Mumbling Kitsune: The Melancholy of Watching Haruhi Suzumiya -

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Mumbling Kitsune: The Melancholy of Watching Haruhi Suzumiya

There are good ways to add depth to your anime, and then there are bad ways.

By Nadia Oxford     June 22, 2008

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa(2008).
© Bandai

When it comes to popular anime series, I tend to be a bit late to the party. I'm an avid reader of manga and a book nerd in general; my interest in moving pictures is minimal. At the risk of sounding like a pseudo-intellectual snot, I don't have the patience to sit still and have a story beaten into my brain. Voices and colours and other automated means of storytelling frighten me.


Nevertheless, when I do latch on to an anime, I tend to enjoy it to the end. My most recent viewing, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, admittedly has me confused: I watched it to the end, but I still can't decide if I enjoyed it.


The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a 14-episode anime adaptation of a light novel series by Nagaru Tanigawa. The story mixes science fiction with the usual high school-centric fare that's prevalent in the genre. The character-driven plot revolves around the dreams and desires of a hyper girl named Haruhi Suzumiya, but the narration comes from the supporting cast, particularly the stoic schoolboy Kyon.


The series is famous for its plot twists, which are difficult to explain without spoiling the story rancid. Fortunately my freelancer-in-arms Bob Mackey, came up with the perfect analogy:


[L]et's say that the Seinfeld gang must suddenly start being really nice to Newman. The reason? Well, if Newman becomes sad or bored, the Earth will explode--but Newman doesn't know this. So Jerry and his crew have to suffer through hell on Earth to placate Newman for the rest of his life, while he continues to profit from their misery and never receives the comeuppance he so richly deserves.”


To properly explain why The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya didn't make my head pop with its brilliant storytelling, I'll have to hearken back some years to an era when my writing suffered through some horrible experiments. During this tumultuous time, I wrote a story that alternated between first and third person. I thought it was a cool idea. It took an honest editor to make me realise that no, I had not created a work of genius, but actually a mess.


To be fair, there is a very fine line between the two. I had a good cast. I had a good concept. It was a little basic, but it was a good read without the narration gimmick. Contrary to what I thought at the time, altering the laws of storytelling did not add anything positive to my work.


The events of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya are purposefully told out of order, supposedly to add depth and mystery to the series. I view Haruhi's unorthodox episode order much the same way I've come to view my aforementioned story: a false tactic that added a lot of confusion (not mystery) to what could otherwise be a fun, competent story if director Tatsuya Ishihara let it stand on its own.


I understand that viewing the episodes in chronological order takes a lot of bite out of the series' story and indeed it's easy to see why a chronological viewing would water down the climax. On the other hand, what's to be gained by having one character make a surprising revelation about herself at the end of one episode, only to shift to a baseball game in the next? 


The intended idea is to keep parts of the story nonsensical while others are slowly revealed. Eventually, there comes an episode wherein the previous character continues her personal revelation, but the cut-away is irritating—especially when said cut-away shoehorns in new characters and disrupts the overall mood by switching from science to sports, then back again.


There's also the minor matter of me not taking a shine to Haruhi herself. She's compulsive, loud and malicious, but not humourously so. She does gain some depth and direction, but again, the scattered episode order hinders her development more than it helps it. She sees the light in one episode, only to become insufferable in the next. She picks constantly on her shy and big-breasted “friend,” Mikuru, who is helpless to do anything but whimper and cringe about it. Fortunately, Kyon's dry observations counter Haruhi's brash nature and Yuki's quiet desire to be left alone to read her books is something I can ashamedly relate to. The supporting members of the SOS Brigade kept me from giving up early and turning the DVD into a dog Frisbee.


There are some interesting science fiction elements in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, though nothing much deeper than “Why are we here?” and “Why me?” (“Why you? Why anybody?”) Over-thunk as they might be, I still enjoy tormenting myself by asking those questions and watching other people puzzle them out. Had the Haruhi series been able to resist showing off by leaving the viewer to collect the scattered pieces of its timeline, I would have enjoyed it considerably more. I understand that I can follow the story by picking up hints from the seasons (and the Japanese school calendar), but that's work. I don't watch television to work.


Note, also, that there is a difference between a television programme that makes you think and one that makes you work.


There's been news of the series continuing beyond its original fourteen episodes. I still intend to view them if that comes to pass. I just hope the anime keeps its best ideas for its story instead of wasting them on a “unique” presentation.  


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