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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2016 5:57 am Reply with quote
Stimulated by Nick Creamer's review, I've decided to put on hold my survey of the early Toei films while I do my own reviews and analysis of the Haruhi Suzumiya phenomenon. These reviews won't be rebuttals of Nick Creamer's - that would get in the way of making my own argument. In any case, I'll be taking quite a different slant on the franchise. Further, I'll be looking at the two series separately.

Not only does this review come with the usual thread spoiler warning, but it's written with the expectation that the reader is familiar with the series. After all, that's one of the signature themes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: the arcane self-awareness of the anime fandom.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya


An entertaining show about boredom is quite the achievement.

Reason for Watching: In the pre-legal streaming dark days of anime I seem to recall that I torrented the series after reading all the buzz on-line, particularly here at ANN. I've since purchased the three canonical Australian DVDs. Coincidentally, I re-watched the Melancholy arc of the first series for the umpteenth time last week, just before Nick Creamer's review came out.

Note on the Australian DVD releases: Unlike North America, the franchise hasn't been held back by the business collapse of the local licensee. Madman Entertainment has continued to sell and promote the franchise from its inception. I never had the impression that the franchise had gone away. What's more, it was released in quite a different format here. The first season DVD actually contained two complete copies of the series: one in broadcast order and the other in canonical order. I like it, but I sure find it weird. Also unlike North America, the second season had a separate release so, if the Endless Eight episodes are more than you can bear, you can simply vote with your wallet.


The Madman Entertainment Haruhi Suzumiya releases.

Synopsis: Kyon is a directionless, cynical young man who secretly wishes his life could be enlivened by the fantasies of his earlier school years. When the volcanic Haruhi Suzumiya explodes into his life Kyon gets far more than he bargained for. With aliens, time-travellers and espers coming at him from every direction he learns that their greatest fear is that Suzumiya, who may just be the creator of the universe, will rewrite said universe in a fit of boredom or rage. All their hopes are pinned on Kyon who, by keeping Haruhi amused, may be the one person who can save the world as they know it.

Comments: The first episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is not actually The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. It's a film made by five senior high school students we will later come to know as the S.O.S. Brigade. It belongs in a different story arc. Add to that the seemingly randomly jumbled up episode order of the original broadcast. Also add how the first image of the OP is a wink to the first image in the OP of The Vision of Escaflowne. Haruhi as Hitomi is just one of many such otaku references sprinkled throughout the series. (You can find many of them listed here.) Now, a catalogue of sometimes obscure anime references isn't all that clever in and of itself. What these various shenanigans are doing is flagging that the franchise is playing games with its audience, whom it expects to be fully in on the joke. Yes, it's you-know-that-I-know-that-you-know that I'm having fun with the tastes, habits and expectations of otaku. The self-aware otaku will get the joke of course. No offence is meant nor will any be taken, for the Haruhi franchise is an affectionate piss-take of the culture. It has none of the opacity of the near contemporary The Sky Crawlers nor the provocative hostility of the later Flowers of Evil, two other titles notable for their implied commentary on the fandom. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was released in 2006, the same year as Paprika - the apotheosis of anime post-modernism - and shares with it a glee in overturning narrative conventions and expectations. Both share a near hysterical sense of fun - and I don't mean that in a comedic sense - but where Paprika uses the trickery of animation to play with the narrative, Haruhi uses an unreliable narrator to play with anime culture.


Anime eats itself. The Haruhi Suzumiya franchise is predicated on this.

What also becomes quickly apparent in the show is that the central character isn't actually Haruhi. It's Kyon, a young man without qualities, which is ironic given his role in the story. We never learn about his hobbies or interests or academic achievements. We never even learn his real name. He spends little time outside of school with his supposed two closest school mates and doesn't appear to have had a girlfriend. His two most typical behaviours - exasperation and cynicism - mark him as largely detached from his school community. In other words, Kyon is an incipient otaku. He is us. His yearnings for aliens, time-travellers, espers and moe girls with big breasts are also our consumer demands. Haruhi as character will be his wish-fulfilling proxy and dish them up to him; Haruhi as franchise will dish them up to us. We know that; the series knows that; which is at it should be.

Kyon is also the unreliable narrator of the story. Everything that happens in the anime is mediated through his eyes and his commentary. We know he is holding things back from us: his name for instance. Thus we cannot believe anything he tells us. Kyon is a story teller and a liar. The only Haruhi Suzumiya we know is the one he pesents to us. The true god figure of the series is Kyon. We only have his word for it that Haruhi grabs Mikuru's breasts or frames the president of the computer club, that Mikuru is a time traveller, that Nagato is an alien, that Koizumi is an esper, or that Haruhi is god. If Haruhi's behaviour becomes poisonous it's because Kyon imagines her that way. We know he is quite capable of being snarky. The climactic dream of closed space enveloping the school is Kyon's dream, not Haruhi's. He must smash through the barrier because Haruhi certainly won't. In a moment of editorialising from the creators he must return to the real world by kissing the girl, not fantasising about her.

Everything is his fantasy. Haruhi, in particular, is his goddess fantasy. She is both monstrous and fascinating to him, so he makes her out that way to us. As so many men do, Kyon has elevated Haruhi onto a pedestal, making her both desirable and remote. He fetishises her and is terrified by her. She is his magical girlfriend who doesn't play by the rules. It doesn't stop there. He also fetishes the other girls in his school, particularly the hapless Mikuru Asahina. The S.O.S Brigade is his harem, including Koizumi. Yes, the franchise knows its tropes. Yet Haruhi is disruptive. She is the shrew that, maybe, needs to be tamed but she will not be easily controlled by him. There is an exquisite and, perhaps, problematic, thematic conflict here between the Haruhi as presented to us through Kyon's eyes, and the Haruhi who's narrative role includes upending Kyon's closed world. Again, this is the creators' editorialising. Hey! We fans aren't going to get off scott free.


Haruhi gives Kyon a hard time, but he's up for it.

It must follow that Haruhi is both monstrous and desirable to the viewer also. Whether the series succeeds in this will be up to the individual. It most certainly did with me. I happily admit to being captivated by her. Too often in anime it seems to me that the female characters are presented simply for our consumption; that the anime viewer is like a child in a lolly shop, presented with all sorts of delicious goodies to choose from. Young sir, would you like your animal girl with brown hair? Blue? Green? Silver? Red? Would you like her as tsundere? Genki Girl? Vulnerable object for protection? Quiet and serious? And would you like to rub..? Haruhi will have none of that. Even in 2016 The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a reminder that anime can do better, that the best female characters must transcend the confection too often served up via light music clubs or motorcyle clubs or gynomorphised warships. Haruhi is not a romantic character; she is a comedic character, so, no matter how awful her behaviour, it can be excused by her role in in creating the humour. Because there is a satirical slant to the comedy - aimed at us, the fans - then I'm not alarmed by her most obnoxious behaviours. If I am disturbed by her, perhaps it's because she has been deliberately created to upend our expectations of anime girls. Seen in this light she is perhaps an emetic whose purpose is to purge us of our otaku predilictions. That's overstating the case because, as I said earlier, the franchise is an affectionate dig at the fandom, but my point remains that Haruhi's worst behaviours have a metafictional point to them. Again, I will concede that there is a disjunct between Haruhi as the creation of Kyon's imagination and her narrative role in breaking him from that fantasy.

Most of my commentary is referencing the Melancholy arc of the first season. The other episodes are variable. My favourites are the school festival episode and final "Someday in the Rain" episode. Both have a disregard for normal dramatic conventions. Chronologically coming after both the Melancholy arc and the Sigh arc (from the second season) they show Kyon with a somewhat different attitude towards Haruhi. His affection for her is now more pronounced and, thus, her behaviour now comparatively moderated. Her generous side is given more expression while her fears and frustrations are portrayed more sympathetically. Her concert performance is simply awesome. (What am I doing? That word is owned by Homura Akemi.) "Someday in the Rain" enchants me. The characters doing nothing at all in their club room, with the sounds of the other clubs drifting in, is the franchise at its most relaxed and most beguiling. The other episodes have their amusing moments but can't match the franchise at its best, although the baseball episode at least gives the first inkling of Haruhi's and Nagato's supposed true natures if you're watching the series in the broadcast order.


Adult Mikuru. The moe object of desire grows up and becomes even more desirable.
"That was a smile that would make anyone who saw it fall in love."


These days I always watch the franchise via the American dub, partly because Crispin Freeman has made Kyon his own, but also because I never liked the strangled enunciation of Aya Hirano who plays Haruhi. Wendee Lee doesn't always get Haruhi right, but her manic interpretation gets the personality across effectively. Stephanie Sheh, Michelle Ruff and Johnny Yong Bosch as the other club members Mikuru Asahina, Yuki Nagato and Itsuki Koizumi respectively are passable. The artwork is exceptional for its time, while the animation is more than good enough for the requirements. The characters, with a typical Kyoto Animation glow, have a more three dimensional feel to them than those in some contemporary anime series. Overall I think the appearance is one of the shows strengths.

Rating: excellent. The first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya revels in its affectionate pomo otaku game playing. You don't need to have a wide ranging knowledge of anime to appreciate the humour, though you may find Haruhi's behaviour objectionable if you disregard her wider metafictional role, made apparent through Kyon's unreliable narration. Much of the charm of this series, though, lies in the two leads. Not only are they memorable comic characters but Kyon's world-weary exasperation nicely balances Haruhi's almost unbearable single-minded willfulness. But, more than that even, they are both, despite their peculiarities, very likeable. And, as a bonus, you get philosophical musings that are somehow fun. It's quite an achievement, really: 14 entertaining episodes about boredom.


"Because, in anime, god wears a bunny suit and plays the guitar."
Hyperbole rules in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.


Further recommended reading: Theron Martin's and Carl Kimlinger's reviews of the original US DVD releases.
Volume 1 TM
Volume 2 TM
Volume 3 CK
Volume 4 TM

****

Do I really want to watch the Endless Eight again?


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Dec 10, 2016 4:24 am; edited 1 time in total
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2016 8:58 am Reply with quote
Note on the North American releases: The North American Bandai release was not as different from the Australian release as you imply.

The first season was initially released as singles well before the second season took place. If you bought the special edition it came in a rather complex art box with audio CDs and separate disk versions in broadcast and chronological order.

The second season was issued after the switch to season sets and came out in a single case. In about the same time frame the first season was reissued as an Anime Legends (Bandai's Reprint label) series in a single case.

The movie was issued in a Bluray/DVD combo pack. Unfortunately it was released in a DVD case. The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya was also issued on DVD.

You are correct that the series has been out of print since Bandai USA was forced out of business but not before the initial market was satiated. This was a problem only for new people.

The current Funimation release is the first to combine the two TV series in one package. Interestingly the Special Edition chipboard art case has room for an additional Bluray case. I assume that is intended for their eventual re-release of the movie. As noted above the Bandai movie case will not fit.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2016 3:57 pm Reply with quote
Thanks for straightening me out, Alan.
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2016 4:44 pm Reply with quote
@Errinundra

No problem, I bought all those. Laughing Isn't the age rating for the first series you picture a bit messed up?

I've been thinking about your review and I don't think I can go along with your idea of "Kyon is also the unreliable narrator of the story." specifically the unreliable or liar part.

He provides a voice over but it is consistent with what we are seeing. If you assume that the visual is also part of his fantasy, there is no reason to believe that any of it is real or that any of the other characters exist. Essentially you are putting him in the position of the author. If you do that all you need do is step back and admit the whole thing is a fictional narrative which we knew going in. It then becomes as real as any author's narrative.

My take is that the other three are what they say they are and that Kyon is an unknowing sacrifice made by them on the alter of Haruhism in order to control her.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2016 6:00 pm Reply with quote
@ Alan45,

Re the M+ rating I can only suppose it's for Haruhi's assaults on Mikuru, though it does seem harsh.

Calling Kyon a liar may be a bit of rhetorical excess, but I mean in a literary sense, rather than a moral sense.

Re Kyon as unreliable narrator, Akane the Catgirl has confirmed to me that the novels are in the first person. For sure, a novel has but one author, whereas a screen production has many, but I believe the creators of the anime have taken great care that we understand that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a first person narrative - he appears in every scene and comments on all of them. Even in a third person narrative, the reader cannot be sure the narrative voice is actually the author's. When a first person point of view is chosen it brings all sorts of new ambiguities into play. It provides a veneer of authenticity in that we get the sense that the character is a witness to the events. But how honest, or reliable is the witness? Further, what is the relationship between the author and their character? Is the author antagonistic towards the character? Is the author satirising the character? I believe that satire is the intention here, on a sort of post-modern level. The constant stream of anime references is the author(s) telling us that this is an anime about anime and the anime fandom. We are being warned to read between the lines.

In post-modern theory every reading of a text is new act of creativity and that no one reading is privileged. On that basis I have no problem with Nick Creamer's or your responses varying from mine. I appreciate it when a creative work is able to garner so many interpretations.

(In a few minutes I'm going out for the day so please bear with me if I fail to respond to any further comments for several hours.)
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2016 8:58 pm Reply with quote
@Errinundra

Not to worry, I'm not on continuously myself. Even if I wanted to be I have to share the computer with my wife. If I'm not actively reading or posting here I close my browser.

I'm aware of the concept of multiple readings of a text. While I understand where that comes from, I think that on occasion it gets pushed beyond any rational limit. In this case, I can see where your view comes from, I just wish to disagree.

I have the novels and have read all but the final arc. It is, as stated, a first person narrative. The problem is that it is entirely a first person narrative with not even any framing to give it any context not in the main text. I see nothing that would suggest that the author is doing anything but reporting the happenings from Kyon's viewpoint. It is very straight forward. There is nothing in the narrative to show any antagonism or satire towards Kyon.

Both the author and Kyon are clearly familiar with the science fiction concepts around which the story is built and they are looked at affectionately. Beyond a lingering regret that he can no longer believe in the cartoons, monster movies and comics he enjoyed in middle school there are no references to anime. As far as I can tell, all the specific anime references you mention are limited to the anime itself. Even the book Nagato gives him is not named and is simply referred to as sci fi looking.

By the way I don't see Kyon as a cynic. He is somewhat disillusioned and his regret for his lost illusions make him seem prematurely world weary. He can certainly be snarky but I don't see any overriding distrust of humanity or belief that everyone is out for himself. He is mostly a realist who grudgingly accepts that his current reality is the stuff of fantasy novels.

My problem with questioning Kyon's narrative is that since it is entirely first person once you claim he is lying there is no basis to believe any of the story. Where do you draw the line? If he is lying you have no Haruhi, no club, no club room or members and no events. You are left with Kyon sitting in a boring class fantasying the entire thing with no pretty girl in the seat behind him. If Haruhi does exist she would be simply a pretty classmate he built the story around without reference to her personality or character.
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Blood-
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2016 9:33 am Reply with quote
Very interesting take on TMoHS. It's been about 6 years since I've seen the first season. I own, but have not seen, the second season and the movie. I think my next foray into my physical backlog will be to watch the whole kit and kaboodle in chronological order.

Because it's been so long since my initial watch and because I haven't seen the entire series, I don't have anything very germane to say about Kyon's status re: being a Walter Mitty type versus semi-reluctant spectator to something that is actually happening. My inclination is like Alan45's which is to take the circumstances as "real." I get the sense the show itself would like to preserve an air of ambiguity on the question.

I, alone, in the Western world it seems, am not a fan of Crispin Freeman's Kyon. I find the character himself to be a pill - an annoying, inescapable filter between me and my waifu, Haruhi. I'd be all over a series called The Permanent Disappearance of Kyon. And there was just something about Freeman's delivery that added extra grating to an already grating presence for me. The trouble is that I quite like the other dub voices, so while I do intend to enjoy the franchise in its native language at some point, I think my upcoming rewatch/watch will be in dub.
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Night fox



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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 6:02 am Reply with quote
Alan45 wrote:
My problem with questioning Kyon's narrative is that since it is entirely first person once you claim he is lying there is no basis to believe any of the story. Where do you draw the line? If he is lying you have no Haruhi, no club, no club room or members and no events. You are left with Kyon sitting in a boring class fantasying the entire thing with no pretty girl in the seat behind him. If Haruhi does exist she would be simply a pretty classmate he built the story around without reference to her personality or character.

I believe Errinundra has a point, when suggesting that Kyon is telling a story rather than relaying actual experiences. Considering the mishmash of genres it includes with aliens, time-travelers and espers, it's only natural to question the story's "authenticity". It could be that the story is nothing but a result of Kyon's daydreaming in class out of boredom (the title just got the wrong subject), in which case the "endless eight" could be seen as Kyon having something of a "writer's block" over those episodes. Wink

Maybe the characters Kyon is describing are actually different aspects of himself, or what he wished he could be like? Perhaps Kyon is the transfer student, without any friends at his new school? Perhaps he's the one who spends his time alone in the library, reading books (inspiration for his story), wishing there was a literature club so he'd have someone to talk to? Perhaps he wishes he could travel to a different time, where he wouldn't be so bored and lonely? Maybe Kyon also wishes that he was as outspoken as Haruhi, to more easily make friends in school? Finally Kyon might wish that his existence actually mattered to other people, or in this case enhanced to the point where his actions were essential in preventing the destruction of the entire universe.

Seen in this light, Kyon is really just an outsider in great need of friendship. Smile
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 9:04 am Reply with quote
Night fox wrote:
Quote:
Seen in this light, Kyon is really just an outsider in great need of friendship.


That is sort of my point. If his story lacks truth in one aspect there is no reason to think that any of it is true. (Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus) Since this is entirely a first person narrative, once you question the reality of any part it is like removing the keystone from an arch, the whole thing falls apart.

I'm not really sure where this gets you. We already know it is fiction from Tanigawa. However, it is fiction interesting enough that we care enough about the characters to discuss them. If you assume Kyon is making this up, what we have is fiction from Tanigawa about fiction from Kyon. This still leaves us in the position of having to decide if we are willing to accept and enjoy the fiction or let it go. We are right back were we started if we didn't question Kyon.
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Night fox



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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 1:08 pm Reply with quote
^ I'm not saying that you shouldn't enjoy the show for what it is, but if you've seen it at least once (which I assume most who read this have) you can try to watch it through a new pair of glasses. As you wrote earlier we already know it's fiction, the difference merely lies in how you choose to perceive Kyon - a most unlikely hero, caught up in amazing events, or a tragic outsider who wishes he were said hero. Wink
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:40 pm Reply with quote
I'll take this story the same I do all my entertainment, straight up without a chaser of interpretation, thank you all the same. If I wanted a story about an outsider who daydreamed and read his way through high school and couldn't connect with classmates all I need do is consult my own past. Fortunately that was a long time ago and the memories have lost their emotional impact. I have no desire to convert a simple science fiction story into horror.

In the book "David Harum", the titular character remarks apropos of a would be fortune teller that "some folk can see further into a millstone than others". I think that sums up a lot of literary interpretation nicely.
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Blood-
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:52 pm Reply with quote
Alan45 wrote:
If I wanted a story about an outsider who daydreamed and read his way through high school and couldn't connect with classmates all I need do is consult my own past.


It's official: from now on I'll call you Kyon45. Wink

The wonderful thing about good shows like TMoHS is that they are sophisticated enough to legitimately contain more than one interpretation. I think very compelling arguments could be made to support both Alan45's view and Night fox's. As I said before, I suspect the creator of the franchise is more than happy that people are interesting in debating the issue as opposed to being bummed that they aren't accepting one particular interpretation as the "correct" one.
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 3:21 pm Reply with quote
I don't think there is anything wrong with different interpretations. If that is what floats your boat, have at it. I think in this case it introduces you to a hall of mirrors.

I tend to avoid alternate interpretations, because it is a game I am unable to play, my mind just doesn't work that way. Often I can see where they come from when they are explained but wouldn't go there naturally. I tend to feel the same way about fan fiction, shipping and any sequels by someone other than the original author. It is OK if that is what you want, but it is not for me.

Hall of mirrors
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Night fox



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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 6:03 pm Reply with quote
Alan45 wrote:
I tend to avoid alternate interpretations, because it is a game I am unable to play, my mind just doesn't work that way.


I'd like to know what you mean when you say "alternate interpretations"? Are you referring to your own interpretation of a story as the "correct" one in these instances? Smile
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Redbeard 101
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 6:12 pm Reply with quote
Very interesting take on the series. I would be interested in your take on The Disappearance of Yuki series in comparison to the original. See which one you preferred.
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