You know when you do these and you are shocked some of these are ten years old?
This is the one that shocked me being ten years old.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was HUGE when it first came out, both in the east and in the west. Based on light novels originally back in 2003, Haruhi was a monster of a franchise to the point when it came out in the west officially it was a series comparable to a Dragon Ball Z or Pokémon for getting people into anime. It got big in terms of the company Kadokawa getting offers for their novels, as well as manga, the anime of course, and various spin offs (Haruhi-chan, Yuki-chan, the Churuya series, the movie, etc). In Japan, over 8 million copies have been sold of the light novels, the anime’s iconic dance “Hare Hare Yukai” was a phenomenon, several accolades and awards were given to the cast and cemented at the time Aya Hirano (Haruhi) as a seiyuu actress. It was the big thing.
So how come nowadays in comparison to series like DBZ, Naruto, etc., I don’t hear about it as much? Has it gone deader than disco, or was it perhaps not as good as people thought it was? Was the infamous second season with the ‘Endless Eight’ arc enough to kill off the franchise? Was Haruhi’s character actually not as endearing to the public in favour of fan favourite character Yuki? Or was it just simply people finding other things?
Well, the first thing is we are talking about the first season. Whilst other series have done this format as well (Hidamari Sketch being a good example), one thing that people latched onto was the fact the series was not done in chronological order. The first episode is actually very strange as it is done in a home video setting, with the narrator and main protagonist Kyon (a character whom we never know the real name of) narrating in his very unique way (translation: he is a sarcastic bugger) of a movie that has been filmed, which is…strange to say the least. The quality is poor, and there are some weird things happening—like the director coming into the shot when the evil witch Yuki tackles their main ‘star’ in a bunny suit, Mikuru. Of course you learn more about them later but at first it seems very confusing. Cut to the end of the film…er episode, and you see the other main protagonist, Haruhi, a very energetic young lady with a very high opinion on anything she does.
The strange thing is this is the first episode we see…but in season 2 we see the making of the film. In episode order from the two seasons, this would chronologically be episode 25…but if going by the first season it would be around episode 11…
Confused? Yes, but in a weird way it does slowly make sense. The US version when released did it in the original broadcast order as well as the actual chronological order—but when you see it in the proper order, the climax actually is half way through the season so it feels very anti-climatic with the actual ‘proper’ last episode, so in its own way, it makes sense.
Anyway, the two episodes actually seem normal as it is more of the proper order, and properly introduces our characters—Haruhi’s introduction is infamous. Basically, she doesn’t care for normal humans, but if you are an alien, a time traveller, or an esper, seek her out. She has no care for anybody normal, she strips for PE with boys still around, goes through all the clubs to see if anything is interesting, will go out with anyone but the relationships last for less than an hour, she is very eccentric to say the least. So Kyon, for whatever reason, tries to talk to her. And thus, an infamous double act begins. At first, it is slowly knowing each other (with a hint that Haruhi may have known Kyon at some point) and Kyon makes a comment about doing something about her life.
And thus the SOS Brigade is born. Basically it is just a club to search for all these weird anomalies that surely don’t exist in real life yet Haruhi believes they do. Taking over the literature club with their only member, a mostly silent yet beautiful bookworm named Yuki Nagato, and practically kidnapping a gorgeous upperclassman named Mikuru Asahina as their ‘mascot,’ this is just pointless right?
Except when the two attractive girls are in fact an alien and a time traveler respectively, and when Haruhi also nabs the mysterious transfer student Itsuki Koizumi—who is in fact an esper—then things get real to say the least…
The way the show is set up is the thing most people know about it. Koizomi for example you actually meet in an episode where they enter a baseball tournament, but he isn’t actually introduced properly until a couple of episodes later—but yet in the chronological time line it obviously occurs before that episode. It is told very cleverly with lots of other people involved whether as bystanders or maybe more involved with the club than you’d think (fan favourite character Tsuruya being the big one). Kyon of course is the ‘normal’ one who has to realise these beings exist…and the question he actually goes through is that does he want his normal life, or keep things as they are? This actually becomes a major plot point by the end of the first season when it appears Haruhi has discovered what she wants, but at the loss of their new friends, and Kyon has a choice to reset, which he does in the most epic way possible…
Haruhi, according to Koizomi (Yuki and Mikuru have similar beliefs on who Haruhi is but in different ways), is some sort of godly manifestation who, every time she is dissatisfied, a closed space can occur that can lead to…well, the end of the world. This is where the issues with Haruhi herself come into play. She is basically a rather spoiled child whose tantrums can cause destruction—which can get a bit annoying. Her ways especially with treating Mikuru are pretty much sexual harassment, and whilst Kyon definitely has a pervy moment eyeing up Mikuru a fair bit, you just know if he did what Haruhi gets away with, there would be a lot more eyebrow raising to say the least. Haruhi also basically abuses Kyon, which is played for laughs mostly.
Ten years later re-watching it, that feeling remains the same. Haruhi is probably the least likable member of the main cast (she is far more interesting than Mikuru and Koizomi, but her less likable moments make her stand out in the wrong ways) and her blackmailing ways, whilst amusing, are done to people who don’t deserve it like the computer club guys (who nearly get revenge in an epic game contest, but then you realise the SOS Brigade have Yuki on their side and thus, you’re screwed ^^). The gang fortunately have to keep her out of some of the things they do, which involve Koizomi and Yuki cleaning up potential messes intermixing with the SOS Brigade either helping others with potential mysteries (whether a missing boyfriend or a murder mystery at an island) or just going round town seeing if they can find mysteries.
A lot of the success of the series, outside of its unique format, is the cast. So with that in mind, how well does it hold up ten years later? (Aired originally April 4th, 2006.) Well, the thing is, without any knowledge of everything that the franchise caused in later years, the show itself is actually still quite unique and holds up. The animation is still top notch (KyoAni of course), the music is still amazing, and the characters are still a lot of fun and quite unique for the most part.
With Haruhi, the main centerpiece, and her mannerisms range from extremely annoying and borderline abusive to actually quite fun (her moments with Kyon in the murder mystery mini-arc show she cares for her members, and the famous ‘God Knows’ song shows she can be loved outside of her strangeness), she has to be balanced out with the larger cast. Kyon of course is a sardonic deadpan snarker, who drools over Mikuru but has a strange interest in Haruhi, gets annoyed by Koizomi a lot, and makes for a lot of fun narrations, but is also a driving force of the plot. Both Haruhi and Yuki take his word above others at times and he does have some real life experience—he can be quite coy and clever to say the least. Combined with his lemony narration, Kyon definitely holds up as a main character.
Two others perhaps aren’t as fortunate. Mikuru is even described by Haruhi in her introduction that she is ‘moe’ and they need someone like her to attract people to the Brigade. Combined with the package of big breasts, Lolita face and being utterly useless, she does that job quite well. The problem is she is a time traveler with very little she can actually do…at least in this form. We do see future Mikuru, all grown up, who is a lot more confident and perhaps is much more manipulative so it looks like things happen to Mikuru that make her change, but as the majority is a rather flat character who is just gorgeous and a time-traveler, she is one of a million even in today’s market.
Koizomi also doesn’t hold up too well as a character mainly because he works most as an exposition guy (which is good because a lot of the complicated talk is told well through him—and Yuki but for different reasons) however outside of that, his character really doesn’t hold that much water. Granted he does a lot more than Mikuru—he even has an organisation he is part of when dealing with closed space, but most of that happens off screen, and his actual character isn’t really much outside of getting into Kyon’s personal space a lot which Kyon gets annoyed at a fair bit. (Yes, this show does have a fair bit of yaoi fans because of these two)
So why is it out of the other cast, it is the girl who says the least which is the character I feel holds out the best? Yuki Nagato, the alien girl, is easily the most subtle with her character and is developed the best, despite not changing too much. She basically is mostly mute, and doesn’t talk unless she really needs to, like when explaining things to Kyon (which usually goes way over his head). However, the difference between her and Koizomi is that she does a lot more things head on, and you notice the subtle differences of her character as the show goes on. First off, the fight between her and another fan favourite, Ryoko (the side characters are surprisingly popular for the most part), is a joy to watch and established Yuki as a badass, and perhaps the first step of the popular Kyon/Yuki ship. Secondly, she seems to get the most involved in all the little things, yet she is also restricted to what she can do, and as she gets to know the Brigade more, even though she never verbalises her emotions, you can tell just from subtle movements how she feels about things. Her joy in discovering the library by just gravitating to the books, listening to Kyon to open a door when even Haruhi couldn’t get her to do it, her instant expert skills with computers and guitar giving her a slight sense of happiness and fun, it is told very subtly but makes Yuki easily the most interesting character of the bunch. Not surprisingly, she is my (and a lot of others) favourite character along with Kyon.
The fun moments of the series also clash surprisingly well with all the fights and serious stuff. Whenever Tsuruya is in a scene, you’ll be smiling. The baseball game was fun to watch (when the bat is powered up by Yuki and Kyon’s little sister hits a home run, you know there is silliness) because it still had significance when Haruhi is getting annoyed that they are losing and all three characters fess up to Kyon that closed space could be happening. Kyon by this point is all believing in what they say, saves the game for that inning, and through a little ‘magic’ (read: alien cheating) from Yuki, manages to save the day. Combine this with some of the epic battles (the scarab battle, Ryoko vs. Yuki, and the episode where Koizomi and Yuki give Kyon clues to save the world when Haruhi has caused huge closed space in the ‘last’ episode) and animation that holds up well for the time, it is still a good series.
So how come it seems to have fallen off the radar?
Well, I think a combination of a slowdown of the light novels, and the ‘Endless Eight’ arc of the second season (where eight episodes were pretty much the same with just a few differences) put people off the franchise. Combined with another series, Lucky Star, relying on its popularity and getting in-jokes, it slowly was forgotten about. It is a shame as at the time it was a very unique, almost revolutionary series with the clever way of showing the story, combined with an interesting scenario and mix of characters (some likable, some not so) which I feel at least with the first season holds up well.
But if I watched this now with no knowledge of what happened ten years ago, I would say it is good, but not potentially groundbreaking. The unique episode telling would still be something new(ish) in this day and age, but it doesn’t have the same impact as it did back then.
However, whether it is deader than disco, I’d still enjoy to watch it. Just for Yuki playing with the computer. Because alien against human technology is amusing.