Playing With Expectations – Haruhi Suzumiya’s First Arc
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The beginning of anything is very important. Whether it’s a novel, video game, book, movie, TV show, it doesn’t matter. The opening sets the mood for the rest of the story. It tells you what to expect. It’s the thing responsible for grabbing your attention and never letting go.
There’s a bit of a debate about whether a good beginning or ending is more important. I would still say ending, but both are integral to making a lasting impression. When I watched the first 6 episodes of Haruhi Suzumiya, that’s exactly what happened to me.
It stuck out in my mind a lot. There are many things it did right. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty solid. I wanted to discuss a few of the reasons why.
And this goes without saying. There will be spoilers for the first arc, but nothing that would ruin the show as a whole.
Setting the Mood
The first scene of Haruhi Suzumiya already begins to set the mood for the entire series and the subsequent episodes in the first arc.
We are immediately introduced to our main character Kyon, and through one of his famous monologues, we begin to learn more about him. We learn that he strongly believed in the supernatural, but like many people, he lost that as he got older.
That he lost that sense of wonder and mystery as the years went by. The sense of wonder only children have. This doesn’t only set the tone for Kyon’s character and the reason why he’s cynical as hell like he is, but it also sets the tone for many of the events that follow.
It shows that Kyon, while definitely having that inquisitive side to him, knows how to control himself and be calm and rational in most situations. It’s not that he refuses to believe the supernatural exists. He has just yet ever to see proof that it does. If he did, that could change.
This explains why Kyon decides to talk to Haruhi in the first place. The guy who likes to coast on by and live a normal life decides to strike up a conversation with the loud girl who just announced to the whole class that she’s only interested in aliens, time travelers, or espers.
This also shows why he decides to stick with her. Despite how pushy she is, in the beginning, there’s really nothing forcing Kyon to stay. He could just leave. But he continues to go along with her out of curiosity. Haruhi is like a connection to his past, less cynical self.
This setup gives us expectations for the rest of the plot. Haruhi is basically Kyon before we knew him. We expect that, like Kyon, Haruhi will eventually realize that the supernatural doesn’t exist.
The plot is set up to show just how insane Haruhi is. Everybody thinks so. Even Kyon thinks so. She’s just this crazy girl that believes in things that will never exist. She just hasn’t had that revelation yet.
And up until the end of the second episode, all of that checks out. Haruhi forms a club, forces other people to join, and nothing really happens. The club activities involve sitting around for the most part, and certainly, nothing out of the ordinary happens.
It seems like the series will just be a simple slice of life with a few quirky characters. Maybe it will focus on the realistic Kyon and his interactions with the very imaginative Haruhi. But those expectations are shattered just as quickly as they were formed.
Yuki Nagato, the quiet bookworm of the SOS Brigade, reveals that she is not a human, and is in fact, the equivalent to an alien. This completely destroyed our original expectations for what the plot would be, and likewise, shocks Kyon quite a bit.
Still, he doesn’t believe her. Kyon is the type of person who wants to see some kind of proof, especially when he hears such an absurd claim. He just assumes that she’s loony like Haruhi. If she can’t prove it, why believe her? We’ve already seen Haruhi and her insanity. Why believe someone else spouting nonsense?
Too many things still don’t make sense. Everything is far too convenient. Why would an alien suddenly gather around Haruhi? It just doesn’t add up. Kyon and the viewer have no reason to believe anything they’ve seen.
But the insanity continues. Next, the shy Mikuru Asahina claims to be a time traveler and starts saying similar things to Nagato. The fact that they both speak the same things is weird enough, and of course, Kyon would like to believe Mikuru, but he just can’t.
Like Nagato, Mikuru has no intention of proving anything to him. More than that, when asked any questions, she can only respond with “that’s classified.” Once again, this is all just too convenient to believe.
Why would everything that Haruhi ever wanted gather around her, and for what reason do they reveal themselves to Kyon and not Haruhi? Why would they tell him without proving anything? It just doesn’t add up.
And so the viewer, like Kyon, starts to believe that something weird is going on. That something isn’t quite normal. We can’t necessarily take anything at face value, but we can’t deny that things are strange.
Mikuru and Nagato may just be weird like Haruhi is, and that’s why they agree to be in her club, but their actions don’t line up. We begin to think that there might be truth to what the brigade members are saying, even if it’s hard to believe.
It is then that we see something undeniable.
Asakura, the typical popular girl in Kyon’s class, attacks him with a knife. She wants to kill him. As Kyon tries to run away, reality starts to crumble before him. The classroom changes shape, Asakura moves with tremendous speed. Everything that he knows to be real is shattered in an instant.
At this point, we can no longer deny that something is odd about this world, and when Nagato breaks into this reality controlled by Asakura and saves Kyon, we see that there was truth to what she said.
Kyon sees a battle the likes of which no human has ever seen – one no human should ever see. And if he still denies what he’s seen, when Nagato gets impaled by dozens of spears and shakes it off a few moments later, there’s no room for doubt. She isn’t a human.
Both Kyon and the viewer are more receptive to what the brigade members claim. Mikuru being a time traveler no longer sounds so far-fetched.
It’s no longer so hard to believe that the mysterious transfer student Haruhi wished for, Koizumi Itsuki, just might be an esper. But where Kyon draws the line is that Haruhi is some kind of god, as Koizumi claims.
He’s seen some crazy stuff, and sure, things seem to be happening just as Haruhi would like, but her being the creator of the world? A mere high school girl? No, it just doesn’t make sense. He can’t believe it. But once again, his world is shattered.
Koizumi introduces Kyon to a closed space – basically an alternate dimension created by Haruhi’s subconscious. The monsters she creates run rampant and destroy the fake world around them as a way to vent her frustration.
Once again, like many times in this arc, the idea of Haruhi being a god or at the very least some kind of godly being doesn’t seem so unlikely. In fact, it’s probable at this point.
What this arc is so great at is it constantly manages to surprise and play with the viewer. It leads you down one path before veering off in the other direction. It makes you think something is impossible and then shows you shortly after just how wrong you are.
It knows how to manipulate the viewer. It knows how to put you exactly where it wants you, so every major reveal hits with that much more impact.
All of the plot points introduced early on are revealed in such a way that you very gradually begin to believe the things you hear. You continue being skeptical, but enough weird things add up, and you start to think there just might be truth to what the characters are saying.
And once you’re finally within the arc’s grasp, it completely loses it. It just goes insane. One crazy occurrence after another. Reality breaking down, alternate dimensions, giant monsters, a high school goddess! The lid keeping the arc normal gets blown off all at once.
All the expectations you had at the beginning of the series are shattered, just like poor Kyon’s perception of reality. What you expect out of the series the moment Kyon walks up the long hill to his school, that’s out the window now. Say a prayer because those expectations are on their deathbed.
Now that the first arc has thoroughly beaten your brain into submission, it sets a precedent for the rest of the series. It shows that nothing is impossible. It doesn’t matter how absurd something may seem. In the world of Haruhi Suzumiya, it can happen.
At this point, you’ve seen that anything goes. You’ve seen that everything you and Kyon took to be the truth were actually lies. The crazy girl who believed in aliens, time travelers, and espers wasn’t actually crazy.
If anything, it was Kyon that was crazy for thinking those things didn’t exist. He’s crazy for still denying parts of it. Everything that we knew at the beginning has flipped upsidedown.
So when we see time paradoxes, murder mysteries, an endless summer, we’re no longer surprised. The first arc of Haruhi Suzumiya made sure you know that this isn’t just some generic slice of life with a few quirky characters.
It wanted you to know that anything can happen. So you better be careful about what you expect going forward. You may just have your world shattered multiple times like my good friend Kyon.
Thank you very much for reading
What’s one of your favorite first arcs in a story? I don’t know if this is quite my favorite, but it is very high up there.