(Check out the other posts for Haruhi week!)
Here’s something you may not know about me. I absolutely love Kyoto Animation. They are my favorite anime studio by a pretty large margin, and I think most everything they make is gold.
I’m not the only one who has this opinion, as many other people like Kyoto Animation. This is for a few reasons. One of which being their consistent, high-quality series, of course. But another is that they’ve simply adapted many well-known anime. Or perhaps they’re well-known because Kyoto Animation made them.
Clannad, Violet Evergarden, Lucky Star, Free, K-On, Hyouka, Chunibyou, and that’s just to name a few. This is just a snippet of what Kyoto Animation has done over the years. Point is, Kyoto Animation has contributed to anime as a whole greatly.
There are still many series I need to watch by them, and I’m going to knock one out today. One of their more controversial ones. A series that, at its height, was beloved (and even worshipped) by thousands, and at its worse, people literally filmed themselves destroying merchandise from the show.
That’s right. Let’s take a look at The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
For the few of you who don’t know what Haruhi Suzumiya is, I honestly don’t know how that’s so. I’ve known about this series for about as long as I’ve known what anime even was. It’s just one of those shows that pop up in discussions for seemingly no reason every now and then.
It’s a series that people still discuss 15 whole years after its release. That doesn’t happen very often, let me tell you. The main reason may just be the strong feelings one of its story arcs has garnered from fans and ex-fans alike, but we’ll get into that.
This is actually the start of a Haruhi Suzumiya week I’m doing. Expect some more posts on various topics in the coming days. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, we’ll talk about what the series is.
Time Travelers! Aliens! Espers!
Our story begins with the first of many monologues by our sarcastic, cynical first-year high schooler and main character, Kyon. You see, Kyon just wants to live a normal life. He doesn’t desire anything crazy.
He just wants a simple life of a normal high schooler. For Kyon, his dream would be for every day to be as boring as possible. He just wants to go to school, act like a teenager, maybe fall in love if he can stand the person, and that’s it. Nothing special.
However, Kyon makes one detrimental mistake on his first day of school. Behind him in class sit’s Haruhi Suzumiya. A beautiful girl with quite a reputation. Not for her looks, but for the fact that she’s…well, insane.
Haruhi announces to everyone in the class that if they aren’t time travelers, aliens, or espers, she doesn’t want anything to do with them. In her world, if you’re normal, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Haruhi wants a world in which everything is interesting. A world where everything is fun, unique, crazy. She doesn’t want to live in the boring reality of this world to the point where she quite literally disregards it at times.
Whether it’s out of curiosity or Kyon feeling some kind of connection to the girl because of his own past being interested in the supernatural, he decides to talk to her and starts by asking why she changes her hairstyle every day.
This conversation leads to a few more, almost all of which are about crazy topics. Before you know it, Kyon becomes the only person in school able to chat with Haruhi for more than a few seconds without being completely shut down.
Nobody seems to understand why this is, and to be honest, Kyon doesn’t get it either. All they’re doing is having small talk in his mind. Nothing too impressive at all. But it becomes clear that these talks mean something to Haruhi, at least.
Kyon tells Haruhi that she should start a club if she’s serious about finding crazy stuff in the world. He figures it’s a good way to help her burn off some of that energy she has. Haruhi agrees very enthusiastically, dubs it the SOS Brigade, and decides that Kyon will be a member whether he wants or not.
One by one, Haruhi manages to recruit members. Yuki Nagato, a quiet girl in the literature club, agrees to join without any resistance. Next, Haruhi wants a “cute mascot character” for the brigade. Just like that, she kidnaps Mikuru Asahina and straight-up forces her to join. Everything strangely seems to be going her way.
This is even odder when Koizumi Itsuki transfers to the school, fulfilling Haruhi’s next requirement for an SOS Brigade member that’s a mysterious transfer student. At this point, things are certainly weird, but Kyon tries not to question it. But he can no longer ignore this ordeal when a popular classmate of his tries to kill him out of nowhere.
Thanks to Nagato, he’s saved, but it comes at the cost of him learning an unbelievable truth. Nagato is some incredibly complicated human interface thingamajig that he doesn’t understand at all. Translation: she’s basically an alien. Sure, that’s odd, but at least only one member of the brigade is weird.
Wait, Mikuru’s a time traveler? Seriously? What kind of a coincidence is that? Wait, surely that can’t mean Koizumi’s an esper, right? Oh, Koizumi is an esper. That’s crazy. Everything that’s happening is going exactly as Haruhi wants. It’s almost like she can bend reality or something… Hold on. She’s god?
But How do I Watch it?
Before we really get into discussing the meat of the series, we need to mention the elephant in the room. There are actually two ways to watch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and there’s always been debate about which is better.
You have the broadcast order, which aired all of the episodes mixed up and out of order, and you have chronologically, which is self-explanatory. If you want the “correct” way, it would be broadcast order.
That is the way that the creators themselves intended, and I believe the director at one point even mentioned that it was their preferred way, but don’t quote me on that. Basically, if you want the intended way, it would be broadcast order.
However, both ways provide something different. It depends on what you want out of the series. Broadcast order is a lot harder to understand everything and requires you to think more. Chronologically is the story spoon-fed to you.
My recommendation would be to watch it chronologically at first. It makes sure you understand everything that happens and gives you a solid foundation to work on. After that, maybe watch broadcast, but as I said, it’s up to you.
The Goddess of Anime
Now, from that, the plot does sound quite interesting. The series follows Haruhi and her band of weirdos (and Kyon) as they do whatever the hell she wants really. She has the power to bend reality, but she doesn’t know that, nor does she know that the simplest mood swing could mean death to all.
So to stay alive and stop Haruhi from genocide, it’s up to the SOS Brigade to go along with her every whim. And believe me, I mean EVERY whim. There’s really nothing off the table. They’re in no place to refuse her.
If she wants to make a movie, the SOS Brigade’s making a movie. If she wants to go to an island and experience a murder mystery, she’ll get that mystery. If she wants to make a crappy website, by Haruhi, she’ll force Kyon to make that website.
It creates this interesting dynamic, where the characters are more or less forced into every situation. This means much of the plot relies on Haruhi. She’s the one at the center of everything in the story. She’s the reason everything happens.
And there are many amusing moments because of that. Haruhi is quite a funny series. Most of the comedy comes from Kyon and the way he interacts with the many ridiculous things around him.
Whether that’s reacting to the fact that he’s friends with an emotionless alien, a time traveler, or a pretty boy esper, or just getting furious at Haruhi for forcing stuff on him. He’s the one member of the group that doesn’t really buy that Haruhi could end the world, so he’s the only one willing to give her crap.
This leads to Haruhi and Kyon having the most real relationship in the show. More than the other brigades members, at least. They often feel fake in a lot of ways and are all driven by ulterior motives. Kyon, on the other hand, is there because he doesn’t really have a choice.
Haruhi forces him into all of the crazy stuff she wants. What you might think is that this all boils down to slice of life stuff. For some, it does feel like that. The many arcs are centered around the hijinx Haruhi drags everyone into.
Sometimes the plot is just as simple as playing baseball or enjoying summer vacation. How Haruhi manages to break away from this is by including the more supernatural elements of its plot into the normal stuff.
Making a movie is just too normal. Haruhi won’t stand for something like that. She would rather Mikuru shoot lasers out of her eyes. Dammit, she wants birds to change colors. You know what? That’s still not crazy enough. She wants talking cats!
And because Haruhi is basically god, or at least has some ability to unknowingly bend reality to her will, all of those things happen. Very unexpectedly, and usually quite dangerously. Poor Kyon almost gets his head blown off by Mikuru’s death beam.
Haruhi isn’t even aware that the switch is on, so she can’t exactly dial it down. That means the plot falls into this kind of pattern almost of Haruhi coming up with an idea, forcing everyone to go along with it, and along the way, they need to keep the goddess in check.
They need to make sure she doesn’t fly off the rails, either from just being upset or, as we see in the movie arc, not letting her creativity take over. Haruhi being a director is a dangerous thing because she is pretty much already the world’s director anyway.
In her mind, she may just be crafting a story set in a fictional world, but she is actually bending life itself into that world. She’s unknowingly mixing the two together until there’s no discernible difference between them.
Yet, nobody can really tell her that she’s doing it. Because who knows what she would do if she knew? Kyon trusts her enough to tell her, but it’s not like she’d ever believe him even if he did. This creates this neverending loop. It’s impossible to break it.
Haruhi is actually an incredibly smart character. I have to give credit to Nagaru Tanigawa for creating her. She’s an infinite source of possibilities. You could really write as many stories as you want about her.
She can make anything happen, and nobody can really do anything about it. Sure, it would get samey after a bit, but I have to give credit for just how versatile of a character she is. But’s that’s the goddess of anime for you. Perhaps that’s why she’s garnered so many followers.
The SOS Brigade
Like many stories with a similar premise, much of the enjoyment comes from the characters. Because the plot is fairly simple for the most part, it’s up to the members of the SOS Brigade to spice things up a tad bit.
Thankfully, the characters all bring something to the table. It’s just that what they bring to the table varies a bit. Nagato is interesting because of how emotionless she is. She’s an interface thing that’s sole purpose is to observe Haruhi.
There are many times that Kyon likes to think that she shows emotions somehow, but she really doesn’t. She’s cold. She’s emotionless, no matter what anyone tries to attach to her. Because of this, she kind of just blends in with most things going on.
She doesn’t particularly stand out. What she adds to the group is a monotone, deadpan character for Haruhi to exploit for humor. But she also has a very good understanding of the events in the series, so Kyon often relies on her for help solving things. And she’s magic.
Yes, she’s magic. Or at least whatever the super-space-alien-monster equivalent would be. Aside from that, she’s interesting because of her objective. She’s an observer. This means she doesn’t act unless someone tells her. This leads to some interesting situations.
One of them being the endless eight, a story arc where the same 2 weeks repeat thousands of times. It’s an interesting concept, but the reason it’s controversial is because the anime shows eight almost identical episodes. That’s why people burned the show’s merchandise.
This arc largely happens because of Nagato’s role as an observer. I won’t get into that arc now. I’m going to have a separate post in a few days about it. But what’s clear is that Nagato is one of the more powerful characters in the plot and the most temperamental.
My bro Koizumi is not that interesting. I’m just being honest. He’s an esper. He has cool powers. He can like fly and do stuff like that. His main ability is fighting off these monsters that appear when Haruhi run’s amok.
The issue is, by the time he’s introduced, Haruhi’s mental state has calmed down greatly because of Kyon’s influence. This means what makes him unique is kind of stripped away before we get to see much.
I can actually only think of two scenes where he does esper things. Whatever “esper things” qualify as. He’s basically Goku, I guess. I don’t know. Maybe if we saw more, I would know.
This means he devolves into being Haruhi’s right-hand man in a lot of ways. He doesn’t really have much personality, which is sad. Still, he’s saved by the way he interacts with the other characters, but that’s not based on his merits.
He’s the one with arguably the most interesting power because I’m still not certain I know what an esper is, but we just don’t get to see it. He’s entirely overshadowed.
Then, in contrast, you have Mikuru, who isn’t afraid to show us what she can do. Time travel is a surprisingly present theme throughout much of the show. Mikuru takes Kyon to the past a bunch.
Unlike Koizumi, we get an idea of how she works and the limit of her abilities. Especially when we see future Mikuru from time to time which helps explain more. She’s another one of those characters that spice things up a lot but isn’t that interesting by herself.
Her personality is just that generic shy, cutesy girl. Basically, a mascot, just as Haruhi wanted. She does have character, but that character largely comes from her being a time traveler and not necessarily Mikuru herself.
What is unique to her is unfortunate. Haruhi absolutely tortures this girl. She forces her to wear horribly revealing outfits, straight-up bullies her at times, and is just all-around awful, really.
It’s those scenes that make me feel just bad for her. I get she’s the fanservice character, but I don’t think I’m supposed to feel bad when I watch her. I feel like that’s doing it wrong. It goes beyond the point of being funny and is just hard to watch.
Yet, those moments are actually what makes her grow up into a strong, confident woman as we see reflected in the future her, so really Haruhi’s horrible nature helped in a strange way.
I know what you’re thinking. Haruhi sounds horrible, doesn’t she? She sounds just awful. She drags her friends around to do her bidding. She tortures those same friends. She does whatever she wants without care for anyone else.
She just sounds like the worst, most terrible human you would ever spend time around. Sometimes she is, yes. And Kyon gives her crap for it. Because of her personality, many people don’t like her. It’s pretty split. Some even like the series, but not her.
I like her quite a bit. I still hated her at times, but I could never bring myself to completely dislike her, mostly because she’s a great character. She’s written very well.
I don’t want to say that it makes sense that she’s bratty, but it kind of does. She’s obnoxious, loud, outgoing, incredibly confident. If you throw in a bunch of people who will obey her without any resistance, you’ll get a spoiled brat.
That’s why I think the dynamic of the characters is so fascinating. The brigade’s weird trio does whatever it takes to keep Haruhi happy, but by following her will constantly, they actually allow her to spiral out of control quite often.
That’s why despite Kyon being a normal human, he’s the most important one in the group. He has the ability to keep Haruhi in check. He keeps her from flying off the handle or getting carried away.
Despite the way they talk to each other, they have a level of trust between them. Trust only they have. As I said, the other brigade members seem nice enough, but they ultimately have their own agendas. Kyon doesn’t, and Haruhi clearly doesn’t either. She’s not even in the loop.
It makes them the only ones in the group that have all their cards on the table. They both know everything about each other. There are no secrets. At least Haruhi doesn’t have any.
Because of this trust, it means that Haruhi will ultimately listen to Kyon. The loud does whatever she damn well wants girl actually listens to him. If Kyon doesn’t go through with something, she won’t either.
That’s why Kyon’s role is so important. He’s basically the gatekeeper of the world, guarding it against ruin. How Haruhi feels and what she does is almost always tied to him in one way or another.
And then it goes the other way as well. Kyon trusts, despite everything, that Haruhi would never destroy the world. He believes that even if she knew of her powers, everything would be fine. This almost puts him at odds with the other brigade members. Once again showing how Haruhi and Kyon are one and the same.
They’re the only two that really see eye to eye. They’re on the same level, which is funny because they couldn’t be more different from each other, at least on the surface.
Yes, Kyon is sarcastic, cynical, boring, snarky, lazy, all of these things. These things that seemingly wouldn’t mesh with Haruhi. But what makes them work is how they see past what’s on the surface.
Haruhi knows that deep down inside, Kyon has an interest in all of this stuff. He even did at one point thought she never knew that. She can see through his facade and see the fact that he always sticks with her regardless, and that builds trust.
It shows just how much trust when Kyon gives her real crap about something she does. Haruhi actually regrets her actions. She trusts his judgment. If he’s upset, she probably did something wrong.
Likewise, Kyon sees through Haruhi. He sees past all the obnoxiousness and loudness and sees the part of her that’s intelligent. He sees the part of her that’s fun. Kyon knows her on a level others don’t.
They both understand each other, but they have integral differences in their personality that cause them to butt heads. I don’t agree with people who call Haruhi a tsundere. I don’t think she is one.
When she gets mad at Kyon, I believe she’s usually in the right. When Kyon gets mad at her, I believe he’s valid as well. It’s not that they hate each other or even pretend to, they just have personalities that conflict with each other harshly, but even so, they see their similarities.
I can’t bring myself to hate Haruhi because I believe she acts as a real person could. And to be honest, I see too much of myself in her. It’s not that I’m a brat or anything like that; I’ve just had similar wishes of wanting the world to be a crazy place.
I’ve always hoped to see something unbelievable happen before I die. I want to see a giant Kraken rise from the ocean or see aliens! I’ve always wanted to see something shake what we believe reality to be. I agree with Haruhi too much there.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was made by Kyoto Animation. That means you can expect a certain level of quality from their works. I’m very happy to say that Haruhi does not disappoint in that regard.
The art throughout the entire series is very consistently solid. Never at any point does it really dip in quality. The same standards that get set at the very beginning last until the final scenes.
The art also looks quite good for its time; I have to say. The anime is a whopping 15 years old at this point, and it has style and looks that let it stand right alongside the series produced today. As expected of KyoAni at this point.
But what I appreciated more was the level of detail present in the art. There’s a scene during one of the episodes where Kyon’s running, and he stops to slowly step over a bike rack before taking off again.
I know that sounds obvious, but not every studio will animate with that much care. They’d have Kyon jump it or just have an obstacle not be there in the first place. They wouldn’t make the character realistically cross it.
Every second of movement has care put into it. Nothing feels like an afterthought. Even the backgrounds generally have the same care. They might have random people chatting or other events that make you feel like it’s a living world.
The background of the clubroom has the various spoils from the brigade’s adventures. This isn’t only a neat touch, but it also helps you piece the story together if you choose to watch the broadcast order.
With that context, the detail of the art doesn’t only provide something nice to look at. It provides an important way for viewers to put together a timeline. Another way they can take in the story.
The music for the series is of a similar consistency. It’s all pretty good, but I can’t say there are many tracks that stuck in my mind. But the times the music is used is just flawless. Haruhi really knows when tracks will have the most impact.
Because of that, the music always manages to hit you just right, regardless of if many of the tracks are good on their own.
You know I always like to mention this when I can. Haruhi has a fantastic dub. One of the best of all times. I far prefer it to the sub.
Wendee Lee does great at capturing the loud ball of energy that is Haruhi. The rest of the cast is fairly good as well, but you’ll encounter the “I am an anime girl” voice with some characters. Mainly Mikuru.
Still, what makes the dub special is Crispin Freeman as Kyon. He’s straight-up just a better Kyon than his Japanese counterpart. His sarcasm feels more dialed up, and he has much more personality than I got with the sub.
Perhaps that’s because Japanese isn’t my native language, so I have a harder time picking up on the sarcasm and jokes. That’s possible. Still, I can’t deny that dub Kyon is amazing.
The main reason the dub is so special isn’t because of the cast as a whole. It’s mostly because of how much of a great job the VAs do at portraying the leads. They manage to breathe fresh life into the characters, making both the sub and dub a unique experience.
And The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya sure is something. It’s an anime that has garnered many fans over the years. Some so fervent that they consider themselves Haruhists. Is that how that would be spelled? I don’t have a clue, but honestly, I could get behind the idea of Haruhi-ism. She just wants to have fun. It sounds nice.
Still, the big reason people remember the series is because of the unfortunate story arc that is the endless eight. As I said, there’s so much to discuss there that it requires a separate post, but it’s really sad that’s the legacy the series left behind.
Haruhi does many things quite well. Though at its surface, Haruhi seems like nothing but a typical slice of life series, the slight supernatural aspects of its plot manage to spice up many of the otherwise mundane events.
Yet because of those supernatural aspects, Haruhi isn’t afraid to take risks and do crazy stuff, like getting trapped in an infinite time loop. It’s a series that has a ton of potential, and I would love to see a return to it in the future.
Really, Haruhi doesn’t have many big flaws I can think of. If anything, it just has the potential to be a lot more. There are some story arcs that are great, but there are some that I can’t help but think you didn’t need that many episodes. And I don’t only mean the endless eight.
See, I can’t go through a sentence without talking about it. That really is the unfortunate legacy Haruhi left behind. It’s a series that really felt like it ended abruptly. Yes, the movie is a good ending, but there’s not really a big build-up to the end of the series.
It just ends. The last story arc isn’t even that interesting. When I think back on the series, rather than recalling the individual episodes, I just think of each of the long arcs that make up about 80% of the series.
Mixed in with that is just a few one-off or two-off episodes, but because of how lengthy a lot of the arcs are, it makes those episodes seem really out of place in the grand scheme of things.
It’s an interesting series to take about when discussing pacing since there are two ways to experience it. Still, just looking at the episodes themselves, some certainly feel like they don’t belong.
It’s funny; Haruhi always seemed like this really special anime to me before I watched it. One that everyone knew for some reason. After watching it, I really don’t think it stands out all that much.
I don’t mean it’s bad. It’s quite good at what it does. I really enjoyed it. But it isn’t that special. It doesn’t do anything super unique like what I expected. The craziest it gets is the time travel portions, which were by far my favorite.
I just think it’s interesting how I built up this preconceived notion of the series being so unique, and then I find out it’s just a really good slice of life with supernatural aspects thrown in. And I say that as someone who doesn’t like slice of life.
It just goes to show how powerful of an influence that certain arc had on people. It’s the reason I assumed things about the series. I’m just glad I watched it. Regardless of if The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is some one-of-a-kind anime, I will tell you there is certainly more to enjoy than one story arc here.
You can at least enjoy two! Or at least three if you love repetition. That was a joke. The series is pretty good.
As always, this is just my opinion and isn’t any more or less valid than yours. If you have a problem with that, Haruhi will like end the world or something. She respects most opinions. She just doesn’t acknowledge them.
I highly recommend you don’t listen to some Haruhist like me and watch the series for yourself and form your own opinions. If you do so, you just might become an esper. What that get’s you, I don’t have a clue.
Thank you very much for reading
What is it that you remember Haruhi Suzumiya for? And if it’s the endless eight, tell me something else! People still talk about it. I’m sure you can give me another answer.