The Rediscovery of Haruhi Suzumiya

One day the H will be as familiar a sight as the crucifix, the Star of David, the crescent moon and star, and whatever other religious symbols I have no room to list here there are.

One day the H will be as familiar a sight as the crucifix, the Star of David, the crescent moon and star, and whatever other religious symbols I have no room to list here there are.


I remember 2006.

I remember when no one had a clue what The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was, let alone knowing that it would turn into a phenomenon that persists to this day. I remember watching it before true Haruhiist mania had caught on, which was sometime around the release of the second broadcast episode. I remember dropping everything I was doing, once a week, to watch the new Haruhi episode. I remember arguing with people about whether it was meta-parody or not, about whether it was the horribly generic and silly series it had lampooned in the student film episode or not, about whether it was “just another silly harem series” or not, about endless permutations of quality and the lack thereof. In short, I remember it being a highly complicated time, and not exactly a good environment to foster sane, rational opinions about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

I also remember, after it had concluded and the post-good-series glow had faded, wondering what all the hooplah still going on was about.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like the series, but there was always something different about the way I liked it. Sometimes I thought that there was some quality that I’d overlooked, one that may or may not appeal to me, but that obviously appealed to the legions of fans, that drove the series from a fad to a phenomenon. Other times I thought that everyone else was grossly overestimating it, and the value of Haruhi became less intrinsic to the work so much as intrinsic to the fandom surrounding it. The average of these two feelings was the simple, almost apathetic, stance of “it’s good, even great, but why all the fuss over it?” (I should point out here that this statement encompasses my current stance on Neon Genesis Evangelion as well)

I have, however, recently read the Yen Press release of the first volume, which (by way of review) was quite well-done. Except for the fact that they published a hardcover without a dust jacket–like seriously, dust jackets can be super annoying at times, but I like them, and I really wanted a Haruhi dust jacket. But I’m a bibliophile plus an anime fan, so that makes for a deadly combination indeed. The translation was also fairly solid, and, in fact, at times felt like Strato’s a.f.k. subs that I almost suspect that he was the translator, or, at least, that the translator/editor had certainly seen more of of the a.f.k. subs than any other subs. But more important than the content, it turned out, was the chance to revisit The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya with fresher eyes.

I cannot–will not–speak for the fandom at large, but for me, after reading the first novel, I at least have a more firm grasp on what I like about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I chalk this up to three factors: time, distance, and personal maturity. There is almost no new information in the novel that isn’t in the anime as well, with the only significant disadvantage of the anime being that some of Kyon’s narratorial snark is lost. And yet, somehow, it felt like I was experiencing Haruhi for the first time all over again.

What Haruhi is to me–and I remember seeing very vague glimmers of this three years ago, although nothing that could ever make it to a concrete thought–is less a showcase for a bevy of cute girls (and a couple cute guys if Kyon x Itsuki is your thing) or a complicated meta-parody of stereotypical tropes (although it certainly is those things to varying degrees, as well as others I can’t quite put words on now) but more of a story of Kyon, who lost his imagination, and Haruhi, who is utterly enveloped in it. Kyon spells it out straight right at the start: as he grew older, in the name of “maturity” and “adulthood” he shelved his boyish obsessions with the paranormal, the nonexistent–the fictional–and resigned himself to his daily trudge up the massive, giant hill that his high school resides upon, and the hours upon hours of mindless drudgery that occupy the space inside those walls. This, he sighs, is life. Mindless, meaningless, and merely something that one has to trudge through.

Starkly contrasting with Kyon’s dreary and bleak acceptance of the “normalcy” of the world is Our Lady of Abnormal herself, Haruhi, who insists that there are paranormal events, that there are things that are greater than reality, and who lives so much in a world of her own creation that she has no interest at all in the mundane world. She later reveals that she has the same basic worldview as Kyon does, albeit expressed differently, but she draws the exact opposite conclusion–that nothing fun will happen if you sit around waiting and accepting of the dreary drudgery that surrounds you–and drags it to the same illogically extreme pole that Kyon drags his. Kyon is content to sit around and be bored a lot; Haruhi isn’t content unless she’s yelling a lot in a bunnysuit and handing out flyers advertising her new super-cool yet still-unnamed club.


Haruhi having fun, the only way she knows how to.

Haruhi having fun, the only way she knows how to.


The extremes of Kyon and Haruhi’s personalities, of course, are played more for laughs, but there’s a darker edge. Kyon may be sardonic, but he’s also jaded and retains no passion or fervor for anything. He has no interests, nothing that distinguishes him from the crowd, and (aside from the snark) no personality. Haruhi, meanwhile, has passion and fervor for her multitudinous interests to spare, and her antics relating to said passion and fervor get her in more trouble than it seems to be worth–not to mention that her entire forthright personality is very much a cover for her own depression. No matter how wacky Haruhi’s antics get, or how bitingly snide Kyon gets, neither of these are good extremes. And yet, even in the first novel, and in the anime, you get the feeling that Kyon is (very gradually) learning to enjoy non-reality, and Haruhi is (very gradually) learning to enjoy life as it is; both have more fun than they are willing to admit. Even in the first novel, Kyon is the “unknown factor” of Haruhi because he has an active interest in her–he denies it constantly, but it’s blatantly obvious that he is attracted to her, and Yuki, Mikuru, and Itsuki all agree that Kyon himself is important to Haruhi (even if she won’t admit it either).

The important thing that Haruhi tries to get across, at least in what I’ve read/seen, is that the extremes of Haruhi and Kyon, lovable though they both are, are not to be desired, founded, as they are, upon inner turmoil and abject apathy. Together, however, they seem to counterbalance (and tolerate) each other’s extremes, and pull the other towards a more coherent, integrated median. Those grounded on Earth learn how to stick their heads up in the clouds, and those with their heads in the clouds learn how to place their feet on the ground. Fantasy and reality are two halves of a whole, and life is hollow if it lacks one or the other.

And that is why I suddenly have a newfound appreciation for Haruhi. I’m pretty sure I won’t run out and join a Haruhiist cult, but, on a personal level, it’s quite nice to step back from the former insanity that was Haruhi‘s airing and the roaring undercurrent it is now, and find something more in a series that I didn’t see at first. Even if it’s not there, and Haruhi really is about a bevy of attractive anime characters of both genders (who is which gender is debatable after the Great Discovery of Kyonko).

16 Responses to “The Rediscovery of Haruhi Suzumiya”

  1. 1 ghostlightning 12 May 2009 at 8:25 am

    And yet, even in the first novel, and in the anime, you get the feeling that Kyon is (very gradually) learning to enjoy non-reality, and Haruhi is (very gradually) learning to enjoy life as it is; both have more fun than they are willing to admit.

    Yes, this.

    I’ve read what I assume to be fanlated .pdf files of the first three novels (The Boredom of… bored me utterly) and you’ve articulated much of what I feel about the whole thing here. I saw the show only last year, as a passing curiosity when I found out that the Haruhi that I keep hearing people discuss wasn’t the Haruhi my wife was watching in Ouran Host Club. I liked it immediately, in very similar ways you do/did.

  2. 2 schneider 12 May 2009 at 10:21 am

    God, I wish there were copies of Haruhi in our country. Ordering is such a hassle. :(

  3. 3 Kaiserpingvin 12 May 2009 at 10:22 am

    Fanboy incoming, 11 o’ clock.

    I watched it while still in isolation from the anime/manga community; this was a time when I thought that anything besides Naruto was obscure. And I grew to obsess over the thing immediately; it was only very recently I dropped it out of my top favourites in favour of Bokura no. So from my viewpoint, the “it is a fad because it is a fad” viewpoint doesn’t really hit it for me; but on the other hand, it may well be likely.

    I’d contest the notion neither extreme is good: if that is how you’d like to be, there’s hardly any problem with it imo. And I’d rather have a Haruhi around me than… Well, most any kind of personality-prototype, ‘sall a matter of taste.

    And on your conclusion what it is about, I’d agree. I do not think it is all it is about though, but here I can go on long tiring fanboy tirades so I should shut up right about now.

  4. 4 animekritik 12 May 2009 at 10:34 am

    Yeah, the darkness is definitely there. I’ve read the first 3 novels just like ghostlightning, stopping before the 4th because of all the buzz to the effect that the 2nd season would revolve around that volume.

    great to read the novels after the anime, i think..give you much food for thought. to this day the only light novels i’ve read..

  5. 5 OGT 12 May 2009 at 10:54 am

    @ghostlightning: Oh, I remember those fun days of arguing about which was the superior Haruhi, Fujioka or Suzumiya. No conclusion was ever reached, I think.

    @Kaiserpingvin: If you did not respond to this post I would think that there was something cosmically wrong with the universe, and that HRH was getting bored with life.

    Haruhi is about a lot of things, so I’ve just identified what jumped out at me when I read the novel a couple weeks ago. This post is only about half of the convoluted thoughts that coursed my mind while reading the book and appreciating the, uh, fine prose, such as “Asahina collapsed onto the table, her finely-shaped shoulder blades trembling[…]I removed my blazer and covered her quivering, pale back.” (p.58). Note that none of said convoluted thoughts actually involved quivering, finely-shaped pale backs. I think.

    I think it’s too much of a phenomenon to dismiss as a “fad”, honestly; I wouldn’t be surprised if it was as definitive/long-lasting for the 00s as Evangelion was for the 90s.

    @animekritik: It is food for thought; I still am not sure whether I am going to go get the fan translations or not, but that will depend on Yen Press/Kadokawa USA putting out more in the US market. Which I hope people are buying Haruhi by the spades here.

  6. 6 kadian1364 12 May 2009 at 11:32 am

    Nice post. More than aliens, or moe, or the whole sci-fi biz, I think you articulated the heart of Haruhi Suzumiya very aptly. However, how does this theme continue through the rest of the story?

  7. 7 steelbound 12 May 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Great post but I thought there’d be at least one reference to Cordwainer Smith’s brilliant body of work found in the book “The Rediscovery of Man”. :)

    I too remember 2006. I had just gotten into reading anime blogs and remember reading all the previews and making a list of shows that I was going to watch. Then the season started and I started coming across posts talking about this really horrible first episode to a show absolutely no one had even bothered to include in their previews. I was intrigued and went to watch the first episode and instantly fell in love.

    Whenever I think of the show, I think of it in terms of Haruhi’s crusade to tear herself from the dull world and I can’t help but respect Haruhi for that and admire her determination to make it happen. I find myself also feeling jealous of Kyon since there’s a part of me that really identifies with his outlook on life and that part would love to find someone like Haruhi to hang out with.

    I do think the first season of Haruhi will be held up as the Evangelion of the 00’s and I think that is what’s holding back the second season – how do you top (or at least come close too) the first season?

  8. 8 serial 12 May 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Wow, what a nice way to put it. :o
    I remember how I felt after finishing watching the series: It was a point of balance, so to speak, between Kyon and Haruhi. They have begun to accept both of their realities, and that’s good. Further books in the series become more complicated as we realize that the other members of the SOS Brigade have problems of their own that affect the Kyon / Haruhi common reality. And then there’s the fact that Haruhi’s subconscious can affect the world for better or worse.

    One thing I remember thinking about at the time was how the series showed us the value of playing, having fun and enjoying life by doing fun things with the people you like. All the episodes unrelated to the “Melancholy” arc (The ones after it, chronologically) are about the SOS Brigade having fun in some way or another, and always end up involved in a bizarre situation surrounding Haruhi. A situation whose strangeness she never seems to notice at all.

    That’s the main catch: The supernatural situations that occur are one of the things that keep people watching; yet, deep down the whole of Haruhi, the main point of it is: Go out! Find some friends, have some fun, and stop caring about what other people might say. Everyone is as unique, important, and cool as they want to and are willing to try to be.

    It’s a very strong message in a world that has become too routine, too ordinary. Even a speck of extraordinary can make a world of difference in an ordinary world.

  9. 9 otou-san 12 May 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I’ll never apologize for blatant fanboying, Haruhi brought me back to the fold. I didn’t see it myself until ’07 when it came out over here legit, but I was really not so excited about anime at the time. It seemed so witty, so smart, and of course well-animated, that my world exploded again the way it hadn’t since… well, Evangelion.

    you may actually be right about it being the Evangelion of the ’00s. Only time will tell that, but like Eva I think it had the potential to change the game, even if that didn’t quite happen.

    I hope the other books are published with decent speed. I read the fan translations and while they’re a little rough and the story gets kinda bogged down with time travel syndrome at times, it’s just an absolute blast.

  10. 10 Ryan A 12 May 2009 at 3:21 pm

    It’s like…

    The entire chaotic, unpredictable universe of matter and emotion fluidized through slice-of-life and a handful of characters. How does one bottle such a thing?

    Not to mention the anime-form was well-composed.

    I could never put my finger on why I place the series in my top 10, maybe it shouldn’t be there, but I feel the elusive effect of the experience could be a factor.

    It’s like…

    Looking at an iceberg from the surface, and wondering exactly what’s below.

    In one way, it’s entirely unrealistic and other-worldly, but at the same time it possess an eerie level of relatability.

  11. 11 OGT 12 May 2009 at 5:02 pm

    @steelbound: I have no idea who Cordwainer Smith is, so expecting a reference is a bit much. It is ridiculously easy to make a Dan Simmons reference, though–in fact the anime did just this, although no mention of the Hyperion Cantos is in the novel.

    @serial: That is precicely it. Life is more than the daily grind, but life is also more than living in a fantasy world of your own device. Possibly. As far as I can tell with the scant knowledge I have, Haruhi’s world-bending powers are simply there to cause people to take interest in her through artificial means–except Kyon takes interest in her through the genuine method of “I am not going to give up no matter how insane she is.”

    @otou-san: No one said you needed to avoid being a blatant fanboy! If anything I’m the one sitting around in desperate need of some Haruhi fanboying. I still don’t quite think it is the SAVIOR AND PINNACLE OF ANIME (or the antichrist of anime, for that matter), but that might be because it wasn’t a galvanizer for me as it was for most (including you). That brings up the question of what is my galvanizer, and I have no answer to that. Maybe “force of habit” but that sounds so sterile.

    I really remember some judgements around the conclusion of the airing of Haruhi being, essentially, that it was good but it didn’t have staying power. I think that sentiment got proved wrong pretty quickly.

    @Ryan A: You are searching for the word “mind-melting”.

  12. 12 sadakups 14 May 2009 at 12:09 am

    What is a Haruhi Suzumiya?

  13. 13 ETERNAL 18 May 2009 at 10:44 am

    I think I just lost my reason to do a Haruhi post. I’ll still see what I can come up with after reading the novel, but you’ve covered just about everything I’ve thought about the series since watching it almost 3 years ago. I’m wholeheartedly impressed.

  14. 14 Pontifus 19 May 2009 at 1:40 am

    What Haruhi is to me–and I remember seeing very vague glimmers of this three years ago, although nothing that could ever make it to a concrete thought–is less a showcase for a bevy of cute girls (and a couple cute guys if Kyon x Itsuki is your thing) or a complicated meta-parody of stereotypical tropes (although it certainly is those things to varying degrees, as well as others I can’t quite put words on now) but more of a story of Kyon, who lost his imagination, and Haruhi, who is utterly enveloped in it.

    This is why I have such a hard time commenting on your posts — they have this tendency to reflect my own thoughts with such creepy accuracy, or otherwise just make so much sense to me, that all I can think of to say is generally “THIS.”

    Having read up through the sixth fan-translated novel (and part of the seventh), I can say that, while the Haruhi/Kyon tug-of-war remains a constant factor (it has to, really), things get even more complicated when the other characters get more attention later on, and the SOS Brigade becomes an epic web of interpersonal relationships of the sort the first anime season and novel just don’t have time to explore in full. All sci-fi/fantasy/cute girls/etc. aside, that’s what I like most about the franchise. I have faith that KyoAni will do it right in that ever-delayed second season (i.e. Dear KyoAni: seriously, don’t mess this up).

  15. 15 Ariolander 26 June 2009 at 12:15 am

    The reason that the Light Novel seems like Strato did the translation for the Little Brown Books edition of the light novel is because line-by-line it is almost the exact same as the Strato fan-translation of the light novel released 2 years ago.

    It is no longer available online but I have old copies sitting on my computer. If you want I can send them to you but yea if MX Media LLC didn’t hire Strato then they ripped off his scripts. The similarities are uncanny and a far cry from the Baka-Tsuki version.

    I myself picked up 3 copies =P One of each version for myself and an extra paperback that I could loan out/force my friends to read.

  16. 16 ken 28 August 2009 at 6:42 am

    I love watching Haruhi Suzumiya no matter what. The new ED Tomare is really good

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I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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May 2009

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