again and again, making what would usually be an engaging plot into something more mundane by having it be repeated to the point where you identify with Yuki – the one who has retained the memories of each iteration (as you have), and feel like when Kyon empathizes with her, he’s also sympathizing with you indirectly.
And all this comes to a head when the twist turns out to be something now made comparably less mundane in contrast to having made all the fun activities prosaic and tiresome through repetition – homework. Yes, the homework Kyon had been putting-off all this time was the answer to breaking Haruhi’s time-loop. A humdrum resolution to a humdrum plot. You could read this as the fun activities being made boring because of how often they were happening. I don’t know for certain if that was the intended message, but that’s what I read from it anyway.
However, I feel conflicted with that sentiment. Reading further into it, I feel like the real reason behind it all was just an excuse to show-off Haruhi (and the others) in as many outfits as possible. And as someone who greatly appreciates the wardrobe in this show… I can’t say I blame them. Even still, there was no real need to drag out the infinite time loop plot for eight damn episodes. That time could’ve easily been spent on so many better ideas than recycling the same scenes and lines of dialogue and wasting everyone’s time. Endless Eight was mostly a tortuous, and possibly detrimental experience for me having seen all of it in one sitting as part of my first viewing watching Haruhi in such a short time-frame. Kudos for the fashion porn though; casual, swimsuits, kimonos – loved it all.
But the show is designed to make me feel a certain way. Amazing high use of animation. Gorgeous visuals and memorable designs. A catchy, well-animated ending dance sequence. Haruhi raised the bar and knocked down the doors for otaku-oriented shows through having such a rich production, in large part due to KyoAni already riding huge waves from their past works on shows like Air, because virtually all the shows coming out at the time that had high production costs were of different genres, and tended to be more adult. It managed to be successful while mostly only appealing to a niche audience, but spoke to that audience in such a way that Haruhi was on virtually everyone’s lips within that community for the better part of three years.
Haruhi is quite unlike anything else. It’s steeped in anime tropes it makes fun, but also bizarrely still manages to be its own wonderful thing. One of my favourite episodes is the mystery one, where they’re staying on an island and it becomes this murder mystery, then there’s a scene with Kyon and Haruhi in a cave that’s one of the most sexually-charged scenes in anime where the characters are dripping wet and wringing-out their clothes, and then near the end Haruhi literally turns the whole scene into something from Phoenix Wright with her doing the “Objection!” pose. It’s moments like these that makes me think that there’s this “meme quality” to the show that makes for all these scenes open to be loopable gifs or iconic jokes within the anime community that I can’t help but get more into the more I think back on them. Even as someone who stayed away from Haruhi for years, I had noticed a lot of people online with Haruhi avatars or signatures that were either gifs, still shots, or altered memes of scenes from the show. So, it was clear to me even back then, how much of a big deal this was, despite not being intimate with it at the time.
Another episode that stood out to me was the time-travel one, where Kyon and Mikuru go three years into the past, meet a younger Haruhi and potentially implant the idea for her to go to their school three years later, get stuck in the past (but Kyon doesn’t seem bothered by it), and then have them travel back to the future by meeting with the Yuki of that timeline and her suspending time in their room for the three years – which to them only felt like a couple of seconds. It’s such a fresh and interesting take on time travel that I can’t help but smile thinking back on how comedic the whole idea is, especially when Kyon points out the humorous paradoxical implication of the other him being in the next room talking with Yuki during that time, and how stupid that makes him feel for not noticing.
A lot of the episodes that I did enjoy feel almost swept under the rug by the Endless Eight arc. Almost all of my favourite episodes are from the first season: the baseball one where Yuki manipulates the bat to home in on the ball and make victory child’s play for anyone holding it; the episode where Yuki protects Kyon from another alien thought entity and takes steel pipes through her chest like it was nothing (metal AF); the cultural festival with Haruhi rockin’ her bunny suit again and Yuki hilariously strumming to perfection after (as suspected by Kyon) only just learning how to play guitar, and so on.
As someone who only recently watched Haruhi, I do believe it holds up as a good show in a lot of respects, but I can never be able to capture the madness that was seeing it back then. A lot of what Haruhi did that was novel at the time has been imitated and made passé now, what with a lot of moé shows being highly animated a commonplace thing for the current stream of anime (almost unthinkable before Haruhi). Haruhi was a trend-setter, and though arguably still a good show for the most part, feels behind the times for someone like me. Yet it was so much more than what it is now. Haruhi was just such an important cultural moment that shaped the otaku community in more ways than one – changing the perception of what the community wanted and cared about, as well as changing what late night anime was.
Sadly, I am speaking from second-hand knowledge here. I did not live to see Haruhi as one of the most important anime personally. Explaining it to me, or me explaining to myself and wanting to be excited about it, doesn’t counterbalance how dated its references feel and how much of a relic it comes across as watching it now. There’s no way of introducing it to someone like me in the same way it was introduced to otaku during that bygone era. It’s like a sea of old (dead) memes at this stage.
Haruhi left an impression on me that I should’ve watched it sooner. I knew this before seeing it, and having finished it, sadly confirmed my theory regarding my level of enjoyment with the show. Haruhi was and still is a big deal in the anime community, being deeply entrenched in anime culture, both parodying and acting in service of its tropes. And in that sense, it’s practically inseparable from otaku, because of how big of a deal it was for that particular audience.
But despite having watched hundreds of anime, and considering myself someone who does genuinely love the medium, I did not feel the same connection that that audience did. Maybe lacking that time and space context, and not being able to engage with it as a social phenomenon lost that natural feel of timing it had in conjunction with its airing contemporaries, that emphasized the value of what it meant to be otaku at the time. Which, if that’s the case, is unfortunate for someone like me watching it now, having not evoked much of anything in that respect.
It’s actually hard to tell whether I enjoyed Haruhi or not after just watching both seasons across the span of two days. It was a weird concoction of laughs, appreciation, boredom, frustration, and disappointment. Hard to say if Haruhi was what I expected or not either, since I didn’t go into it with that many expectations, other than Haruhi potentially being God and me relating to Kyon. Which both ended up being true (I think).
Yes, Haruhi is quite literally god-tier attractiveness when it comes to anime characters. Something I’d probably be a whole lot more excited about had I been around the same age as her at the time fans were lauding her mere presence within the anime community. I’m sure I’d be singing her praises as one of the greatest “sex icons” in anime still to this day, had I been made aware of her in my adolescence and jumped on the series before the cave scene, and bunny suit performance. Alas, my fondness for her design is far more reserved as a result of not having such an experience, and being more-or-less desensitized to hot anime characters in a way (what am I even saying anymore?).
What bothers me is how much more of a likelihood it would’ve been to not only enjoy the show more, but to fall head-over-heels for it and its characters had I seen it when I was younger and more impressionable to anime. In fact, watching Haruhi now reminded me of the differences in my way of thinking over recent years. For a long time I had a power fantasy of being God and I could totally see myself connecting to Haruhi if I was still strongly attached to that mindset. I would’ve been around the same age as Haruhi still holding onto that egoism that came from a strong sense of loneliness. The world was disappointing me, just like it was disappointing Haruhi. I was so wrapped-up in my thoughts and my fantasies and my isolation from others, that I actually thought I was a God. Or that I wanted to be one. I had an overactive imagination, and wanted to believe that the people around me were aliens, psychics, and time-travelers, just like Haruhi. And I wanted to believe that I was the most special being in the universe, that I mattered most, and that deep down I had special powers that could allow me the ability to do virtually anything. Watching Haruhi at that age would have evoked a magical quality for me, and I imagine I too, would’ve been just as obsessed with both the series and her maybe even more-so than anyone else.
Reflecting on it, I think it was a reaction to the lack of control I felt I had in my life, and an overcompensating delusion of grandeur as wish-fulfilment that obviously never came true. The pathos behind Haruhi’s character is a reflection of my (past) self in a strange way. I think I do still think that way to some degree, but it didn’t resonate with me now, as it most certainly would’ve back then. But at the same time, I can still understand and connect with Haruhi on some level, in the sense that I should be doing whatever I need to do in order to feel like I matter or to feel alive in some way. I mean, that’s pretty much the reason behind me making this blog in the first place, was just to take my life into my own hands and stop worrying about so much, and only focus on doing even the most extreme things to make it feel like what I’m making an impact in some way.
So, instead what ended up happening was I connected more to Kyon, but still somewhat related to Haruhi as a sort of gateway to how I felt back when I was younger. Basically, I felt lost in time watching Haruhi. It’s a weird feeling to have watching the show this way as my first time, because I regret not being able to embrace it wholeheartedly back when I was vain, melancholic and out of place in the world, and just kept to myself. It sucks to know what I could’ve had, but because I’m a different person now, I’m just left with knowing that too well and not being able to do anything about it.
Even merely calling attention to all this and writing for so long about Haruhi is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, because it keeps evoking feelings of regret in me. Hence, why I keep bringing up how conflicted I am and how much better of an experience it would’ve been for me to have seen it years prior. So really, to me, not watching Haruhi sooner is one of my biggest regrets in life and just feels like a missed opportunity in too many (painful) ways.
I feel that maybe I tried too hard to like Haruhi, when it was just too late for me. Coming out of it, the only thing I’m certain about is that TMoHS showed me how sexy anime characters can be, as it is the only appeal I can truly comprehend given how so much about it has transcended space and time (not so unlike, yet nothing at all alike in the show) for anyone who saw it in its heyday. If fifteen year-old me had witnessed Haruhi showing up on stage in a bunny suit, I can guarantee it would’ve been a magical moment that I would be gaping at in wide-eyed captivation, and still remember fondly to this day. But for some odd reason, she just doesn’t have that strong of an appeal for me now…
It’s not that I can’t appreciate these kind of shows, or that I’m even that disappointed with what I got after the long anticipation I’ve had running in the back of my mind for over six years. Rather, I may have been too preemptive in my love for Haruhi long before finally watching it. I poured expectations into it from the beginning by (ironically) preventing myself from learning as little as possible about it. Pure speculation, as I really can’t remember when I first heard or learned about Haruhi, or to what extent my knowledge was of the show or character when I was younger.
There were expectations, and yet there were none. Possibly, just as a result of the exposure to the constant mention of Haruhi, let alone the conversations still continuing. So, maybe my response was doomed from the start to never be authentic. And instead of disappointment, I suppose what I’m left with is just this feeling of jaded love, and the image of Haruhi sticking her tongue out at me, taunting me for being too late in engaging with the show on any meaningful level.
All I know at this point is that writing this Haruhi post has been one of the most frustrating experiences in quite some time – one that has been filled with a series of regrets about how much this anime makes me think about my past self and so many missed opportunities in my life, and the hypothetical improvements watching the series back then could have had on my younger self had I watched it sooner, that it makes me want to go back in time and recapture my youth. The only solace I had was being able to relate to and slip into the role of Kyon, as the weary guy who wants to have fun, but finds it hard to because of how overbearing Haruhi is – in the sense that the character represents the enthusiastic fans of yesteryear, and I’m sitting here as Kyon irritated by their presumptuous zeal… Maybe I’ll re-watch it in a couple years and enjoy it a lot more, who knows?
Tl;dr: Kyon is me (I am Kyon). Haruhi is anime hotness, no matter what she wears. That cave scene. And… bunny suits, I guess.
~ (An older, bitter) Ace